Now that I’m President of the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation, aka Queen of the Bicyclists, I thought I’d share with you what MoBikeFed does. Specifically, what it does for rural Missouri.
In their campaign to save the Rock Island Corridor for a rail-trail, the Rock Island Coalition said, “We didn’t know who to talk to at Ameren,” and Ameren leaders may not have listened to their small contingent. Ameren listened to the Coalition, MoBikeFed, Rails-to-Trails, and 11,000 signatures. As a result, Missouri State Parks owns the rail-bed today.
Because of the Rock Island Corridor, a dozen little towns across central Missouri will have new life, just like the little towns on the Katy Trail experienced.
After over a decade of conversations, MoBikeFed has a very good working relationship with the Missouri Department of Transportation. Expect to see highways that cut through small towns routinely get upgraded with sidewalks in the coming years. Find this unbelievable? We are still blinking our eyes in surprise that MoDOT listened to our request to designate and sign the Bicentennial Trans-America Route. Bicyclists from Washington, D.C. to Astoria, OR have an easier time now following the route through Missouri– and supporting local businesses in small towns across southern Missouri.
Bicycle tourism on the Katy Trail and bicycle routes like the Bicentennial Trans-America Route boosts the economy of rural Missouri.
The cities have regional bike/ped advocacy organizations: Trailnet in St. Louis, PedNet in Columbia, BikeWalkKC in Kansas City. MoBikeFed routinely works with these organizations, providing resources, experiences, connections, and a state-wide reputation. Rural communities don’t have their own bike/ped advocacy organizations. They rely on MoBikeFed for information and experience. MoBikeFed advises city planners and engineers who want to design better roads for bicycling and walking but don’t know how because it’s not in the standard manuals. MoBikeFed advises city staff and other officials on adopting and implementing Complete Streets. MoBikeFed advises schools on organizing a Walk to School Day.
Besides all this, MoBikeFed is a watchdog organization to raise the alarm every time a bicycle ban is proposed, which happens at least annually. Without MoBikeFed, there might be towns, counties, and roads in Missouri that bicyclists aren’t allowed to use. MoBikeFed protects you from bicycle bans and pedestrian restrictions.
Rural Missouri has been particularly hard hit by the obesity epidemic and that is in part because it is difficult to walk or bike in rural Missouri. MoBikeFed helps make rural Missouri a better place to walk and bicycle.
I’m having a problem on the bike that I don’t have a solution to.
I get migraines so infrequently, just once every year or two, that they don’t worry me. The migraines that I do get are over in a few hours and generally I just sleep it off.
The problem is the aura. I lose a chunk of my vision without warning. If it happens at home, no big deal, I just make my way to my bedroom and lie down in the dark and go to sleep. If it happens anywhere else, it can be awkward.
I’ve been lucky and it’s never happened while I was driving. If it did, I would have to pull over immediately and call someone for help.
This year, my migraine frequency has increased considerably. I’ve had more migraines in the last three months than I’ve had in the rest of the past decade. Twice recently, the aura set in while I was on my bicycle.
I’m wasn’t quite sure what to do. I can sort of see. Do I keep going, taking extra time to check for traffic and turning my head to different angles to make sure there isn’t a car in my new blind spot? Do I turn back? Do I stop immediately? One point in favor of stopping as soon as possible is that the longer I keep my eyes open after it has started, the worse the headache will be. I triggered several rounds of aura when I tried to keep working through it once.
The first time it happened on my bike, I was with a friend. I explained to him what was happening and I focused on following his green jacket while he was responsible for checking for traffic. That way I didn’t have to worry about whether a car was in the blank spot.
The next time, I was passing the grocery store when it happened. I stopped there and called for a ride. It was cold enough I’d put on my balaclava, and I pulled that over my eyes to block out the bright lights of the store. If anyone gave me funny looks, I couldn’t see them.
I don’t have any good answers, except one. It takes more than a little old migraine to keep me from bicycling.
I am the new President of the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation.
You can call me “Queen of the Bicyclists”.
Seriously, though, this is an exciting moment in my life. I am proud!
I didn’t have a lot of competition for the job. The past president was eager to hand off the responsibility to someone else. Everyone else was relieved that someone else had stepped up. I had a long conversation with the longest-running past president, who had been president for 9 years. His advice to me was, “Do it for 3 years at most.”
