It’s time to reflect on how easy it is to take my health for granted, because once again I’ve thrown my back out. This is partly a consequence of bicycling many thousands of miles– bicyclists are prone to certain types of injury, and this is one of them. But before you suggest I stop bicycling, let me tell you some injuries and diseases that bicyclists are NOT prone to: Diabetes. Heart disease. Arthritis. Depression. Cancer. Car crashes. Bicycling protects me from diseases that are associated with sedentary lifestyle and car culture. I’d rather risk ulnar nerve entrapment, IT band issues, lower back pain, and the possibility of a broken collarbone than a chronic disease or serious injury that destroys my quality of life.
Don’t get me wrong– bicycling neither dooms you to certain ailments nor guarantees protection from others. I bike a LOT, and I’ve learned how to reduce the risk of many injuries and crashes– clearly, I am still learning!
And now that I’ve moralized and alienated half my readers, let’s return to my reflections on health.
When new bicyclists tell me they are worried about slowing down traffic, I lecture, “You have a right to the road. You’re not inconveniencing anyone more than a couple seconds. Take your time, don’t let yourself feel rushed.”
Getting on the bike with a lower back injury was a bit uncomfortable, but manageable. The first slight rise in the road astonished me (and my back)! I’m not used to thinking of that small rise as a hill, and I had to shift all the way down. The next surprise for me came when the light turned green as I was waiting in line with several cars before and after me. I usually follow the cars ahead of me closely through intersections, but I couldn’t keep up. I felt awkward about slowing down traffic, and had to tell myself, “Take your time, don’t let yourself feel rushed!”
Bicycling with a lower back injury was a good reminder of what it’s like to be a slow, uncertain, and wobbly bicyclist. It improved my compassion and empathy for new bicyclists.
When I’m healthy, I take pride in biking slowly. Using my lowest gears, I can climb hills without breathing hard, breaking a sweat, or passing someone out walking his dog. I take pride in my endurance, my ability to bicycle for long hours, knowing that I’m slower than most bicyclists (and faster than most couch potatoes). Bicycling with a lower back injury showed me how strong and fast I am ordinarily– stronger and faster than I realize.
Take a moment to appreciate your health. Don’t take big risks, like sitting on a couch or in a car. Protect your body with a happy, active lifestyle!
Why did the chicken cross the road?
To get to the other side.
Most chickens can cross once and they’re on the other side, but not so at Bernadette and Stadium. Chickens are supposed to cross THREE roads to get to the other side. Each road has a pedestrian refuge in the middle, so it takes 6 light cycles to get through the whole thing.
I decided to try it out for myself.
Standing in front of Drury Inn, I looked across at the gas station on the other side of Stadium Blvd at the intersection of Stadium and Bernadette. I biked here, so I will wheel my bike along as I cross each street.
I start the stopwatch. I push the button for the WALK signal. I wait for it to change. The light changes and I walk south across Bernadette. I have about 10 seconds. Almost immediately my light starts blinking red. The red hand stops blinking and turns to a solid red “DON’T WALK” as I step into the pedestrian refuge in the middle of the street.
I’m not walking slow, I’m not rushing either. If I were an elderly person, or in a wheelchair, walking slowly for any reason, I wouldn’t make it across before DON’T WALK. If I sprinted, I might make it beyond the pedestrian refuge and across the entire street before DON’T WALK.
I angle my bike so that it fits inside the pedestrian refuge, a narrow path between raised concrete curbs to isolate me from the traffic. I push the button for the WALK signal. I wait. It changes and I continue south to finish crossing Bernadette. Again, I have barely enough time at my moderate pace to cross before the solid DON’T WALK signal. After 3.5 minutes, the first leg is done.
I won’t bore you with pushing the button, waiting for the light, crossing halfway, repeat. If you are bored reading about it, imagine the tedium of the experience. This isn’t a pleasant amble through green forests and chirping birds. It’s vigilance for the moment the light changes and a mad dash and vigilance in a vista of concrete and poles listening to engines humming and roaring.
At the last corner, I point my bike north and a young pretty panhandler joins me. A bit embarrassed, I try to explain to her that I’m conducting an experiment. Then I realize how silly it is for me to feel self conscious around a panhandler. “I’m timing how long it takes to go through all these lights since there is no crosswalk to get from the hotel to the gas station,” I explain.
“Oh, I usually just wait until traffic is clear and just go,” she says helpfully.
Of course she does. ANYONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND would do the same. And if she were unlucky enough to get hit, we could blame her because she was, after all, jaywalking. How did the engineers who designed this intersection not know that people needing to cross there would do exactly what this bright young panhandler suggests?
The panhandler tells me about the people she’s met during her journey and the crazy and amazing things they are doing, as if my experiment fits into the same category as rock climbing in every state or bicycling across America.
We reach the northeast corner of the intersection 9.5 minutes after I started. It has taken me nearly 10 minutes to traverse 356 feet– nearly the length of a football field. If I’d done what the panhandler recommended, I’d have traveled less than 1/2 the distance in 1/6 time.
The experiment yielded data, sure, but it also yielded an experience.
You never know what will happen when you cross the street.
Last year my dad and I bicycled 1400 miles, for 6 weeks, to 40 Missouri State Parks. This year my friend Scott and I planned to bicycle 1400 miles, for 6 weeks, to 28 Missouri State Parks and State Historic Sites. Last year our route took us all over Missouri. This year our route was St. Louis to Kansas City by way of the Bootheel– the perimeter of Missouri.
We were 203 miles, 7 days, and 3 State Historic Sites into our tour when disaster struck. Scott didn’t see the broken pavement at the bottom of a steep hill (thank you, St. Louis County Public Works). He went airborne, over the handlebar, and landed on his shoulder, separating it. He and his bike needed repairs. The tour was over.
