Posts tagged ‘politics’

December 20, 2011

We Get to Complete our Streets!

Kudos to the Spokane City Council for the 5-2* vote last night to enact the Complete Streets ordinance. A round of applause and a bouquet of locally grown flowers for Kitty Klitzke of Futurewise, who rallied the troops, circulated the petitions, and kept reminding us when to write, sign petitions, and go testify. More flowers for everyone involved in the Safe and Complete Streets Education Coalition that worked to educate the citizens on why complete streets are the streets we need for everyone. And eternal gratitude to Councilman Jon Snyder, who led the effort that resulted in last night’s ordinance.

I had the honor of testifying at the Council meeting along with around 40 others who showed up in support.** I’ll share (an approximate version of) my remarks here to capture my little contribution to a piece of Spokane history.

I’m a resident of the City of Spokane. I drive. I walk. I ride the bus. I buy goods that are shipped here by rail, air, and truck. And I ride a bike.

I want to tell a story of my own transformation. In 2001, I moved back to Spokane and bought a house on a bus line, which was a deliberate choice.

In 2005, I bought another house. This one was on a bus line and within biking distance of my workplace.

What happened in between was that in 2003 the City of Spokane put a bike lane in front of my house and I started riding to work. Visible bike infrastructure is an important signal, particularly to women, that biking is safe and it is possible.

I only rode once in a while to begin with. And now, when 2011 wraps up, I will have driven my car alone to work a grand total of 16 days the entire year. Every other day of the year I biked or rode the bus.

Home-buying decisions like these are why in 2008, the National Association of Realtors revised their policy statement on transportation to say that transportation planning should include all modes.

And in 2009, CEOs for Cities released a report showing that homes with a higher Walk Score are worth more.

By adopting a Complete Streets policy you can simultaneously increase the value of the single largest asset I will ever own and yield more government revenue in tough times.

That’s the real estate rationale for Complete Streets. It also contributes to workforce mobility and safety, with safer interactions for all users, not just those of us on bikes or on foot.

Richard Florida, who is famous for his studies of the Creative Class, analyzed cities with higher rates of bike commuting and compared them to cities with lower rates. The cities with higher rates of bike commuting were more affluent, better educated, had more knowledge-economy jobs, were fitter, and were happier.

When you add this infrastructure you tell people it’s possible to choose a different way of getting around. Even if they only ride their bikes to a coffee shop on Saturday with a friend, that means less wear and tear on the streets. I’m pretty sure I pay for a lot more street value than I actually use.

Let me close with another story, this one about my dad. Someone testified earlier about not being able to bike or walk because his knees were too bad so he doesn’t think Complete Streets are for him.

When my dad was 92 we finally got the car keys away from him. I can tell you that he should have lost them at around 87. But without his car he had no vision of any other way to get around. The only form of transportation he could imagine was the single-occupancy vehicle, so when that was gone he lost his independence.

I hope that when I’m old and I shouldn’t be driving that I will be able to retain my independence much longer because I know how to ride transit, and I hope you have made bus stops more accessible by completing sidewalks and providing curb cuts.

Complete Streets don’t force anyone to change their mode of transportation who doesn’t want. But they invite us to consider different ways of getting around through design. Complete Streets are a good policy choice for all of us.

* Voting yes: Steve Corker, Richard Rush, Joe Shogan, Jon Snyder, Amber Waldref. Voting no: Bob Apple, Nancy McLaughlin

** Totally extraneous winter biking style note: I wore a knee-length wool skirt, boots, SmartWool tights and extra pair of thick wool socks, blazer, merino turtleneck, and ThermaSilk base layer under that. I got a compliment on the outfit and, “Are you riding home in that?!” per usual. I rode home from the meeting in 25-degree weather with a ski jacket, lobster-claw gloves, scarf, and face mask. By the time I got home (around 3 miles uphill) I was so warm I couldn’t stand it. Still riding!

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • A “complete street” is one that accommodates the various modes safely and provides for their needs. This doesn’t mean a bike lane on every street–individual design accommodations vary. Do you get to ride on any complete streets on your way to work?
November 15, 2011

Evolution, Not Revolution: All Biking Motives Welcome, Part II

The first part of this mini-rant appears in Evolution, not Revolution: All Biking Motives Welcome, Part I. It was inspired by a post entitled Practical Cycling and “Lifestyle” Choices on the BikesideLA blog.

I didn’t start riding a bike as a diehard year-round commuter. I didn’t start as a “practical cyclist” who was making a political statement through my choice of transportation.

