Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

17 October 2017

R.I.P. Max

I've just lost a friend.

You've seen him on these pages.  He's one of the most loving and friendly beings I've ever known. 

Sometimes he would climb on me while I was sleeping.  I didn't mind: When I woke to him, I felt the sun rising.  He looked like a sunrise.

I am talking about Max, the orange cat who's lived with me for ten and a half years.

He came into my life on 9 April 2007.  My friend Millie rescued him from a street near us.  She told me that when she saw him, she walked right up to him.  He did the same for me the first time I saw him.

What that meant, of course, was that he is anything but a feral  cat.  "He must have had a home before," Millie observed.  When I saw him, I couldn't not give him one.

The vet said he was between five and seven years old when I brought him home.  So, that means he lived about sixteen or seventeen years--a pretty good lifespan for a cat.

Even if he'd been in my life for only a day, he could have given me a lifetime of happiness:  That is what he carried with him, and couldn't help but to give.  He greeted everyone who came to my apartment--including Marlee, the day I brought her home--like an old friend and playmate.

He died late Sunday night, after I'd come back from a nice ride, had a sumptuous dinner and talked to my mother.  I wrote yesterday's post about the ride I took Sunday, the day before, because it was just too difficult to talk about Max.

He won't be waiting for me at the end of my next ride.  Not physically, anyway.  I believe, though, that I'll see him at the end of many rides for a long time to come.

Note:  In a sad irony, I lost another cat--the first one I had who was named Charlie--on 16 October in 2005.

16 October 2017

Seasonal Indecision

Yesterday was one of those days that couldn't seem to decide whether it was very late summer or not-quite-early fall.  

My ride started in a cool mist on Tosca, my Mercian fixed gear.  It was actually pleasant:  I felt every pore and orifice of my body opening in a very pleasant way.

I headed for the Rockaways.  The cool mist clung to silent streets, still homes and closed stores--and to me--as I spun through the western Queens neighborhoods near my apartment.  

But, after I crossed under the "el" (elevated tracks, or viaduct for those of you who don't live in New York), the warm mist turned into a mild steam bath on my way across Jamaica Bay to Beach Channel.  Then, as I crossed the Veteran's Memorial Bridge into the Rockaways--and from the waves and clouds of Jamaica Bay to the tides and sky of the Atlantic--I experienced something I normally experience in early spring:  the temperature seemed to drop 20 degrees (F).  That is normal in April, when the air temperature on the mainland might be in the 70s (F), but the ocean is only in the 40s.  Yesterday, however, the air and water temperature were probably not very far apart:  somewhere near 70F, though it felt cooler along the Rockaway Boardwalk.

It's one of those odd coastal days that I truly enjoy:  The sky is overcast, though still only slightly less blue than the sea on the horizon, and that cool mist swirling about me.  I rode under that sky, by that sea and in that mist all the way to Point Lookout.  

Then the clouds broke and the sun peeked through--at least as I looked eastward from the Point.  Behind me, conditions were the same as the ones through which I'd ridden from the Rockaways.

And that is what I rode in all the way home.  I didn't mind:  Such conditions are actually welcome, at least for me, during the last few kilometers of a 125 kilo fixed gear ride!

15 October 2017

Comment Moderation

As of yesterday, I began to moderate comments.  So, if you don't see your comments right away, please don't panic.

I have started this practice because, lately, I've received quite a few "spam" comments.  Mind you, none were mean or offensive; most were non-sequitirs or were merely trying to sell us something.  But I don't want spammers to take up space on this blog, which should be for me and those of you who are interested.

I guess I should count myself lucky:  Until a month or so ago, not much "spam" found its way to this blog.  Hmm...Could attracting spammers be the price of fame? (As if I have gotten so much of that from this blog! ;-) )

I hope you all understand.

A Curious Vehicle

You know you're getting old when you mention a name that was on everybody's lips when you were young--which doesn't seem all that long ago--and a young person has no idea of  who you're talking about.

That happens from time to time when I teach:  I might utter the name of a song, band, TV show, movie or anything that was part of the culture or news when I was young and my students look at me as if I'd started to speak Basque.  

Something similar could happen if I say "John Howard" to a cyclist who's, say, a couple of decades younger than I am.  Actually, the young 'unz might think he was part of the British Invasion or some white-bread politician. 

But if you're my age, or not much younger, you remember that he was part of that generation of cyclists that put the USA on the bicycle world's map. His star rose as American racing--and cycling--rose from its "Dark Ages" during the 1970s.  

It's hard not to wonder what he would have been like had he been born, say, a decade or two later than he was.  Greg LeMond was no doubt a talented rider, but coming along nearly a generation after Howard gave him the advantage of having faced better-trained competition than Howard had at home before he went to race in Europe.  But Howard did well in a greater variety of events, including the early Ironman triathlons.  Moreover, Howard held a land speed record that stood for a full decade--a geological age in the world of sports records.