Therefore, I’m planning out the next 3 years of MoBikeFed.
At this point, you might expect me to say one of these:
In 3 years, Missouri will have a 3-foot passing law and a Complete Streets policy.
In 3 years, we will have ZERO bicycle and pedestrian fatalities in the state of Missouri.
In 3 years, we will double the number of trips made by bicycling and walking.
But I have different goals. They aren’t as dramatic, but if I achieve my goals, MoBikeFed will be a stronger organization that can achieve its advocacy mission even better for many years to come.
My goals are:
Get MoBikeFed on solid financial footing.
Increase the executive director’s salary.
Hire an assistant for the executive director.
Like many nonprofits, MoBikeFed has had its ups and downs and just came out of a difficult financial time. We’re making ends meet, but I would like us to be on more solid financial footing in 3 years.
Our executive director hasn’t had a raise in 10 years. It’s amazing to keep an executive director for more than a few years, and he’s been with us for 14 years. Brent is long overdue for a raise. Beyond being fair and retaining this precious resource– someone who knows the ins and outs of bike/ped advocacy in Missouri like no one else– it is in our interests to increase his salary. Should anything happen to Brent, we’ll never get anyone to do what he does for what we currently pay him.
I want to give him a raise every year that I am president.
MoBikeFed has just one paid employee, and that is Brent. He is too valuable to waste on tasks that anyone could do. I want to hire an assistant for Brent. It might be a part-time assistant at first.
It’s not a matter of convincing the rest of the Board to vote for a raise and an assistant for Brent. We are already in agreement. It’s a matter of fundraising. Historically, MoBikeFed gets most of its revenue from memberships, donations, and events.
As passionate as I am about bicycling and bicycle advocacy, for the next 3 years I’ll focus on fundraising. That’s not my favorite activity, but I am passionate about the cause.
I have a book about fundraising. We brought in an expert who trains nonprofit boards on fundraising. We have a plan.
Help me show my support of MoBikeFed. Help me join the Yellow Jersey Club!
There’s not enough money and not enough time. That’s the refrain you hear constantly. You say it so often that you believe it.
But it isn’t true. With our labor saving devices and modern conveniences, you can meet your basic needs in very little time. There’s more money in our economy than ever before. The average poor person is richer than kings of the past, yet people wealthy even by today’s standards still struggle to make ends meet.
The more you have, the bigger you dream. We are trying to do more than ever before, as individuals and as a collective.
I’m known as a busy person. I avoid saying, “I’m so busy!” or “Sorry, I’ve been busy.” The truth is, I choose how I spend my time. I try to spend my time doing things I enjoy. That’s an easy choice! I enjoy talking, writing, and teaching bicycling, and bicycling.
If I didn’t return your phone call, it’s because I was bicycling instead of making a phone call. That’s more honest than, “I was too busy,” as if someone had a gun to my head forcing me to be too busy to call you.
The same is true of our money. We say there isn’t enough money for roads, let alone sidewalks and bike paths, but the truth is we choose to spend our money on other things, things that we want more than we want sidewalks. At the current rate of sidewalk infill, Columbia’s sidewalks will be complete in 500 years– by which point most of today’s sidewalks will be gone. Infill sidewalks– sidewalks completed after the road was already built– are the most expensive, requiring additional right-of-way and moving utilities. But even infill sidewalks are a fraction of the cost of maintaining the roads we have.
With the defeat of Amendment 7, the transportation sales tax, I’ve given a lot of thought to our transportation funding. I don’t think we should spread our resources thinly over our overbuilt road network, replacing “maintenance” with “emergency repair”.
When I am a transportation planner, I won’t pretend that there isn’t enough money to fix a road here or a bridge there. I will say, “We chose not to spend money on that. We chose to spend it on this instead.”
Then I’ll say, “I don’t remember seeing you at the public hearing. And did you vote in the last election?”
The wind is strong and frequently shifting this week. It’s possible to have a tailwind going and coming on your bicycle ride, but more likely to have a headwind both ways. I was an election boss on Tuesday, and when my co-supervisor learned that I bike, he reminisced about his bicycling days on a tropical island when he was in the Navy. The island was perfectly flat, he said, except for the invisible hill.
“What’s an invisible hill?” I asked.
“There was a constant headwind going out, and a tailwind coming in,” he explained.
