I’m not anti-car. Owning your own private automobile is great. You can go anywhere, anytime. The problem is that an automobile takes up a lot of space on the road, in the driveway, and in the parking lots of all the places you visit. Each additional vehicle affects traffic congestion incrementally. There are several parking spaces in your town for each vehicle you own. Our homes used to have front porches and now have big garages, but our SUVs are so big that we still have to park them on the street!
When I was a kid, we packed a family of 5 into our 4-door sedan. We fought over who got a window or, if only one parent was present, who got to sit in front. Nowadays a 4-person family doesn’t seem to fit in anything smaller than an SUV.
Before my time, one car was enough for the whole family. In my day (imagine I’m saying that in an ancient, querulous voice), two cars were normal. Nowadays, every kid gets her own car when she turns 16.
There are more cars than ever before, cars are bigger than ever before, and yet cars are emptier than ever before. Each SUV is also an SOV: a single occupancy vehicle.
I’m not really an old curmudgeon (although I’m practicing). Like I said, the freedom to go anywhere, anytime is great. But it costs. It costs time, money, and space. It costs you individually and it costs our community.
For every car (including SUVs and trucks), there are about 8 parking spaces. No matter where your car is parked right now, there are 7 parking spots somewhere in town that are empty, waiting for your car! That is hard to believe when you are circling fruitlessly, searching for a parking space, but it is true.
That’s a huge waste of space. That space could house the building of a business stimulating our local economy. It could be a home for a low-income family. It could be a park with growing trees.
Instead, it is just empty, dead asphalt.
Every car adds congestion to the road. The amount of space a car requires per person is enormous compared to any other way to travel. Buses are the most efficient way to move people. Bicycles are also very space-efficient. Car pooling is pretty good too; of course the more people in the car the more space-efficient. Motorcycles and scooters are not as space-efficient on the road but take up less parking space. But SOVs (whether they are SUVs or smaller cars) are horribly inefficient on the road and in the parking lot.
Traffic jams are caused, not by an accident or a slow moving bicycle, but by all the SOVs.
Once upon a time, a car gave someone the freedom to go anywhere, anytime. When enough people had cars, each additional car took a little of that freedom away from everyone.
Bicycling gives me the freedom of going anywhere, anytime without the expense of an automobile. When bicycling isn’t an option, carpooling is space-efficient and time-efficient. I lose a little flexibility of when and where I go, but I make up for it in shared expenses and time, especially if I’m the passenger.
For my Master’s Degree in Sustainable Transportation class project I’m researching short paths that provide key connections. I first thought of this concept when I lived in Kirksville and used the Steer Creek Trail to access the Kings Court subdivision. The first time I biked on Steer Creek Trail, I laughed out loud because the trail is nearly as wide as the dead-end road next to it and carries more traffic than that road! But at the north end of the trail is a bridge across Steer Creek, where the dead-end road ends.
“They could have saved some money,” I thought, “if they’d just put in the bridge and not bothered with the rest of the trail.”
The bridge is the key connection. Without the bridge across Steer Creek, the only way to get in or out of Kings Court is Baltimore St, a busy, high volume street. Even I avoided biking on Baltimore when I lived in Kirksville. In the absence of Steer Creek Trail, residents of Kings Court had to drive cars. There was only one mode choice.
I asked an old friend, retired Public Works Director John Buckwalter, about the history of Steer Creek Trail. It was completed in 2002 with funds from the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), a federal program administered through the Dept of Natural Resources (the same program that funded FLATS Phase 1). The bridge was a reclaimed bridge from a county road. Adair County replaced a county bridge near Yarrow through the MoDOT Off-System Bridge Replacement and Restoration (BRO) program. County crews left the old bridge by the stream and city crews disassembled it and loaded it onto trucks. They remodeled it to be narrower and built a new deck.
I love this story because it’s an example of how a federal program (RTP) combined with a state program (BRO) resulted in the local Steer Creek Trail. Sadly, RTP (now part of Transportation Enhancements) has been drastically reduced, and BRO ended even before the new MoDOT 325 System cuts. That is why it is so important for local citizens to be involved at all levels of government, local, state, and federal. An easy way to be involved is to join your local bike/ped advocacy organization (in Kirksville, FLATS), the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation, and the League of American Bicyclists. Federal and state programs have a big impact on local transportation options, often in ways we can’t predict.
Although we don’t have traffic counts for Steer Creek Trail, Mr. Buckwalter mentioned learning how much many residents depend on the trail when it was shut down briefly during repairs on the adjacent sanitary facility. Kings Court residents use Steer Creek Trail to bike to Hy-Vee, Truman State University, the public school, and downtown. Once the FLATS trail is completed connecting downtown Kirksville to Thousand Hills State Park, you will be able to bike to the park in less than an hour. Steer Creek Trail is itself a popular destination for fitness and leisure, with many people walking and jogging on it.
Long term plans in 2002 called for one-mile Steer Creek Trail to extend another half-mile to Hwy P, but no further progress has happened. However, for my class project, I’m proposing a 325-foot connector between Kings Rd and Meadow Ln. The subdivisions to the north of Kings Court are well connected to each other by quiet, residential streets. This short connector to Meadow Ln would open up access to Steer Creek Trail for literally hundreds of people.
Mr. Buckwalter was able to clear up the mystery of why Steer Creek Trail parallels Cottage Grove Ave, a narrow dead-end road hardly bigger than the trail itself. Back in the day, people cut through the neighborhood west of Cottage Grove Ave to avoid the stoplight at Illinois and Baltimore. Since then, two streets that used to connect to Cottage Grove Ave have been removed, and now there is almost no traffic on Cottage Grove Ave.