It was not a bad tour. It was a failed tour. The distinction is important.
The walls of Sparky’s Ice Cream Shop in Columbia, MO are covered with thrift store art. The owner and collector explained in a TedX talk why he collects thrift store art and what the difference is between bad art and failed art.
“I dislike the term ‘bad art’… I don’t call them bad, but I’m okay with the word ‘failed’. Failure is interesting, and it’s a normal part of the process of becoming an artist. But artists usually fail in private. So when I come across one of these paintings for sale, I feel like I’ve been allowed to see something rare that I was never supposed to see… Bad art is when the skill dwarfs the ambition. Gigantic technical ability plus no big dream except to create the same product over and over and over.”
A ‘bad’ bicycle tour would be one where someone started off to do it, inexperienced and unprepared, and gave up after 2 hours or maybe stuck it out for a couple days. The best moments of bicycle touring come after serious suffering. You have to suffer to get there, to get to that Perfect Moment. You can’t do that in a couple days.
This wasn’t a ‘bad’ tour. We tried, we suffered, we experienced some glimpses of Perfect Moments.
Our skill and experience definitely did not dwarf our ambitious tour. We had a big dream, if not gigantic technical ability.
Ours was a ‘failed’ tour. I’m proud to let you see something rare that you were never supposed to see. Failure is interesting, and I love things that are interesting, like abandoned buildings in ghost towns, in run down areas of cities, and in thriving business districts. Abandoned buildings are full of mystery and history and interesting.
I want to try again. I want to ride the Iron Curtain and the Bicentennial Trans-America Route. I want to experience the suffering that yields up the Perfect Moments, to experience the appetite that kicks in after a couple weeks of struggling and low energy and makes the simple act of eating a spiritual experience. That’s what our ‘failed’ tour left me with, a desire to try again and again.
I love bicycle touring. When I started, I didn’t have any bicycle touring gear and I didn’t have a clue. I had a lot of suffering, a lot of meaningful moments, and a lot of fun. Now that I’m a moderately experienced bicycle tourist, I have bicycle touring gear and lots of clues. With these, I have a lot of suffering, a lot of meaningful moments, and a lot of fun. Anyone can bicycle tour without special gear. Having special gear makes it a little easier, but overcoming challenges without easy answers can be rewarding and even fun with the right attitude.
That said, getting fancy gear that makes something easier is rewarding, too. My opinions in bicycle touring gear constantly change. I can only tell you why I like the gear I have right now.
Gear selection is a balance between comfort on the bike (less weight, less volume) and comfort at the campsite (sitting, sleeping, eating, entertainment). Gear can be comfortable, durable, and lightweight, but rarely is it all that and inexpensive!
The popular tent these days is the MSR Hubba Hubba NX. At over $300, it’s still on my wishlist and I make do with something cheaper. If you have a tent that is free-standing and doesn’t have to be staked down, you can set up on a concrete pad out of the mud and water, or maybe under a picnic shelter. Weight and volume are critical, so choose a smaller tent.
I’ve finally got the sleeping pad of my dreams, and it’s actually a cot. The Therm-A-Rest LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot is pricy, but a good night’s sleep is invaluable! This super lightweight cot puts me a couple inches off the ground. On hot nights air can circulate under me, and on cold nights it’s great to be up off the frozen ground.
To make the cot even cushier, I put a Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sleeping Pad, which folds up accordion-style. Many bicycle tourists just use this.
Sleeping bags filled with duck or goose down will compress into a tiny stuff sack that takes up very little space. I have a medium-weight bag that keeps me warm almost to freezing temperatures, but ideally I’d also like an alternate bag for milder weather.
The MSR Micro Rocket Stove takes up very little space, is lightweight, and boils water fast.
I love the Hydro Flask water bottles. They aren’t cheap for water bottles, but ice water stays icy in them for a long time. I recommend the standard or wide mouth that accommodate large ice cubes.
I don’t like to use a trailer on a bicycle tour. It allows me to carry too much stuff, and before I know it the weight is slowing me down to a standstill. Furthermore, a trailer tire is smaller than bicycle tires, requiring extra spare tubes and spokes. I prefer to pack my gear in front and rear panniers and a handlebar bag, strapping on anything that doesn’t fit. Ortliebs are the top-of-the-line panniers, which many of my friends use. I picked up a used set of Cannondales a couple years ago, and I like the multiple pockets, but I wouldn’t mind the spaciousness, bright colors, and water proofness of Ortliebs.
My non-essential luxury items are a tiny lightweight collapsible chair, and my mascot: a stuffed chicken named You. You show up in many of my photos, and You are a great conversation piece!
A common mistake people make when doing a bicycle tour is planning too much detail. It is perhaps theoretically possible to plan an appropriate number of miles to travel each day. But I have never heard of anyone actually doing that. The far more common story is too many miles and a huge amount of stress trying to make a particular destination by a certain day.
On my first bicycle tour, I reasoned that if I could bike 100 miles in a day, that I could bike 80 miles fully loaded in a day. It was brutal, and the relentless hills of northwest Missouri meant that my ‘easy’ 60-mile day was the longest and most exhausting.
A more reasonable number of miles for a fully loaded bicycle tourist is 40 or 50, but it depends on so many things (wind, hills, fitness) that I wonder if the best planning is no planning. An 82-mile day during my first bicycle tour across a flat part of Kansas with a tailwind ended up being the shortest day! If I’d planned only 40 miles that day, I’d have had energy and hours of daylight and nothing to do.
I repeated that mistake recently, on a 3-day shakedown cruise to test out my gear for an upcoming 6-week tour. I planned 55 miles a day for 2 days and 30 miles for the 3rd day. The first day was nice until near the end. I’d biked to Arrow Rock State Historic Site twice before, and I remembered it as being hilly. My memory was accurate. Those hills at the end of a long day beat us up and spit us out. I managed to get coals hot enough to cook hamburgers if I held the skillet close to the wet wood, but I was too tired to bother with the marshmallows.
