This is the last hard conversation, and then we’ll get back to the fun stuff.
I believe in individual responsibility. I also believe that we are influenced greatly by our environment. There’s enough blame to go around that we can have individual responsibility for our situations and at the same time be victims of circumstance.
I’ve previously discussed how drivers have a large responsibility, and a person walking also has a responsibility– 0.000351 times the responsibility that drivers have.
When a person driving an automobile hits a person walking, the person driving is responsible and the person walking is responsible. The degree of responsibility depends partly on the math I’ve already discussed, but there are other factors specific to the incident and what each person was doing at the time. Both parties have some responsibility and at the same time are to some degree, victims of the circumstances.
It’s easy to see how the person walking is a victim. He is the one who is hurt or killed.
It’s not as easy to see how the driver is a victim. She won’t be hurt and her vehicle will suffer little or no damage. There will be almost no legal or financial repercussions, as long as she didn’t leave the scene and wasn’t impaired.
But she is a victim.
My friend says he would be traumatized if they hit a person, and if it was fatal his life would be ruined, even if he was completely innocent of wrongdoing. As a driver who is passionate about walking and bicycling, that is even more true for me.
We are victims of a society that makes it easy to drive and encourages people to drive, requiring and providing very little training for drivers. For comparison, Finland has the most difficult 2-part driving test, Germany requires 4 driving tests, and the UK has a 43% pass rate.
We are victims of land use patterns that cater to the automobile and mandate driving, because it is so far from our homes to our schools, stores, work, churches, and other destinations.
We are victims of poor transit systems because we have invested so heavily in highways and so little in buses.
We are victims of road designs that encourage driving above the speed limit, which is already too high for the safety of people walking, in the name of ‘safety’– wide roads, cutting down trees, and long, straight sight lines.
One of the recent pedestrian fatalities in Columbia involved a 17 year old driver who was probably texting or driving distracted. She may face jail time in addition to her mental anguish. She is certainly to blame for her carelessness, but she is also a victim. Young people make mistakes, but her mistake cost someone’s life. She is a victim because we encourage our young people make their mistakes with a 2000-pound killing machine.
We all have a responsibility for safety, but I want to change our environment, our laws, and our systems so that we have fewer victims. You can help me do that by joining the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation.
It’s another hard conversation. Today, I want to debunk an argument I hear from bicyclists about other bicyclists. But first, let me preface this with a disclaimer. I believe bicyclists should obey traffic laws for our own safety. I agree that bicyclists should obey traffic laws. What I disagree with is why we should obey traffic laws. We should obey traffic laws for our own safety, not to prove a point.
“If bicyclists want to have their own lanes, they must obey traffic signals.”
“Why should drivers share the road with cyclists if we can’t be bothered to obey the law and do something as simple as stopping at intersections?”
The premise of these statements is that if every bicyclist obeyed traffic laws, we’d be welcomed to the road with open arms. No one would honk or yell or pass too closely. Drivers would miraculously start paying attention and not right-hook a bicyclist who is legally in the bike lane that just happens to put the bicyclist in the path of the right-turning vehicle. Drivers would look as they open their car door and no bicyclist would ever get doored again.
Why should drivers share the road? It’s their road to share or not to share. If I’m not in a car, it’s not my road. I say this in all seriousness, even though I pay for the road through my tax dollars, because possession is nine-tenths of the law. Automobiles own the road because they have it under their wheels right now.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when automobiles were new fangled inventions and people hated them. Automobiles were fast and noisy and they killed people. Automobiles conquered the road, and now people love them. Automobiles are still fast and noisy and they kill people.
Bicyclists and pedestrians would do well to study history and find out how automobiles conquered the road. Maybe we could learn a trick or two. Automobiles did NOT conquer the road by saying, “Hey everyone, stop killing people, behave yourselves, and maybe they’ll let us on the roads.” Automobiles conquered the road by blaming the victim. Automobile interests such as car manufacturers, oil companies, and construction companies created something called the jaywalker in the 1920’s. They got pedestrians banned from roads, restricted to sidewalks and crosswalks, and blamed for their own deaths.
Bicyclists can blame the victim, too– drivers see themselves as victims. When an automobile kills a bicyclist or a pedestrian, the driver is a victim, despite the lack of legal repercussions. I’m not being sarcastic, I absolutely mean that. Most people I know would never be the same if they accidentally killed someone. That would be traumatic. The driver is a victim of a culture that makes it so easy to kill someone.
Bicyclists won’t get automobiles to share the road by stopping at stop signs. We’ll conquer the road by blaming victims, blaming drivers who kill bicyclists, not by playing nice. I’m not advocating that strategy or saying it’s right, I’m saying that the evidence suggests this strategy would be effective. Or maybe there is a more palatable path to equity.
Obey traffic laws for your own safety. Stop telling bicyclists that if we play nice, drivers will share their toys– it’s not true.
Let me start by saying that people who are walking, which is everyone who can walk, have a responsibility for their own safety and a responsibility not to involve an innocent driver in their own unfortunate tragedy.
I wanted to start with that, because every time I try to explain what I’m about to say, the first and only response is, “Pedestrians have a responsibility, too.” This is victim-blaming.
This is the sort of thing that has been on my mind that prompted my last post, “A hard conversation“. This is the actual hard conversation. I’m about to explain why people driving have 2,848 times more responsibility for safety than people walking. People driving need to be 2,848 times more careful than people walking. If “Pedestrians have a responsibility, too,” I agree. Pedestrians have 1/2848th the responsibility that drivers do.
When two objects collide, such as a person and a car, the amount of energy released and the damage caused are a function of mass and velocity: how heavy the two objects are and how fast they are moving relative to one another. KE = ½mv2.
Let’s take a 158 pound person walking at 3 mph. Let’s call this 158 X 32 = 1,422 Responsibles. I made up the unit “Responsibles”. (Don’t worry about the units or the 1/2, it’s all relative so they’ll cancel out.)