Bicycling with a strong tailwind is fun. A strong crosswind can be dangerous when gusts push you toward traffic. A strong headwind is a mental challenge.
A couple years ago my dad and I rode in Bike Across Kansas. On Day 2, we bicycled 20 miles north. Kansas summer winds are usually from the south so we should have had a nice tailwind. That day the wind shifted to NNE at 40 mph, gusting up to 50 mph. We crawled along, the gusts stopping us in our tracks. Big trucks going the other way produced a wall of wind. Big trucks going our way gave us a respite for a few seconds. We encountered a bicyclist nearly in tears. “Pedal slower,” we encouraged her. “You’ll make it if you go slow.” That got her a little further until a SAG wagon rescued her. She had worn herself out tilting at windmills, unable to accept a slower pace for the day.
Five hours later, we turned east, and the rest of the day was easy sailing.
If you manage your expectations, biking in the wind doesn’t have to miserable.
“What does biking have to do with voting?” my friend Scott, the new bicyclist, asked when I changed my Facebook profile picture to one that reads “I vote” spelled out in bicycle parts. I changed my profile picture to show my support and participation in the League of American Bicyclists’ “I bike, I vote” movement.
I literally bike and vote. I bike everywhere, including to the election polls.
Whether you bike, walk, bus, or drive, voting is the least you can do. From local issues to federal transportation bills, bicyclists routinely flood the email inboxes and phone lines of elected officials more than any other group. This year, the League of American Bicyclists issued several advocacy alerts, such as Complete Streets in the federal transportation bill and requiring states to monitor bike/ped fatalities. The Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation issued an advocacy alert over an amendment to strip the word “bicycle” from the definition of transportation.
The overwhelming responses from bicyclists to these advocacy alerts impressed senators and representatives.
They wouldn’t be impressed, however, if the people who write letters didn’t also vote. If you use the online contact form to write a letter to Senator Blunt, for example, you must enter your zip code. He only responds to messages from his constituency.
You should vote, because that is what makes your senators and representatives want to listen to what you have to say. Then you should say it.
I’ve been too busy with homework to write weekly “What I learned in school today” articles! I’m enrolled in two online classes in the Master’s in Sustainable Transportation program through the Civil Engineering Dept of the University of Washington. Each week for school, I read half a dozen articles, watch 3 or 4 recorded lectures, write a short paper, take an online quiz, participate in discussion forums, and attend live lectures with a microphone headset. This keeps me busy, but the most challenging part is the live lectures, which are on Pacific Time and past my bedtime.
My transportation interest is in health and safety. I love biking and walking because they are active and healthy forms of transportation. I desire for safety for all road users, whether we are in cars, on foot, or pedaling. I have known too many young lives cut short on our highways, including my little cousin and several of my high school classmates.
Sustainable Transportation is more about the environment than it is about health and safety. Many strategies to improve sustainability also improve health and safety. Biking, walking, and transit improve health and safety and emit less pollutants than single-occupancy vehicles (SOV). Improving bike/ped safety is a sustainability strategy because more people bike and walk when it is safer to do so.
In class, I’ve learned about the Lifetime Cycle Analysis which tells us that transit is better for the environment than SOVs and walking or biking (including electric bikes) dwarfs both. Outside of class, I’ve learned that a primary seatbelt law could reduce Missouri traffic fatalities by about 200 people per year and that prescription drug use has passed alcohol as the leading cause of impaired driving. I believe that it’s important not to let school get in the way of your education. I’m taking advantage of the master’s program to learn all I can from it, but at the same time, I don’t restrict myself to learning only from my classes.
Improving our environment creates safer roads as a byproduct of reducing emissions and pollutants. In the past few decades, legislation that had real effects on safety included drunk driving laws which were directly related to safety, and laws that were indirectly related to safety: environmental regulations and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Environmental regulations prompted transportation planners to seek to reduce traffic, a reversal of previous efforts to improve traffic flow. ADA turned the attention of transportation planners to sidewalks.
Together, these forces are causing planners to think less about moving cars and more about moving people.
When it comes to laws about bicycle safety, I’m a big fan of legislation that applies to motorists. Examples of laws that I support are:
Allow three feet when passing
Don’t drive distracted
Don’t drive impaired
Lower speed limits
I’m not keen on laws that apply to bicyclists. Such laws are generally thinly disguised attempts to get bicycles off the roads and out of the way of the bigger, faster, and more important cars. Every year, the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation fends off local and state legislative attacks on bicycles.