It is a sad day indeed when you are too tired to set a marshmallow on fire.
The next 55-mile day was 100% hills. They were pleasant if tiring until we got to Glasgow where Hwy 87 is unpleasant and tiring. Hwy 87 goes down in my book as the hilliest road in Missouri, which is saying something, because I’ve bicycled over 2000 miles of Missouri highways. In addition to the hills, Hwy 87 has no shoulders and more than enough traffic. We decided to take our chances on the gravel roads in the floodplain of the Missouri River. While some of this route was flatter, I had to walk some hills for almost the first time in my life. I pride myself on my skillful and eager use of my lowest gears that allow me to climb any hill slower than you can walk it, but the steep gravel hills defeated me.
The gravel road included a low-water crossing with 5-inch deep mud. I was grateful for the weekly deadlifts in the gym class I go to, as I carried my fully loaded touring bike across that mud.
Even our final day, an ‘easy’ 30 miles on the flat Katy Trail, was rough because of a heat wave. We refilled our water bottles several times and used electrolytes liberally, but we were far more exhausted than we expected.
On the one hand, I hope that less planning and more flexibility will make my upcoming bicycle tour more enjoyable, but on the other hand, I have to admit that in a way I enjoy the suffering. I don’t enjoy it while it’s happening, but I love having done something extreme. I loved the peach cobbler I earned on the Glasgow hills. The Katy Roundhouse campsite felt like Shangri-La after endless pedaling. I love retelling stories of 30 mph headwinds and 5-inch deep mud.
I’ll let you know in a couple months what a bicycle touring experience is like with less planning!
Fear of traffic keeps a lot of people from bicycling. But it’s not always fear for their safety. It’s more like social anxiety. The road is a social place. It’s a place with rules of behavior. Everyone has their own ideas about what those rules should be, and we are very quick to judge anyone not following our rules.
As a social setting, the rules of the behavior seem to be simple. We drive on the right side of the road. We stay within the lines. Stop lights tell us when to stop and when to go. Speed limit signs tell us how fast we can go.
But it isn’t really simple at all. The rules are complex. The speed limit sign doesn’t tell us how fast to go– only the upper limit. Without any other guidance, people turn to the speed limit sign as dictating how fast to go. “I couldn’t believe I had to follow a car going 30 mph in a 35 mph zone for an entire mile,” someone might complain, as if the 35 mph means that is the speed you ought to travel, rather than the maximum speed you are allowed.
We are on the same road going different speeds, and angry with virtually every other user of the road for going the ‘wrong’ speed. And that’s when we’re all using roughly the same sort of vehicle with the same capabilities. When one of us is using a very different type of vehicle, such as a tractor, or a bicycle, it gets even more complicated.
It’s the threat of social ostracization on the road, even more than the threat to our safety, that deters many of us from bicycling. The thought of someone honking or yelling at us makes us nervous, even though a honk or yell can’t hurt us. The feeling is the same as when we agonized over what to wear in junior high– the honks and yells on the road are the equivalent of whispers and snickers in junior high.
The solution is the same as my solution to pretty much every problem in the world: walk and bicycle more. The more people who walk and bicycle, the more normal it will seem to you and to everyone else on the road. Your bicycling will overcome not only your own social anxiety over bicycling but others’ social anxiety too. Not quite bold enough to do it yourself? Ask a friend to join you.
It seems like everyone I know is bicycle touring this summer.
Maybe that’s not so surprising. Many of the people I know are people I met through bicycle touring.
My own bicycle tour this summer starts on August 2. I’ll bike from St. Louis to Kansas City– by way of the Boot Heel! I’ll bike 1400 miles in about 6 weeks, same as last year’s 40 Missouri State Parks tour.
Here’s a little primer about bicycle touring. Bicycle touring comes in several flavors.
Self supported means you carry everything with you, including camping gear and cooking gear. I’ve done several self supported tours, ranging from a single night to 6 weeks.
On a credit card tour, you eat at restaurants and stay in hotels.
You can join an organized ride, where someone else, such as Adventure Cycling, has worked out the logistics.
On a supported ride, your gear goes in a big truck. The first and most famous supported ride is RAGBRAI in Iowa. Missouri now has the Big BAM– Bicycle Across Missouri. The truck and the stops along the route are called SAG support.
Self-SAG, bringing your own vehicle, can be done with friends where you take turns driving. This works really well with 4 people: 2 bike while 2 drive ahead and park the van. The 2 drivers then bike back to meet the others, then turn around and they all ride together.
I like touring self supported because it’s cheap and it’s hard to do. My dad likes to sleep in a real bed once in a while, eat at a restaurant, or drink hot coffee– he might like a credit card tour. Organized, supported rides can be a lot of fun, and they are very affordable compared to other types of vacations. Dad & I made good friends during Biking Across Kansas. But we also made very good friends during informal tours.
A bicycle tour can be any distance, any length of time. Overnight trips are easy to plan and don’t require taking time off work. A trip that lasts several weeks has unique rewards that can’t be experienced any other way.
For an amazing experience that will stay with you the rest of your life, get on your bike now, and don’t come back home until it’s happened.
I do not wish you joy without a sorrow,
Nor endless day without the healing dark,
Nor brilliant sun without the restful shadow,
Nor tides that turn against your bark.
I wish you love,
gold enough to help some needy one.
I wish you songs, but also blessed silence
And God’s sweet peace when every day is done.
~Dorothy Nell McDonald
This blessing is perfect for bicycling. The fun, enjoyment, and pleasure I get from bicycling is not possible without the suffering that bicycling also brings. I want you– and I– to experience sorrow so that you can experience the joy afterwards.