Collide her with an oncoming car that weigh 2000 pounds and is traveling at 45 mph. 2000 X 452 = 4,050,000 Responsibles.
4,050,000 Responsibles divided by 1,422 Responsibles is 2,848. When you are driving a 2-ton killing machine at 45 mph, you have to be 2,848 times more careful than I do, I mean than our 158 pound person does, when walking.
A pedestrian has 1/2848th or 0.000351 times the Responsibles of a driver. A bicyclist on a 25 pound bicycle moving at 10 mph has 1/221th or 0.004519 times the Responsibles of a driver, and 13 times the responsibility of the pedestrian. The pedestrian and bicyclist have virtually 0 the Responsibles of a driver.
What does 2,848 times more responsibility look like? If our walker’s responsibility means looking up from her phone and looking both ways before crossing the street, our driver should operate his 2-ton killing machine with the utmost caution and extreme vigilance, constantly alert. He should scan the road for people and check for people at crosswalks.
By the way, if he slows down to 20 mph, he can reduce his responsibility to merely 563 times that of a person walking.
“With great power there must also come great responsibility” (Spiderman)
It’s been quiet on my blog lately. I won’t say “I’ve been too busy to write” because it’s just not true. Bicycling, talking about bicycling, and writing about bicycling are activities that I love, and no matter what else is happening, I find time. The problem is, I haven’t wanted to write about what’s on my mind.
When you do or are anything that most other people don’t know much about, you get offensive questions and you hear offensive things. Whether it is your missing limb, your paperclip collection, or your mode of transportation, people who have never seen someone like you or never heard of your favorite pastime will say and ask things that are offensive and sound horrible to you. They say things out of ignorance, trying to be clever, or pure cussedness.
A friend whose career now revolves around getting people to walk and bicycle more admitted that when he was younger, he honked at bicyclists on the road. Before I started bicycling, I said ignorant, offensive things about bicyclists. In high school, I made jokes such as, “How many points is that bicyclist worth? How many for that pedestrian?” I drove everywhere and didn’t know anything about bicycling and walking. I thought I was funny.
That sort of ‘joke’ sickens me today. It sickened me before a truck hit my daughter. I have a hard time identifying with people who say such things, even though I said them once myself. I have a hard time seeing them as people who don’t know about bicycling and people who are trying to be funny. I can only see them as mean, horrible people saying mean, horrible things.
Luckily, people who know me don’t say such things to my face, and if I refrain from reading the newspaper and especially the comments on news stories about bicycle and pedestrian wrecks, I can mostly avoid hearing or reading offensive things.
But I can’t shut my ears and eyes to every offensive remark. It is something I have to come back to when I’m talking to a new bicyclist who has just experienced harassment or has read for the first time comments on a news story about a pedestrian death. It is something I come back to when well-meaning law enforcement personnel blame the victim and vow to crack down on jaywalking.
Worst of all is when fellow bicyclists turn on their own, blaming bicyclists who don’t stop at stop signs for the vitriol heaped upon us.
It’s hard to talk about negative things like bicycle harassment when bicycling is so joyful. Bicycling has changed my life in so many ways:
I’m healthier. I lost 25 pounds the first year I biked without dieting. My resting heart rate now is 54 bpm.
I’m richer. I used to amuse myself on steep hills calculating how much gas money this bicycle commute was saving us that day. Including gas, insurance, taxes, wear & tear, and parking fees, I’ve saved thousands of dollars over ten years by not owning a 2nd car.
I’m kinder. Being on the receiving end of offensive, hurtful remarks makes me very careful not to say offensive, hurtful things myself.
I had the opportunity to observe a Learn to Bike class, so that I could learn how to teach someone to ride a bike. Our student, Anna, is in her mid-20’s. She never learned a bike, she said, because she was too busy reading books. She’s in a PhD program as well as holding a full time job. Joe, the instructor, took the pedals off her bike and lowered her seat all the way down.
Normally I tell novice bicyclists to raise their seat. We try to position our seat so that we can sit on it with our feet touching the ground. That is a recipe for knee pain! Your seat should be high enough that your thigh is not quite parallel at the top of the pedal stroke, and your leg is slightly bent at the bottom of the pedal stroke. If it is that high, you will not be able to rest your feet on the ground when your butt is on the seat. You must get proficient at the ‘power pedal position’ to start your bike, and stepping down smoothly when you stop your bike. If those fellows could do it on those big wheel velocipedes, you can do it on your bike with a little practice.
Learning how to ride a bike is different. Joe lowered Anna’s seat all the way down so that she could sit on the bike with her feet comfortably and stably on the ground. With no pedals to get in the way, she pushed her bike around as she learned to balance. Joe uses the same approach when teaching adults or children how to ride– no training wheels!
“How do you do it?” she wanted to know, watching Joe coast down the hill holding his feet off the ground.
Joe explained that it’s impossible to explain. It’s a complex neural algorithm, and riding a bike is so complex that it is one of the most challenging things to program a robot to do. Your brain simply has to learn it, and it can’t be learned by consciously understanding how to do it.
Anna wants to ride a bike so she can bike to work and so she can do a triathlon! “Do you have a triathlon picked out yet?” I asked. I thought she might be aiming for next years’ Trizou.
“Yes, ShowMe Games in July,” she answered. She is learning to ride a bike so that in 2 months, she can do a triathlon!
“I guess you know how to swim already?” I asked.
“Yes, I learned last year.”
Anna is certainly ambitious!
Joe had selected a quiet parking lot with a gentle slope. Anna let the slope take her down, touching down with her feet to catch herself, then pushed with her feet to go up the slope. She did this over and over for an hour. She practiced on her own over the next couple days, and then we met again. This time, she was holding her feet off the ground for longer distances before catching herself. She practiced feathering the brakes to control her speed.
Next week when Joe meets with her, he’ll have her go back and forth down the slope in a serpentine pattern, which trains the algorithms for turning the bike. We turn the bike, not by turning the handlebar, but by leaning. Even experienced cyclists assume that turning the handlebar turns the bike, not realizing that it is their lean that turns the bike. After that, she’ll be ready for pedals!
