Everyday Sacred

I saw a story about a man who passed away while climbing Mount Baldy in Southern California this week.  It wouldn’t have been newsworthy except for the fact that the man, Seuk Doo Kim of Culver City, had climbed the mountain more than 700 times.  Last year alone, he climbed it more than one hundred days in a row.

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Atop Guadalupe Peak in west Texas, 2006

I know lots of people who climb mountains.  When I was younger, I climbed my share of them.  I liked the way it made me feel.  I craved the views from the summit, and there’s this magic feeling after hours of climbing when the land suddenly drops away in all directions.  You literally feel as though you’re on top of the world.  In a way, you are.

I never went back to most of the mountains I climbed.  That’s tragic, in hindsight.  It occurs to me that someone who climbs the same mountain every day is living at a whole different level.  It’s not about bagging the peak.  It’s about the journey and by all indications Mr. Kim really, really loved the journey.

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One of my favorite rides in Ogden is up to this bench that overlooks the city.  It’s a five mile roundtrip from my front door and even with the climbing I can easily get there and back in an hour.

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But I like the (mostly) flat, high plains of western Nebraska equally well.   I ride wherever I happen to be.

The everyday element of Mr. Kim’s journey is very interesting to me.  I’ve read a lot of books and it seems to me that the people who are happiest and most plugged into life have an every day discipline about them that isn’t so different than Seuk Doo Kim.  Thomas Merton and the Dali Lama come to mind.

What does any of this have to do with cycling and Bike 5?  Well, I think that choosing to ride a bicycle every day is a similar discipline to climbing Mt. Baldy or praying the Liturgy of the Hours.  It doesn’t have to be five miles.  It can be whatever you want it to be.  It’s not the summit that matters.  It’s the climb that counts.   Get on a bike every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, and magic will happen to you.

The National Bike Challenge starts on May 1.  I’m not going to participate because I already ride everyday and the only person I’m interested in competing with is myself, but if you’re looking for an excuse or something to motivate you to ride your bicycle every day, this might be a great way to start.

Have a great weekend!

 

Where to Cycle, When to Cycle

I want to put on my League Certified Instructor hat and talk bicycle safety today.  We all need to be very, very careful when cycling in traffic.   Especially now.  Cyclist and pedestrian deaths are on the rise again.  More troubling, a number of states are attempting to “blame the victims” for these (mostly) avoidable tragedies.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this, this and this.

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Valley Drive heading east.   It’s all downhill and so the speed differential with cars isn’t all that great.

I talk to a lot of people while out on my bike.  It’s one of the great joys of cycling…meeting other cyclists and hearing their stories.  Tonight I met a guy not far from home.  He must have been in his 70s.  He caught my eye and I was heading uphill, somewhat gassed and so I used it as an excuse to stop.  I braked and we talked for close to fifteen minutes.  I think I learned more than he did.

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Many motorists in Ogden expect cyclists to ride within the painted shoulder.  There’s just one problem with that.

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The Central Iowa Trail Network is a super smooth collection of trails connecting small towns to the state capital in Des Moines.

Living where I do, I ride both roads and trails.  When I’m on the trails, lots of people tell me how much they love cycling but how they don’t feel comfortable on the roads.  I get it.  Utah drivers recently ranked dead last in terms of their ability to avoid hitting things, so every time you head out on the road here you’re taking your life in your hands.

I still ride the roads, but lots of really nice people tell me that they won’t.  That’s fine.  You have to ride where you’re comfortable.  I remember the instructor who taught my League Certified Instructor training saying that.  Ride where you’re comfortable riding.   Everybody’s different.  As an instructor, I don’t get to tell you where you feel safe.

But it’s more than just where to ride.  When matters, too.  Let me give you an example.  There’s this road not far from where I live called Valley Drive.  It’s about a mile long and it’s all downhill heading east.  Ogden City calls it a bike route.   I can get close to 40 mph heading downhill on Valley Drive.  That’s the posted limit so there’s no reason for people in cars to pass me.  There are blind curves,too, and so I assert my right to the lane to avoid calamity and to protect my self-interest.

