I wrote this post before the recent pedestrian fatality in Kirksville. This is not a response to that event. My response to that event is sadness.
In the olden days before smartphone navigation guided our every move, unexpected one-way streets, dead-ends, and construction could obstruct the unwary traveler visiting new territory. Walking is always like that. Surprise obstacles lurk on streets you’ve biked, driven, or ridden the bus down dozens of times.
I had three errands to run, or rather, to walk. To stretch my hamstrings I decided to complete my errands on foot, instead of the far more convenient option of biking, the less convenient option of taking the bus, or the easy but lazy option of waiting for my husband to get home with the car. In a town that isn’t built for walking, I walked 4 miles to complete my 3 errands.
I left my front door and played ‘Frogger’ to cross to the north side of Broadway, a busy street with a center turn lane that I use as a pedestrian refuge so that I only need to cross one side at a time. My Frogger technique is not for the faint of heart. I stand in the middle of the road, separated only by paint stripes from cars whizzing by in both directions. I was about to dart through a break in traffic, but the last car in the space before the break came to a complete stop and waved me across, protecting me from any other traffic.
My first destination was west on Broadway, on the south side of the street. So why did the chicken– that’s me– cross the road to the north side of Broadway? Because there is no sidewalk on the south side of Broadway until the light at Stadium.
As I walked west, I glanced across the street and noticed something new: a sidewalk on the south side of Broadway starts at Briarwood and continues a few feet to Stadium. I remembered that my residential street connects neatly to Briarwood. I made a mental note, next time take Briarwood!
The new sidewalk from Briarwood to Stadium is one result of construction that lasted all summer and expanded Stadium Blvd to 7 lanes. The expansion made Stadium a difficult one to cross, and raised medians serve as pedestrian refuges for those not quick enough to cross the expanse in 16 seconds.
At Stadium, I crossed back to the south side of Broadway and continued west, making it across in 16 seconds by jogging the last bit.
Then the sidewalk on the south side ended. I wasn’t expecting this, because I hadn’t walked this way before. It was impossible to cross Broadway where the sidewalk ended because the traffic was too thick and fast. I did not want to walk in the grass and get my feet wet. I didn’t want to turn back, either. So I walked on the pavement, staring down cars and prepared to dive into the wet grass if they didn’t move over.
They all moved over.
Some of them couldn’t move over much because there was traffic in the next lane. Those slowed down and moved as far as they could.
I got to Hy-Vee and found a bottle of fancy ketchup. My first errand was complete.
Now that I knew about the missing sidewalk on the south side of Broadway, I crossed to the north side right away, at Fairview. I pushed both pedestrian buttons: the one to go north across Broadway and the one to go east across Fairview. I’d cross whichever one gave me the walk light first, and then wait for a walk light in the other direction. The east walk light lit up and I started to go. But at the last second I noticed something. On the east side of the intersection, there was no pedestrian light to go north!
Fairview and Broadway is a 3-legged crosswalk. You can cross 3 legs of the intersection, but not the 4th. If you need to get from the southeast corner to the northeast corner, you have to first cross to the southwest corner, then to the northwest corner, and finally to the northeast corner. You have to wait for the green light every time. It takes the better part of 10 minutes to do what should take 16 seconds.
I hung back and waited for the north walk light, crossed Broadway, then waited for the east walk light to cross Fairview.
My remaining walk to PetCo was uneventful. I bought cat collars and got tags engraved for a friend’s cat who likes to escape. My second errand was done.
I walked around the perimeter of the PetCo shopping center, which was designed for cars only, no sidewalks even at the storefronts. I was trying to get to the sidewalk along Stadium Blvd, but there was no path from the parking lot to that sidewalk. If it had not been so wet, I would have walked down the grassy slope between the parking lot and the sidewalk. I walked down the frontage road before I found a paved connection to the sidewalk. Finally at the sidewalk, I crossed Stadium and then Ash– this time it was a 4-legged crosswalk so I could take the one that turned green first, which was the Stadium crossing. I had to hustle to make it in 16 seconds. In fact, I didn’t make it, but I counted on the all-red phase of the signal and the reluctance of the drivers to run me over.
The all-red phase is an invention designed to allow pedestrians extra time to clear the intersection. Intersections in Columbia routinely use them, but it was risky for me to count on having one. On the other hand, I trusted that the cars stopped at the light saw me crossing in front of them and would not suddenly gun it when the light turned green if I was still in front of them.
Anyway, half of them were busy texting and not watching the light.
Speaking of texting, at that point I pulled out my smart phone and started checking Facebook. I looked up when I crossed a driveway or parking lot entrance, but otherwise I had the sidewalk to myself. I was smart to look up at those intersections, because sure enough, a driver pulled into a parking lot across my path, and I had to stop to avoid being hit. It was an old man driving with an old woman as a passenger. At least he wasn’t texting.
Feeling disheartened with the state of the city for walking and with the routine carelessness of drivers, I headed north on Bernadette, which doesn’t have a sidewalk, but also doesn’t have much traffic. I wasn’t the only pedestrian using that quiet street; I saw several others walking in the street. I arrived at Westlake and found the birdseed.
My three errands were successful and I walked home with a bottle of ketchup, a cat collar and engraved tag, and a bag of bird seed. I had gotten good exercise. Despite the successes, I wasn’t in a good mood. The walk had been anything but peaceful and pleasant. It is easier to be a vehicular cyclist in the Midwest than a pedestrian.
I don’t typically write about bicycle-car collisions because they are rare and there’s enough fear mongering already. Health studies routinely find that the benefits of bicycling far outweigh the risks. You are more likely to die of heart disease than from a bicycle wreck. You are more likely to suffer a chronic illness from a sedentary lifestyle than a permanent injury sustained in a bicycle wreck.
Our new bicyclist, Scott, is quickly becoming an experienced bicyclist. I remember when my eyes widened in shock as the rare bicycle fatality dominated the news. The initial news report typically has very little information. One tiny scrap of information invariably reported is that the bicyclist was not wearing a helmet.