I started riding because I generally like being active, the city put a bike lane in front of my house, and when I tried it out I found my bike was—warning, unpolitical statement coming—fun to ride.

When I subsequently spent a Saturday afternoon riding from my house on the South Hill to the Rocket Bakery in the Garland District (which, as Spokane folks know, means I climbed a real heart-attack hill going north up Post) for a caramel latte and a giant snickerdoodle that were equally available at a Rocket Bakery two blocks from my house I wasn’t making a political statement. It was 100% a lifestyle choice. 

Did the enjoyable and successful experiences I had as a “lifestyle” bike rider help me mature into a “practical” bike rider, and beyond that into a bike advocate and activist? You bet your multi-tool and bike pump they did.

I would agree that riding a bike creates a genuine attitude shift; I wrote about my bike-inspired perspective on time a while ago, for example. But the dismissive tone that devalues specific reasons for bike use? Not my thing at all. This, for example, in the post that set me off:

“But when someone uses a bicycle to do something more important than shop for discretionary-income funded items, this use can become more than a consumer choice…The glory of this practical bicycling, then, is that one can actually be an effective and fully human agent using one, assuming that you use it for some substantive purpose, rather than as a lifestyle accessory.”

I get—I really do get—the many problems created in our society by the idea that we can have what we want, whenever we want it, at zero long-term cost. In fact, one of my posts on my personal blog asks questions about the need to own things and whether we might create new models and I lecture you about buying local food in this post.

I shop at thrift stores because it minimizes resource consumption and drive a 15-year-old car (when I drive) for the same reason. I pay more for locally grown food (a “consumer lifestyle choice,” I might note) because of the difference my dollars make. I am fully conscious of my consumerism and make mindful choices.

What I can’t go along with is the idea that people who choose to ride their bikes—only sometimes, only for fun (gasp)—are  not the real deal, let alone “an effective and fully human agent.”

In fact, if we design our transportation infrastructure to support those occasional riders who aren’t the fast and the fearless, we will have a better and more complete bike transportation network than if we only meet the needs of the hardcore riders.

A system that signals safety and encouragement to the occasional “lifestyle” rider is a system that works for everyone from 8 to 88–no matter where, or how much, they shop.

And I’d argue that we’re all humans, regardless of transportation choices. If more of us recognized that–really recognized it, face to face, eyeball to eyeball–I believe we’d have less “us vs. them” language in discussions about transportation and less “this is my lane, not your lane” behavior in real-world interactions on the street.

That is what would make us all effective and fully human agents.

November 14, 2011

Evolution, Not Revolution: All Biking Motives Welcome, Part I

The question of what constitutes a real cyclist—or bike rider, or person on a bike—seems to come around in various guises again and again on bike blogs (for example, on Kent’s Bike Blog and on Mia Birk’s blog). As I’ve written before, I think labeling people who ride bikes in various ways divides unnecessarily and does us all a disservice.

A while back this discussion popped up on BikesideLA in a post entitled Practical Cycling and ‘Lifestyle’ Choices—a title that immediately sets off a little red flag for me because putting something in quotation marks like this signals loud and clear, “My reasons for riding a bike are ever so much more virtuous than yours.”

My context for reacting, for those who don’t know: I’m the founder of Spokane Bikes (formerly Bike to Work Spokane) and served as a member and chair of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board. I now serve on the board of our region’s metropolitan planning organization (and all thoughts here are 100% mine, not affiliated with any of my various roles).

I thus work on–and value–both the rah-rah events side of trying to get people riding even if it’s just one day or one week a year, and the bike and transportation policy side where I hope to facilitate genuine lifetime mode shift.

Personally, I have experienced the profound mental shift from “I ride my bike sometimes–when weather is perfect and it’s not complicated” to “I am someone who rides a bike for transportation nearly all the time.”

The beautifully written LA blog post rubs me the wrong way even though we’d probably agree on some of the underlying issues about unnecessary consumerism.

The dismissal of “lifestyle” riders serves only to alienate people who can be allies in advocating for sorely needed infrastructure improvements. If you’re telling them that only the pure of heart are the real bike people, you’ve lost the soccer moms and weekend coffee shop riders who can be your most effective advocates at a city council meeting, especially because they’re not the usual suspects in Spandex.

We should welcome and encourage people who ride because it’s fun, not because they want to make a political statement.  Going all holier than thou on them about their superficial reasons for riding is hardly the way to win hearts and minds.

So what if they think they look cool riding a bike? They’re riding a bike, not driving a Hummer. We should celebrate their “lifestyle “choices, not look down on them, given that those choices could so easily take another form (like a stretch Hummer limo).