A decade ago, MoDOT sent federal money back rather than spend it on bike/ped facilities. MoDOT killed the Complete Streets bill that had gained traction. MoDOT was The Enemy.
As the funding crisis loomed, MoDOT Director Pete Rahn bailed on his sinking ship and the new leadership looked for solutions to his legacy. Seeking allies in every corner, MoDOT suddenly understood the importance of bicycling and walking. I was excited and happy with the new MoDOT. There was a creative energy and a sense of bucking the trends that had gotten us into this mess. As I planned my career change into transportation, I wanted to be part of this changing MoDOT.
With the failure of Amendment 7, MoDOT has lost heart. Despair has replaced the excitement of overcoming challenges. MoDOT’s new mantra is “Save the Highways”, which doesn’t tug the heartstrings like “Save the Whales” or “Save the Rainforests”. There’s no talk at all of multimodal transportation or safety, as if paving a few sidewalks and adding some shoulders would ensure the doom of our precious highways.
MoDOT is once again sending federal dollars back (Transportation Alternatives Program) rather than spend them on bike/ped accommodations.
Our highway system is too big for our pocketbook. Innocent people and corporations will suffer hardship as we adapt to this reality. Last year, the challenge we faced was finding new money. We failed. Today, the challenge is to dramatically change how we operate so as to fit within a severely reduced budget.
It is still a challenge, a challenge that we can face with fear and trepidation or with excitement and adventure.
MoDOT proposes the Missouri 325 System, named for the $325 budget that is short of the $485 million needed to match federal tax dollars. Under the Missouri 325 System, 8000 miles of state highway are primary and 26,000 miles are supplementary. Primary roads will be maintained and repaired, but will receive no new capacity of any sort. Supplementary roads will receive bare minimum maintenance and no major repairs.
I don’t want to be part of this sad and gloomy MoDOT.
Instead, I’d like to see this message from MoDOT:
6000 miles of primary highway will be the safest and best highway we can make it, with adequate shoulders and sidewalks where relevant.
The remaining 28,000 miles will be supplementary and receive bare minimum maintenance and no major repairs.
This is subtly different from the Missouri 325 System message. The majority of roads that could benefit from sidewalks are in the supplementary system, and neither my plan nor the Missouri 325 System plan allows for sidewalks on those streets. In practice, the end result of my plan might be largely indistinguishable from the Missouri 325 System plan.
The difference is one of attitude. Let’s make the best of what we have. I hope that when I graduate next year, I’ll find an excited and energized organization who wants an excited and energetic transportation planner. Maybe MoDOT will have cheered up by then, but if not, there are plenty of cities and states facing funding shortfalls– and change– with courage and pride.
I just learned that MoDOT Director Dave Nichols announced his retirement. This makes me sad as we had developed a good working relationship with him and he was generally supportive of our efforts. I am hopeful that his successor will bring optimism back to MoDOT.
One of the things I love about bike/ped advocacy is that it is a bipartisan issue. Everybody likes biking and walking! It’s healthy and environmental so it appeals to Democrats. It’s independent and free so it appeals to Republicans. What is NOT bipartisan is the attacks on bike/ped which typically come from Republicans. Sometimes that leads to the perception that bike/ped issues are a Democrat thing, but that is just not true.
However, it often does seem like bike/ped issues are a Democrat thing so one day I had the opportunity to listen to an online conversation of my friends about how bicycling and walking resonates with conservatives and libertarians.
From Kirksville, MO: “Self reliance. If you can walk 1 mile you can bike 10. Cycling can help with fitness. Someone said, “If you don’t have time for exercise then you don’t have time to be sick.” If one incorporates cycling for transportation they kill 2 birds with one stone. There must be an understanding that this isn’t always practical though. Also, it’s fun. Today’s bikes are so much better than the ones most grew up riding.”
From Tennessee: “I believe in small government and personal generosity and personal responsibility. Indiana University determined that 4500 staff/students relied on bike/ped as primary transport. 4,500 car commuters would have required 14 ACRES of expensive and impossible to provide surface parking! Bicycling and walking is an alternative to ObamaCare. Personal responsibility for healthy lifestyle and healthy body reduces reliance on healthcare!”
From Columbia, MO: “Being libertarian is about personal responsibility and personal reliance. It means doing the things yourself and in your community that you don’t want the government to do for you. It requires making personal and community decisions that fit the lifestyle that you want. If a community (local or state) wants to leave opportunity and choice to the individual and let neighbors work out the details of their relationships then allow them the means to do so.
Multimodal transportation expands the ability to explore and experience in a free and unencumbered way. Provide opportunities for freedom and let people take the responsibility for their own health and life. Give people more opportunities to choose their own lifestyle and activities.”
I enjoyed these perspectives and this conversation encouraged me. Even more encouraging is that a Republican, Representative Nate Walker from District 3 (includes Kirksville), is sponsoring our Bicycle Bill this year to update the Missouri code!
How do bicycling and walking resonate with YOUR politics and philosophy?
Whew! My second quarter of classes in my Master’s Program in Sustainable Transportation through the University of Washington (online) started up at the beginning of January and I’m running fast, like the Red Queen, just to stay in place. You might have noticed the blog posts are suddenly less frequent.
I’m surprised to be learning about freight trucks!