Helmets might save lives but they don’t prevent wrecks, and fatalities can occur even with helmets. It’s far better not to have a wreck in the first place. The misplaced emphasis on helmets detracts from the driver’s duty to operate his SUV safely.
Any other details come from the driver, the only surviving witness. The driver has every reason to shed the blame on the victim, and I’m inherently suspicious of his story. The news reports and public discussion are not a court of law, so the driver’s words exonerate the driver while the victim’s silence condemns the victim.
Like me, Scott was appalled by the wild speculation and victim-blaming in the comments on the news story. The first such comment often is, “What was the bicyclist doing on the highway?” No one asks what the driver was doing on the highway. The driver can answer. Since the bicyclist is dead, we may never know. The bicyclist was trying to get somewhere. The bicyclist might have been coming home from work, school, a friend’s house, or a bar. These are the same reasons the driver was on the road.
Every wreck is preventable. As a driver, there are many things you can do to prevent collisions.
Texting increases your risk of a collision 23 times.
Hands-free cell phone use increases your risk of a collision 4 times. So does impaired driving and fatigued driving.
Prescription drugs and marijuana impair driving.
Speeding increases crash risk and crash severity. Pedestrians and bicyclists hit by speeding cars are less likely to survive.
If you ever do any of the above while driving, you are removing one safe-guard after another. If you are still worried that, through no fault of your own, you might run over a careless bicyclist, I recommend that you take up biking or walking. You are far less likely to kill a person if you aren’t barreling down a highway in a 1-ton killing machine.
Bicyclists can decrease their risk of collision by using lights at night, riding on the right side of the road, riding at least an arm’s length from the edge of the road, and obeying traffic laws. A helmet can save your life so you will be able to tell your side, and a helmet-cam will tell the truth if you don’t survive.
Don’t let sensationalist news reports and public victim-blaming deter you from bicycling. Put down the newspaper and put your own health and safety first.
I’m proud of Kirksville’s new Walking School Bus. Kids get exercise, volunteers get exercise, traffic congestion is reduced, and crowded buses are less crowded.
I’m proud because Kirksville’s Walking School Bus is my baby. A couple years ago, I approached Kirksville RIII and the City about applying for a Safe Routes to School grant for a Walking School Bus. Jane Schaper, assistant superintendent, was delighted and supportive of the idea. A year later, we got the announcement that we received the grant, and I found someone willing to serve as the paid coordinator for the program.
We tried to schedule the training workshop with the PedNet consultant and Walking School Bus expert Robert Johnson, but delays in the MoDOT system made the city and school wary of investing time before the paperwork was done. I completely understand, because grants can go wrong if the paperwork isn’t done just right. The start of school loomed closer and closer, and we still didn’t have a date set for the workshop.
Finally the paperwork made it through the red tape and we scheduled the workshop. Then our coordinator announced she had gotten a job. Good news for her, but she had to step down as coordinator. With just days to go before the workshop, I frantically made phone call after phone call, even in the middle of a 3-day bicycle ride.
Kirksville’s Walking School Bus was in grave jeopardy. I was determined that it wouldn’t end before it began. I sent more emails and made more phone calls.
At the last minute, we found Megan Howard. Megan recently graduated from Truman State College with a B.S. in Exercise Science, and now works for AT Still University. She had worked in my lab as a student research assistant, so I knew she was smart, reliable, and enthusiastic. But would she be able to win the parents’ trust? She quickly proved herself capable of persuading parents to register kids for the Walking School Bus and collecting an army of volunteers to lead the routes!
Within a few weeks, Megan had recruited 50 kids and 30 background-checked volunteers. The first Walking School Buses walked their routes on Oct. 1. Truman football players serve as crossing guards to help cross busy streets like Cottage Grove. Even kids who live more than a mile away from school can participate by walking to school from one of two remote drop-off locations.
Megan hopes to have 120 kids registered for the spring Walking School Bus. Columbia’s Walking School Bus program was the largest in the nation with 500 kids registered, and Columbia is 6 times bigger than Kirksville. Megan’s goal is ambitious, but if anyone can do it, she can.
I’m proud of my part in bringing Kirksville’s Walking School Bus to life, but Megan is the hero now, with her army of volunteers, the kids who walk, and the parents who sign them up.
What I learned in school
I’m pursuing a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Transportation from the University of Washington through an online program. I plug in a headset with a microphone to attend my online class. With this degree, I hope to be a transportation planner at the state, local, or regional level.
This week I learned about the difficulties of engaging the public in the planning process. It isn’t possible to have enough public input. No matter how much outreach effort, there will always be people who didn’t know about the project and are incensed by it! The easiest input to get is from the NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard), but if we only listened to NIMBYs, we’d never build anything. Seattle tried out a neighborhood planning program that was very successful, using outreach of every kind. They even visited soup kitchens to get input from the homeless, who don’t typically attend civic meetings. Despite the program’s success, it was a victim of budget cuts after a few years.
I learned about the history of transportation planning. In the early days of highways, backroom politics dominated planning. Roads were built to make powerful people rich, without long term objectives. In the 1970′s, transportation planning adopted a systems approach. Now we consider long term objectives and unintended consequences, like water runoff and air pollution.
In theory, a well thought out matrix will guide transportation planning, but of course, in reality, politics and personalities have a strong influence. Elected officials like to attach their names to bright shiny projects that work well in crowded cities in Japan or China, but magnetic levitation trains and robotic parking garages don’t translate well to the less populous US. Buses and well-maintained sidewalks will serve us better and are far cheaper, although not as glamorous.
“What are the borders of a transportation project?” Dr. Rutherford asked us. “Does it end where the street ends?” Planners consider dozens of potential effects, such as noise disturbances, toll booths, and wildlife disruption. “You practically have to have a degree in biology to be a planner,” he remarked. Luckily, I happen to have a PhD in biology.
Parking is a neglected aspect of transportation. “Providing free parking takes away choices,” Dr. Rutherford told us. We will drive if it’s easy to park. We consider other options only when we have to pay for parking. I mentioned that to my husband, who intends to take the bus more often than he actually does. His company, like most businesses here, provides free parking to its employees, and the parking lot is never full.