As anyone who has ever organized a political rally knows (I’ve held elected office so this is firsthand knowledge), you’ll usually only get the diehards for the deep-thought sessions.

You’ll get a larger crowd for something that energizes and teaches gently rather than smacking them upside the head with The Way The World Should Be According To Self-Righteous Me.

And you’ll get an even bigger crowd if you serve food and beverages, tell them to have fun, focus on things you agree on, and stay away from the preaching.

Are these people your “real” supporters or your “lifestyle” supporters? Sure, the diehards vote (or bike) at a higher and more consistent rate. But—here’s the key—they were going to vote/ride anyway.

Any campaign consultant worth her salt will tell you that you don’t spend time on the people who are 100% for you. You don’t waste time on the people who are 100% against you. Your goal is the undecided middle. And you sure as heck don’t get to them by telling them they’re shallow.

Related Reading

Your Turn
  • Do you judge people based on what you perceive to be their motivation for riding a bike?
November 13, 2011

My Fan Girl Moment with Mia Birk

As I mentioned in a previous post, I got to meet Mia Birk in person last Tuesday. I’ve been a Mia fan for quite a while. I don’t know when I first heard about this woman who helped turn Portland into a bike-friendly mecca, but I’ve read her blog and followed her on Twitter for a while now.

Birk went from working as Portland’s bike/pedestrian coordinator to being a principal of Alta Planning and Design, which helps communities design and activate safer and more walkable, bikeable networks. She’s the author of Joyride: Pedaling Toward A Healthier Planet, in which she tells her story.

By the way, she didn’t use the phrase “bike-friendly mecca” to describe Portland! In the workshops I attended–one for campus planners, administrators, and transportation folks, and another one for community advocates, and I fall into both categories–she showed plenty of photos of existing conditions in Portland that no one could describe as bike-friendly.

She also showed the impressive statistics for their gain in percentage of people riding a bike at least part of the time for transportation. Note to planners and engineers: Build it and they will ride.

(And when they do, they cut down on wear and tear on the roads, competition for parking, air pollution, and the many health problems that arise in a population that isn’t active. How many wins can you line up for a relatively small investment?)

Her story isn’t one of total triumph and perfection. It’s a story of persistence and progress, accepting that you’re not going to change everyone’s mind.

A few tidbits I tweeted during her talks, which were full of practical advice:

  • Bike parking=chicken/egg. If you wait for more people to bike & THEN put in bike parking you won’t see demand. Build it & they will bike.
  • Try biking 1 trip/week. Don’t make it your hardest one! Make it short, easy, not the one w/steepest hill.
  • Individualized mktg to help people think about mode shift: Highly effective in Portland where 10-13% of people change when they have info.
  • (last tweet) Refers to individ info on how to consider biking, walking, using transit from your neighborhood to your typical destinations.
  • All Portland’s improvements came @ cost of 0.7% of their total transportation budget. They have $100M bike industry now. ROI!
  • What about winter? When Minneapolis=#1 bike-friendly city in US, obviously snow doesn’t stop biking. Ck out for ideas.
  • (Note: The bikewinter suggestion was my addition to her point about Minneapolis. She also noted that if cold or wet conditions discouraged people, no one in Portland could do anything, let alone ride bikes for transportation. So don’t accept the weather excuse as a reason not to invest in bike infrastructure.)
  • What’s a bike advocate? A person who rides a bike & cares about creating safer conditions & healthy community. –@miabirk
  • Biking challenges people think of: Safety, weather, distance, hills, theft, carrying stuff, hygiene. <–All can be addressed!
  • Good advice in any setting: Try not to piss off the crazy people. (part of a story from @miabirk)

I can’t do better (especially in 140 characters) than Mia herself, so here’s her TEDx talk.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • Who would you like to meet from the world of biking?
  • Who have you met?




November 12, 2011

Don’t Settle for Incomplete Streets!

Some people are asking why we need complete streets. Let’s turn this question on its head: Why would we ever put in place designs, approval processes and funding streams dedicated to making our streets INcomplete?

Traffic sign: Slow--children playingWhat possible rationale could anyone suggest with a straight face for designing streets that make it difficult to get to a bus stop, unsafe for a cyclist to share a lane with a driver, treacherous for truck drivers trying to make a delivery to a grocery store, impossible for someone in a wheelchair to travel a few blocks on the sidewalk instead of in the vehicle travel lane?

That’s what we did, though. We have spent decades designing systems that are really great for people in cars and really bad for people who aren’t in cars.

Complete streets are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. That’s all. When you have complete streets pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities can move safely along and across the street.

