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.
I’m having a problem on the bike that I don’t have a solution to.
I get migraines so infrequently, just once every year or two, that they don’t worry me. The migraines that I do get are over in a few hours and generally I just sleep it off.
The problem is the aura. I lose a chunk of my vision without warning. If it happens at home, no big deal, I just make my way to my bedroom and lie down in the dark and go to sleep. If it happens anywhere else, it can be awkward.
I’ve been lucky and it’s never happened while I was driving. If it did, I would have to pull over immediately and call someone for help.
This year, my migraine frequency has increased considerably. I’ve had more migraines in the last three months than I’ve had in the rest of the past decade. Twice recently, the aura set in while I was on my bicycle.
I’m wasn’t quite sure what to do. I can sort of see. Do I keep going, taking extra time to check for traffic and turning my head to different angles to make sure there isn’t a car in my new blind spot? Do I turn back? Do I stop immediately? One point in favor of stopping as soon as possible is that the longer I keep my eyes open after it has started, the worse the headache will be. I triggered several rounds of aura when I tried to keep working through it once.
The first time it happened on my bike, I was with a friend. I explained to him what was happening and I focused on following his green jacket while he was responsible for checking for traffic. That way I didn’t have to worry about whether a car was in the blank spot.
The next time, I was passing the grocery store when it happened. I stopped there and called for a ride. It was cold enough I’d put on my balaclava, and I pulled that over my eyes to block out the bright lights of the store. If anyone gave me funny looks, I couldn’t see them.
I don’t have any good answers, except one. It takes more than a little old migraine to keep me from bicycling.
I am the new President of the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation.
You can call me “Queen of the Bicyclists”.
Seriously, though, this is an exciting moment in my life. I am proud!
I didn’t have a lot of competition for the job. The past president was eager to hand off the responsibility to someone else. Everyone else was relieved that someone else had stepped up. I had a long conversation with the longest-running past president, who had been president for 9 years. His advice to me was, “Do it for 3 years at most.”
Therefore, I’m planning out the next 3 years of MoBikeFed.
At this point, you might expect me to say one of these:
In 3 years, Missouri will have a 3-foot passing law and a Complete Streets policy.
In 3 years, we will have ZERO bicycle and pedestrian fatalities in the state of Missouri.
In 3 years, we will double the number of trips made by bicycling and walking.
But I have different goals. They aren’t as dramatic, but if I achieve my goals, MoBikeFed will be a stronger organization that can achieve its advocacy mission even better for many years to come.
My goals are:
Get MoBikeFed on solid financial footing.
Increase the executive director’s salary.
Hire an assistant for the executive director.
Like many nonprofits, MoBikeFed has had its ups and downs and just came out of a difficult financial time. We’re making ends meet, but I would like us to be on more solid financial footing in 3 years.
Our executive director hasn’t had a raise in 10 years. It’s amazing to keep an executive director for more than a few years, and he’s been with us for 14 years. Brent is long overdue for a raise. Beyond being fair and retaining this precious resource– someone who knows the ins and outs of bike/ped advocacy in Missouri like no one else– it is in our interests to increase his salary. Should anything happen to Brent, we’ll never get anyone to do what he does for what we currently pay him.
I want to give him a raise every year that I am president.
MoBikeFed has just one paid employee, and that is Brent. He is too valuable to waste on tasks that anyone could do. I want to hire an assistant for Brent. It might be a part-time assistant at first.
It’s not a matter of convincing the rest of the Board to vote for a raise and an assistant for Brent. We are already in agreement. It’s a matter of fundraising. Historically, MoBikeFed gets most of its revenue from memberships, donations, and events.
As passionate as I am about bicycling and bicycle advocacy, for the next 3 years I’ll focus on fundraising. That’s not my favorite activity, but I am passionate about the cause.
I have a book about fundraising. We brought in an expert who trains nonprofit boards on fundraising. We have a plan.
Help me show my support of MoBikeFed. Help me join the Yellow Jersey Club!
There’s not enough money and not enough time. That’s the refrain you hear constantly. You say it so often that you believe it.