One other thing I’m learning is just how much I already know about transportation. I’ve been interested in transportation since I started bicycling for transportation, about a decade ago. I attend public meetings, I attend webinars from nonprofit bike/ped advocacy groups, and I read books, articles, and discussions about transportation. I won’t say the course is easy, but I’m getting more out of it thanks to my extensive if random and bicycle-centric background.
I’m proud to announce that Kirksville has a Walking School Bus.
Kirksville’s Walking School Bus is my baby. A couple years ago, I approached Kirksville RIII about applying for a Safe Routes to School grant for a Walking School Bus. Jane Schaper, the assistant superintendent, was delighted with the idea and was willing to let me write the grant. A year later, we got the announcement that we received the grant, and I identified someone willing to serve as the paid coordinator for the program.
We tried to schedule the training workshop, but delays in the MoDOT system made the city and school wary of investing the time before the paperwork was done. I completely understand, because grants can go wrong if the paperwork isn’t done just right. However, the start of school loomed closer and closer, and we still didn’t have a date set for the workshop.
Finally the paperwork made it through the red tape and our workshop was scheduled, but then our coordinator announced she had a full time job and couldn’t do the Walking School Bus. With just days to go before the workshop, I frantically made phone call after phone call, even in the middle of a 3-day bicycle ride. I almost had one person lined up, but she decided she couldn’t do it.
Kirksville’s Walking School Bus was in grave jeopardy. But I was determined that it wouldn’t end before it started.
Then we found Megan Howard. Megan recently graduated from Truman State College with a B.S. in Exercise Science, and now works for AT Still University. She had worked in my lab as a student research assistant, so I knew she was smart, reliable, and enthusiastic. What I didn’t know was if she could win parents’ trust since she isn’t a parent herself and is very young. She quickly proved herself capable of persuading parents to register kids for the Walking School Bus and an army of volunteers to lead the routes!
Within a few weeks, Megan had 50 kids and 30 volunteers registered. She hopes to have 120 next year. Columbia’s Walking School Bus program was the largest in the nation with 500 kids registered, and Columbia is 6 times bigger than Kirksville. Megan’s goal is ambitious, but if anyone can do it, she can.
SAVEMOLIVES has nothing to do with olives. It’s about saving Missouri lives on the highways. This MoDOT highway safety program hosted the Blueprint to Save More Lives Conference in St. Louis. As a member of the Central Regional Safety Coalition, I attended the conference courtesy of MoDOT which provided food and lodging at no cost to attendees.
SAVEMOLIVES launched in 2005 with 1,257 highway fatalities that year. Annual highway fatalities has steadily dropped and in 2013, the number of highway fatalities was 757– a long way from Vision Zero, but the lowest number since 1949. The lives saved are the result of engineering, enforcement, education, emergency medical services, and legislation.
Because crash scenes themselves are a cause of further crashes, clearing the scene efficiently is an important safety step. One semi trailer crash took 2 hours to clear, while another similar crash took 16 hours. The difference wasn’t the crashes but the clearance procedure. I learned how emergency medical technicians, tow truck drivers, and other emergency personnel are getting extra training in efficient crash scene clearance.
The next step that will make a big impact is a primary seatbelt law. Missouri has a secondary seatbelt law, which means that you can’t be stopped for not wearing a seatbelt, although if you are stopped for another reason you can be ticketed. States that have a primary seatbelt law have better compliance and fewer fatalities. Missouri’s seatbelt compliance is 80% and a primary seatbelt law should increase that to 90% or better. Since 64% of fatalities were unbuckled this year, an small increase in seatbelt compliance could make a big difference.
It shouldn’t be hard to pass a primary seatbelt law, yet it has proved surprisingly difficult. Perhaps this year will be the year.
Legal, prescription drugs are a growing threat to highway safety. Drug dealers drive to Florida to get fraudulent prescriptions and then to Missouri to fill them because Missouri does not have a Prescription Drug Monitoring Plan, as most other states do. This is a harder sell than a primary seatbelt law because to be effective, it must be funded.
Of course, distracted driving is a big part of the conversation. Talking on a cell phone (even hands-free) while driving reduces driving ability as much as drunk driving. Texting while driving reduces driving ability 5 times more than drunk driving. Missouri has a texting-and-driving ban for drivers 21 and under which should be expanded to all ages and should be expanded to include all cell phone use, even hands-free.
One important piece that was largely missing from the conference was pedestrian and bicycle safety. Bike/ped fatalities are overrepresented in traffic fatalities. Bike/ped fatalities are 9.4% of fatalities while the number of trips made by bicycling or walking is less than 6% in our cities, and far lower in rural areas. I was disappointed that very little mention was made of bike/ped safety at the conference. New York City showed that improving safety for bicyclists and pedestrians improves safety for everyone, as traffic fatalities for all modes decreased.
The next Blueprint to Save More Lives Conference will be in 2016. By then, we may have a primary seatbelt law and a Prescription Drug Monitoring Plan, annual traffic fatalities may be less than 600, and bike/ped will be a larger part of the safety conversation.
I am pursuing a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Transportation through the Civil Engineering Dept. of the University of Washington in an online program. Some students are already employed in transportation, and many, like me, are bicyclists. Because UW is on the west coast, the classes meet late in the evening. We wear headsets and use microphones for class discussions. While much of the first sessions last week were devoted to ironing out technological wrinkles, I have already learned some interesting facts about transportation.
I had never thought about pipelines as being part of our transportation system, much less as a sustainable aspect of transportation. But one pipeline keeps 750 trucks off the road per day! Most of our pipelines are in Texas, with a lot passing through Missouri. Imagine the congestion if we added thousands of trucks to Missouri highways every day.
We often look to Europe where transportation is better for walking and biking, and better for the future. European transportation is based on infrastructure built when people walked and horses pulled wagons, and they had to figure out how to fit automobiles into it. The US came of age when automobiles were the present and the future. We have to figure out how to fit walking and biking into that. We can derive inspiration from other nations, but many of our solutions have to come from home.