Joe says it takes most people 2 to 4 hours of practice to learn to balance. Kids learn more quickly than adults. Anna, who has never had any experience riding a bike, may take a little longer than an adult who just hasn’t ridden a bike since she was 6.
Myth: Pedestrians walk out in front of cars without looking.
I hear this every time someone gets hit while walking across a street. “Those dumb college kids,” is usually how it starts.
I spent several hours watching an intersection over the past couple weeks, helping collect data for the police’s pedestrian safety campaign. Each time a pedestrian entered the crosswalk, I marked how many drivers yielded and how many drivers did not yield.
About half yielded. Yielding was spread unevenly across the pedestrians, because if one driver didn’t yield, the next drivers would follow, none of them yielding. Of course, if one driver did yield, all the other drivers had to wait behind, and weren’t counted (according to the guidelines for our data collection). So, for the majority of the pedestrians, drivers yielded, but when one driver didn’t yield, several didn’t yield.
Whether walking or driving, people copy what they see other people doing. Set an example! Yield to people in the crosswalk!
Not once did I see someone dart out in front of a car.
I did my observations on Mondays and another instructor did Tuesdays. He saw something horrible. He saw a pedestrian push the button to make the lights flash and walk into the crosswalk. Then he saw a driver hit her.
I can hear you now, saying, “But every time I drive past the Student Union, someone walks out in front of me.” I’m sure that has happened once or twice, but every time? Really?
Before you say that ever again, I want you to take a lawn chair and a pad of paper over to the crosswalk in front of the Student Union, or any other intersection where you’ve “almost” hit someone. When you see a pedestrian, note if she walks out in front of traffic or if she looks for traffic. Count how many drivers fail to yield when she is in the crosswalk.
When you can show me your tally marks, then I’ll allow you to say how clueless the people walking are!
You might think there aren’t any tricks to being a pedestrian. Just like bicycling is more than knowing how to ride a bike, there is a little more to walking than putting one foot in front of the other.
Pedestrian safety is fairly straightforward and mainly consists of “Watch for cars!” You might not know that it is just as safe (or just as dangerous) to cross midblock as at a crosswalk– but midblock crossings are illegal in many places. It’s more important to know where to watch for cars: cars pulling in and out of driveways, parking lots, and parking spaces, and cars making right or left turns.
There is one trick to being a pedestrian that most people don’t know. I helped the police with data collection and for two hours a day, I watched pedestrians and cars at a crosswalk downtown. People who waited on the sidewalk for cars to yield had to wait a long time. People who went ahead and stepped into the crosswalk– not into the path of oncoming traffic, just putting one foot in the crosswalk– didn’t have to wait very long before cars yielded. Not only is the “one foot in the crosswalk” trick effective, but it is also the law. Cars are required by law to stop at a crosswalk when there is a pedestrian IN the crosswalk. Cars don’t have to stop for someone standing on the curb waiting for someone to stop and let them cross!
One foot in the crosswalk is effective, it is a legal way to make cars stop for you, and it is SAFE. We’re not talking about jumping out in front of traffic. Just one foot in the crosswalk is enough.
If you see someone waiting to cross the street, stop and let her cross, even if one foot isn’t in the crosswalk.
It’s impossible to be a fair weather bicyclist in Missouri, because Missouri, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have fair weather.
It is true that sometimes the temperatures can be quite mild. Generally this brief mild time is accompanied by severe winds bringing in the cold front or the warm front and happens as the temperature skyrockets or plummets from one extreme to another.
I was amazed this spring as the sun shone merrily on warm days, and nothing but warm, mild days forecasted as far as the forecast would go. The wind wasn’t terribly strong. Furthermore, this coincided with my finals week (neither of my classes had final exams) and my spring break! I gleefully penciled in daily, long bike rides.
But then I sneezed. I wheezed. My eyes watered. “Blast you, juniper!” I cried out, melodramatically. “Blast you and your tiny pollen sperm daggers stabbing my eyes!” I continued metaphorically. There would be no more bike rides until the juniper orgy ended.
I bike for transportation in all weather. I bike for recreation in a lot of weather but not in all weather. Extreme cold, high wind, cold rain, extreme heat, and pollen keep me from just-for-fun bike rides!
Visiting Phoenix a few years ago, I biked 7 hours on the canal paths when it reached 107 °F. That sounds dangerous, but I didn’t have as many problems on that ride as I had on a much shorter ride on a humid April day in Missouri when I experienced an electrolyte deficiency. The transitions from one season to the next are often more difficult than the extremes. At the beginning of winter, I wear my balaclava when it drops below 40 °F. By the end of winter, 35 °F is too warm for my balaclava.
Last winter my husband walked to the store with me during a cold snap. He complained his face hurt from the wind. Because I’d been biking in the cold, I hadn’t noticed the wind on my face. He needed an extra layer on his face because he wasn’t used to being out in this weather.
I’m more comfortable when I push the elements. If I try to maximize my comfort by staying indoors, I am trapped indoors. If I push myself outside when it’s nasty, my definition of “nice weather” expands dramatically.
Missouri does have nice weather– briefly, and comparatively!
In a four month span of time, 6 pedestrians were struck down in Columbia. Three were fatal, and one of the fatalities happened on the same day that two other pedestrians were hit (non-fatally) in separate incidents! As you might imagine, this string of wrecks has gotten a lot of attention.
Columbia is at risk for losing its claim as the best place to walk and bicycle in Missouri.
The police department is launching an education and enforcement campaign to improve pedestrian safety.
The Bicycle & Pedestrian Commission and the Public Transit Advisory Commission are developing recommendations to improve pedestrian safety.
The Mayor signed on to the Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets that the Secretary of Transportation announced this month.
All of the incidents, both fatal and non-fatal, happened on MoDOT roads. While Columbia has actively improved conditions for walking and biking, MoDOT builds roads in Columbia the same way as in the rest of the state, without much regard for pedestrians. The Mid Missouri Roadway Safety Council is considering adding a pedestrian safety component to its programs.