Who’s standing up to argue in favor of UNsafe streets?

Traffic sign--older people with a caneWho thinks it’s a good idea to have street designs that encourage use of a car for the shortest of trips? 50% of all trips in metropolitan areas are three miles or less and 28% of all metropolitan trips are one mile or less – distances easy to walk, bike, or hop a bus. Yet 65% of the shortest trips are now made by automobile, in part because of incomplete streets that make it dangerous or unpleasant for other modes of travel. Incidentally, these are the dirtiest trips counted in air emissions.

Who wants us to keep spending our money on gas imported from other countries? We could be spending it instead on food grown right here, books from a local book storecoffee roasted by people you can meet and talk with to learn more about the people they know who grow the beans, clothing from a one-of-a-kind store or a local thrift shop that supports a local nonprofit, and yes—bike stuff at great local bike shops. That’s money that stays here more than it leaves town.

Who wants to make sure we don’t get the health benefits of walking or biking for transportation so we can keep packing on the pounds and ending up with diabetes, heart disease and premature death, instead of getting healthier ourselves and reducing air emissions for all?

Who wants to keep property values down by leaving streets and sidewalks unfinished and unpleasant for all users, instead of adding the connections that increase curb appeal and property values as well as usability for everyone?

Traffic sign--pedestrian crossingWho wants everyone to drive a single-occupancy vehicle and increase wear and tear on the streets because we’ve made it too scary to ride a bike, too muddy or impossible to get to a bus stop because there are no sidewalks, too unthinkable to walk a mile?

Who wants to keep building a system that ensures that people who can’t or shouldn’t drive–the young, the very elderly, people with certain disabilities, people without a car or a driver’s license or insurance–have no other way to get to school, work, the grocery store, or a doctor?

Hey, that’s it—let’s put more cars on the street to create more traffic jams and competition for parking spots and air emissions—especially air emissions because we really want to go back to the old days of being a non-attainment area under EPA regulations.

A really radical notion: streets for everyone, from the drivers of delivery trucks and semis to someone in a wheelchair, from your 8-year-old neighbor kid to your 88-year-old grandma.

If you agree, sign this petition to the Spokane City Council, or create a similar one for your town if you live somewhere else.

Fake traffic sign showing car/bike collision at four-way intersection

Signage appropriate for incomplete streets.

And if you agree, the next time you’re talking to an elected official or engineer who seems hesitant about the idea of complete streets, ask a simple question: “Why do you support incomplete streets?”

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • Are you familiar with the term “complete streets”?
  • How about “Safe Routes to School”?
November 7, 2011

Vote for Bikes!

A woman on a bike with a kid on the back, basket on the front, and text that reads VOTE BIKE.On Election Day Eve, this is your reminder to vote—and to vote for bikes. By that I mean that if you haven’t already done so, you need to determine where local candidates for office stand on funding a complete transportation network that supports all modes, and doing so in a logical and cost-effective manner.

In Washington, you also need to vote no on Initiative 1125 because it will keep transportation dollars from going to bike and pedestrian projects, among other problems.

Now, back to candidates. It isn’t enough for a candidate to say, “I support good streets.” To the candidate “good streets” might mean four-lane major arterials that enable cars to move swiftly and without impediments, whereas your definition of good streets includes bike infrastructure, sidewalks, and design that takes into account everything from the needs of semis and delivery trucks to people riding their bikes to work or to shop in the same corridor.

Nor is a vote for bike infrastructure a “quality of life” vote, any more than a vote for streets in general is a “quality of life” vote.

Candidates and elected officials who see people on bikes as trendy adornments for ad campaigns showcasing their area’s lifestyle miss the point. Many people can’t—or shouldn’t—drive: the young, the very elderly, people with certain disabilities, people with suspended licenses, and the very poor who can’t afford gas that’s still in the shadow of $4/gallon and all the other costs of operating a vehicle.

A complete transportation system with sidewalks, transit, and a bike network serves all those people. It also serves drivers by enabling us to get to the places where we work, shop, obtain health care, and get an education—without competing with them for parking spaces or adding to the wear and tear on the streets. That is what we need candidates to understand.

Let me be clear—I am all for basic street repair projects that will create nice, smooth surfaces on which I can ride, like the ones funded by the street bond Spokane voters passed a few years ago. We’re still seeing projects that bond pays for and I’m happy to have new streets.

The catch with that bond, however, was that the wording has been interpreted to mean that streets can only be rebuilt the exact same way they looked before—without any regard to changes in people’s options, preferences, and budgets for transportation, and without regard to new transportation plans.