For example, a study of a Los Angeles suburb found that a pedestrian-friendly shopping area relied on shoppers coming from other suburbs for revenue. Nearby residents can only walk to the shops if other shoppers drive there. Otherwise, the shops close. The walkable shopping area is a good start, but it will need transit to stay alive.
I look forward to learning more good stuff out of the 10-week classes. When I complete the Master’s in Sustainable Transportation, I hope to be a planner at the state, regional, or local level. The transportation system we have won’t work for our future. I want to be part of a transportation system that will work for everyone.
There was a time when horse rustling led to a hanging. Today, grand theft auto carries a similar weight, although hangings are out of vogue. Throughout history, stealing someone’s transportation is a serious offense.
The penalty for bike theft is typically minor, but rampant bike theft is a major deterrent to bicycling.
When I advise people to register their bicycles with the police, I hear, “That’s a waste of time.” They believe that stolen bikes are not recovered by the police, or that when they are recovered, the police make no effort to return the bikes to their owners.
In fact, many bikes are recovered. Sometimes a bike is stolen for immediate transportation and abandoned near the thief’s destination. The police will end up with this bike and if it is registered, they will notify the owner. Most of the time, that is not the happy ending because the bicycle isn’t registered or the registration contact information is out of date.
It’s not enough to register your bike. If your contact information changes, you need to update that with the police.
It is true that registration has limited effect. Many bike thieves are just looking for transportation. But some bike thieves operate a business. “Professional” bike thieves know that it’s a mistake to steal and sell bikes in the same town. Since every town’s registration process is independent, it’s easier to steal a bike in one town and sell it in another. To ensure that the bike isn’t stolen, a buyer would have to check the serial number with every municipality in the entire nation and beyond! A standardized registration system with registration occurring at the point of sale, as is done for cars and, in Denmark, for bikes, would inconvenience professional bike thieves.
Stolen bikes are big business. Stolen bikes are as good as cash for drugs. Stolen bikes are even shipped overseas. But stolen bikes hurt the bicycle industry.
Because bike theft is so pervasive, people avoid buying nice bikes or avoid biking entirely. Biking is a less reliable form of transportation when your bike might be missing for your journey home. Stiff penalties for bike theft and a mandatory standardized registration system would promote bicycling for transportation.
Simply locking your bike up is effective. Never walk away from your unsecured bike, even just for a couple minutes. Use a U-lock or a sturdy, high quality cable lock. Make sure the lock goes through the bike frame and through the bike rack. Don’t lock just the tire, which is easily separated from the rest of the bike, leaving you with a tire and no bike!
Our new cyclist, Scott, took the bicycle class recently that teaches how to bicycle with traffic. I have been teaching him the principles of vehicular cycling informally through instruction and demonstration. I turn every situation into a lesson. He doubted that the class would teach him anything that I hadn’t covered, but I believed it would do him good to experience the formal presentation.
“How did it go?” I asked him afterwards.
“It was a good review,” he replied. He thought he hadn’t learned anything new.
I thought I detected a different attitude toward traffic: more confident and assertive.
One day he ranted about two drivers and a bicyclist. One driver yelled, “Use the bike lane!” on a street with no bike lane. One driver yelled, “Get off the road!” But he was most indignant about the bicyclist who snaked up the right side of a line of cars waiting at a traffic light.
“She gives drivers the expectation that bicyclists will be on the extreme right,” he explained.
“Did you respond to the drivers who yelled at you?” I asked. We’ve discussed extensively all the good reasons to refrain from responding.
I was not surprised when he sheepishly admitted that he responded with “F— you!”.
I thought it might help Scott refrain from responding if he could empathize with the drivers– the drivers who don’t empathize with bicyclists.
“Tell me about the people who yelled at you,” I said.
“Redneck kids,” he snorted.
“College age? Maybe frat boys?”
When he was that age, he was a long-haired hippie. I knew the answer before I asked, “As a driver, maybe when you were younger, did you ever honk at a bicyclist?” He does not have that kind of personality. I asked another question. “When you were a long-haired hippie listening to Frank Zappa, could you imagine some of your weed-smoking hippie friends bragging about honking at some dumb bicyclist on the road?”
“I know what you’re trying to do,” he said.
“I know someone who used to honk impatiently at bicyclists, before he became a bicyclist himself,” I told him. “People change, and maybe these jokers who yelled at you today will change some day. In the meantime, remember that your response to them only heightens your own anger and has the potential to escalate.”
By all means report them, because a call from the local police can be a wake-up call to them, and “F— you!” will never change anyone. Really, can you imagine anyone saying, “That bicyclist just cussed at me. He must be right. I’ll never honk at another bicyclist!” Give the redneck frat boys and the long-haired hippies the opportunity to change their sinful ways.
I got on my bike one morning and pushed down on the pedals. I was astonished to feel pain and stiffness in my lower back when I did that. “Wait up,” I called to my friend, “My back isn’t feeling right. I need to go slow.” By the end of the day I was confined to the couch and moving only painfully.
Ever since I hurt my back a year and a half ago, I’ve been working on my core strength. The gym is a 10 minute walk from home and I go once or even twice a day for body conditioning classes that include balance and core strength. My core strength has improved noticeably, although it is still my weakest area. Bicycling long distances is more comfortable with better core strength.
I was dismayed to realize I’d tweaked my back again. I suspect it was working in the basement to reinstall the tiles that had gotten wet from that last big storm. That’s why we’ve got this fancy tiles. They aren’t glued down, and when water gets in the basement, we can pull up the tiles, dry them, and put them back. They fit together like puzzle pieces and that last one to go in is a tight fit. I pushed really hard to get it in place. That’s when I strained my back, although I didn’t realize it at the time.
What more can I do? Should I redouble my efforts to increase my core strength? Should I focus more on the back muscles? Should I just accept that I have a weak back and will experience this horrible thing from time to time?