But it isn’t true. With our labor saving devices and modern conveniences, you can meet your basic needs in very little time. There’s more money in our economy than ever before. The average poor person is richer than kings of the past, yet people wealthy even by today’s standards still struggle to make ends meet.
The more you have, the bigger you dream. We are trying to do more than ever before, as individuals and as a collective.
I’m known as a busy person. I avoid saying, “I’m so busy!” or “Sorry, I’ve been busy.” The truth is, I choose how I spend my time. I try to spend my time doing things I enjoy. That’s an easy choice! I enjoy talking, writing, and teaching bicycling, and bicycling.
If I didn’t return your phone call, it’s because I was bicycling instead of making a phone call. That’s more honest than, “I was too busy,” as if someone had a gun to my head forcing me to be too busy to call you.
The same is true of our money. We say there isn’t enough money for roads, let alone sidewalks and bike paths, but the truth is we choose to spend our money on other things, things that we want more than we want sidewalks. At the current rate of sidewalk infill, Columbia’s sidewalks will be complete in 500 years– by which point most of today’s sidewalks will be gone. Infill sidewalks– sidewalks completed after the road was already built– are the most expensive, requiring additional right-of-way and moving utilities. But even infill sidewalks are a fraction of the cost of maintaining the roads we have.
With the defeat of Amendment 7, the transportation sales tax, I’ve given a lot of thought to our transportation funding. I don’t think we should spread our resources thinly over our overbuilt road network, replacing “maintenance” with “emergency repair”.
When I am a transportation planner, I won’t pretend that there isn’t enough money to fix a road here or a bridge there. I will say, “We chose not to spend money on that. We chose to spend it on this instead.”
Then I’ll say, “I don’t remember seeing you at the public hearing. And did you vote in the last election?”
The wind is strong and frequently shifting this week. It’s possible to have a tailwind going and coming on your bicycle ride, but more likely to have a headwind both ways. I was an election boss on Tuesday, and when my co-supervisor learned that I bike, he reminisced about his bicycling days on a tropical island when he was in the Navy. The island was perfectly flat, he said, except for the invisible hill.
“What’s an invisible hill?” I asked.
“There was a constant headwind going out, and a tailwind coming in,” he explained.
Bicycling with a strong tailwind is fun. A strong crosswind can be dangerous when gusts push you toward traffic. A strong headwind is a mental challenge.
A couple years ago my dad and I rode in Bike Across Kansas. On Day 2, we bicycled 20 miles north. Kansas summer winds are usually from the south so we should have had a nice tailwind. That day the wind shifted to NNE at 40 mph, gusting up to 50 mph. We crawled along, the gusts stopping us in our tracks. Big trucks going the other way produced a wall of wind. Big trucks going our way gave us a respite for a few seconds. We encountered a bicyclist nearly in tears. “Pedal slower,” we encouraged her. “You’ll make it if you go slow.” That got her a little further until a SAG wagon rescued her. She had worn herself out tilting at windmills, unable to accept a slower pace for the day.
Five hours later, we turned east, and the rest of the day was easy sailing.
If you manage your expectations, biking in the wind doesn’t have to miserable.
“What does biking have to do with voting?” my friend Scott, the new bicyclist, asked when I changed my Facebook profile picture to one that reads “I vote” spelled out in bicycle parts. I changed my profile picture to show my support and participation in the League of American Bicyclists’ “I bike, I vote” movement.
I literally bike and vote. I bike everywhere, including to the election polls.
Whether you bike, walk, bus, or drive, voting is the least you can do. From local issues to federal transportation bills, bicyclists routinely flood the email inboxes and phone lines of elected officials more than any other group. This year, the League of American Bicyclists issued several advocacy alerts, such as Complete Streets in the federal transportation bill and requiring states to monitor bike/ped fatalities. The Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation issued an advocacy alert over an amendment to strip the word “bicycle” from the definition of transportation.
The overwhelming responses from bicyclists to these advocacy alerts impressed senators and representatives.
They wouldn’t be impressed, however, if the people who write letters didn’t also vote. If you use the online contact form to write a letter to Senator Blunt, for example, you must enter your zip code. He only responds to messages from his constituency.