I want YOUR help in making our roads safer for walking: walk more, and drive slower.
The more people who walk, the safer it is for all people who walk, as drivers get used to seeing people walking and looking out for them. You can make our roads safer for walking simply by walking!
When you are driving, slow down. The survivability of being hit by a car is strongly influenced by the speed of the car. Of course, slower vehicles are less likely to hit people in the first place! Especially when you are driving in an area where lots of people are walking, such as near a university or a school, slow down and watch for people.
As my second quarter wraps up, I have a few thoughts about Sustainable Transportation (my online masters program through the University of Washington). Our current transportation system isn’t sustainable in any sense. We waste our time and our gas idling in traffic. Our cities are vast parking lots. As our roads and bridges fall apart we are more dependent on them than ever.
What’s the solution? That’s what my masters program is all about. There are many solutions.
I’ve learned about electric cars and hydrogen cars and hybrids. Hybrids are a step forward, electric cars are the next step, and fuel cells are the Holy Grail.
I’ve learned about transit and biking and walking. Even better than clean cars, this type of transportation solves not just pollution but also congestion and parking.
I’ve learned about mixed use zoning and increased population density. Biking and walking aren’t feasible without destinations to walk and bike to, and transit isn’t feasible without enough people to ride the bus. Even smaller rural towns like Kirksville could benefit from mixed use zoning and increased population density! A city doesn’t have to expand its borders when its population increases, if it can build more densely. That doesn’t mean sky scrapers and crime, but could mean accessory dwelling units (such as mother-in-law apartments). Trees and eyes on the street prevent crime, not gates.
I’ve learned about coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, geothermal, wind, and solar power. I’ve learned about tidal power and offshore wind. Natural gas is tremendously cleaner than coal, but fracking is terrible. Nuclear is politically impossible. Solar and wind are expensive, but getting cheaper and cheaper every day.
We won’t achieve sustainable transportation entirely by biking, walking, and transit. We won’t achieve it entirely by fuel cell cars, either. We’ll achieve it by a combination of all of the above (except maybe nuclear power).
As I finish my 2nd quarter (of 6 total) and my 3rd and 4th classes (of 9 total), I’m eager to get started on the next classes, and more eager yet to finish the program and begin to implement what I’ve learned in making Missouri a better place– not just to walk and bicycle– but a better place to move in, whatever your mode of transportation (which ought to be walking and biking as much as possible!)
Strava, MapMyFitness, RunTastic, Endomondo, RunKeeper– there are lots of apps that do more or less the same thing. Using GPS, they track where you walk, run, or bike, and you can post the map of your ride to Facebook or other social media.
Which one do you use? It depends partly on what you want to do with the app and partly on what your friends use. Of course, it’s not necessary to record your ride at all. It can be fun to look up the % grade of the grueling hill you toiled up, or just to see on the map where you were. If you’re interested in how many miles you went and your average speed overall, a simple bike computer can do that. If you want to know how fast you were going on a screaming descent with the wind roaring in your ears, the app will tell you. There is typically a social aspect too, where you can see where your friends rode and share your maps.
I was curious about the Strava heat maps. Strava collects all the users’ data and creates heat maps showing where people are biking, running, and walking. City planners even use Strava heat maps for bike/ped planning. I used Strava heat maps to plan routes during my 40 Missouri State Parks bicycle trip. We discussed the use of Strava heat maps in my masters program classes. I noticed my brother was using Strava. So I decided to give it a whirl.
I hadn’t considered Strava seriously because I understood it was designed for competitive people. That is true. You can designate a race segment, such as the Son of a Beach Climb at Thousand Hills State Park. Anyone using Strava who rides that segment will appear on the Leaderboard according to their time through that segment. (The Leaderboard says that Brian Snyder climbed this hill at 19.7 mph! It’s all I can do to climb it at 4 mph. Did he have a motor on his bike that day?)
The first time I used Strava, I got Queen of the Mountain (QOM, or fastest time) on the “Proctor WB” segment! I wasn’t even on my road bike. Looking more closely at the Leaderboard, I realized that I am the only woman who has ridden Proctor WB while using Strava. That is not surprising. Men are generally more competitive than women, 3/4 of cyclists in the US are male, and Strava users are overwhelmingly extremely fit, white males age 25-50 (which highlights a weakness of using Strava for city planning). The Leaderboard is separated by gender, so it is easy for women to ‘place’ or achieve a QOM. Men get a KOM– King of the Mountain– and they are not easy to come by, as evidenced by Brian’s 19 mph climb of one of the steepest hills I know!
I’m not competitively inclined, and competition is not something that motivates me. However, the competitive aspect of Strava entertains me. And I’m glad to contribute to the Strava heat maps.
This beautiful weather is too good to be true. I fully expected the recent cold snap to end by skyrocketing up to 90 °F with high humidity. Or, if we had any mild days, they would come with high winds as the next warm front or cold front blew in. Yet we have mild weather with no end in sight! A couple of rainy days, and it’ll get a little cooler, but ‘a little cooler’ is a far cry from the sub-freezing of that last cold spell.
Finally I can quit dreaming about my last bike tour and I can ride my bike.
I rode on the back roads out toward Hallsville and came across a Buddhist Temple in the middle of nowhere. It was the most surprising thing, far more surprising than the alpaca farm that had miniature donkeys, horses, sheep, and goats as well as alpacas. Alpaca farms in rural Missouri, it turns out, are common. I’ve biked past at least 3 this week. Buddhist Temples are not so common. I met a Cambodian monk-in-training wearing saffron robes with a hunter orange jacket who didn’t speak English.
I rode a short loop, and since I started using Strava, I discovered that I am Queen of the Mountain on 2 segments. I’m guessing that no other women using Strava has ridden the Creasy Springs Corkscrew, because although I didn’t walk the hill, I stopped halfway up to catch my breath! It’s easy to be #1 when no one else is in the race.