Did you know that if a street didn’t have a bike lane or complete sidewalks before, it can’t get those with street bond funding, even if the city’s Master Bike Plan or Pedestrian Plan calls for them and even if the entire street is going to be torn up and rebuilt with our bond dollars?

So guess what? If you’re a resident or business owner along that stretch you can be inconvenienced twice instead of once, when the bike project or sidewalk infill is done later instead of at the same time. Convenient and cost-effective—not.

The wording of the next street bond is everything when it comes to construction of bike infrastructure and sidewalk completion and City Council will make the decision about what goes to the voters. Saying “let the voters decide” doesn’t tell the whole story–what the voters get to decide on comes from the Council.

The street bond isn’t the only thing, as street projects are planned with other funding sources including state and federal dollars, but it’s a key question and a matter of local decision making. While a recent effort to eliminate one federal funding source for bike/pedestrian projects failed, I expect other such attempts in the future so I want to vote carefully concerning decision makers who touch local dollars.

My process for compiling the statements below:

  • I put the same question to every candidate for public office on his/her Facebook page and got the responses listed below.
  • Where a candidate did not allow posting to a public wall, I sent the question as a Facebook message, so most but not all of these responses are publicly stated on the candidate’s own page and visible to everyone.
  • If I had not heard back from the candidate by Sunday I sent an individual email to the campaign contact indicated on the Web site.
  • All answers are exactly as the candidate wrote them.

Candidates who received the endorsement of the Cascade Bicycle Club are marked with an asterisk *. Not all candidates sought the endorsement.

Candidates who are members of the Complete Streets Spokane group on Facebook are marked with a ©.

Question: When the next street bond is put to the voters, are you willing to include bike infrastructure and sidewalk completion?


Mary Verner*: Yes. I have already started work with a committee to select categories of projects for the next bond including segments of complete streets and elements of bike and ped plans.

David Condon: No response received by publication time.

(NOTE: Additional information may be received later this evening, in which case I will update the post.)

City Council President:

Ben Stuckart*©: I have said at numerous forums that the City Council should pass the Complete Streets ordinance. That way the infrastructure called for in the comprehensive, pedestrian and bike plans would be part of any new bond.

Dennis Hession: Yes I am and would also like to get your thoughts as to how we can maximize the value added by any voter approved street bond.

Council District One:

Joy Jones: Yes!

Steve Salvatori: Yes, I support a new street bond, and yes I think I think it should specifically state what it is to pay for.  One of the controversies on this last bond, was that some folks don’t feel that sidewalks and bike lines were part of the deal.  I believe in complete transparency, and think that if we want to spend part of the funds on those improvements, we should give the voters a chance to be part of that process.

Council District Two:

Richard Rush©: Street Bond projects should be consistent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan. I have voted against street bond project contracts because they did not implement the Comp Plan. Any new Street Bond initiative should include provision for complete streets.

Mike Allen: What I’ve stated publically is that I will support the street bond similar to last time, but will also support bringing forward (at the same time) a second bond issue that would be for bike and sidewalk infrustructure. I think the public should decide.

Council District Three:

Donna McKereghan: It’s going to depend on the details, of course. People aren’t generally aware that in growing cities, bike lanes increase the number of jobs, and I certainly support that. However, I do not support bike lanes on all new and/or updated streets. We need to invest in bike lanes for so many quality of life issues, but we need to balance that with many other quality of life issues. So, it’s going to depend on what the next bond specifies because we’re coming out of this recession VERY slowly.

Mike Fagan: As long as the voters want to support an expansion to the street bond scope of work, I am in. I know that the media and others as well, have painted me as a person who can’t work well with others. I really question this line of thinking because if that was the case, I must have held a gun to the heads of the neighborhood folks I worked with in order to accomplish the things we did in Hillyard. Bottom line here is that I firmly believe in “Let the voters decide”.

Get out the vote!

Related Reading

Your Turn
  • Have you voted?
  • How did you research where candidates stand on issues that matter to you? What was most important or helpful?
October 31, 2011

Becoming a Bike Commuter, Part II: A Few More Miles

My idea of bikewear has . . . evolved a bit since my early days of riding.

At some point after becoming someone who rides her bike to work occasionally, I became a bike commuter. An every day, rain or shine, clipped-in-shoes, road-bike-riding commuter.

No more swapping stuff in and out of panniers—it’s always in the bag (now a cute one) if it’s riding season (which is at least 10 months of the year here, if you dress for the weather). Hassle factor gone.