You should vote, because that is what makes your senators and representatives want to listen to what you have to say. Then you should say it.
I’ve been too busy with homework to write weekly “What I learned in school today” articles! I’m enrolled in two online classes in the Master’s in Sustainable Transportation program through the Civil Engineering Dept of the University of Washington. Each week for school, I read half a dozen articles, watch 3 or 4 recorded lectures, write a short paper, take an online quiz, participate in discussion forums, and attend live lectures with a microphone headset. This keeps me busy, but the most challenging part is the live lectures, which are on Pacific Time and past my bedtime.
My transportation interest is in health and safety. I love biking and walking because they are active and healthy forms of transportation. I desire for safety for all road users, whether we are in cars, on foot, or pedaling. I have known too many young lives cut short on our highways, including my little cousin and several of my high school classmates.
Sustainable Transportation is more about the environment than it is about health and safety. Many strategies to improve sustainability also improve health and safety. Biking, walking, and transit improve health and safety and emit less pollutants than single-occupancy vehicles (SOV). Improving bike/ped safety is a sustainability strategy because more people bike and walk when it is safer to do so.
In class, I’ve learned about the Lifetime Cycle Analysis which tells us that transit is better for the environment than SOVs and walking or biking (including electric bikes) dwarfs both. Outside of class, I’ve learned that a primary seatbelt law could reduce Missouri traffic fatalities by about 200 people per year and that prescription drug use has passed alcohol as the leading cause of impaired driving. I believe that it’s important not to let school get in the way of your education. I’m taking advantage of the master’s program to learn all I can from it, but at the same time, I don’t restrict myself to learning only from my classes.
Improving our environment creates safer roads as a byproduct of reducing emissions and pollutants. In the past few decades, legislation that had real effects on safety included drunk driving laws which were directly related to safety, and laws that were indirectly related to safety: environmental regulations and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Environmental regulations prompted transportation planners to seek to reduce traffic, a reversal of previous efforts to improve traffic flow. ADA turned the attention of transportation planners to sidewalks.
Together, these forces are causing planners to think less about moving cars and more about moving people.
When it comes to laws about bicycle safety, I’m a big fan of legislation that applies to motorists. Examples of laws that I support are:
Allow three feet when passing
Don’t drive distracted
Don’t drive impaired
Lower speed limits
I’m not keen on laws that apply to bicyclists. Such laws are generally thinly disguised attempts to get bicycles off the roads and out of the way of the bigger, faster, and more important cars. Every year, the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation fends off local and state legislative attacks on bicycles.
Bikes banned from roads near trails
Mandatory safety vest
Mandatory helmet law
There are a couple highways that parallel the Katy Trail for a stretch. Drivers on these highways are incensed that they have to wait for a bicyclist on the road when the Katy Trail is nearby. They don’t understand why bicycles wouldn’t want to use the Katy Trail instead of the highway. The trail doesn’t necessarily go where the bicyclist needs to go, even if it parallels the highway for a bit. I tried to use trails in St. Louis and got lost because trails don’t have way-faring signs like roads do. I gave up and biked on the busiest streets instead, because they were easy to navigate.
Requiring bicyclists to wear a safety vest or have a mirror isn’t the same as requiring all cars to have air bags and seat belts. Safety vests and mirrors don’t come with the bikes. If a single county tries to pass an ordinance requiring these, bicyclists from other areas– particularly if an interstate bicycle route like the Bicentennial Trans-America Route passes through that county– won’t know about the strange requirement and will have trouble finding the necessary equipment. Bike mirrors and safety vests aren’t standard items carried in all the convenience stores and Wal-Mart.
A helmet law is trickier. Helmets save lives. Don’t I want to save bicyclist lives? Certainly I do! But mandatory helmets laws discourage bicycling. And the one thing that makes bicyclists safer than anything else, even helmets, is more bicyclists. Mandatory helmet laws discourage bicycling which means fewer bicyclists which means my daughter and I are in more danger.
There’s another good reason to oppose laws that discourage bicycling. Unlike driving, bicycling improves your health. Your greatest threat is not the highway. Your greatest threat is your own heart. That’s why I’d rather see someone without a helmet on a bicycle than on a couch.