It would never have occurred to me that freight trucks are at all like bicycles. But there are a lot of similarities. Trucks start up slow, and bicycles are slow. Trucks like flat streets, and so do bicycles. Car drivers hate trucks, and car drivers hate bicycles. Trucks benefit everyone by bringing goods to stores, and bicycles benefit everyone by decreasing traffic congestion.
We need trucks. Nearly everything comes to us on a truck. If the trucks come at night, people complain about the noise of loading and unloading. If the trucks come during the day, they double-park and block traffic. Often they have to park in the bike lane.
People love to complain about reckless truck drivers. Bicyclists in particular claim that UPS and FedEx drivers are the worst drivers in the world, but the numbers do not back them up. The larger the truck, the fewer the accidents. In fact, per vehicle, per mile, and in absolute number, trucks have fewer collisions than cars do with bicyclists and pedestrians.
Car drivers receive very little training in how to drive. Truck drivers receive a lot of training. They are more skilled than most drivers. Truck drivers may have more to gain than the average driver from driving fast (time is money), but also more to lose from a collision. They have more incentive than most drivers to avoid a collision.
On a bicycle, I feel safer on a road with heavy truck traffic than on a road with fast cars. Some bicyclists think that if a truck hits them, it will be more serious than if a car hits them. But the impact is a result of both mass and speed. Colliding with a car traveling above 40 mph will seriously mess up a bicyclist. The extra mass an 18-wheeler hardly matters on fast highways.
Pedestrians and bicyclists need to know about the enormous blind spot and wide turning radius of big trucks. Many have been killed in the blind spot of a turning truck.
Bicyclists, trucks, and other drivers benefit from better planning, such as zoning regulations requiring a docking bay or unloading zone offset from the road. Industrial warehouses located in the heart of a city might seem like a terrible idea, but it actually decreases the number of miles big trucks must travel in and out of a city.
I never gave much thought to freight trucks, but they are an interesting and integral part of traffic.
Every time a car hits a pedestrian, I hear the same comments.
“Those dumb college kids step right out in front of traffic.”
“I nearly hit someone the other day because the sun was in my eyes.”
“Pedestrians should look.”
People get quite angry about it, even though it is the pedestrian who suffers, NOT the motorist. (Unless it was a hit-and-run or involved drugs or alcohol, the motorist rarely suffers any penalties.)
Someone tried to explain to me once why motorists are offended when pedestrians get themselves hit.
“If I killed a pedestrian,” he said, “I would feel so awful about it that my life would be ruined.” The pedestrian’s life would be over, but the driver’s life would be ruined.
I don’t want a pedestrian’s death to ruin a driver’s life. This is my advice in how to not hit a pedestrian.
1. Don’t drive a car. Very few pedestrians die when a bicycle hits them or another pedestrian runs into them. Move to a place where you can walk, bike, or bus to all your destinations.
2. Stop at crosswalks.
3. Don’t drive distracted or intoxicated. Texting and driving increases the risk of a wreck 23-fold. Drinking and driving increases the risk 4-fold. Talking on a cell phone while driving increases the risk 4-fold. Put the phone down.
4. Slow down. Collisions with pedestrians are almost never fatal when the car is traveling at 20 mph or less. They are almost always fatal at 40 mph or more. The speed limit is the maximum– not 5 mph over the posted speed limit. It is also the maximum for perfect conditions. At night, in the rain, in the fog, and when the sun is in your eyes, slow down to below the posted speed limit.
5. Improve your driving skills through study, training, and practice. Take a Driver’s Ed class or lessons from a good driver. Buy a black box dash cam and review the feedback on your sharp corners and hard braking. Drive like you have a brim-full cup of hot coffee on your lap.
6. Minimize how much time you spend driving in areas where there are a lot of pedestrians. In a parking lot, park in the first open spot you see. Park at the edge of downtown where it is easy to find a spot, so you aren’t circling the square looking for an opening. Bonus! With this parking strategy, you’ll spend less time in your car and you’ll get a little extra exercise as you walk to your destination.
7. Learn where pedestrians are likely to be so you know where to watch for them. Most pedestrians cross at intersections. Even where there is no stop sign for you, keep an eye on the edges of the road. Since you aren’t talking on your cell phone, this will be much easier to do.
Many of you have very good excuses as to why you can’t follow some of this advice. You live too far away so you have to drive. You drive over the speed limit because you only have 10 minutes to make a 15 minute trip. Driving is your only chance to make a phone call.
Pedestrian’s lives are more important than your convenience.
The Long Wait
It was November of 2010. Dan Martin, director of the KCOM fitness center, had told me I should talk to Royce Kallerud about a bike/ped advocacy organization in Kirksville. I emailed Royce and he invited me to go running with him Tuesday at 5:15 am.
I am not a runner. Royce routinely wins races. Royce slowed to what was probably a brisk walk for him, and I sprinted. Royce did most of the talking, as I had no breath.
Royce has a vision of a paved trail connecting Kirksville to Thousand Hills State Park. This trail would be the backbone of a bike/ped network and it would be the seed of a bike/ped movement in Kirksville. Everyone knows this trail as FLATS, the Forest Lake Area Trail System. (This ironic name originated with Dan, who is good at clever names.)
Several months before, Royce and Dan and the FLATS steering committee had submitted a Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant application to build Phase 1, the first half-mile within Thousand Hills State Park. The grants were supposed to be announced in October, but uncertainties about the federal transportation bill held things up. Any day now, they hoped, they’d learn whether Phase 1 was funded.