Dusk, the ‘healing dark’, is all the more beautiful for having bicycled through the ‘endless day’.
On a bicycle with the ‘brilliant sun’ beating down on you, you watch like a hawk for that ‘restful shadow’, a bit of shade to rest in for a few minutes.
I even wish a headwind upon you, my friend, the ‘tides that turn against your bark’. Some of my strongest memories of bicycling involve fierce headwinds, like the time it took us 5 hours to bike 20 miles during Biking Across Kansas, the 25 mph headwind gusting up to 40 and coating us with a visible layer of manure from the cattle farms we passed. Showering at the end of that day, though it was in a locker room with a dozen other women and not quite enough hot water, was the greatest luxury imaginable.
I wish you love– Bicycling with a companion or two is my favorite treat. and strength– Even in weakness I can turn the pedals, but the feeling of strength as I power up a hill is awesome. and faith– Exhausted, thinking I can go no farther, the final 2 miles seem endless, but at last, they, too, come to an end. There is food, there is rest, there is home. and wisdom– Foolishness brings adventures, such as dehydration, electrolyte deficiency, and sunburn. Wisdom brings safer adventures. goods– like more bike gear. gold enough to help some needy one– My dad is bicycling from Lawrence, KS to Atlanta, GA right now. He was feeling down on Day 4, and giving $5 to a stranger in need lifted his spirits right away.
And God’s sweet peace when every day is done– Whatever religion you are or aren’t, sweet peace is at the end of a long day of bicycling.
I started bicycling when we became a one-car family, and I was only going to do it until we could afford a car payment. I discovered I loved bicycling and I loved not having a car payment. The average car (not including minivans or trucks) costs $9,122 per year. Over the 10 years I’ve been bicycling, I’ve saved over $90,000!
A few months ago I started eyeing the grocery bill as an area where I could save some money– I sure would like to get those student loans paid off! I learned that Sam’s Club has the cheapest almonds, Walmart has the cheapest avocados, Aldi has the cheapest baby bell peppers, and Moser’s and Hy-Vee tie for the cheapest cage-free eggs. However, anything might be cheapest at Lucky’s when it’s on sale, so it pays to keep an eye on the weekly Lucky’s sale ad.
Moser’s and Aldi are within walking distance. Everything else requires a bicycle at least. But I found myself taking the car to run several errands, including stopping at multiple grocery stores. It might be cheaper to get all my groceries at Moser’s and Aldi, if it means I could leave the car at home. But how do I calculate that?
AAA estimates that car ownership costs 60.8 cents per mile. That is an average number and includes insurance, taxes, maintenance, and depreciation as well as gas. A 2000 Chevy Cavalier costs a bit more in maintenance but costs hardly anything in insurance and taxes, and it stopped depreciating years ago. We pay some costs of ownership no matter how much we drive the car, making that 60.8 cents per mile even more fuzzy. But assuming the number is correct, it costs $5.35 to drive to Sam’s Club. It doesn’t seem right to add $5.35 to each item I might buy from Sam’s Club, because I would never drive to Sam’s Club for just one thing. The $5.35 trip would be spread across multiple items.
The result? I gave up on saving money on groceries. I don’t enjoy keeping track of half a dozen grocery stores and visiting several stores to get the cheapest price. I don’t like driving when I can walk or bike. I’m confident that I make the best progress on those student loans, at the same time keeping my health care costs down, by walking and biking everywhere I can.
This is the last hard conversation, and then we’ll get back to the fun stuff.
I believe in individual responsibility. I also believe that we are influenced greatly by our environment. There’s enough blame to go around that we can have individual responsibility for our situations and at the same time be victims of circumstance.
I’ve previously discussed how drivers have a large responsibility, and a person walking also has a responsibility– 0.000351 times the responsibility that drivers have.
When a person driving an automobile hits a person walking, the person driving is responsible and the person walking is responsible. The degree of responsibility depends partly on the math I’ve already discussed, but there are other factors specific to the incident and what each person was doing at the time. Both parties have some responsibility and at the same time are to some degree, victims of the circumstances.
It’s easy to see how the person walking is a victim. He is the one who is hurt or killed.
It’s not as easy to see how the driver is a victim. She won’t be hurt and her vehicle will suffer little or no damage. There will be almost no legal or financial repercussions, as long as she didn’t leave the scene and wasn’t impaired.
But she is a victim.
My friend says he would be traumatized if they hit a person, and if it was fatal his life would be ruined, even if he was completely innocent of wrongdoing. As a driver who is passionate about walking and bicycling, that is even more true for me.
We are victims of a society that makes it easy to drive and encourages people to drive, requiring and providing very little training for drivers. For comparison, Finland has the most difficult 2-part driving test, Germany requires 4 driving tests, and the UK has a 43% pass rate.
We are victims of land use patterns that cater to the automobile and mandate driving, because it is so far from our homes to our schools, stores, work, churches, and other destinations.
We are victims of poor transit systems because we have invested so heavily in highways and so little in buses.
We are victims of road designs that encourage driving above the speed limit, which is already too high for the safety of people walking, in the name of ‘safety’– wide roads, cutting down trees, and long, straight sight lines.
One of the recent pedestrian fatalities in Columbia involved a 17 year old driver who was probably texting or driving distracted. She may face jail time in addition to her mental anguish. She is certainly to blame for her carelessness, but she is also a victim. Young people make mistakes, but her mistake cost someone’s life. She is a victim because we encourage our young people make their mistakes with a 2000-pound killing machine.
We all have a responsibility for safety, but I want to change our environment, our laws, and our systems so that we have fewer victims. You can help me do that by joining the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation.