Most of the day, Valley Drive is totally safe and pleasant.  Most motorists wait until we clear the curves and the road flattens out before attempting to pass.  I’ve learned, though, that there are times Valley Drive is a death trap.  When people are heading home from work, for example, they’re way too aggressive.   They speed.  They try to squeeze through spaces way too tight to squeeze through.  They don’t really give a damn.  I imagine most would feel really bad if they hit someone, but by then it’s too late.    So I don’t ride Valley Drive when people are heading home from work.  It doesn’t feel right to me.

If you struggle with the idea of riding on the roads but would like to do more of it, I’d like to suggest that you experiment with certain roads and think about the time of day and who you’re likely to encounter.   Recognize that some places you might not be comfortable on Thursday afternoon you might be totally comfortable on Sunday morning.  Most importantly, though, ride where you’re comfortable.  Don’t take chances.  Be careful.  Wear a helmet.  Wear a mirror.  Learn how to use it.  Experiment.   What might not feel right the first time might feel a whole lot better the second or third time.  Mostly, though, just ride.  Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

The Gold Standard

It was late Sunday night.  We’d spent the day driving around Des Moines and its suburbs looking at neighborhoods and houses and we were dog tired.  The Russian Room in the very bicycle friendly Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa was just a few miles ahead when we passed the sign that said High Trestle Trail, exit one mile.

“Wanna go?”  Jan asked.

“Sure, why not.” I replied.

So we went.  It was a good move because the High Trestle Trail is the crown jewel of a network of trails that spans central Iowa and connects far flung towns from Jefferson to Redfield to Adel to Perry to Martensdale to Woodward, Madrid, Altoona, Marshalltown and so many more.  It’s a bicycle interstate network so to speak, and it is very, very special.

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The High Trestle Bridge.  Yes, this is Iowa.

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The Des Moines River Valley from the High Trestle Bridge

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The lights.  Pure magic high above the ground and under a full moon.

We saw the bridge from a distance and it was stunning.  We decided to find a trailhead and explore.  The full moon was rising and it was one of those moments in time that you can never really explain but just know are special when they happen.  Once parked, we headed west towards the bridge.  Frogs were croaking.  The air was still.  It was spring in the Midwest and all was right in the world.  We met a local couple, Mike and Colleen.  We shared our dreams with them and they told us we had found Bicycle Heaven.  They were right.

They insisted we wait for the lights to come on. People will come, they said, just like James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams.  They were right again.   Out of the corn they did come and soon this trail in the far hinterlands of Des Moines was crowded and vibrant and alive.  The stars were in alignment.   It was Nirvana.

 

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Sunrise on the trail in Dawson, Iowa.  Smooth as can be.  Let’s roll!

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Watering hole in suburban Waukee.  Not one bike rack, but three.

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Indoor bike parking, Hotel Pattee in Perry

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Side path at Interstates 35 and 80 and Douglas Avenue in suburban Urbandale.  No dodging speeding cars.  This is how you do it.

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The Tao of Iowa.  Bicycle infrastructure is built to a higher standard than roads for cars.

If Central Iowa was just the High Trestle Bridge, that would be enough. It’s so much more, though. It’s a 71 mile loop on the Raccoon River Valley Trail and it’s the Heart of Iowa Trail.  It’s a network of urban and suburban side paths that make it easy for neophytes to saddle up and ride just about anywhere they want to from the countryside to the heart of the city.  It’s the spectacular Iowa Women of Achievement bridge in the heart of the capital city.  It’s an attitude that bikes matter.  It’s an unwillingness to accept “good enough.”  Maybe it’s because this is Baja Minnesota.  Minneapolis is the only US city on Copenhagenize.eu’s list of great bike cities.  I think they’re paying attention here.  Then again, maybe it all started here.

People in Iowa are pretty old-world special.   They worry more about the product than the story.  They don’t talk much.  They just do.  They’re comfortable enough in their own skin to think for themselves and do what they feel is right, come what may.  The Central Iowa trail network isn’t something that was just slopped together.  These folks paid attention to detail.  These are mostly 16′ wide trails constructed of poured concrete.  They’re as smooth as a baby’s bottom.  You can fly if you want to.  You can also meander.   You’re expected to buy a trail pass.  Locals can buy an annual pass.  You’d be foolish not to.