My friend Clink, who biked to Alaska last year, is biking to Florida right now. He left early in the season because it’s already hot in Florida. When I saw on Facebook that he was leaving, I jumped on my bike and rode to the edge of town with him. For the next 2 or 3 months, I’ll be eagerly following his trip!
Maybe this will be the year that I remember to wear sunscreen BEFORE I have a bad sunburn. The first ride this week, I forgot bike gloves, a headband, sunglasses, and sunscreen. The next ride, I forgot sunscreen. The last ride, I forgot sunscreen and electrolytes. I rode with some much faster riders who were polite and stayed behind me or else stopped and waited periodically for me to catch up. I had water but I only brought a banana, and I should have brought electrolytes.
On the last leg, I told the faster riders, “You go on ahead, I can find my way from here.” Then I missed my turn and had to climb back up the hill I’d just come down. I felt nauseous. I stopped, drank the last of my water, and took my headband off to cool my head. I went on, and felt nauseous again. There was no point in stopping because I didn’t have any more water, and anyway, water wasn’t what I needed. I needed salt.
At last I made it home and ate salty food but I admit it was pretty dumb. I should have called for a ride when I felt nauseous. I’ve known 3 people who ended up in the hospital because of electrolytes. How crazy would it be for that to happen on such a mild day! The high was in the low 70’s, and my bike computer said it was 84 °F on the pavement.
Enjoy this perfect weather, and stock up on the memories of it to tide you through the cold snaps and heat waves that are coming. Wear your sunscreen and remember your electrolytes!
I’m so relieved at the milder temperatures forecasted next week. I have spent too many days huddled indoors, dreaming of past bicycle rides and imagining future rides. Luckily, I have a good supply of vivid memories of my bicycle trip last summer that I took with my dad to 40 Missouri State Parks.
Memories of food are particularly vivid. I devoured an enormous plate of lasagna at Stefanina’s in Troy, MO, eating with Eric, the enthusiastic and effective superintendant of Cuivre River State Park. He got funding from Toyota, which has a factory in Troy, to build an ADA-accessible fishing dock. I looked enviously at the work already in progress after just a few short months, and compared it to the painstakingly slow progress of the FLATS trail at Thousand Hills State Park. (Both the fishing dock and the FLATS trail Phase 1 are now complete.) Stefanina’s is a beautiful Italian restaurant in a former Catholic church. The meal was all the more memorable when Dad suddenly yelled out, scooted his chair back, and clutched his leg. We looked at him sympathetically and without alarm– we knew he was suffering a leg cramp, a charley horse, a severe shooting pain in his calf.
Weeks earlier, when we reached Bennett Spring State Park, Dad had more than a charley horse. His leg refused to hold his weight at all. He leaned on me and limped into the dining lodge. I savored every bite of the almond-encrusted trout, and the chocolate cake dripping with chocolate sauce.
I had some kind of dessert every night. For the first 3 weeks of the trip, I had toasted 2 marshmallows every night. Then the bag was gone and I didn’t buy another. I had had enough marshmallows. I developed a salivation reflex when I saw golden arches. I dipped french fries in my snack-size M&M McFlurry while I uploaded photos and journal entries on the McDonald’s Wi-Fi. But the apple pizza we shared in Lexington was so sweet that I had a bad sugar crash while we toured Lexington Historical Museum.
We got creative with food. I spotted a tiny bottle of ketchup in a grocery store. When we stopped pedaling and took a break, I ate my boiled eggs with ketchup. We ate half a dozen eggs every day, scrambled for breakfast and boiled for on-the-bike snacks. We ate dozens of bananas, yards of cheese sticks, and gallons of V-8.
For a few days, Dad grilled steak and chicken over the fire and roasted potatoes in the coals. Then he decided cooking that way was too much work. We had a few more restaurant meals and instant food after that.
I wasn’t keen on the freeze dried backpacker meals, but they were easy and tasted good enough when I was hungry. At Lake of the Ozarks State Park, we met Tom, a fellow bike-packer who had had mechanical trouble that day and had arrived in the park with a bag of carrots and 6 yogurt-covered raisins for his supper. We gave him as much food as we could persuade him to take, including freeze dried beef stroganoff. Beef stroganoff, it turned out, was Tom’s favorite meal.
Food is one of my favorite things about bicycle touring. After a couple weeks on the bike, I have the most prodigious appetite. Not only am I able to eat a great deal, but eating is more enjoyable. Even mundane food takes on a certain flavor when you are burning a lot of calories. It wasn’t that I was hungry a lot– we rarely ran out of food. It’s just that I could always eat, and I loved every bite.
I’m not anti-car. Owning your own private automobile is great. You can go anywhere, anytime. The problem is that an automobile takes up a lot of space on the road, in the driveway, and in the parking lots of all the places you visit. Each additional vehicle affects traffic congestion incrementally. There are several parking spaces in your town for each vehicle you own. Our homes used to have front porches and now have big garages, but our SUVs are so big that we still have to park them on the street!
When I was a kid, we packed a family of 5 into our 4-door sedan. We fought over who got a window or, if only one parent was present, who got to sit in front. Nowadays a 4-person family doesn’t seem to fit in anything smaller than an SUV.
Before my time, one car was enough for the whole family. In my day (imagine I’m saying that in an ancient, querulous voice), two cars were normal. Nowadays, every kid gets her own car when she turns 16.
There are more cars than ever before, cars are bigger than ever before, and yet cars are emptier than ever before. Each SUV is also an SOV: a single occupancy vehicle.
I’m not really an old curmudgeon (although I’m practicing). Like I said, the freedom to go anywhere, anytime is great. But it costs. It costs time, money, and space. It costs you individually and it costs our community.
For every car (including SUVs and trucks), there are about 8 parking spaces. No matter where your car is parked right now, there are 7 parking spots somewhere in town that are empty, waiting for your car! That is hard to believe when you are circling fruitlessly, searching for a parking space, but it is true.
That’s a huge waste of space. That space could house the building of a business stimulating our local economy. It could be a home for a low-income family. It could be a park with growing trees.