The road bike and shoes were thanks to my sweet road-riding husband. When we started dating it was January, so my Costco special wasn’t much of an issue. When it got nice and we started riding some weekend distances, he was kind and patient. (I later learned that our pace is referred to as a recovery ride….)

Then he found my Specialized Dolce road bike and brought it home. Once I rode the 18-pound sweetie, I was hooked.

We loaded it up as a commuter with racks, lights, and fenders, which I suppose makes a “real roadie” cringe, but I’m not big on defining people as “real” riders or “not real”.

I can easily put in 10-20 miles a day riding from work at the Riverpoint Campus to meetings and errands everywhere from downtown to the Spokane Valley to the north side, or just my little 2.5 miles each way to and from work. (We moved and I’m a mile closer. Right after we moved, the city put in a bike lane a block from the house. I’ll just keep moving around town until we have a full bike network.)

When the snow gets too heavy (we had two crazy winters in a row), I ride the bus. (My road bike can’t take studded tires, and I worry about drivers sliding into me.)

But even in those years with crazy-deep snow, I was able to ride my bike every month of the year, finding days with open, dry roads in December, January, and February. I just don’t drive if I can help it.

Along the way I became a bike activist. I founded and chaired Spokane Bikes (formerly Bike to Work Spokane), served on the City of Spokane Bicycle Advisory Board, and on the leadership team of SmartRoutes Spokane (our participation in the Rails to Trails Conservancy 2010 Campaign). I joined the Bicycle Alliance of Washington and the League of American Bicyclists.

I made a final transition to go “back” a step. I stopped wearing bike shoes and locking my feet to my pedals because that too represented a hassle, and I now ride in any kind of shoe. My pedals have an SPD clip on one side, a regular platform on the other, representing my dual identity.

I also began adapting my wardrobe to make it easy to ride in everything in my closet.

I remind people that I don’t “use alternative transportation” when I bike or bus—I make a transportation choice. Each of us makes a choice every single day when we go out the door.

A bike runs on fat and saves you money. A car runs on money and makes you fat.Choice #1: Carry car keys. Park keister behind the steering wheel of a single occupancy something that uses a nonrenewable fuel. Drive (40% of all trips are within two miles of the home). At end of trip, circle the block looking for a parking spot as close as possible to the destination door, to minimize walking. Pay for every element of this choice, from the fuel to the parking-and while you’re at it, pay for a gym membership to get some exercise.

Choice #2: Hop on bike. Burn calories per mile instead of miles per gallon. Breathe fresh air. Greet neighbors. Smell flowers, green growing things, running water, roasting coffee, wonderful aromas from local restaurants. See–actually see–the architecture of local buildings. Arrive at work energized. When a midday meeting beckons, ride, lock bike to convenient signpost, walk in, sit down; you’re ready to go while the drivers circle the block.

Remember that feeling when you learned to ride a bike as a kid? Riding a bike meant freedom, independence, the ability to get somewhere under your own power instead of relying on others to supply the resources.

Your Turn

  • If you’re still an occasional rider, can you foresee going through more evolution to become an everyday commuter?
  • If you’re an everyday commuter, would you ever go back?
October 30, 2011

Becoming a Bike Commuter, Part I: It’s Easy, One Mile at a Time

My early vision of what it meant to dress for a bike ride. (I still dress this way for a ride like this one to Coeur d'Alene and back--84 miles on a sunny day.)

True story: I’m a bicycle commuter because in around 2003, the City of Spokane put a bike path on Cedar, right in front of the house I lived in at the time. After complaining a bit about the lost on-street parking, I realized how convenient it looked.

(Irony alert) I used my car’s odometer to figure out how far it was to work, and started riding my big-box cheapo special, the “Iron Maiden,” a little bit, then a little bit more.

At first my bike commuting took place within strict parameters: very nice weather but not too hot, no meetings outside my office scheduled that day, no after-work events.

Before bike commuting on the selected day, I’d drive the 3.5 miles to work (downhill, then flat) with a couple of outfits and leave them there, and just take my shoes with me in the pannier bag.

Of course, I’d have a little wardrobe agony of the soul figuring out what to leave at work. After all, I wouldn’t be able to change my mind about what I felt like wearing, nor would those outfits be available to me at home on days I planned to drive.

I also underwent the back and forth of moving items such as my wallet with identification, notebook, and other things into and out of the panniers and whatever purse I wanted to carry.

I moved from this “once in a while” commuting to biking “pretty often,” including some slightly longer recreational outings on weekends, when I would amaze myself by going 8 miles or more.