There’s this whole bicycle ecosystem that has sprung up here in the cornfields of middle America.  Everywhere we went, restaurants were packed with cyclists.   Our hotel in Perry had indoor bicycle parking and a well stocked work station out front.  Park Tool, baby…the gold standard.

From my perspective, this changes everything.  I’ve now seen with my own two eyes that it’s possible to build bicycle infrastructure that connects towns to cities.   It doesn’t have to be dangerous or mediocre or substandard.  It can be the best of the best.   I know.  I’ve seen it and now that I have I am no longer willing to accept honorable mention.  I’ve been to the top of the mountain.  Who knew that it was in Iowa?  It is, though, and you can ride it now.

 

 

 

Livability and Bicycles

So here I am with cup of coffee numero uno.  I’m rubbing the sleep out of my eyes when I see this story from Bicycling magazine about how Copenhagen now officially has more bicycles than cars.  I’m immediately awake.  This isn’t some college town.  It’s a big, important city…a world capital.  Cool.

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Copenhagen By Jens Cederskjold, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57295222

As I have another sip of my Tanzanian Peaberry,  I remember reading another article not too long ago about Copenhagen also being the world’s most livable city.  Hmmm.  I need to find that article, so I Google it.  Yep, I remembered right.  Here it is.

I read it again and skim the list for US cities.  Where are New York?  LA?  Chicago? Dallas?  Atlanta? Houston?  Phoenix?  Kansas City?  They didn’t make the cut.   What about the cool cities, you know, the ones millennials are flocking to?  Austin, Denver, Seattle,  Raleigh-Durham are nowhere to be found either.  Oh, there’s Portland…number ten.  Congrats, Stumptown.

I understand that these lists are really more clickbait than anything else.  If I choose the appropriate criteria, I can make Detroit, St. Louis and Toledo the world’s most livable cities.  I get that, but I also understand that the same places keep rising to the top of lists compiled by people with completely different agendas.   These places are different from each other in many ways, but access to bicycles for transportation is almost always high on the list.  Pictures like the one above almost always accompany the article because the authors know that this is the very essence of what makes a place livable.

Bicycles matter.  Where we have them, we live better.  We are in better physical shape. We visit the doctor for checkups rather than damage control.  Our air is cleaner.  Our fiscal finances are in better shape.  We are generally happier, all things being equal.  The solution to what ails us is right in front of our eyes.

More bikes than cars?  You’re awesome, Copenhagen.   You’re what I hope my city becomes and soon.  Way to go.  Congratulations.

Lessons From Atlanta

It has been a week since the collapse of a bridge on Interstate 85 in Atlanta and in spite of breathless warnings that this was the mother of all traffic nightmares waiting to happen, things have been moving along pretty well in north Georgia.  Just about everyone seems stunned by this, but they shouldn’t be.  Urban planners have been telling us for years that if we really want to solve our congestion problem we need fewer, not more, roads.

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Conventional wisdom is often wrong…  Screen grab-San Jose Mercury News

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Hmmm… Whodathunkit?  Screen grab-Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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The scramble to make the narrative fit.  In reality, it’s a lot more than mass transit.  Screengrab:  ABC News

It’s not just Atlanta, either.   People in Minneapolis saw much the same thing when a bridge spanning the Mississippi River near downtown collapsed in 2007.  After a short period of adjustment, traffic pretty much returned to normal.  People found other ways to get where they were going.   Some took transit.  Others telecommuted.  Thru traffic went around the city instead of through it.  More than a few Minneapolitans bicycled across the adjacent Stone Arch Bridge to their downtown offices.  The traffic nightmare that was forecasted never materialized.

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Tonight’s ATL rush hour…lots of green…more than usual, in fact.  Hmmm.

