Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

24 June 2017

Bike Share In "Dutch" Country

Yesterday, I wrote about two bike-share programs that went bust.

One of them, Pronto, was based in Seattle.  Its demise came as a surprise to some, including yours truly, because Seattle has long had a reputation for all of the things one associates with cities that develop successful share programs.  For one thing, it had an active, vibrant cycling community long before Portland or other cities developed their reputations as two-wheeled utopiae.  For another, it also has a large population of young, educated and creative people:  the very sorts of people who are most likely to be bike riders in urban areas. 

In other words, it seemed to have a lot in common with other cities in Europe and North America where share programs have succeeded.  Some blamed the failure of Pronto on Seattle's climate, which may have been somewhat of a factor, although other places where share programs are popular get as much rain (or as little sunshine, depending on your point of view) as the Emerald City.

When we think of the cities where bike share programs have succeeded, we think first of the US coastal cities and European capitals.  But they have also worked well in "second" cities like Lyon, France (whose "Velo'v" is often cited as a model) and  Hamilton, Ontario.  Even a town like Chattanoga, Tennessee has managed to support a thriving program.

But most people, I think, wouldn't expect to find the ingredients of vibrant cycling communities or successful bike share programs--let alone attempts to develop other kinds of cycling infrastructure--in declining industrial cities like Reading, Pennsylvania (which I mentioned in an earlier post). Or nearby Lancaster.

I have to confess that when I think of Lancaster, I think of the Pennsylvania Amish Country or "Dutch Country".  My family took a trip there every summer, where we would visit farms and the so-called "Dutch Wonderland".  In those days mega-theme parks like Six Flags were either new or in development, the Dutch Wonderland and Hershey Park still could capture a kid's short attention span.

We would simply pass through the city itself which, even then, seemed to consist mainly of factories and old buildings that didn't seem to be used for anything but no one had gotten around to declaring as historic landmarks.  I liked the train station--which served the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads, and now is an Amtrak stop--mainly because I liked trains and the Reading still had some of the old steam locomotives.

But Lancaster, like Reading, has witnessed the loss of its old industries and a population that has grown poorer, darker and older--though, to be fair, not to the same degree as Reading.  Interestingly, Lancaster has earned a new nickname: The City of Refugees.  It's believed that refugees make up a higher percentage of the population in Lancaster than in any other US city.

This is not what one normally associates with cycling:  Indeed, even today, when I ride through blue-collar and immigrant neighborhoods and suburbs of New York, I see no other cyclists. But, when you think about it, such places--like Lancaster and Reading--are exactly where cycling should thrive.  After all, generations of working-class people all over Europe, Asia and other parts of the world were, until recently, the vast majority of the world's cyclists.

So, in a way, we shouldn't be surprised that Lancaster is launching a bike share program.  What surprised me, in reading about it, is the degree to which the city is trying to develop a cycling infrastructure.  While I am not always enthusiastic about bike lanes, it seems that planners are at least trying to make them practical:  They lead to places like the train station and there seems to be some notion that a bike lane isn't just a few lines painted on asphalt or concrete.

Almost nobody believes that Donald Trump can actually deliver on his pledges to revive moribund industries.  After all, even if some company decided to build a steel mill or open a coal mine in Pennsylvania or West Virginia, it would be more automated than the ones that closed.  Thus, fewer workers would be employed--and few, if any, of them would be those men in their 50s and 60s who got laid off during the last economic downturn.  Instead, almost anybody who's not a direct adviser to Trump says that such workers should be retrained in the new technologies of the "green" or "greener" industries.  

It's not as much of a stretch as one might think:  People in industrial and rural areas tend to have more mechanical, and other practical, skills than MBAs or lawyers.  If we think of bicycles as part of the "green" economy, it's not hard to imagine employing workers from a variety of other industries--or simply folks who don't have the aptitude or desire for university--in them.  

One might say that nearby Reading--which I described in an earlier post--is attempting to do that, if on a small scale, with its efforts to make cycling more accessible for the working-class, poor and unemployed of that city.  Such efforts almost inevitably involve employing, directly or indirectly, the very people such programs try to put on bikes.  Perhaps something similar will happen in Lancaster.  If nothing else, as in Reading, Lancaster's new bike share program and infrastructure could make cycling affordable and practical for people who could benefit from it.

23 June 2017

A Lump Of Coal In The Emerald City And The Land Of Jade

A couple of years ago, bike-share programs seemed like "can't-miss" propositions. 

Most municipalities with programs--whether they're funded by cities or corporations, or are not-for-profit organizations, have reported great success.  Share programs have expanded steadily in just about every place they've been introduced, and other cites--some of which you might not connect with cycling--are clamoring to start their own share programs.

Bikes from Pronto, Seattle's late bike-sharing program

One rare exception has been Pronto, Seattle's bike-share program.  It closed on 31 March, citing low ridership.  Several reasons have been cited for the program's failure.  One is that the Emerald City has a mandatory helmet law.  Cyclists who ride without head armor can be fined $102.  More important, getting on a share bike is, as often as not, a spur-of-the-moment decision, and few people carry helmets with them when they're not on bikes.  Many bike-share users are tourists; even those who are active cyclists at home aren't likely to bring helmets with them because, especially if they don't normally wear them.