If funded, the RTP grant would reimburse expenses for the trail. The RTP grant required a 20% local match, so we needed to raise 120% of the grant (of which most would be reimbursed). While we waited for the announcement, we raised money. Kirksville Rotary was the fiscal agent and held the donations in a charitable trust fund. Without a fiscal agent, FLATS would not have been eligible for an RTP grant.
Fall passed into winter and still no word on the grant.
At last, in March 2011, we got the message: We were funded. The Governor came to Thousand Hills State Park to announce the good news in person!
We waited impatiently for work to begin. To build the trail inside Thousand Hills State Park, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had oversight. The DNR must approve all plans, and the DNR had agreed to do a substantial amount of work, which would save a lot of money. We waited for the DNR architect to draw up the plans.
The community was excited about FLATS. Radio, TV, and newspapers did story after story. We spoke to dozens of organizations and clubs and people. It was a lot of money to raise, but we did it! But still we waited for the DNR.
The RTP grant is a 2-year grant. That means we would only be reimbursed for money that was spent in that 2-year timeframe. Month after month passed, missing deadline after deadline, and still we waited. We called various people at the DNR frequently but still we didn’t get plans and we didn’t progress.
We received the draft from the DNR architect. He changed the original design and added a bridge. The bridge would be beautiful, but it would change the cost or perhaps the scope of the trail. It might be shorter because of the bridge. We were just very grateful to have some progress. We were able to order materials, steel and lumber.
We learned about the Indiana bat. No trees may be cut down when the Indiana bat is hibernating. The DNR plans called for cutting down a couple of mature trees. This could only be done during the summer months.
The deadlines continued to pass and we filed for a 6-month extension. We cheered when the DNR installed a silt fence to protect the lake from the construction. But after that– nothing was completed, no work begun. The steel and lumber sat in a big pile. With my relocation to Columbia, I was able to drive to Jefferson City and meet with DNR staff personally. They assured me it would be completed in time.
We filed for a second 6-month extension– the final extension allowed.
We were frustrated and worried. Would we lose the entire RTP grant? What would we tell our generous donors? We could hardly believe it, but we had to start planning for failure.
The steel went off to Brookfield where the DNR crew began turning it into a bridge. The architect called for petroglyph shapes to be cut into the panels of the bridge. These would be beautiful, but the steel workers cursed his name for weeks as they labored over those tiny shapes.
The silt fence was falling down and time was running out.
With less than 2 months to spare, all the DNR crews in Missouri suddenly converged on Thousand Hills State Park and built the entire trail in about 4 weeks! At the last minute, the new DNR architect changed the plans again so that not only did we get the beautiful bridge his predecessor had designed, but the trail went all the way to the campground while still providing access to the Petroglyph Shelter.
There are various reasons and theories for the slow pace of work at the DNR. There had been some miscommunications and overcommitments within the agency, and because of our experience some changes in policy occurred.
Lots of people came out on a sunny day this January. It was windy, the cooling end of a brief warm spell. I made the drive from Columbia to see the trail that I’d had a hand in. The trail is lovely and perhaps all the more delightful because of the long wait.
I spent the day in the Capitol with the Executive Director of the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation, Brent Hugh, and our lobbyist, Jim Farrell. Brent and Jim spend a lot of time in this building on behalf of Missouri bicyclists and pedestrians. From 163 Representatives and 34 Senators, we had time to visit half a dozen and we left information with a few others. Among those we spoke to in person were my friend from my Kirksville days, Nate Walker, and a Branson Representative who biked all the way to Jefferson City to file his candidacy, Jeff Justus.
Our 2015 legislative agenda includes harassment of vulnerable road users, safe passing distance of no less than 3 feet, update of bike/ped law, and update of bicycle equipment law. We are seeking sponsors for this bike/ped bill, and you can help by contacting your state senator or representative today and asking them to sponsor it! While an email is a good start, it’s even more effective to schedule a phone call or speak to them in person.
The most interesting meeting of the day was with Rep. Bart Korman. If this name rings a bell, it is because he introduced anti-bike legislation in the form of a mandatory sidepath law. I found him surprisingly reasonable. He has an engineering background and is knowledgeable about transportation and willing to consider ideas that many politicians find unpalatable.
In introducing the mandatory sidepath bill, Rep. Korman sought to appease his constituents. That’s important to remember: elected officials do listen and respond to their constituents, so the more you speak to them, the more they listen to you. “If you can help us solve Hwy 94,” he challenged us, “we can help you.” It was nearly a promise to sponsor our legislation– and I know how to solve Hwy 94.
Hwy 94 runs parallel to the Katy Trail through his district, and drivers object to the bicyclists in their way. The solution to Hwy 94 is not to ban bicyclists, who use the road instead of the trail for many reasons, such as reaching their destination. The solution is for MoDOT to prioritize Hwy 94 for wide, paved shoulders that make the road safer for everyone, including bicyclists.
As a volunteer bike/ped advocate, it was a rare treat for me to spend the day with Brent and Jim at the Capitol and see your membership and donation dollars at work. I hope you will join us for Capitol Day on Monday, April 13 and help us visit all of our 163 representatives and 34 senators.
When I first started biking, I was so dumb that I didn’t even know that I needed lights. I could see the road by the streetlights, and it didn’t occur to me that there was any other reason for lights than to allow me to see.
Luckily I listened to smart people and I learned that I need lights so that other people can see me. If you do only one thing to improve your bicycle safety, it should be lights at night.
Just as lights are not only for me to see but to protect me, the video camera on my bike is not for my own viewing pleasure but as a witness. Bike cameras may revolutionize bicycle law and the enforcement of how motorists behave around bicycles.