Mind you, this was all on a Costco special: a heavy-duty quasi-mountain bike thing with shocks. It probably weighed 50 pounds before I put on the rack and panniers. So I actually was pushing a fair amount of metal.

And, as I like to point out, it was very definitely uphill on the way home. The first time I tried bike commuting Spokane was experiencing unusually hot weather, 105 degrees or so, in mid-July. Great time to start.

At the time I lived at 13th and Cedar. I hit the steep spot on Maple between 6th and 8th—locals will know exactly what spot I mean—and I had to get off and start pushing the bike uphill.

Some wit (at least, I think I’m half right) said, “Aren’t you supposed to be riding that thing?” I panted, “I have nothing to prove!” and kept pushing.

It became a point of pride to make it just a little farther up that hill each time I rode, until at long last came the day when I actually rode all the way home.

Woohoo! Feel the burn, and the sense of accomplishment.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • What do you remember most about your early days of riding your bike for transportation?
October 29, 2011

Making Soup–Er, Bike Networks

Mia Birk, the author of Joyride: Pedaling Toward A Healthier Planet who will be speaking at WSU Pullman next week, wrote a blog post a while back, “The Bikeway Network Recipe.” She describes several communities, all of which took different routes to achieve increased levels of bike infrastructure and bike use.

Birk concludes that the specifics matter less than simply getting under way and moving quickly. (Kind of like a bike ride, when you think about it—the sooner you start riding the sooner you arrive.)

I’d like to extend the recipe analogy a little more. I make a lot of soup, especially this time of year, because it’s easy to include lots and lots of veggies and healthy grains and beans, it helps me use up leftovers although I can also just start from scratch, it freezes well for lunches, and my whole family is crazy about soup, although of course each person has his or her favorite.

I generally just start with whatever I have on hand. That could be leftovers or it could be a trip to pantry and freezer and a little cooking to prep some kind of grain/protein ingredient such as quinoa, rice or barley.

In thinking about Spokane’s recipe for bike infrastructure I conclude that we are making soup.

Cutting board with knives, open cansStarting with what we have on hand: This is where every improvisational recipe bike network has to start.

Including healthy ingredients: That’s kind of a no-brainer when you’re talking about riding a bike.

Using up leftovers: In a manner of speaking, yes. People on bikes often get the leftovers: the bit of shoulder or lane the driver doesn’t occupy (that day. You hope.).

This is also true in the positive sense of the word. Out of some “leftover” asphalt and paint you can create something wonderful by giving someone on a bike a travel lane.

The cost of adding bike infrastructure elements to a street project is mere pennies on the dollar, in return for which you get transportation that doesn’t create any wear and tear on the roads.

Street engineers will tell you that it isn’t coming up with money for new construction that’s the hardest part of the budget–it’s the maintenance. So a little bit of infrastructure that lets them reduce the hit to the budget and still move people? Magic.

To me this is the strongest parallel to the soup-making process. A magical transformation takes place when you chop up onions, potatoes, and other vegetables, choose some seasonings from the spice drawer, and throw in some leftover rice. Out of elements that others might not have thought of in quite this way you have created something wonderful that people appreciate.

But it doesn’t happen if you don’t start, and it doesn’t happen without any ingredients.

Tomato soup in potStarting from scratch: We need to do this too. In the case of something like the Centennial Trail or the Fish Lake Trail, people had the vision and put together the ingredients to create a new treat for everyone.

Creating something useful both in the short term and in the long run (like the leftovers that remain after a good dinner): Absolutely. In the short term we are piecing together individual stretches of bike lanes and other markings and signage that in the long run will come together in a connected network that provides access across the city.

When you’re in mid-soup sometimes it doesn’t taste like much. In similar fashion the appearance of short stretches of bike lanes in downtown might not appear to represent a huge step forward—it doesn’t take us all the way from raw veggies to soup. But given time those stretches of bike lane will get connected.

The important thing is to remember the goal and stay focused on making soup. Sometimes you don’t have quite the right mix of ingredients and you need to add a little balsamic vinegar or garlic (always garlic). The way the soup changes as the ingredients come together draws on a cook’s skills to keep adapting along the way.

Making different kinds of soup for different people: This will be essential to the long-term growth of bike riding in Spokane. We are not a one-soup-fits-all town.

The “fast and fearless”—those of us who know how to take the lane and who will assert our right to use the road for transportation—get out and ride with only minimal ingredients at hand.

The “interested but concerned” need the support of a more fully detailed recipe that takes into account their allergies (say, to close encounters with careless drivers) and special dietary needs (wayfinding, for example, to encourage the use of bikes on the short trips of 1-2 miles that constitute the majority of U.S. transportation trips).