It’s another hard conversation. Today, I want to debunk an argument I hear from bicyclists about other bicyclists. But first, let me preface this with a disclaimer. I believe bicyclists should obey traffic laws for our own safety. I agree that bicyclists should obey traffic laws. What I disagree with is why we should obey traffic laws. We should obey traffic laws for our own safety, not to prove a point.
“If bicyclists want to have their own lanes, they must obey traffic signals.”
“Why should drivers share the road with cyclists if we can’t be bothered to obey the law and do something as simple as stopping at intersections?”
The premise of these statements is that if every bicyclist obeyed traffic laws, we’d be welcomed to the road with open arms. No one would honk or yell or pass too closely. Drivers would miraculously start paying attention and not right-hook a bicyclist who is legally in the bike lane that just happens to put the bicyclist in the path of the right-turning vehicle. Drivers would look as they open their car door and no bicyclist would ever get doored again.
Why should drivers share the road? It’s their road to share or not to share. If I’m not in a car, it’s not my road. I say this in all seriousness, even though I pay for the road through my tax dollars, because possession is nine-tenths of the law. Automobiles own the road because they have it under their wheels right now.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when automobiles were new fangled inventions and people hated them. Automobiles were fast and noisy and they killed people. Automobiles conquered the road, and now people love them. Automobiles are still fast and noisy and they kill people.
Bicyclists and pedestrians would do well to study history and find out how automobiles conquered the road. Maybe we could learn a trick or two. Automobiles did NOT conquer the road by saying, “Hey everyone, stop killing people, behave yourselves, and maybe they’ll let us on the roads.” Automobiles conquered the road by blaming the victim. Automobile interests such as car manufacturers, oil companies, and construction companies created something called the jaywalker in the 1920’s. They got pedestrians banned from roads, restricted to sidewalks and crosswalks, and blamed for their own deaths.
Bicyclists can blame the victim, too– drivers see themselves as victims. When an automobile kills a bicyclist or a pedestrian, the driver is a victim, despite the lack of legal repercussions. I’m not being sarcastic, I absolutely mean that. Most people I know would never be the same if they accidentally killed someone. That would be traumatic. The driver is a victim of a culture that makes it so easy to kill someone.
Bicyclists won’t get automobiles to share the road by stopping at stop signs. We’ll conquer the road by blaming victims, blaming drivers who kill bicyclists, not by playing nice. I’m not advocating that strategy or saying it’s right, I’m saying that the evidence suggests this strategy would be effective. Or maybe there is a more palatable path to equity.
Obey traffic laws for your own safety. Stop telling bicyclists that if we play nice, drivers will share their toys– it’s not true.
Let me start by saying that people who are walking, which is everyone who can walk, have a responsibility for their own safety and a responsibility not to involve an innocent driver in their own unfortunate tragedy.
I wanted to start with that, because every time I try to explain what I’m about to say, the first and only response is, “Pedestrians have a responsibility, too.” This is victim-blaming.
This is the sort of thing that has been on my mind that prompted my last post, “A hard conversation“. This is the actual hard conversation. I’m about to explain why people driving have 2,848 times more responsibility for safety than people walking. People driving need to be 2,848 times more careful than people walking. If “Pedestrians have a responsibility, too,” I agree. Pedestrians have 1/2848th the responsibility that drivers do.
When two objects collide, such as a person and a car, the amount of energy released and the damage caused are a function of mass and velocity: how heavy the two objects are and how fast they are moving relative to one another. KE = ½mv2.
Let’s take a 158 pound person walking at 3 mph. Let’s call this 158 X 32 = 1,422 Responsibles. I made up the unit “Responsibles”. (Don’t worry about the units or the 1/2, it’s all relative so they’ll cancel out.)
Collide her with an oncoming car that weigh 2000 pounds and is traveling at 45 mph. 2000 X 452 = 4,050,000 Responsibles.
4,050,000 Responsibles divided by 1,422 Responsibles is 2,848. When you are driving a 2-ton killing machine at 45 mph, you have to be 2,848 times more careful than I do, I mean than our 158 pound person does, when walking.
A pedestrian has 1/2848th or 0.000351 times the Responsibles of a driver. A bicyclist on a 25 pound bicycle moving at 10 mph has 1/221th or 0.004519 times the Responsibles of a driver, and 13 times the responsibility of the pedestrian. The pedestrian and bicyclist have virtually 0 the Responsibles of a driver.
What does 2,848 times more responsibility look like? If our walker’s responsibility means looking up from her phone and looking both ways before crossing the street, our driver should operate his 2-ton killing machine with the utmost caution and extreme vigilance, constantly alert. He should scan the road for people and check for people at crosswalks.
By the way, if he slows down to 20 mph, he can reduce his responsibility to merely 563 times that of a person walking.
“With great power there must also come great responsibility” (Spiderman)
It’s been quiet on my blog lately. I won’t say “I’ve been too busy to write” because it’s just not true. Bicycling, talking about bicycling, and writing about bicycling are activities that I love, and no matter what else is happening, I find time. The problem is, I haven’t wanted to write about what’s on my mind.
When you do or are anything that most other people don’t know much about, you get offensive questions and you hear offensive things. Whether it is your missing limb, your paperclip collection, or your mode of transportation, people who have never seen someone like you or never heard of your favorite pastime will say and ask things that are offensive and sound horrible to you. They say things out of ignorance, trying to be clever, or pure cussedness.
A friend whose career now revolves around getting people to walk and bicycle more admitted that when he was younger, he honked at bicyclists on the road. Before I started bicycling, I said ignorant, offensive things about bicyclists. In high school, I made jokes such as, “How many points is that bicyclist worth? How many for that pedestrian?” I drove everywhere and didn’t know anything about bicycling and walking. I thought I was funny.