Bicyclists are at a disadvantage in court because most judges and juries don’t understand bicycling. Too often a bike-car collision is a “he said, she said” affair or worse (if the bicyclist doesn’t survive). But bike cam videos of harassment have already resulted in arrest and prosecution in some states. Until bike cams, a harassed bicyclist had little recourse. A bike-mounted video camera ensures that the truth will be told no matter what happens.
I wanted a “black box” for my bike, and that’s what I got with Rideye (www.rideye.com). It mounts easily on my handlebar and I take it off and slip it in my pocket when I lock up my bike. Rideye loops infinitely, recording over old footage. Accident-detecting sensors protect video evidence, or I can push a button to flag an incident on my ride. The fish-eye lens captures a wide area of the road. I’m impressed with the quality of the video. I can easily read license plates. It’s simple to use: I push the button to start recording, and I push and hold the button to stop it. It plugs into my laptop with a standard cable and to charge it and to view the video. The battery lasts up to 15 hours.
Ever since I got my Rideye camera, I’ve been hoping a driver would act like a jerk! Instead, everyone has been driving nicely.
The five layers of crash prevention are: 1) control my bike, 2) obey the law, 3) discourage drivers’ mistakes, 4) avoid drivers’ mistakes, and 5) wear a helmet. A helmet isn’t a crash prevention tool but it mitigates the damage of a crash. I would add #6, use a bike cam to ensure justice if there is a crash or to ensure justice in the case of harassment, even when it doesn’t result in physical harm.
My bike cam makes me feel even more confident and empowered on my bike.
In Kirksville, everyone knows Dan Martin, fitness center director at the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine and event director of numerous races including the NEMO Triathlon. Since he has a family history of heart disease, Dan knows how important it is to take care of his own heart. He is passionate about health, and not just his own health but the health of the community. If you ever need a passionate and informed speaker, Dan’s your man!
Dan says that people generally use four basic strategies to incorporate exercise into their lives.
1. “By the numbers”. These folks get in, hammer out their reps or their minutes, and get it done. They don’t want to be distracted by, you know, other people.
2. Competition. Some people are motivated to be the best. They need other people to spur them on.
3. Social. Some people respond well to having a walking buddy or attending a gym class with lots of other people.
4. Routine. Some people don’t want to plan their exercise or think about it. It has to be incorporated into their life, such as biking or walking to work, a habit of parking in the farthest corner of the parking lot, or always using the restroom upstairs.
I use two of these strategies. Routine is most important to me. Bicycling has became part of my lifestyle to the point where it is easier to bike than to drive, even on cold nasty days, even when I’m not feeling well. The social aspect of attending classes at the gym is important to me too, because working from home, I might not see anyone all day long if I didn’t get out and go to the gym.
Routine motivates Jen, whose 4 small children make it a challenge to leave the house to the gym or to run. She walks on her treadmill 2 hours every day while working on her laptop.
Kary is “by the numbers”. She hates all exercise, so she makes herself run 30 minutes every Friday, no excuses. This approach works so well that she has not missed a day in 3 years. She has run a few 5K races and she sort of likes running a little bit now.
Ronna’s approach doesn’t fit Dan’s categories. She has made a game of exercise. Her New Year’s Resolution is to try out activities from A to Z. “Thank God for Zumba,” she said. I look forward to following her adventures as she experiences equestrian riding, ice skating, night running, ping pong, qi gong, tennis, and Xtreme sports (such as a Tough Mudder).
Mike is another one who doesn’t fit neatly into one of the categories. He spends extra time at the gym so he can listen to an entire symphony on his mp3 player. He used to listen hours of music on his long commute, but now that he lives close to work and bikes he doesn’t have those hours. Instead, he listens to hours of music at the gym.
Get creative and experiment to find out what motivation gets you out and active!
Everybody bikes. Little children bike. Very old people bike. Skinny people bike, fat people bike. People of all ethnicities and skin colors bike. People with disabilities bike. Health nuts bike. Drunks smoking cigarettes bike.
People bike to all places for all reasons. We bike hundreds of miles to visit dozens of state parks. We bike to visit family and friends. We bike with family and friends. We bike to the grocery store, to the dentist, to the doctor. We bike to the hospital to give birth. We bike with enormous trailers to move furniture, Christmas trees, or lumber.
We bike to the bank. I bike to the bank to deposit money I earn as an instructor for bicycle classes and as a ride leader.
Some of us bike to the bank to withdraw money.
Over the holidays, some of my friends went on bike rides to escape their families for a little while. Some bicycle to escape the weight gain of Christmas feasting. Some bicycle to escape the pressures of the holidays.
Still other people bicycle to withdraw money and then bicycle to escape.
They aren’t bike thieves. Bike thieves are people who steal bikes. Bicyclist thieves are thieves who ride bicycles.
I’m always happy to hear that people are biking. The news this week featured a bicyclist– a bank robber who used a bicycle as a getaway vehicle for 6 bank robberies.
Perhaps the bank robber bicyclist had read the article “Why Bank Robbers Should Use Bicycles Instead of Getaway Cars”, which presents compelling, logical, rational reasons in favor of using a bicycle as a getaway vehicle over using a car. Bicyclist is such a healthy activity, it just makes sense.
One of the banks hit is the bank that the local bike/ped advocacy organization banks with. That probably has nothing to do with the robbery, as bank robbers aren’t generally interested in bike/ped advocacy.
Wherever you are going, especially if you are going to rob a bank, it’s probably best to go there on a bicycle, and leave again on a bicycle.