Then my friend Joe mentioned an experience he had with a masseuse who mysteriously knew all these things about him, such as that he is a cyclist, based on which muscles and tissues were tight. A light bulb went on in my head! My hamstrings have been unbelievably tight ever since the 40 Missouri State Parks bicycle trip. A quick Google search confirmed my suspicions: tight hamstrings go with lower back problems.
I’m relieved that there is a possible solution. I need to focus on flexibility and stretching, something I can get with yoga or Pilates.
A determined person can do just about anything he puts his mind to, and excuses fade away. During the long miles of the Flint Hills Bicycle Tour, we talked about how anyone can accomplish anything with the right motivation. It doesn’t even require a great deal of fitness, because we can push ourselves beyond what we thought we could endure.
The new bicyclist I’ve been coaching, Scott, has been biking just 2 months, and he is at that stage where he is constantly setting new records. After setting personal records (PRs) of 8 miles, and then 20 miles, on the Katy Trail, this weekend he successfully tackled the Loop the City ride and set yet another PR of 27 miles with city streets, hills, and rough gravel trails.
I keep cautioning Scott to slow down, to hold himself back at the gym or on bike rides. I habitually dive into new activities, injure something, and set myself back 6 weeks while I heal. But he wants to be healthy now, and he is not interested in slowing down– although mindful of my experiences injuring myself, he does use caution. He’s progressing much more rapidly than I did when I first started bicycling. It took me a year before I started biking whenever possible, instead of only when I had to, and biking longer distances, like 10 miles and then 20 miles.
I envy Scott’s motivation. What he pushes himself to do is easy for me because of my years of bicycling, but his relentless drive inspires me to push myself harder.
Even though I bonked (ran out of energy) 65 miles into Day 2 of the Flint Hills Bicycle Tour, I finished the last 10 miles. What else could I have done? Anyone I called wouldn’t be able to make it to me before I could make it to the campground. I definitely wasn’t in bad enough shape to call an ambulance! Biking the last 10 miles–slowly, with more food, with more breaks– was the best option, and that was my motivation. I even did it (mostly) without complaining.
None of the times I quit a bike ride did I really have to. The one time I truly needed to quit, I was trying a century (100 miles), and I didn’t quit. Other times I’ve called for a ride, I knew I could have finished, including 2 more attempts at a century. “Could you come get me? I could finish, I just don’t want to,” I admitted with shame.
Stop trying to get fit. Stop trying to diet and exercise. Instead, look for your motivation, your drive, your inspiration. You might find your inspiration in someone else’s struggle, like Bill who went from a 400-pound couch potato with flashy cars to a muscled, car-free yoga instructor eating almonds and figs. You might find your inspiration in a loved one who needs you or the memory of someone special. You might find your inspiration in a new friend or a traumatic life event. My inspiration came first from the thrill of saving money on a car I didn’t have to buy, then from the delight of getting healthier and stronger, and finally from the deep friendships formed on long bike rides.
Once you find your spark, your excuses will disappear. The hard part won’t be pushing yourself to your limit. The hard part will be holding yourself back so that you don’t injure yourself.
I knew that I would do more bicycle touring this summer than I ever had before during our 6-week 40 Missouri State Parks tour. I did not know that I would continue to squeeze in a bicycle tour here and there during the rest of the summer! It turns out that bicycle touring is my favorite activity. It’s inexpensive and, in a sense, easy. In another sense, it is challenging beyond anything I’ve ever done.
A friend-of-a-friend loosely organized a 4-day bicycle tour through Kansas. It grew by word-of-mouth and I knew only 3 of the 10 riders. By the end of the trip, we were all close friends.
The Prairie Spirit Trail is a lovely Kansas State Park, 51 miles from Iola to Ottawa. I judged it harshly at first, because I’m used to the Katy Trail. But the Katy Trail is exceptional. I sneered at the gaping ruts and the downed trees until we passed by park staff filling in the ruts and clearing the trees. With the Prairie Spirit Trail and our first campsite in Pomona State Parks, I added 2 Kansas State Parks to my state parks “collection”.
I appreciated the Prairie Spirit Trail more after the Flint Hills Nature Trail which is not finished and very rough in spots. We passed through 3 ghost towns and I ran out of water before reaching Council Grove. After 60 miles of rough trail, I bonked (ran out of energy). I’ve always loved driving through the Flint Hills, but bicycling is even better. As I munched on a hamburger in Council Grove, I wondered if the cattle I’d seen grazing on the hill tops appreciate the scenic vistas of the Flint Hills.
The 2nd day had been so difficult that I biked only half the miles of the 3rd day, including 7 miles of gravel, meeting my Dad in Emporia. We camped next to a dam on the Neosho River in Burlington, KS and breakfasted at Across the Border, a cafe full of character and characters.
The final day, we again hit the gravel roads and visited the ghost town of Neosho Falls, where my grandfather was born. We picnicked on a gravel bar on the river where thousands of Civil War veterans reunited annually long ago. Over the final miles of the tour, we passed fields of soybeans, corn, and sunflowers, and waved at dozens of huge trucks hauling the corn harvest to all corners of the globe.
Except for our constant companion, the wind, the weather was highly variable. A shooting star streaked through the warm muggy night as I lay awake in our ride leader’s back yard before the trip began. I overheated on the Prairie Spirit trail, exchanging my helmet for a wet bandanna. When the wind brought in cool air and rain, we hustled into our rain jackets and shivered in the breeze. Rain poured down and steam rose off the hot pavement as darkness descended. The rain left but the cool weather stayed with us the rest of the trip, and I cinched the mummy bag around my face one night to stay warm.
My goal is to bicycle tour as often and as long as possible!
It’s time to check in on the progress of our new bicyclist, Scott. Two months ago, Scott hadn’t ridden a bicycle in 50 years. I’ve taught how to use his bike and how to bike with traffic. He bikes to work every day and bikes to the gym 3 times a week for a body conditioning class. His belt fastens one notch shorter than it used to– and he is not dieting. People are starting to notice, asking “Have you lost weight?”
More importantly than weight loss, Scott’s fitness is improving. He suffered a heart attack 15 years ago and quit smoking. He took the various medications ordered to lower his blood pressure and thin his blood. Now that he is exercising regularly, he has eliminated most of the medications.