That sort of ‘joke’ sickens me today. It sickened me before a truck hit my daughter. I have a hard time identifying with people who say such things, even though I said them once myself. I have a hard time seeing them as people who don’t know about bicycling and people who are trying to be funny. I can only see them as mean, horrible people saying mean, horrible things.
Luckily, people who know me don’t say such things to my face, and if I refrain from reading the newspaper and especially the comments on news stories about bicycle and pedestrian wrecks, I can mostly avoid hearing or reading offensive things.
But I can’t shut my ears and eyes to every offensive remark. It is something I have to come back to when I’m talking to a new bicyclist who has just experienced harassment or has read for the first time comments on a news story about a pedestrian death. It is something I come back to when well-meaning law enforcement personnel blame the victim and vow to crack down on jaywalking.
Worst of all is when fellow bicyclists turn on their own, blaming bicyclists who don’t stop at stop signs for the vitriol heaped upon us.
It’s hard to talk about negative things like bicycle harassment when bicycling is so joyful. Bicycling has changed my life in so many ways:
I’m healthier. I lost 25 pounds the first year I biked without dieting. My resting heart rate now is 54 bpm.
I’m richer. I used to amuse myself on steep hills calculating how much gas money this bicycle commute was saving us that day. Including gas, insurance, taxes, wear & tear, and parking fees, I’ve saved thousands of dollars over ten years by not owning a 2nd car.
I’m kinder. Being on the receiving end of offensive, hurtful remarks makes me very careful not to say offensive, hurtful things myself.
I had the opportunity to observe a Learn to Bike class, so that I could learn how to teach someone to ride a bike. Our student, Anna, is in her mid-20’s. She never learned a bike, she said, because she was too busy reading books. She’s in a PhD program as well as holding a full time job. Joe, the instructor, took the pedals off her bike and lowered her seat all the way down.
Normally I tell novice bicyclists to raise their seat. We try to position our seat so that we can sit on it with our feet touching the ground. That is a recipe for knee pain! Your seat should be high enough that your thigh is not quite parallel at the top of the pedal stroke, and your leg is slightly bent at the bottom of the pedal stroke. If it is that high, you will not be able to rest your feet on the ground when your butt is on the seat. You must get proficient at the ‘power pedal position’ to start your bike, and stepping down smoothly when you stop your bike. If those fellows could do it on those big wheel velocipedes, you can do it on your bike with a little practice.
Learning how to ride a bike is different. Joe lowered Anna’s seat all the way down so that she could sit on the bike with her feet comfortably and stably on the ground. With no pedals to get in the way, she pushed her bike around as she learned to balance. Joe uses the same approach when teaching adults or children how to ride– no training wheels!
“How do you do it?” she wanted to know, watching Joe coast down the hill holding his feet off the ground.
Joe explained that it’s impossible to explain. It’s a complex neural algorithm, and riding a bike is so complex that it is one of the most challenging things to program a robot to do. Your brain simply has to learn it, and it can’t be learned by consciously understanding how to do it.
Anna wants to ride a bike so she can bike to work and so she can do a triathlon! “Do you have a triathlon picked out yet?” I asked. I thought she might be aiming for next years’ Trizou.
“Yes, ShowMe Games in July,” she answered. She is learning to ride a bike so that in 2 months, she can do a triathlon!
“I guess you know how to swim already?” I asked.
“Yes, I learned last year.”
Anna is certainly ambitious!
Joe had selected a quiet parking lot with a gentle slope. Anna let the slope take her down, touching down with her feet to catch herself, then pushed with her feet to go up the slope. She did this over and over for an hour. She practiced on her own over the next couple days, and then we met again. This time, she was holding her feet off the ground for longer distances before catching herself. She practiced feathering the brakes to control her speed.
Next week when Joe meets with her, he’ll have her go back and forth down the slope in a serpentine pattern, which trains the algorithms for turning the bike. We turn the bike, not by turning the handlebar, but by leaning. Even experienced cyclists assume that turning the handlebar turns the bike, not realizing that it is their lean that turns the bike. After that, she’ll be ready for pedals!
Joe says it takes most people 2 to 4 hours of practice to learn to balance. Kids learn more quickly than adults. Anna, who has never had any experience riding a bike, may take a little longer than an adult who just hasn’t ridden a bike since she was 6.
Myth: Pedestrians walk out in front of cars without looking.
I hear this every time someone gets hit while walking across a street. “Those dumb college kids,” is usually how it starts.
I spent several hours watching an intersection over the past couple weeks, helping collect data for the police’s pedestrian safety campaign. Each time a pedestrian entered the crosswalk, I marked how many drivers yielded and how many drivers did not yield.
About half yielded. Yielding was spread unevenly across the pedestrians, because if one driver didn’t yield, the next drivers would follow, none of them yielding. Of course, if one driver did yield, all the other drivers had to wait behind, and weren’t counted (according to the guidelines for our data collection). So, for the majority of the pedestrians, drivers yielded, but when one driver didn’t yield, several didn’t yield.
Whether walking or driving, people copy what they see other people doing. Set an example! Yield to people in the crosswalk!
Not once did I see someone dart out in front of a car.
I did my observations on Mondays and another instructor did Tuesdays. He saw something horrible. He saw a pedestrian push the button to make the lights flash and walk into the crosswalk. Then he saw a driver hit her.
I can hear you now, saying, “But every time I drive past the Student Union, someone walks out in front of me.” I’m sure that has happened once or twice, but every time? Really?
Before you say that ever again, I want you to take a lawn chair and a pad of paper over to the crosswalk in front of the Student Union, or any other intersection where you’ve “almost” hit someone. When you see a pedestrian, note if she walks out in front of traffic or if she looks for traffic. Count how many drivers fail to yield when she is in the crosswalk.
When you can show me your tally marks, then I’ll allow you to say how clueless the people walking are!