I hooked up my little trailer, aired its tires, and biked through the fat fluffy flakes of snow to Wal-Mart to buy a couple pillows. As I walked past the crafts section, I noticed some holiday-themed fabric on sale and remembered that my daughter wanted me to make reusable fabric gift-bags to replace wrapping paper. I picked out several bolts and put them on the counter.
Diana, the Wal-Mart employee who cut the fabric for me was friendly, cheerful, and talkative. She mentioned she had a degree in engineering. Why someone with a degree in engineering would be working at Wal-Mart? Even as the question went through my mind, she was answering it.
Her engineering job ended, she explained, and she interviewed with three firms. At each firm, she had a friend on the inside who reported how excited and enthusiastic they were about hiring her– until her interview. As soon as they saw her, they lost interest.
“They didn’t want to put an obese person on their insurance,” she explained. I was horrified. But she was calm and happy, not bitter or resentful in the least. “It’s their loss,” she said.
But you’re working at Wal-Mart, I thought. How can you be happy here when you were once an engineer? She explained that she was fortunate to get the job she had– because of her weight, there was every reason to fear that Wal-Mart wouldn’t want to hire her, either. But this time, a friend on the inside had enough pull to get her hired.
“I’ve lost 100 pounds,” she said. Wow!
As I pedaled home, I shook my head. Diana was so content and cheerful that I couldn’t feel sorry for her. Continuing with a sedentary engineering job might have killed her. Wal-Mart might have saved her life– an odd thing from an employer infamous for its mistreatment of its employees. But what a shame that a prestigious profession lost a valuable member.
The blame, I concluded, is in part held by the insurance companies that didn’t want to insure an obese person, and I allow for some individual responsibility. But the bulk of the blame lies in the built environment that facilitates and even demands an extreme sedentary lifestyle and poor diet. We require everyone to drive when we separate homes from workplaces with zoning. We kill pedestrians when we maximize automobile traffic flow on roads. Long commutes raise stress and expand waistlines.
Diana was lucky the engineering firms rejected her and she was lucky that Wal-Mart did hire her. How many people don’t get so lucky? The combination of obesity and unemployment is a truly daunting prospect. Changing the auto-centric pedestrian-killing environment to a population-dense, walking- and transit-rich one can transform us from stressed-out, road-raged, unhealthy workers to cheerful, calm, and friendly people like Diana.
Many bicyclists like to carry a mascot on their bike, a little doll or stuffed animal. Mascots make great conversation pieces and make our bikes easily recognizable to our friends.
I first carried a mascot when I did Biking Across Kansas in 2012. My favorite bicycle forum, Team Estrogen, had started a “Flat Stanley” program, sending a little doll named Maidei from one person to another. Maidei had bicycled with dozens of women on every continent in the world for 3 years when she arrived at my house. She had a little suitcase stuffed with postcards, buttons, and stickers. She had a tiny little bicycle of her own. She was just in time to bike across Kansas with me.
In a little town in Kansas, Maidei met a friend: Flat Steven. Steven had wanted to do the ride but wasn’t able to make it this year, so his daughter made a paper doll of him and took pictures of the highlights of the trip with Flat Steven and herself.
My friend Alvin bikes to his job at an elementary school every day all year. The kids love his mascot, a chipmunk also named Alvin, fixed to the back of his bike. Elmo rides on back of Nancy’s bike and is a fixture on all our group rides.
I asked my daughter if she would sacrifice one of her numerous stuffed animals to be a mascot for my 40 Missouri State Parks ride. She identified a chicken beanie baby, which I dubbed “You”. As in, “I wish You would pedal.” You appeared in hundreds of photos from that trip.
This Christmas, You met a new friend: Gonzo! If you watched the Muppets as a kid, you know that Gonzo has a thing for chickens, specifically a chicken named Camilla. You aren’t Camilla, but Gonzo and You are good friends already and are looking forward to my next big ride: The Missouri Perimeter Tour.
Gonzo doesn’t have a helmet, but he is dressed in the costume he wears when he gets shot out of a cannon, which is a far more dangerous activity than bicycling. And he has a cape, too.
A friend of mine organizes an informal Christmas Lights ride every year. This year, 18 people rode. Many of the bicyclists decorated their bikes and helmets with Christmas lights and one bicycle even sported a Christmas tree!
At the first display we visited, icicle lights dripped down the house. A snowman threw a snowball. A little girl putting a hat on a snowman fell over. A penguin slid on the ice. A gingerbread man jumped in the air. Around these moving light displays were deer, trees, houses, Santa, and more.
At the Candy Cane Crib, with the home and yard coated in 40,000 lights, we crowded into the Candy Cane Hut for a picture. The homeowner, Ryan, remembered us from last year. We helped empty his candy cane bucket.
Our next stop was not at a house with fancy Christmas lights, but friends-of-friends had beer for those who wanted it and homemade candy.
In between these extravagant light displays we passed many beautifully decorated homes (as well as several tacky ones).
I love bicycling by myself. I love even more bicycling with a companion. I love most of all bicycling with a group of less than 10. Larger groups can be a little chaotic and unpredictable. However, I enjoyed catching up with friends, meeting new people, and seeing beautiful, tacky, and fun Christmas lights.
Often people tell me they can’t bike because of their knees. “Biking hurts my knees,” I hear.
Biking shouldn’t hurt your knees. If your knees hurt, you probably need to raise your seat. I’ve heard that, for running, if something hurts at the beginning but stops hurting, it’s ok, but if something hurts and gets worse and does not stop hurting, I should stop running. I think that is the same with biking: if your knees hurt at the beginning of the ride but stop hurting in a few miles, it’s ok, but if your knees keep hurting or get worse you should change something, probably raise your seat.