The “no way no how” people just don’t like soup. But that’s no reason the rest of us can’t have our soup and ride it too.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • Have a better metaphor? Do tell!
August 2, 2011

Wearing Real Clothes: A Radical Political Statement

Is riding your bike in an outfit from Tangerine Boutique, Carousel Vintage, or Nordstrom’s some kind of sellout?

Some women bike advocates seem to think so.

I feel the need to rant a bit after following links I found in a post by Cap’n Transit. He pointed to a series of tweets by bike advocate Elly Blue about what she sees as the divisive and elitist aspects of the Cycle Chic movement. He also linked to a 2009 blog post on Biker Chicks of West Chester (PA) that sees skirts and heels as symbols of male oppression.

First, why this blog isn’t “Cycle Chic Spokane”: For me, “chic” can carry a connotation of being expensive, luxurious, and mostly unavailable to regular everyday people–like looking at an issue of Vogue on Bikes. (I also think the term “cycling” connotes a workout; I “ride my bike” and don’t break a sweat most days.)

Style, on the other hand, can come from the way you tie your Goodwill or Value Village scarf with particular flair. It doesn’t necessarily carry a steep price tag. But is it somehow “wrong” to ride in a skirt even if it came from a thrift shop?

The Biker Chicks blogger, Libby Maxim, wrote,

“If you want to bike to work, fine, but put on appropriate clothes, pants, sneakers and a sweater for example. You only let men control your clothing choices when you bike in short skirts and tight tops. I see no choice in your biking clothing selection, only a lady trying hard to wear what men want us to wear.”

So now instead of a man telling me what to wear, it’s a woman. How is this an improvement?

Tweet from @ellyblue: Exclusivity. Commodification. Class. RT @velovogue: Elly - I'm not sure I catch your drift. Why does cycle chic do harm? Tweet response from @velovogue: @ellyblue I'm a believer of different types of marketing. I think cycle chic does inspire more middle class women to ride.

Maxim takes aim specifically at Cycle Chic and  appears to think that everyone who rides in real clothes is dressed provocatively, describing low-cut tops and short skirts.

That’s not what I ride in (well, some of the skirts…). I want to wear regular clothes and ride comfortably. As I’ve ranted before, I want clothes for biking that don’t look like clothes for biking.

Forcing me into bike-specific clothing is just as confining as forcing me into a tight skirt that makes it hard to get on and off the bike. I find wearing a loose skirt much cooler and more convenient in the summer than pants that cook my legs and pick up chain grease, and far more convenient than dressing down (remember how much you hated that in PE?) and changing in the bathroom at work.

In taking aim at the clothing choices pictured in the Cycle Chic movement it seems to me Maxim misses the point. My takeaway, when you peel away the layers of Vogue: People wearing clothing they want to wear—whether someone approves of their choices or not—should feel free to use a bike to get around for everyday transportation.

“If you want to bike to work, fine” also sounds to me as if biking to work is somehow not “real” riding. Maybe I’m reading too much into that “fine”—it sounds dismissive. One of the commenters on the blog who mocks the idea of a skirt guard for her Cannondale falls into that tone, as if a skirt guard would violate the purity of her road bike. I guess the commuter gear loaded onto my Specialized Dolce is a violation too–hadn’t realized I wasn’t allowed to just use it as a bike. I’ll add that skirt guard ASAP.

There’s another level at which I think it’s genuinely important to ride in skirts and high heels. The type of infrastructure suitable for Mr. High-Speed Spandex is not that inviting to Ms. Step-Through Skirt.

To make riding a bike genuinely appealing and accessible to a wide range of riders we need people who don’t currently ride to see role models that help them envision themselves on a bike. When I’m kitted out and clipped in I don’t send the message that riding a bike is for everyone. I send the message that it’s for people who are already fit and confident, just as Cycle Chic pictures send the message that biking is for the fit and fashionable.

How about more real people, wearing real clothes, riding bikes? It’s not a plot, honest.

Your Turn

  • Do you look at Cycle Chic blogs at all? Are they inspiring or just eye candy?
  • Do you judge other riders as being “real” or not based on their clothing?

Bonus Round

A couple of years ago Spokane Transit asked me to be one of the people featured in their ad campaigns. Specifically, they wanted to show someone dressed in business attire who rides the bus so other business people who don’t think of transit as being for them recognize it’s for everyone.

This is social marketing at work. Why not for bikes, which are such a great tool to make you feel better about your self-image regardless of whether you fit someone’s abstract “ideal”?

Related Reading

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