Scott is sleeping better since he started biking to work. He struggles to fall asleep and wakes up frequently. Arthritis pain in his back and hips keeps him awake. A couple weeks after he started biking, he noticed that he is waking less frequently some nights, and he makes it through many nights without pain meds for his arthritis. He’s even slept all the way through the night a few times, something he hadn’t done in years.
His bicycling is more stable and stronger. At first, he often stopped at the top of hills to catch his breath. He has gotten better at shifting and doesn’t have to stop at the tops of the hills. In gym class, he is taking fewer breaks.
We rode 20 miles on the Katy Trail on Labor Day. We’d gone 8 miles a couple weeks earlier, and he was amazed at how easy it was to bike the flat trail. “I think I could go twice as far,” he said. I explained how long distance biking isn’t all about fitness. His legs might be able to handle it, but other things will hurt. “I want to find out which body part will hurt first,” he said!
It was his wrists that hurt a little by the end of the ride. We’ll have the bike shop check his posture, but I also recommend a different handlebar that allows the rider to change hand positions.
I was very proud of him for biking 20 miles! He continually amazes me with his progress. This is what motivation looks like!
The common categories of bikes are road bikes, mountain bikes, and hybrid bikes. Road bikes have skinny tires and a drop handlebar which puts the rider into a crouched position. They are fast and lightweight. Mountain bikes have fat knobby tires and suspension and a straight handlebar and the rider is more upright. The suspension makes it more comfortable to bike over bumpy rocks and roots, but also makes the bike heavy and slow. A hybrid bike has tires that somewhere between skinny and knobby, with the straight handlebar that allows a more upright position, and no suspension. It is between a mountain bike and a road bike in weight and speed.
Crush, a hybrid bike, entered my life 8 years ago. I loaded her down with a rack and fenders and an enormous basket. She has a gazillion lights including a powerful headlamp powered by a generator hub in her front wheel. As a commuter bike she is exemplary. As a touring bike she does pretty well. As a recreational bike, she falls a bit short. I can’t ride with people who have road bikes because I can’t keep up. On group rides, I’m by myself for most of the ride.
Road bikes are more expensive than hybrids. For years, I couldn’t justify the expense of a road bike when its only purpose was social. This year, I finally had the budget for the road bike I’ve wanted for so long.
At first I haunted the used bike store. My budget was $1000 and I thought there was no way I could get a new road bike for that, plus various accessories. Bike after bike was too big, too small, or too heavy. Finally the owner said to me, “It’s not going to happen. We hardly ever get your size in.” Most roadies are men so most used bikes are too big for me. I considered the Internet, but you don’t know if the bike was stolen, and I didn’t want to risk a bike I hadn’t ridden first.
My bike shop suggested a low-end Trek road bike, the Lexa S. I bought it during the back-to-school sale and came in 19 cents under budget! She is sparkly black and I named her Lolita.
I pushed the pedal down and shot down the street. Whoa, Lolita! On Crush, it takes enormous effort to get additional speed. Very little effort makes Lolita noticeably faster and I found myself putting more and more effort into each pedal stroke. She seduced me into going too hard and my stomach started to hurt. I downshifted and backed off my effort level. But every time I go for a ride on Lolita, I start off too hot and have to make myself back off.
Lolita can’t carry anything. She’s useless but oh, so fast. Crush is still my everyday workhorse. I love them both!
My new road bike is sparkly black. I considered naming her Sparkles. I considered naming her Lolita. “Her name is Lolita, but I swear my intentions are honorable,” is how I would introduce her.
I was leaning toward Sparkles, because I knew that I mainly liked Lolita for the shock effect, which would lose its entertainment value once I’d shocked everyone. The joke about honorable intentions would wear thin after a while.
Then I rode her a few times. On my other bike, Crush, it takes great effort to go a little faster, so I just don’t go faster. On Lolita, a little effort gets an immediate response. I kept putting more and more effort into it, just to see how fast I could go, even up hill. Every extra bit of effort was immediately rewarded by more speed. Before I knew it, she had seduced me into working too hard and I had a stomach cramp. I took a break in the shade and I knew that her name was Lolita.
Now I am going to read the book.
After the coldest winter in decades and unseasonably cool temperatures all spring and summer, we finally got a seasonable heat wave just in time for BikeMO, the annual ride of the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation. We could choose the 30, 65, or 90 mile route. My dad and I and a few others attempted the 65-mile route.
As we started at 8 a.m., Dad was feeling fast so he went on ahead. I chatted with Noah for a couple hours. We met up with Danny, who recently returned from a bicycle trip to Alaska, and Noah went on ahead as I listened to Danny’s Canada and Alaska stories. We met Dad again on his way back from the turnaround point and we also turned around, cutting a few miles off my ride.
I couldn’t get enough of the Fig Newtons at the SAG stops. I refilled my water bottle every chance I got and I added an electrolyte tablet. When it’s this hot, water isn’t enough.
I kept expecting Noah to catch up to us, but he never did because he called for a ride at the turnaround. Bicyclist after bicyclist called for a ride. They apologized for not being able to finish, but we were grateful for everyone who called for a ride. Last year, someone with a heart condition kept going when he should have called for a ride, and he died.
Danny dropped out at Boonville to find a McDonald’s. I was tired but still feeling good at the last SAG stop with just 14 miles left. The noonday sun beat down and the temperature soared. Pedal, pedal, pedal through the shadeless cornfields of the Missouri River flood plains. Pedal, pedal, pedal as a light wind pushed against us. Pedal, pedal, pedal as the sweat poured off us.
We took a short break in the shade and I noticed my stomach was hurting. We only had 7 miles left but the steepest, biggest hills were yet to come. I got back in my bike and started to climb. My head pounded and I wanted to rip my helmet off. I didn’t stop pedaling when Dad took a break. I finished my last water and then I did pull over. In a moment a SAG car appeared. I only had 2 miles left so I asked for cold water, put my abhorred helmet back on, and pedaled up the last and biggest hill.