Biking is actually good for your knees. It strengthens the muscles around the knee which stabilize the knee and reduce the forces on the cartilage. Extra weight puts extra force on the cartilage, and biking can be a great way to lose weight and protect the knee that way.
My dad had a complete knee replacement in his 20’s because of an injury. He was in the National Guard (weekend warrior) so he had to pass the physical fitness test every year, including the 2-mile run. When he was in his 40’s, a doctor told him that he should stop running or he would be in a wheelchair. Also, he would inevitably need a knee replacement. The National Guard allowed him to do the bike option instead of the 2-mile run for the annual fitness test.
In his 50’s, his knee was hurting again. Remembering what they’d told him about needing a knee replacement some day, he saw an orthopaedic surgeon who put him on cortisone shots which helped. He’d retired from the National Guard by then and no longer had to pass an annual fitness test so he wasn’t biking at all when he turned 60.
This is the introduction he wrote for our 40 Missouri State Parks trip:
“[40 Missouri State Parks] started for me in 2009 when I nearly tipped the scales at a weight I said I’d never let myself get to. I’d been aware the weight was creeping up for years, but had told myself “when I retire, I’ll have time to get in shape.” But then I realized I couldn’t wait until then, and that I needed to start doing something besides the occasional and sporadic attempts at working out.
So, in March, 2009, I started biking. My first ride was on Shunga Creek Trail in Topeka – it was 39 degrees and raining. I went about 4 miles. But I decided to take away the option of being lazy & not riding, and decided I’d ride pretty much every day. Before long, I was riding the entire trail (at that time it was about 14 miles round trip). When I did retire on Dec 30, 2010, I celebrated by riding 25 miles.
Training for Biking Across Kansas (BAK) really helped. I worked my way up to 85 miles, and then to doing 50 miles a day for 8 days straight. When I survived 4 days of 100+ heat on BAK, covering 80 miles one day with a 30 mph wind, I knew I was going to keep on doing this as long as I can. I’m sure that’s a special type of mental disorder or dementia!
Today I’m 40 lbs lighter than I was (still want to take off a bit more), and really excited about this trip. A little bit apprehensive, which is probably good, but mostly confident and looking forward to it.”
In fact, Dad did great and is planning to bike to Atlanta, GA in 2015!
But what about his knee? He hasn’t had a cortisone shot since he started biking in 2009. Whether it was losing weight or strengthening the muscles around the knee and stabilizing the knee, the arthritis pain in that knee went away.
What I learned in school today
This week in my online Master’s program in Sustainable Transportation through the University of Washington, I completed my last final of the block. Ten weeks ago, I expected I would be learning the lingo of transportation planners and how things are done in the transportation field. From my advocacy work, I knew that it is complicated and I suspected there are many more layers to it than I have yet seen.
I’ve now completed 2 of the 9 classes of my program, and this is indeed the sort of thing I am learning. But it isn’t just a degree in Transportation, it’s a degree in Sustainable Transportation, and while I know about bicycles and buses and sidewalks, there’s a lot about “sustainable” concepts that I don’t know. We have learned about the 3 legs of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental. We’ve learned a little science too, words like NOx and particulates and greenhouse gas emissions.
An important tool in sustainability is Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), which assesses the cradle-to-grave environmental as well as monetary costs of a product or project. LCAs can debunk myths, such as the myth that biofuels cost more to produce in energy than they provide, and shed light on “greenwashing” claims.
I’ve learned about 3rd party rating systems that rate how sustainable a transportation project is. Cities are willing to pay for the rating and are quite proud to get a good rating.
I’ve learned about the synergy between security and sustainability. Transportation systems that are resilient to disaster (natural or manmade) are often more sustainable as well.
Some of my best learning is done outside of the formal classroom and I enjoyed a book recommended by one professor, but not required reading, called Divided Highways by Tom Lewis about the history of the interstates. During the break, I’m reading a book recommended by a fellow student, If Mayors Ruled the World by Benjamin Barber.
In the next block, I’ll learn about Livable Communities in one class and Climate Change in the other.
During the membership drive, when someone comments on one of my Facebook posts, I check for two things. 1) Is she a bicyclist or pedestrian? 2) Does she live in Missouri?
If the answer to both of those is yes, I check whether her MoBikeFed membership is current. As a board member, I have access to the membership database.
If the commenter is a current MoBikeFed member, I say, “I checked the membership database and I see your membership is current. Thank you! Do you know any other Missourians who bike or walk?”
If the commenter is a Missouri bicyclist but not a current MoBikeFed member, I say, “As president of MoBikeFed, I would be remiss if I did not tell you that you are not in the member database (or your membership is expired).” I include a link to the Join/ Renew page.
My first discovery is that it is super easy to ask people to join MoBikeFed when I am asking as the president of MoBikeFed.
My second discovery is that every single person I asked joined MoBikeFed. A bicyclist who isn’t from Missouri joined MoBikeFed after reading a comment where I asked someone else to join!
I’ve described what MoBikeFed does for rural Missouri, and I could– and probably will– write several articles about what MoBikeFed does for you without running short of material. MoBikeFed has been very busy keeping Missouri safe and legal for you to walk and bicycle.
I can also– and probably will– write several articles about what you can do for MoBikeFed. The first thing you can do is join or renew your membership. The second thing you can do is ask your friends who are Missouri bicyclists and pedestrians to join or renew their memberships.