Three other cities with share programs also have mandatory-helmet laws:  Vancouver and the Australian metropoli of Melbourne and Brisbane.  Share programs in the latter two cities  struggled until they followed Vancouver's lead in including helmets and disposable liners with the bikes.  In 2015, Seattle installed helmet dispensers by the Pronto kiosks, but potential users seemed to find it an inconvenience.

Other factors cited in the Seattle program's failure are the city's terrain and climate.  Now, I can understand why people wouldn't want to pedal a heavy share bike up a hill.  I can even understand why someone wouldn't want to ride in the rain.  But long before Portland became the iconic "bike friendly" city, Seattle had a vibrant cycling community.  In fact, it once boasted more bike shops, per capita, than any other major US city.  The weather didn't seem to put a damper (pun intended) on cycling then, or now.

Then again, I can also understand why a tourist might not want to ride in the rain--especially if he or she is accustomed to more sunshine at home.  If you're used to, say, Florida, and you're only going to be in Seattle for a few days, you might decide to simply wait until you get home to start riding again.

While the causes of the Seattle share program's failures might be debatable, Lei Houyi knows exactly why his bike-share company is closing shop.

These bikes belong to Oko, one of the apps-based Chinese ride-sharing systems.

In contrast with its western counterparts, many Chinese bike-share programs can best be described as "Uber for bikes":  Riders can pick up, or leave, bikes on the streets, without having to look for a port or dock.  Wukong Bikes, based in Chongqin, also followed this model.  But they didn't follow a practice common to other Chinese share companies:  It didn't install GPS devices on their bikes.

The result was all too predictable:  Most of Wukong's 1200 bikes were lost or stolen.  By the time the company realized it needed tracking devices, Houyi said, it was too late:  The bikes were gone and the money had run out.

But, he says, even before his bikes started to disappear, the company was struggling because the bikes were of inferior quality to, and more easily damaged than, those of Ofo and Mobike, the leading Chinese bike-share companies.  The services of those companies are completely app-based.  So, while bikes left in remote locations can still be difficult for customers to locate, they are rarely lost, and when they are damaged, they can be fixed relatively quickly.

So, while I think bike share programs will continue to grow in popularity, they are not "sure-fire bets", even in the most seemingly "bike-friendly" environments, unless technological as well as cultural and legal factors are considered.

22 June 2017

Into The Hole--On A Sugar Rush And Killer Bread!

After the torrential downpours (I could barely see past my window!) on Monday, we've had two days of glorious, sunny weather.  It was warm, but not overly humid, with little wind--except in one part of today's ride:

I saw this same puddle/pond/wetland back in February:

Now, it wasn't my destination.  I just hopped on Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear, and zigzagged through some side streets between my apartment and Howard Beach.  One of them dead-ended on top of a hill or mound, from which I had a view of the turbid body of water:

It looks to be the same size, shape and depth I saw four months ago.  A group of people--I assumed them to be a family because they were a man, a woman and two young children--were breaking up some concrete and dirt in front of a battered house.  They surprised me with their "hello's"; soon after, a man driving an old BMW eyed me suspiciously.  

But another man, seemed to study me from the trailer colony across the pond, decided (correctly) that I'm not any sort of official and gave me a smile.

The last time I saw this place, I could've sworn a wind blew that I didn't feel before I arrived or after I left.  Today, I had the same sensation.  In fact, I was even more sure of that wind, as it flickered my hair and braced against my bare arms and legs.  The last time I rode down that way, my arms and legs were covered.

Hmm...Could it be that The Hole has its own microclimate?

If what I saw in The Hole was an incongruity or a riddle, something else I saw along the way was a joke:

I looked for the driver of this truck.  I really wanted to ask whether Dave's Killer Organic Bread--which I had never heard of until I saw that truck--was actually being delivered in the same vehicle as Tastykakes.

Perhaps one day I'll try Dave's Killer Bread and, if I survive the experience, tell you about it!  It's organic, so I suppose I'll live through it.  On the other hand, KandyKakes--especially a version they made with chocolate cake and peanut butter--was one of my favorite sugar rushes when I was a little kid.  I liked those butterscotch crimpets, too. 

 Later, when I was riding with a bunch of guys who pedaled hard and treated themselves with, um, non-prescription painkillers, I became an aficionado of Tastykake fruit pies.  I loved their cherry and blueberry pies; I probably would like them today, too, as those are my favorite pies (along with strawberry rhubarb--but, as far as I know, Tastykake has never made that!).  But my favorite--again, for its sugar rush, was their Glazed French Apple.

Of course, Tastykake Glazed French Apple pie is about as French as that bottled bright orange salad dressing sold in big-box stores.  The French aren't shy about sweet flavors, but I don't think they could come up with a sugarbomb like Tastykake Glazed French Apple Pie even if they wanted to.

Although I haven't eaten it in years, I'm still getting a sugar rush from thinking about it.  The apple filling, sugary to begin with, was further sweetened by raisins and I-don't-know-what-else.  And it was topped by a thick strip of that white icing that makes Twinkie fillings seem like grapefruit.

It looks like Tastykake's current French Apple Pie isn't glazed.  Still, I'm sure it would provide quite the sugar rush--maybe almost as intense as a glazed Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tart!

Maybe those Pop Tarts are delivered in the same trucks as Laughing Giraffe Cherry Ginger Granola. (With a name like that, I simply must try it!)