Instead, it is just empty, dead asphalt.
Every car adds congestion to the road. The amount of space a car requires per person is enormous compared to any other way to travel. Buses are the most efficient way to move people. Bicycles are also very space-efficient. Car pooling is pretty good too; of course the more people in the car the more space-efficient. Motorcycles and scooters are not as space-efficient on the road but take up less parking space. But SOVs (whether they are SUVs or smaller cars) are horribly inefficient on the road and in the parking lot.
Traffic jams are caused, not by an accident or a slow moving bicycle, but by all the SOVs.
Once upon a time, a car gave someone the freedom to go anywhere, anytime. When enough people had cars, each additional car took a little of that freedom away from everyone.
Bicycling gives me the freedom of going anywhere, anytime without the expense of an automobile. When bicycling isn’t an option, carpooling is space-efficient and time-efficient. I lose a little flexibility of when and where I go, but I make up for it in shared expenses and time, especially if I’m the passenger.
For my Master’s Degree in Sustainable Transportation class project I’m researching short paths that provide key connections. I first thought of this concept when I lived in Kirksville and used the Steer Creek Trail to access the Kings Court subdivision. The first time I biked on Steer Creek Trail, I laughed out loud because the trail is nearly as wide as the dead-end road next to it and carries more traffic than that road! But at the north end of the trail is a bridge across Steer Creek, where the dead-end road ends.
“They could have saved some money,” I thought, “if they’d just put in the bridge and not bothered with the rest of the trail.”
The bridge is the key connection. Without the bridge across Steer Creek, the only way to get in or out of Kings Court is Baltimore St, a busy, high volume street. Even I avoided biking on Baltimore when I lived in Kirksville. In the absence of Steer Creek Trail, residents of Kings Court had to drive cars. There was only one mode choice.
I asked an old friend, retired Public Works Director John Buckwalter, about the history of Steer Creek Trail. It was completed in 2002 with funds from the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), a federal program administered through the Dept of Natural Resources (the same program that funded FLATS Phase 1). The bridge was a reclaimed bridge from a county road. Adair County replaced a county bridge near Yarrow through the MoDOT Off-System Bridge Replacement and Restoration (BRO) program. County crews left the old bridge by the stream and city crews disassembled it and loaded it onto trucks. They remodeled it to be narrower and built a new deck.
I love this story because it’s an example of how a federal program (RTP) combined with a state program (BRO) resulted in the local Steer Creek Trail. Sadly, RTP (now part of Transportation Enhancements) has been drastically reduced, and BRO ended even before the new MoDOT 325 System cuts. That is why it is so important for local citizens to be involved at all levels of government, local, state, and federal. An easy way to be involved is to join your local bike/ped advocacy organization (in Kirksville, FLATS), the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation, and the League of American Bicyclists. Federal and state programs have a big impact on local transportation options, often in ways we can’t predict.
Although we don’t have traffic counts for Steer Creek Trail, Mr. Buckwalter mentioned learning how much many residents depend on the trail when it was shut down briefly during repairs on the adjacent sanitary facility. Kings Court residents use Steer Creek Trail to bike to Hy-Vee, Truman State University, the public school, and downtown. Once the FLATS trail is completed connecting downtown Kirksville to Thousand Hills State Park, you will be able to bike to the park in less than an hour. Steer Creek Trail is itself a popular destination for fitness and leisure, with many people walking and jogging on it.
Long term plans in 2002 called for one-mile Steer Creek Trail to extend another half-mile to Hwy P, but no further progress has happened. However, for my class project, I’m proposing a 325-foot connector between Kings Rd and Meadow Ln. The subdivisions to the north of Kings Court are well connected to each other by quiet, residential streets. This short connector to Meadow Ln would open up access to Steer Creek Trail for literally hundreds of people.
Mr. Buckwalter was able to clear up the mystery of why Steer Creek Trail parallels Cottage Grove Ave, a narrow dead-end road hardly bigger than the trail itself. Back in the day, people cut through the neighborhood west of Cottage Grove Ave to avoid the stoplight at Illinois and Baltimore. Since then, two streets that used to connect to Cottage Grove Ave have been removed, and now there is almost no traffic on Cottage Grove Ave.
A decade ago, MoDOT sent federal money back rather than spend it on bike/ped facilities. MoDOT killed the Complete Streets bill that had gained traction. MoDOT was The Enemy.
As the funding crisis loomed, MoDOT Director Pete Rahn bailed on his sinking ship and the new leadership looked for solutions to his legacy. Seeking allies in every corner, MoDOT suddenly understood the importance of bicycling and walking. I was excited and happy with the new MoDOT. There was a creative energy and a sense of bucking the trends that had gotten us into this mess. As I planned my career change into transportation, I wanted to be part of this changing MoDOT.
With the failure of Amendment 7, MoDOT has lost heart. Despair has replaced the excitement of overcoming challenges. MoDOT’s new mantra is “Save the Highways”, which doesn’t tug the heartstrings like “Save the Whales” or “Save the Rainforests”. There’s no talk at all of multimodal transportation or safety, as if paving a few sidewalks and adding some shoulders would ensure the doom of our precious highways.
MoDOT is once again sending federal dollars back (Transportation Alternatives Program) rather than spend them on bike/ped accommodations.
Our highway system is too big for our pocketbook. Innocent people and corporations will suffer hardship as we adapt to this reality. Last year, the challenge we faced was finding new money. We failed. Today, the challenge is to dramatically change how we operate so as to fit within a severely reduced budget.
It is still a challenge, a challenge that we can face with fear and trepidation or with excitement and adventure.
MoDOT proposes the Missouri 325 System, named for the $325 budget that is short of the $485 million needed to match federal tax dollars. Under the Missouri 325 System, 8000 miles of state highway are primary and 26,000 miles are supplementary. Primary roads will be maintained and repaired, but will receive no new capacity of any sort. Supplementary roads will receive bare minimum maintenance and no major repairs.
I don’t want to be part of this sad and gloomy MoDOT.