After a sandwich and a rest in the shade I felt much better. I slept the rest of the day.
I did a lot of things right. I had cold water, I had electrolytes, and I ate the sugar my body craved. In retrospect I should have called for a ride when I noticed my stomach hurting. It’s dangerous to think because you only have 7 miles or 2 miles left that it’s ok to be feeling bad. A lot can go horribly wrong in a few miles.
In the summer heat, water isn’t enough. Gatorade has sugar but not enough electrolytes. V-8, salt pills, and electrolyte tablets replace the sodium and potassium you lose through sweat. Even with electrolytes, listen to your body and respect its limits so that you will be happy to ride another, cooler day.
One of my favorite things in Columbia is Two Wheeled Tuesday. Every Tuesday, we meet at a different place and bike 10-12 miles at a slow pace with frequent stops. Two Wheeled Tuesday is for intermediate riders. About half of the ride is on shady bike paths and about half is on streets. Each week, about a dozen riders join us to explore Columbia and learn more route options to get around town.
Last Tuesday, I was riding near the back of the pack. I came into the roundabout to see a driver stopped in the middle of the road screaming at one of our bicyclists. I didn’t know what had happened, but I didn’t hesitate. I shouted his license plate number over and over, and held up my phone to take a picture of his vehicle.
When he heard me yelling his license plate number, he cursed (again) and drove away, tires squealing. We were shaking, but the situation was defused and everyone was ok. I jotted down the number in a text message so that we could report the incident. Someone else noted the make, model, and color of the car.
The driver hadn’t yield to the bicyclist who was already in the roundabout. He crowded her and she had to hop up onto the curb. Angry, she flipped him off. That is when he slammed on his brakes in the middle of the road and started screaming. There were several witnesses in addition to the cyclist, so I’m pretty confident that is the real story.
While the driver was completely in the wrong, there are a few good lessons for us.
1.) Never confront. Expressing your anger (such as by flipping someone off) does two things. It can escalate the situation (anyone heard of Ferguson?) and it will make you angrier. I know this because I have done it both ways. So long as I am safe, I ignore what just happened: the honk, the shout, the crowding. In moments I’ll have forgotten about it. But if I respond in any way, I am seething with anger long after the driver has forgotten about me.
If you must do something, smile and wave. Forget the driver. You will be happier if you ignore it and refrain from responding. You don’t need to teach the driver a lesson. You don’t need to punish the driver. Trust karma for those.
2.) Shouting the license plate number and taking a picture is very effective at scaring a driver off. I did not actually manage to get a picture. I held my phone as if I were taking a picture while I attempted (but failed) to tap the right buttons with shaking hands. But the driver did not know that. Shouting the license plate sends the message that you are ready to bring in the authorities. Keep reciting the number after the driver is gone until you have jotted it down, so that you can report the incident.
3.) Report the incident. In Columbia, we have an anti-harassment ordinance so this driver was not just being a jerk- he was actually breaking a law. Even so, many people doubt the effectiveness of reporting an incident, and more so in communities that don’t have an ordinance. If you don’t have video footage, they argue, it’s a “he said/ she said” situation, and therefore it can’t be resolved. Even with a harassment ordinance, it is unlikely that a ticket will be issued, and it is possible that there will be no investigation. But reporting each incident lets people know that there is a problem. If the police get a string of complaints about motorists from bicyclists, it will get some attention.
It’s hard to keep your head when you are scared and angry. Rehearse these steps ahead of time so that you can enjoy your ride.
When learning computer programming or college math or how to do research, we must first learn to think about things differently. Computer programmers learn to think logically. Mathematicians learn to understand proofs. Researchers learn about positive and negative controls. These fundamental shifts in thinking comes to some people more easily.
Bicycling for transportation develops a similar fundamental shift in thinking, and just like math and computer programming and research, this comes more easily to some of us than others.
When I started bicycling for transportation nearly a decade ago, I worried about inconveniencing other drivers. If someone honked at me I was angry but I was also scared because I’d slowed someone down and gotten in their way.
It wasn’t long before I questioned my submissive attitude. I realized that I have a right to the road whether I’m on a bicycle or in a car. I have rights and responsibilities, but my responsibilities do not include making sure that drivers get to work on time at the expense of my own safety!
I came up with a little slogan: Safety first, courtesy second, fun third.
I love to have fun on my bike. One fun thing I like to do when I’m going fast enough down a hill is lean from side to side so that my bike weaves back and forth across the road. Is that dangerous or rude? Well, I only do it on smooth, wide roads and I never do it if there is any other traffic around! Safety first, courtesy second, fun third.
When my dad and I bicycled to 40 Missouri State Parks, on highways without shoulders we would pull over from time to time to let a string of cars or a big truck pass us. But we would only pull over when there was a safe place to pull over. We used an assertive lane position so that no one could crowd us off the road.
Most of the time we didn’t have a chance to pull over to let someone pass because the oncoming traffic cleared and the cars behind us used the left lane to pass us. The most anyone ever had to wait was perhaps 30 seconds– that is unusual, and in town no one ever has to wait even that long. We weren’t really inconveniencing anyone! One driver who had seen us on the highway approached us at a gas station and told us that we were making other drivers angry. “My life is more important than their anger,” I retorted.
Safety first, courtesy second.
If you worry that you might be slowing down cars, you are thinking about the wrong thing, and so are the impatient drivers. Everyone should be thinking about safety first.
Furthermore, you might be surprised to know that cars slow down other cars more than bicycles slow down cars! Even in a small town like Kirksville, each additional car on Baltimore St or at the beginning and end of the school day increases congestion and traffic congestion has a huge impact on traffic flow. A bicycle is small and relatively easy to pass. Bicycles don’t increase traffic congestion and bicycles don’t impede traffic flow.
Changing how you think about the traffic around you is essential to becoming a safe and happy bicyclist. If this change doesn’t occur, you won’t enjoy bicycling and you will, understandably, quit.
The return of college students is on everyone’s mind. We envision the quiet, empty streets and stores of today packed with raucous kids, reckless drivers, and careless pedestrians a couple weeks from now. We forget that we were once that age– or we remember too well what we were like!