In spite of the fact that Atlanta always has traffic, I suspected it wasn’t going to be all that dire.  There are two ways to approach the problem of highway congestion.  One is to add capacity.  That way seldom works.  The other is to change driver behavior and nothing changes driver behavior like a closed freeway. While it may be true that if you build it they will come, it is also true that if you close it they won’t.  What is happening in Atlanta is that drivers are adjusting.  This is the key because drivers will always adjust.

Here’s the problem with the knee-jerk reactionary approach of simply adding capacity.  That sprawl on the edge of every metro was only made possible by new, wider roads.  People live further from work and drive more miles because of new, wider roads.  The sad truth is that none of this highway building is about getting  you or I to where we’re going any faster.  Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh but I still think it’s valid.  The primary reason we build new roads is to unlock the value of raw land so that it can be developed and the right people can profit.   The reason it doesn’t work for the rest of us is because it was never intended to.

Once I figured this out, it was very easy for me to opt out and move into a community where I could ride my bike everywhere.  I’m planning another move, but this time it will be to a place where it’s even easier to leave the car parked.  This has assumed the look and feel of a holy mission.  There’s absolutely no reason at all that we can’t become a nation of Copenhagens.   It could happen if we decide to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them.

So I hope that there are courageous people who are looking at Atlanta who will use it as a catalyst for real change.  We need fewer new roads and a whole lot more active transportation infrastructure for walking and biking.   Money going into roads is mostly misdirected.  We could solve a lot of our fiscal woes by just thinking logically.  We could look at Atlanta and the lack of traffic and go, hmmm.

I know there’s some of these people in Denver. They’ve proposed a plan that would save Colorado taxpayers a lot of money and clean the air by building a world class boulevard (including bicycle infrastructure) right into the heart of the city.  They’d modify an existing freeway a few miles north and funnel all that through traffic away from the core.  It’s a brilliant plan, so of course Colorado elected officials want nothing to do with it.

 

Things are slightly better in more-progressive-than-you-might-think Dallas where a proposal to remove a 1.7 mile stretch of elevated freeway that acts as a barrier between the Central Business District and the incredibly vibrant and eclectic Deep Ellum neighborhood is under serious consideration from all the right people including (believe it or not) TxDOT.  Folks there want to replace the freeway with a multimodal boulevard that also includes space for cyclists and pedestrians.  They’ve been talking about it for years and it still may actually happen.  It’s a start.

Atlanta changes everything for anyone who cares to see things as they really are rather than how they think they’re supposed to be.  Building highways will never solve the congestion problem.  Replacing highways with bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure will.  Robert Moses was wrong.  Jane Jacobs was right.  The future of cities is not elevated freeways.  It’s surface streets with bicycles and people on foot. Those who figure it out the soonest will be the biggest winners.

Is “Bicycle Friendly” Just Talk?

When Jan and I bought our home and moved to Ogden in late 2015, one factor (of many) in our decision making process was the city’s bike friendly rating from the League of American Bicyclists.  In our minds, bicycle friendly meant that the local community was committed to cycling and that there would be a prevailing attitude of mutual respect on the streets.  It meant that laws would be enforced fairly across the board and that infrastructure is not only built but also maintained and not left to crumble.  That seems reasonable, right?

But it hasn’t worked out as it was sold to us. I think I know why.  It’s because those of us who feel this way are just a small percentage of the total population.  It doesn’t really matter what we say or claim to believe in.  The only thing that really matters is reality on the ground.  If 10% of people in leadership roles want bike friendly and do the things necessary to put tick marks in the right boxes but fail to sell the broader population on what it all means, well, nothing is ever going to change.

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Even with sharrows and green paint, this cyclist in Salt Lake City is riding the curb.  That might be because the prevailing culture here is one where motorists play fast and loose with cyclist safety.

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One thing I really like about Utah is mid-block crosswalks.  Nothing does more to change the “pedal to the metal” culture than this.

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Boise’s North End.  Lots of pedestrian, bicycle and car traffic.  A true shared street and a super safe place to ride.

That’s Ogden.  In fact, that’s a lot of places.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not complaining.  It is what it is.  That said, we’re now considering another move and this time the Bike League rankings aren’t factoring into it at all.  I’ve come to the conclusion that they simply don’t matter.