Instead, I’d like to see this message from MoDOT:
6000 miles of primary highway will be the safest and best highway we can make it, with adequate shoulders and sidewalks where relevant.
The remaining 28,000 miles will be supplementary and receive bare minimum maintenance and no major repairs.
This is subtly different from the Missouri 325 System message. The majority of roads that could benefit from sidewalks are in the supplementary system, and neither my plan nor the Missouri 325 System plan allows for sidewalks on those streets. In practice, the end result of my plan might be largely indistinguishable from the Missouri 325 System plan.
The difference is one of attitude. Let’s make the best of what we have. I hope that when I graduate next year, I’ll find an excited and energized organization who wants an excited and energetic transportation planner. Maybe MoDOT will have cheered up by then, but if not, there are plenty of cities and states facing funding shortfalls– and change– with courage and pride.
I just learned that MoDOT Director Dave Nichols announced his retirement. This makes me sad as we had developed a good working relationship with him and he was generally supportive of our efforts. I am hopeful that his successor will bring optimism back to MoDOT.
One of the things I love about bike/ped advocacy is that it is a bipartisan issue. Everybody likes biking and walking! It’s healthy and environmental so it appeals to Democrats. It’s independent and free so it appeals to Republicans. What is NOT bipartisan is the attacks on bike/ped which typically come from Republicans. Sometimes that leads to the perception that bike/ped issues are a Democrat thing, but that is just not true.
However, it often does seem like bike/ped issues are a Democrat thing so one day I had the opportunity to listen to an online conversation of my friends about how bicycling and walking resonates with conservatives and libertarians.
From Kirksville, MO: “Self reliance. If you can walk 1 mile you can bike 10. Cycling can help with fitness. Someone said, “If you don’t have time for exercise then you don’t have time to be sick.” If one incorporates cycling for transportation they kill 2 birds with one stone. There must be an understanding that this isn’t always practical though. Also, it’s fun. Today’s bikes are so much better than the ones most grew up riding.”
From Tennessee: “I believe in small government and personal generosity and personal responsibility. Indiana University determined that 4500 staff/students relied on bike/ped as primary transport. 4,500 car commuters would have required 14 ACRES of expensive and impossible to provide surface parking! Bicycling and walking is an alternative to ObamaCare. Personal responsibility for healthy lifestyle and healthy body reduces reliance on healthcare!”
From Columbia, MO: “Being libertarian is about personal responsibility and personal reliance. It means doing the things yourself and in your community that you don’t want the government to do for you. It requires making personal and community decisions that fit the lifestyle that you want. If a community (local or state) wants to leave opportunity and choice to the individual and let neighbors work out the details of their relationships then allow them the means to do so.
Multimodal transportation expands the ability to explore and experience in a free and unencumbered way. Provide opportunities for freedom and let people take the responsibility for their own health and life. Give people more opportunities to choose their own lifestyle and activities.”
I enjoyed these perspectives and this conversation encouraged me. Even more encouraging is that a Republican, Representative Nate Walker from District 3 (includes Kirksville), is sponsoring our Bicycle Bill this year to update the Missouri code!
How do bicycling and walking resonate with YOUR politics and philosophy?
Whew! My second quarter of classes in my Master’s Program in Sustainable Transportation through the University of Washington (online) started up at the beginning of January and I’m running fast, like the Red Queen, just to stay in place. You might have noticed the blog posts are suddenly less frequent.
I’m surprised to be learning about freight trucks!
It would never have occurred to me that freight trucks are at all like bicycles. But there are a lot of similarities. Trucks start up slow, and bicycles are slow. Trucks like flat streets, and so do bicycles. Car drivers hate trucks, and car drivers hate bicycles. Trucks benefit everyone by bringing goods to stores, and bicycles benefit everyone by decreasing traffic congestion.
We need trucks. Nearly everything comes to us on a truck. If the trucks come at night, people complain about the noise of loading and unloading. If the trucks come during the day, they double-park and block traffic. Often they have to park in the bike lane.
People love to complain about reckless truck drivers. Bicyclists in particular claim that UPS and FedEx drivers are the worst drivers in the world, but the numbers do not back them up. The larger the truck, the fewer the accidents. In fact, per vehicle, per mile, and in absolute number, trucks have fewer collisions than cars do with bicyclists and pedestrians.
Car drivers receive very little training in how to drive. Truck drivers receive a lot of training. They are more skilled than most drivers. Truck drivers may have more to gain than the average driver from driving fast (time is money), but also more to lose from a collision. They have more incentive than most drivers to avoid a collision.
On a bicycle, I feel safer on a road with heavy truck traffic than on a road with fast cars. Some bicyclists think that if a truck hits them, it will be more serious than if a car hits them. But the impact is a result of both mass and speed. Colliding with a car traveling above 40 mph will seriously mess up a bicyclist. The extra mass an 18-wheeler hardly matters on fast highways.
Pedestrians and bicyclists need to know about the enormous blind spot and wide turning radius of big trucks. Many have been killed in the blind spot of a turning truck.
Bicyclists, trucks, and other drivers benefit from better planning, such as zoning regulations requiring a docking bay or unloading zone offset from the road. Industrial warehouses located in the heart of a city might seem like a terrible idea, but it actually decreases the number of miles big trucks must travel in and out of a city.
I never gave much thought to freight trucks, but they are an interesting and integral part of traffic.
Every time a car hits a pedestrian, I hear the same comments.
“Those dumb college kids step right out in front of traffic.”
“I nearly hit someone the other day because the sun was in my eyes.”
“Pedestrians should look.”
People get quite angry about it, even though it is the pedestrian who suffers, NOT the motorist. (Unless it was a hit-and-run or involved drugs or alcohol, the motorist rarely suffers any penalties.)
Someone tried to explain to me once why motorists are offended when pedestrians get themselves hit.
“If I killed a pedestrian,” he said, “I would feel so awful about it that my life would be ruined.” The pedestrian’s life would be over, but the driver’s life would be ruined.