Bikes banned from roads near trails
Mandatory safety vest
Mandatory helmet law
There are a couple highways that parallel the Katy Trail for a stretch. Drivers on these highways are incensed that they have to wait for a bicyclist on the road when the Katy Trail is nearby. They don’t understand why bicycles wouldn’t want to use the Katy Trail instead of the highway. The trail doesn’t necessarily go where the bicyclist needs to go, even if it parallels the highway for a bit. I tried to use trails in St. Louis and got lost because trails don’t have way-faring signs like roads do. I gave up and biked on the busiest streets instead, because they were easy to navigate.
Requiring bicyclists to wear a safety vest or have a mirror isn’t the same as requiring all cars to have air bags and seat belts. Safety vests and mirrors don’t come with the bikes. If a single county tries to pass an ordinance requiring these, bicyclists from other areas– particularly if an interstate bicycle route like the Bicentennial Trans-America Route passes through that county– won’t know about the strange requirement and will have trouble finding the necessary equipment. Bike mirrors and safety vests aren’t standard items carried in all the convenience stores and Wal-Mart.
A helmet law is trickier. Helmets save lives. Don’t I want to save bicyclist lives? Certainly I do! But mandatory helmets laws discourage bicycling. And the one thing that makes bicyclists safer than anything else, even helmets, is more bicyclists. Mandatory helmet laws discourage bicycling which means fewer bicyclists which means my daughter and I are in more danger.
There’s another good reason to oppose laws that discourage bicycling. Unlike driving, bicycling improves your health. Your greatest threat is not the highway. Your greatest threat is your own heart. That’s why I’d rather see someone without a helmet on a bicycle than on a couch.
In 2004, my BMI was 27, firmly in the “overweight” category. I wore size 14 jeans. I weighed 163 pounds at 5 feet and 5 inches. I was 30 years old.
I wasn’t concerned. I could walk and run and climb stairs. I felt healthy enough.
Then I started bicycling for transportation. At first, I only biked when I had to. It was a lot of work. I hated climbing the really steep hill going to work. The two hills coming home weren’t much better.
In 2005 I had major abdominal surgery. That frightened me and I was determined not to let myself go just because my abdominal wall had been sliced open. I did stomach crunches until I could do an entire sit-up. Every night I did one sit-up until I could do two sit-ups, then three, then four. Before the first anniversary of my surgery, I could do 100 sit-ups!
When I was cleared to bike, I biked to work. I biked whenever I could and I never accepted a ride. I only drove to go out of town or to go somewhere with my family. I even did the No Car Challenge one month. For 36 days in a row, I did not get in a car.
I lost weight without dieting and I wore size 7 pants. My BMI of 23 was firmly in the “normal” category. More importantly, my resting heart rate dropped to 54 beats per minute (bpm). Since I don’t know what my resting heart rate was before I started bicycling, I don’t know how much it improved, but I do know that in general, 54 bpm is a healthy resting heart rate.
Although I had thought I was healthy enough before, I discovered that I was healthier now. I used to dread walking a mile across campus to a seminar because I was so worn out. The same walk took less time and I looked forward to it.
That has been my life for the past 8 years. My weight fluctuates depending on my activity level and my incurable sweet tooth, and this summer, my weight has crept close to the 2004 level. My current BMI is 26.
But what a difference this weight is from the same weight 10 years ago! I wear a size 8. My resting heart rate is 49 bpm. A one-mile walk is easy and routine. My active lifestyle means that my body composition is more muscle and denser, healthier bone, so my body fat percent is lower than it was 10 years ago. (Unfortunately, I don’t have the numbers.)
BMI is a terrible individual measurement. Look how different I am from 10 years ago, though my BMI is nearly the same as it was! Not only is there huge variability from one person to the next in what BMI means, but within an individual there can be incredible variability.
BMI is a good population index. In general, people who weigh more tend to experience more heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and many other diseases. Public health programs aimed at reducing BMI do improve public health.
I advise you to forget the weight loss plans and focus on activity and nutrition. If you need a metric to monitor, I recommend you run or walk a 5K every week to assess your fitness. In addition to that, it’s easy to measure your resting heart rate reliably. Stay off the scale and so long as your 5K time improves gradually, don’t worry if your clothes size never changes.
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!