You might think there aren’t any tricks to being a pedestrian. Just like bicycling is more than knowing how to ride a bike, there is a little more to walking than putting one foot in front of the other.
Pedestrian safety is fairly straightforward and mainly consists of “Watch for cars!” You might not know that it is just as safe (or just as dangerous) to cross midblock as at a crosswalk– but midblock crossings are illegal in many places. It’s more important to know where to watch for cars: cars pulling in and out of driveways, parking lots, and parking spaces, and cars making right or left turns.
There is one trick to being a pedestrian that most people don’t know. I helped the police with data collection and for two hours a day, I watched pedestrians and cars at a crosswalk downtown. People who waited on the sidewalk for cars to yield had to wait a long time. People who went ahead and stepped into the crosswalk– not into the path of oncoming traffic, just putting one foot in the crosswalk– didn’t have to wait very long before cars yielded. Not only is the “one foot in the crosswalk” trick effective, but it is also the law. Cars are required by law to stop at a crosswalk when there is a pedestrian IN the crosswalk. Cars don’t have to stop for someone standing on the curb waiting for someone to stop and let them cross!
One foot in the crosswalk is effective, it is a legal way to make cars stop for you, and it is SAFE. We’re not talking about jumping out in front of traffic. Just one foot in the crosswalk is enough.
If you see someone waiting to cross the street, stop and let her cross, even if one foot isn’t in the crosswalk.
It’s impossible to be a fair weather bicyclist in Missouri, because Missouri, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have fair weather.
It is true that sometimes the temperatures can be quite mild. Generally this brief mild time is accompanied by severe winds bringing in the cold front or the warm front and happens as the temperature skyrockets or plummets from one extreme to another.
I was amazed this spring as the sun shone merrily on warm days, and nothing but warm, mild days forecasted as far as the forecast would go. The wind wasn’t terribly strong. Furthermore, this coincided with my finals week (neither of my classes had final exams) and my spring break! I gleefully penciled in daily, long bike rides.
But then I sneezed. I wheezed. My eyes watered. “Blast you, juniper!” I cried out, melodramatically. “Blast you and your tiny pollen sperm daggers stabbing my eyes!” I continued metaphorically. There would be no more bike rides until the juniper orgy ended.
I bike for transportation in all weather. I bike for recreation in a lot of weather but not in all weather. Extreme cold, high wind, cold rain, extreme heat, and pollen keep me from just-for-fun bike rides!
Visiting Phoenix a few years ago, I biked 7 hours on the canal paths when it reached 107 °F. That sounds dangerous, but I didn’t have as many problems on that ride as I had on a much shorter ride on a humid April day in Missouri when I experienced an electrolyte deficiency. The transitions from one season to the next are often more difficult than the extremes. At the beginning of winter, I wear my balaclava when it drops below 40 °F. By the end of winter, 35 °F is too warm for my balaclava.
Last winter my husband walked to the store with me during a cold snap. He complained his face hurt from the wind. Because I’d been biking in the cold, I hadn’t noticed the wind on my face. He needed an extra layer on his face because he wasn’t used to being out in this weather.
I’m more comfortable when I push the elements. If I try to maximize my comfort by staying indoors, I am trapped indoors. If I push myself outside when it’s nasty, my definition of “nice weather” expands dramatically.
Missouri does have nice weather– briefly, and comparatively!
In a four month span of time, 6 pedestrians were struck down in Columbia. Three were fatal, and one of the fatalities happened on the same day that two other pedestrians were hit (non-fatally) in separate incidents! As you might imagine, this string of wrecks has gotten a lot of attention.
Columbia is at risk for losing its claim as the best place to walk and bicycle in Missouri.
The police department is launching an education and enforcement campaign to improve pedestrian safety.
The Bicycle & Pedestrian Commission and the Public Transit Advisory Commission are developing recommendations to improve pedestrian safety.
The Mayor signed on to the Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets that the Secretary of Transportation announced this month.
All of the incidents, both fatal and non-fatal, happened on MoDOT roads. While Columbia has actively improved conditions for walking and biking, MoDOT builds roads in Columbia the same way as in the rest of the state, without much regard for pedestrians. The Mid Missouri Roadway Safety Council is considering adding a pedestrian safety component to its programs.
I want YOUR help in making our roads safer for walking: walk more, and drive slower.
The more people who walk, the safer it is for all people who walk, as drivers get used to seeing people walking and looking out for them. You can make our roads safer for walking simply by walking!
When you are driving, slow down. The survivability of being hit by a car is strongly influenced by the speed of the car. Of course, slower vehicles are less likely to hit people in the first place! Especially when you are driving in an area where lots of people are walking, such as near a university or a school, slow down and watch for people.
As my second quarter wraps up, I have a few thoughts about Sustainable Transportation (my online masters program through the University of Washington). Our current transportation system isn’t sustainable in any sense. We waste our time and our gas idling in traffic. Our cities are vast parking lots. As our roads and bridges fall apart we are more dependent on them than ever.
What’s the solution? That’s what my masters program is all about. There are many solutions.
I’ve learned about electric cars and hydrogen cars and hybrids. Hybrids are a step forward, electric cars are the next step, and fuel cells are the Holy Grail.
I’ve learned about transit and biking and walking. Even better than clean cars, this type of transportation solves not just pollution but also congestion and parking.
I’ve learned about mixed use zoning and increased population density. Biking and walking aren’t feasible without destinations to walk and bike to, and transit isn’t feasible without enough people to ride the bus. Even smaller rural towns like Kirksville could benefit from mixed use zoning and increased population density! A city doesn’t have to expand its borders when its population increases, if it can build more densely. That doesn’t mean sky scrapers and crime, but could mean accessory dwelling units (such as mother-in-law apartments). Trees and eyes on the street prevent crime, not gates.