I don’t want a pedestrian’s death to ruin a driver’s life. This is my advice in how to not hit a pedestrian.
1. Don’t drive a car. Very few pedestrians die when a bicycle hits them or another pedestrian runs into them. Move to a place where you can walk, bike, or bus to all your destinations.
2. Stop at crosswalks.
3. Don’t drive distracted or intoxicated. Texting and driving increases the risk of a wreck 23-fold. Drinking and driving increases the risk 4-fold. Talking on a cell phone while driving increases the risk 4-fold. Put the phone down.
4. Slow down. Collisions with pedestrians are almost never fatal when the car is traveling at 20 mph or less. They are almost always fatal at 40 mph or more. The speed limit is the maximum– not 5 mph over the posted speed limit. It is also the maximum for perfect conditions. At night, in the rain, in the fog, and when the sun is in your eyes, slow down to below the posted speed limit.
5. Improve your driving skills through study, training, and practice. Take a Driver’s Ed class or lessons from a good driver. Buy a black box dash cam and review the feedback on your sharp corners and hard braking. Drive like you have a brim-full cup of hot coffee on your lap.
6. Minimize how much time you spend driving in areas where there are a lot of pedestrians. In a parking lot, park in the first open spot you see. Park at the edge of downtown where it is easy to find a spot, so you aren’t circling the square looking for an opening. Bonus! With this parking strategy, you’ll spend less time in your car and you’ll get a little extra exercise as you walk to your destination.
7. Learn where pedestrians are likely to be so you know where to watch for them. Most pedestrians cross at intersections. Even where there is no stop sign for you, keep an eye on the edges of the road. Since you aren’t talking on your cell phone, this will be much easier to do.
Many of you have very good excuses as to why you can’t follow some of this advice. You live too far away so you have to drive. You drive over the speed limit because you only have 10 minutes to make a 15 minute trip. Driving is your only chance to make a phone call.
Pedestrian’s lives are more important than your convenience.
The Long Wait
It was November of 2010. Dan Martin, director of the KCOM fitness center, had told me I should talk to Royce Kallerud about a bike/ped advocacy organization in Kirksville. I emailed Royce and he invited me to go running with him Tuesday at 5:15 am.
I am not a runner. Royce routinely wins races. Royce slowed to what was probably a brisk walk for him, and I sprinted. Royce did most of the talking, as I had no breath.
Royce has a vision of a paved trail connecting Kirksville to Thousand Hills State Park. This trail would be the backbone of a bike/ped network and it would be the seed of a bike/ped movement in Kirksville. Everyone knows this trail as FLATS, the Forest Lake Area Trail System. (This ironic name originated with Dan, who is good at clever names.)
Several months before, Royce and Dan and the FLATS steering committee had submitted a Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant application to build Phase 1, the first half-mile within Thousand Hills State Park. The grants were supposed to be announced in October, but uncertainties about the federal transportation bill held things up. Any day now, they hoped, they’d learn whether Phase 1 was funded.
If funded, the RTP grant would reimburse expenses for the trail. The RTP grant required a 20% local match, so we needed to raise 120% of the grant (of which most would be reimbursed). While we waited for the announcement, we raised money. Kirksville Rotary was the fiscal agent and held the donations in a charitable trust fund. Without a fiscal agent, FLATS would not have been eligible for an RTP grant.
Fall passed into winter and still no word on the grant.
At last, in March 2011, we got the message: We were funded. The Governor came to Thousand Hills State Park to announce the good news in person!
We waited impatiently for work to begin. To build the trail inside Thousand Hills State Park, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had oversight. The DNR must approve all plans, and the DNR had agreed to do a substantial amount of work, which would save a lot of money. We waited for the DNR architect to draw up the plans.
The community was excited about FLATS. Radio, TV, and newspapers did story after story. We spoke to dozens of organizations and clubs and people. It was a lot of money to raise, but we did it! But still we waited for the DNR.
The RTP grant is a 2-year grant. That means we would only be reimbursed for money that was spent in that 2-year timeframe. Month after month passed, missing deadline after deadline, and still we waited. We called various people at the DNR frequently but still we didn’t get plans and we didn’t progress.
We received the draft from the DNR architect. He changed the original design and added a bridge. The bridge would be beautiful, but it would change the cost or perhaps the scope of the trail. It might be shorter because of the bridge. We were just very grateful to have some progress. We were able to order materials, steel and lumber.
We learned about the Indiana bat. No trees may be cut down when the Indiana bat is hibernating. The DNR plans called for cutting down a couple of mature trees. This could only be done during the summer months.
The deadlines continued to pass and we filed for a 6-month extension. We cheered when the DNR installed a silt fence to protect the lake from the construction. But after that– nothing was completed, no work begun. The steel and lumber sat in a big pile. With my relocation to Columbia, I was able to drive to Jefferson City and meet with DNR staff personally. They assured me it would be completed in time.
We filed for a second 6-month extension– the final extension allowed.
We were frustrated and worried. Would we lose the entire RTP grant? What would we tell our generous donors? We could hardly believe it, but we had to start planning for failure.
The steel went off to Brookfield where the DNR crew began turning it into a bridge. The architect called for petroglyph shapes to be cut into the panels of the bridge. These would be beautiful, but the steel workers cursed his name for weeks as they labored over those tiny shapes.
The silt fence was falling down and time was running out.
With less than 2 months to spare, all the DNR crews in Missouri suddenly converged on Thousand Hills State Park and built the entire trail in about 4 weeks! At the last minute, the new DNR architect changed the plans again so that not only did we get the beautiful bridge his predecessor had designed, but the trail went all the way to the campground while still providing access to the Petroglyph Shelter.
There are various reasons and theories for the slow pace of work at the DNR. There had been some miscommunications and overcommitments within the agency, and because of our experience some changes in policy occurred.
Lots of people came out on a sunny day this January. It was windy, the cooling end of a brief warm spell. I made the drive from Columbia to see the trail that I’d had a hand in. The trail is lovely and perhaps all the more delightful because of the long wait.