Later, I’ll tell you about other things you can do with us to make Missouri a better place for bicycling and walking, like talking to your elected officials and city staff, bike rides, and so on.
When you join or renew, please tell me so I can thank you. I know that some of my readers are MoBikeFed members already– Thank you! And tell your Missouri friends who bike and walk!
The story of Kayla Montgomery is making the rounds on Facebook. This truly inspiring woman was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (M.S.) when she was 14. She took the news in stride– literally. She joined the track team. As she runs, she loses feeling in her legs, but her legs keep moving and she stays upright. But she’s unable to stop running. When she reaches the finish line, her coach catches her as she collapses. After a few minutes of extreme discomfort, feeling returns and she is able to walk and stand on the podium. She won the North Carolina state championship. Kayla runs under such extreme circumstances because she can. Some day, she says, she might not be able to run. She wants to remember that when she could, she gave it all she had.
Sheldon Brown, author of an excellent and detailed bicycle mechanic website, switched to a recumbent trike after his M.S. diagnosis. I’ve seen numerous photos and videos of people biking with missing or nonfunctional limbs. During Bike Across Kansas, two men pedaling hand-crank bicycles whizzed past me like I was standing still. A bicyclist I know captains a tandem for his blind friend.
There are some conditions that absolutely prevent a person from bicycling. A friend of mine has a rare condition that affects her joints. She has a recumbent trike she can use on her good days. A friend from the gym has advanced heart disease. He bikes short distances when it’s not too hot, usually to the gym.
The more I bike now, the healthier I’ll be in the future, but even if the unforeseen occurs, I’ll always be able to bike with these examples before me.
GetAbout is a Columbia Parks & Rec program to encourage bicycling. I am an instructor and ride leader for GetAbout. I teach how to bicycle with traffic and how to fix a flat. I lead guided rides. And I carry around sets of lights that I give to people I see biking at night without lights.
I start off with 5 sets of lights. Every few weeks I return to the GetAbout office to pick up another 5 sets. When I’m biking around town at night, if I see a bicyclist without lights, I call, “Do you need lights? I have free lights from the city.”
Sometimes I have to chase the bicyclist down. No one has ever refused the free lights.
“Can I put the lights on your bike right now?” I ask. Only once did the bicyclist say, “No, I’ll do it,” and I handed him the lights and moved along. The lights are very easy to mount. They don’t require any tools. As I mount the lights, I show the bicyclist how to turn them on and off. Sometimes they don’t turn on– then I grab another light out of my bag.
Some bicyclists have distinctive bikes and I see them again a few weeks later. I’m always happy to see my lights blinking away. “Nice lights!” I call out. The bicyclists remember me.
Lights at night are more important than helmets. Not one of the bicyclists I gave lights to were wearing a helmet. Some of them were riding on the wrong side of the street. I have a little brochure about best practices for bicycle riding which I have just started giving out along with the lights.
By giving out these lights, I may be saving a life. I may also be helping people to continue biking because they feel safe and confident on a bicycle. That improves their health and maybe I am saving them from chronic disease.
If GetAbout ever stops giving away lights, I think I’d like to stock up on them and continue giving them away. It’s a lot of fun and I just made someone a lot safer.
Now that I’m President of the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation, aka Queen of the Bicyclists, I thought I’d share with you what MoBikeFed does. Specifically, what it does for rural Missouri.
In their campaign to save the Rock Island Corridor for a rail-trail, the Rock Island Coalition said, “We didn’t know who to talk to at Ameren,” and Ameren leaders may not have listened to their small contingent. Ameren listened to the Coalition, MoBikeFed, Rails-to-Trails, and 11,000 signatures. As a result, Missouri State Parks owns the rail-bed today.
Because of the Rock Island Corridor, a dozen little towns across central Missouri will have new life, just like the little towns on the Katy Trail experienced.
After over a decade of conversations, MoBikeFed has a very good working relationship with the Missouri Department of Transportation. Expect to see highways that cut through small towns routinely get upgraded with sidewalks in the coming years. Find this unbelievable? We are still blinking our eyes in surprise that MoDOT listened to our request to designate and sign the Bicentennial Trans-America Route. Bicyclists from Washington, D.C. to Astoria, OR have an easier time now following the route through Missouri– and supporting local businesses in small towns across southern Missouri.
Bicycle tourism on the Katy Trail and bicycle routes like the Bicentennial Trans-America Route boosts the economy of rural Missouri.
The cities have regional bike/ped advocacy organizations: Trailnet in St. Louis, PedNet in Columbia, BikeWalkKC in Kansas City. MoBikeFed routinely works with these organizations, providing resources, experiences, connections, and a state-wide reputation. Rural communities don’t have their own bike/ped advocacy organizations. They rely on MoBikeFed for information and experience. MoBikeFed advises city planners and engineers who want to design better roads for bicycling and walking but don’t know how because it’s not in the standard manuals. MoBikeFed advises city staff and other officials on adopting and implementing Complete Streets. MoBikeFed advises schools on organizing a Walk to School Day.
Besides all this, MoBikeFed is a watchdog organization to raise the alarm every time a bicycle ban is proposed, which happens at least annually. Without MoBikeFed, there might be towns, counties, and roads in Missouri that bicyclists aren’t allowed to use. MoBikeFed protects you from bicycle bans and pedestrian restrictions.
Rural Missouri has been particularly hard hit by the obesity epidemic and that is in part because it is difficult to walk or bike in rural Missouri. MoBikeFed helps make rural Missouri a better place to walk and bicycle.