I’ve learned about coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, geothermal, wind, and solar power. I’ve learned about tidal power and offshore wind. Natural gas is tremendously cleaner than coal, but fracking is terrible. Nuclear is politically impossible. Solar and wind are expensive, but getting cheaper and cheaper every day.
We won’t achieve sustainable transportation entirely by biking, walking, and transit. We won’t achieve it entirely by fuel cell cars, either. We’ll achieve it by a combination of all of the above (except maybe nuclear power).
As I finish my 2nd quarter (of 6 total) and my 3rd and 4th classes (of 9 total), I’m eager to get started on the next classes, and more eager yet to finish the program and begin to implement what I’ve learned in making Missouri a better place– not just to walk and bicycle– but a better place to move in, whatever your mode of transportation (which ought to be walking and biking as much as possible!)
Strava, MapMyFitness, RunTastic, Endomondo, RunKeeper– there are lots of apps that do more or less the same thing. Using GPS, they track where you walk, run, or bike, and you can post the map of your ride to Facebook or other social media.
Which one do you use? It depends partly on what you want to do with the app and partly on what your friends use. Of course, it’s not necessary to record your ride at all. It can be fun to look up the % grade of the grueling hill you toiled up, or just to see on the map where you were. If you’re interested in how many miles you went and your average speed overall, a simple bike computer can do that. If you want to know how fast you were going on a screaming descent with the wind roaring in your ears, the app will tell you. There is typically a social aspect too, where you can see where your friends rode and share your maps.
I was curious about the Strava heat maps. Strava collects all the users’ data and creates heat maps showing where people are biking, running, and walking. City planners even use Strava heat maps for bike/ped planning. I used Strava heat maps to plan routes during my 40 Missouri State Parks bicycle trip. We discussed the use of Strava heat maps in my masters program classes. I noticed my brother was using Strava. So I decided to give it a whirl.
I hadn’t considered Strava seriously because I understood it was designed for competitive people. That is true. You can designate a race segment, such as the Son of a Beach Climb at Thousand Hills State Park. Anyone using Strava who rides that segment will appear on the Leaderboard according to their time through that segment. (The Leaderboard says that Brian Snyder climbed this hill at 19.7 mph! It’s all I can do to climb it at 4 mph. Did he have a motor on his bike that day?)
The first time I used Strava, I got Queen of the Mountain (QOM, or fastest time) on the “Proctor WB” segment! I wasn’t even on my road bike. Looking more closely at the Leaderboard, I realized that I am the only woman who has ridden Proctor WB while using Strava. That is not surprising. Men are generally more competitive than women, 3/4 of cyclists in the US are male, and Strava users are overwhelmingly extremely fit, white males age 25-50 (which highlights a weakness of using Strava for city planning). The Leaderboard is separated by gender, so it is easy for women to ‘place’ or achieve a QOM. Men get a KOM– King of the Mountain– and they are not easy to come by, as evidenced by Brian’s 19 mph climb of one of the steepest hills I know!
I’m not competitively inclined, and competition is not something that motivates me. However, the competitive aspect of Strava entertains me. And I’m glad to contribute to the Strava heat maps.
This beautiful weather is too good to be true. I fully expected the recent cold snap to end by skyrocketing up to 90 °F with high humidity. Or, if we had any mild days, they would come with high winds as the next warm front or cold front blew in. Yet we have mild weather with no end in sight! A couple of rainy days, and it’ll get a little cooler, but ‘a little cooler’ is a far cry from the sub-freezing of that last cold spell.
Finally I can quit dreaming about my last bike tour and I can ride my bike.
I rode on the back roads out toward Hallsville and came across a Buddhist Temple in the middle of nowhere. It was the most surprising thing, far more surprising than the alpaca farm that had miniature donkeys, horses, sheep, and goats as well as alpacas. Alpaca farms in rural Missouri, it turns out, are common. I’ve biked past at least 3 this week. Buddhist Temples are not so common. I met a Cambodian monk-in-training wearing saffron robes with a hunter orange jacket who didn’t speak English.
I rode a short loop, and since I started using Strava, I discovered that I am Queen of the Mountain on 2 segments. I’m guessing that no other women using Strava has ridden the Creasy Springs Corkscrew, because although I didn’t walk the hill, I stopped halfway up to catch my breath! It’s easy to be #1 when no one else is in the race.
My friend Clink, who biked to Alaska last year, is biking to Florida right now. He left early in the season because it’s already hot in Florida. When I saw on Facebook that he was leaving, I jumped on my bike and rode to the edge of town with him. For the next 2 or 3 months, I’ll be eagerly following his trip!
Maybe this will be the year that I remember to wear sunscreen BEFORE I have a bad sunburn. The first ride this week, I forgot bike gloves, a headband, sunglasses, and sunscreen. The next ride, I forgot sunscreen. The last ride, I forgot sunscreen and electrolytes. I rode with some much faster riders who were polite and stayed behind me or else stopped and waited periodically for me to catch up. I had water but I only brought a banana, and I should have brought electrolytes.
On the last leg, I told the faster riders, “You go on ahead, I can find my way from here.” Then I missed my turn and had to climb back up the hill I’d just come down. I felt nauseous. I stopped, drank the last of my water, and took my headband off to cool my head. I went on, and felt nauseous again. There was no point in stopping because I didn’t have any more water, and anyway, water wasn’t what I needed. I needed salt.
At last I made it home and ate salty food but I admit it was pretty dumb. I should have called for a ride when I felt nauseous. I’ve known 3 people who ended up in the hospital because of electrolytes. How crazy would it be for that to happen on such a mild day! The high was in the low 70’s, and my bike computer said it was 84 °F on the pavement.
Enjoy this perfect weather, and stock up on the memories of it to tide you through the cold snaps and heat waves that are coming. Wear your sunscreen and remember your electrolytes!