I often hear complaints from Kirksville residents about students crossing Franklin St. in front of the Student Union. A few years ago, a student was hit by a car and killed at that location, and now there is a pedestrian-activated light signal and a 25 mph speed limit. But many students still cross the street without pushing the button, without waiting for the light to change, or at places other than the marked crosswalk, and drivers in Kirksville complain.
It puzzles me why drivers complain about this habit. If a student walks out in front of an oncoming car, the driver is not the one who will be hurt.
I don’t hear anyone but me complaining about the majority of drivers who routinely exceed the 25 mph speed limit on Franklin St. or the numerous drivers who drive through the crosswalk when the light is red.
I recently read a story about a bicyclist who visited a particularly bike/ped progressive town in Colorado. A pedestrian stepped out in front of him and he slammed on his brakes, catapulting himself over the handlebar. He broke his arm in the fall. He was astounded when the pedestrian yelled at him for not yielding, and when the police officer confirmed that all vehicles must always yield to pedestrians in that city (and all motor vehicles must similarly yield to bicyclists). It didn’t matter if the pedestrian was crossing at a crosswalk or midblock, pedestrians always had the right-of-way.
The system works well for locals but visitors unfamiliar with the laws and customs can get into trouble, as our friend discovered. The point I want to make is that we take for granted the customs in our region and don’t think to question them. It is our custom to censure pedestrians who walk across the street rather than the drivers who speed.
Customs can be changed. I believe that this is one custom that should be changed, and I am doing everything in my power to change it. In whatever manner someone walks across a street, it is the car that kills a person. Cars hurt people. Pedestrians don’t hurt cars.
Mark Twain State Park, one of the oldest state parks, was on our list to visit during our 40 Missouri State Parks tour in the spring. It was going to take 2 extra days because it was so far away from any other park. So we decided to skip it. Instead, I visited it during a 3-day tour the last week of July.
Remembering that my favorite state park is the one that we visit in the middle of the week when the weather is nice, I planned the trip for the middle of the week. Despite scheduling the trip for the last week of July, I had the best weather possible: Low of 62F and high of 82F, no rain and nearly no wind, and lots of sunshine.
I started out at 7:30 am, 65 miles from my destination.
I stopped at Tribble Park in Hallsville, 50 miles away, and ate almonds and a peach on a bench in the shade near the playground. A little boy gave me a branch with dead leaves, holding it out like a flower.
My last chance for groceries was in Centralia, still 40 miles from the park. I would have no other opportunity to buy groceries until I came back through Centralia two days later. I bought pickles, V8, tuna, dried chicken noodle soup mix, and more.
For the next few hours I had no cell signal and a small headwind. I was trying out a tracker app, so everyone following my journey worried when the tracker didn’t update for a long time. Otherwise, the ride was peaceful. I was getting tired and my water was almost gone. I was relieved when I saw the 15 Diner and refilled my water bottles.
At 6 pm, I pulled into the Puma Campground at Mark Twain State Park campground. I set up camp, showered, and ate. I went to sleep early but I didn’t sleep well because my air mattress deflated.
In the morning, having slept terribly, I hiked some trails and found a lovely view overlooking the lake with a CCC shelter nearby. I took my little inflatable raft into a cove and paddled around in the sunshine. Then my friend Heather from St. Louis arrived with lunch! We drove across the park to the Mark Twain Birthplace museum. Mark Twain was born in a little cabin in Florida, MO, adjacent to the park. The cabin is now inside the museum. I ate spaghetti and blackberry cobbler at a restaurant that we drove to.
Heather went home and I slept a little better with a pillow, but my air mattress went flat again. I was on the road by 6:20 am, eating a huge breakfast at the 15 Diner by 8 am. On the ride home, I had more honks on the 7 miles of Hwy 22 between Mexico and Centralia than I had the entire 1400 miles of the 40 Missouri State Parks tour! But once I was past Centralia the ride was nice. I found myself feeling angry as I passed through Hallsville, but a rest break in a shady yard and a couple pickles perked me right up. Pickles have lots of sodium.
There was no wind at all so I finished the trip home took an hour less than it had going. At 4 pm I was in Columbia, ready for a shower and a big meal.
Amendment 7, a 3/4 cent transportation tax, soundly failed with 59% of the voters against it. If it had passed, this would have been a historic moment in Missouri. For the first time ever, state transportation dollars could have been used for bicycling, walking, and transit.
Instead, we will be returning federal transportation dollars that we can no longer match, and we will be closing roads and bridges that have deteriorated to unsafe conditions.
While I am disappointed in this outcome, I want to consider what we can learn from the experience.
Heavy construction and trucking employed significant resources campaigning for Amendment 7. One criticism of Amendment 7 was that it let truckers off the hook for paying their fair share of wear and tear on roads and bridges. I’m not sure that is a fair assessment, but that was a common perception, and a successful solution to transportation funding will clearly define truckers’ contributions. The next proposal should have perhaps less support, at least less financial support, from wealthy companies. But where campaign resources should come from, if not from heavy construction and trucking, is a mystery to me!
Another objection I frequently heard to Amendment 7 was that MoDOT broke promises it made about new roads and bridges related to a bond issue that passed in the 1990′s. MoDOT is run by a director appointed by the Highway Commission. Highway Commissioners are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate. Entirely new people hold those positions today and MoDOT recently adopted an almost radical Long Range Vision that was unheard of 30 years ago. But it doesn’t matter. People lost their trust in MoDOT and the passage of time has not restored that trust. MoDOT’s admirable efforts over the past 2 years to seek public input through listening sessions and online comments helped, but it was too little, too late. MoDOT should continue its outreach efforts and continue to engage the public. We will trust MoDOT when we believe that MoDOT trusts us.
Luckily for all of us, better minds than mine are hard at work on these problems. I want to be involved to make sure that bicycling, walking, and transit are involved. But the more I learn about it, the more concerned I get for our transportation future, for semi trucks, for cars, and for bikes.