So what does matter?  I think more than anything else it’s culture.  Some places just have this culture of cooperation and compromise on the roads.  Others are all about conflict.  Speed and width of roads are the canary in the coal mine.  Places with lots of super wide roads with fast speed limits are all about winning and losing.  Driving is a competition.  The enemy must be vanquished.   There’s very little room for cyclists in this world.

One sure fire way to determine if a place is truly bicycle friendly is to look for pedestrians.  People on foot do best in places where there are a lot of people out walking around.    These places are typically the urban cores our largest densest cities (New York, Boston, Chicago, etc.) and college towns.

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Look at all those people.  Not surprisingly, this Pittsburgh neighborhood is a great place to be a bicyclist.

My experience bears this out.  I’ve had great success cycling through urban cores in cities as big as Indianapolis, Omaha, Pittsburgh and Salt Lake City.  I’ve also enjoyed college towns like West Lafayette, Boise and Lincoln.    Self contained smaller cities and towns like Carmel Indiana, St. George Utah and Pueblo Colorado have also been delightful.

The places I’ve struggled most are where sprawl is most prevalent.  Outlying Indianapolis and much of the Wasatch Front come to mind.  Not surprisingly, these are tough places to be a pedestrian.   Going forward, that’s going to be my bellwether.  People on foot are good.  Lost of pedestrians means that they feel safe walking around.  That means it’s probably safe to be on a bike, too.   It may not be 100% accurate, but it seems much more so than a wonky data set that just doesn’t mesh with reality as I’ve lived it.

Bike Share Redux

I posted an entry earlier this month that questioned whether or not bike share systems were the best use of scarce resources for cities and towns who want to encourage cycling.  The post touched on data from Streetsblog that suggested the only bike share system in the US that has really grown in terms of ridership over the last three years is in New York City.

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Now I’ve discovered a map from the US Department of Transportation that shows the relative size of bike share systems in the United States in terms of number of docking stations. This is important because docking stations equal convenience.  The more stations a system has, the more likely it is that they have one wherever it is we’re going and that makes the system more viable as a transportation tool.

The map is very revealing.  While it was no surprise to me that New York, Chicago and Washington DC dwarf all other systems in terms of size, it might be surprising to casual observers to see that both the Twin Cities (MN) and Boston have oversized reach vs. peer cities like Denver or Seattle.  All are cold weather cities with lots of winter but these two systems clearly are all alone in the second tier. Although I know that NiceRideMN is a world class system, I’m not familiar with Boston’s Hubway.  Based solely on this graphic I really need to get back to Beantown and check it out.

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MR Bikeshare…not a lot of bikes but loads of parking options.  Hailey and Ketchum are about 12 miles apart and connected via a bicycle/pedestrian sidepath along a major highway.

What I found most interesting were the apparent anomalies on the map.  Take Boise vs. Hailey Idaho, for example.  Hailey encompasses a region in central Idaho that includes the Sun Valley ski resort.  They don’t have a lot of bicycles but they sure have a lot of docking stations.  Their MR Bikeshare system is run by MountainRides, the same people who run the buses.  I think this is smart because it leads to decisions that are transportation instead of tourism-oriented.  Their system is cleverly designed and shows that even small communities can successfully integrate bike share into their transit mix. It’s all about docking stations.

I was surprised to see that bike share isn’t that big of a deal in cities like Denver, Portland and Seattle.  These aren’t tiny systems by any means…just not as large as I would have expected.  Maybe it’s because more people who live in these places own bikes.  Maybe it’s something else that I’m not aware of.

I like the idea of using a combination of bike share and transit systems instead of renting cars or even Ubering while traveling.  I’m a bike guy and I’m not going back to the old ways.  Based on this map, I’ve discovered some places I’d really like to visit…places I hadn’t thought of previously.  Conversely, there are a number of big cities (Atlanta? Dallas?  NOLA?) that seem to have fallen off the grid completely.

On a personal note, Jan and I are contemplating a move back to the Midwest.  I’m going to suggest to her that we head up to Sun Valley before we leave.  It’s only a few hours from Ogden.  If we make it, I’ll post pictures of the MR Bikeshare system here.