He also was something of a philosopher:

14 October 2017

She's Back. And She's Like I Remember Her, Only Better!

She's ready.

In late June, I sent Vera, my Mercian mixte, back to England for some rejuvenation.  She was riding just fine as she was, but I wanted to fix a couple of things.  One was the seat lug:  I think someone tried to jam a 27.2 seat post in it when the bike really takes a 27.0.  As a result, I had to use a shim to keep the seat post from slipping.

Vera no longer has that problem.  The folks at Mercian replaced the seat lug.  They also took the old cable guides off the down tube and replaced them with bosses that can be used for shift levers--like the ones that are on the bike now--or the cable stops that are used with Ergo/STI shifters, which I would need if I ever change to bar-end shifters.

I also wanted to clean up the bottom bracket, headset and other threads.  Not surprisingly, they did a good job at Mercian--Hal, at Bicycle Habitat, told me everything went together easily.

So why, if I have worked as a bike mechanic, did I let him put the bike together?  Well, he's the one who introduced me to Mercians.  Also, Vera was getting special treatment, so I figured it was only appropriate to give the job to someone who's been working with bikes for far longer than I did.  Plus, he enjoys working on Mercians.

Finally, though, I wanted to allow Vera to be the pretty bike she is.  That's why I had her re-finished.  I liked the old finish (British Racing Green with gold transfers and lug lining) well enough, but I thought Vera should get a chance to kick up her heels.

I decided that I don't want all of my bikes to be the same color, but I want to keep them in a "family", if you will, of colors I like.  As I've mentioned, the Vincitore Special I ordered is going to be painted Lilac Polychromatic (#17) with Deep Plum Pearl (#56) head tube and seat tube panels, topped off with white transfers and lug lining.

Because of the slope of the twin top tubes, it's difficult to put panels on a mixte frame without distorting the proportions of the frame.  At least, that's how I feel.  So, I opted for a single color:  Mauve Pearl (#53), with white transfers and lug linings.

And I simply could not resist the '50's style headbadge.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a seat-tube transfer that matches the headbadge.


And, perhaps, one of the more esoteric decals of all:

I knew that Reynolds made "respray" decals, but I hadn't seen many of them.  

You may have noticed something else about Vera's new look.  Hal convinced me not to use metal fenders again:  He believes I broke a couple of pairs of aluminum fenders on this bike because the aluminum is thin and because I "squeezed" them into the frame.  He also convinced me that this bike would look better with black fenders than with shiny (or matte-finished) silver ones.

The SKS/Bluemels fenders Vera now wears have piping on their sides.  They reminded me, somewhat, of the "ribbing" on some of the classic English and French fenders--and the Velo Orange Facettes I had on this bike before the "makeover."

The piping, though, serves a non-decorative function:  They're reflective. 

The bags were made by Ely Rodriguez of RuthWorks.  I will most likely keep the seat bag on the bike, but I may use one of the other bags Ely made for me on the front, where I have a Nitto M12 rack.

This "makeover" didn't change Vera's ride.  Then again, I didn't want it to:  It's nimble and comfortable.  And, yes, stylish:  Isn't style the point of having a twin-tube mixte?

As much as I love Vera, getting her back now makes me even more eager for the Vincitore Special I ordered.  Just five more months, if all goes as planned! 

13 October 2017

Escaping Another Kind Of Slavery--With Bicycles

Had bicycles been available, it's not hard to imagine that slaves would have used them to escape from their enslavers.

Perhaps Brandale Randolph had that in mind when he named his new business the "1854 Cycling Company".  In the year for which the company is named, US President Franklin Pierce began to fulfill a campaign promise that helped him win election to the office:  To enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, he pressured officials in the "free" northern states to arrest former slaves and return them to their former owners.

One such former slave, 19-year-old Anthony Burns, was arrested in Boston, Massachusetts and sent back to Virginia.  This led to a protest in nearby Framingham led by abolitionists Sojourner Truth, Henry David Thoreau and William Lloyd Garrison.  There, Garrison held a match to a copy of the Constitution, calling it "a covenant with death, an agreement with Hell."

The 1854 Cycling Company's flagship model is called the "Garrison" in his honor.  And a pair of road bikes are named for Ellen and William Craft, who escaped slavery in 1848 to become authors and lecturers.  Knowing that, I have to wonder whether Randolph will name another model "Douglass".

Brandale Randolph shows one of his early "1854" bicycles to a Framingham resident.

And, yes, the bikes--built around classically-designed steel frames with modern touches--are being built in Framingham.  But most important of all to Randolph is the homage he is paying to the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution.

That amendment, passed after the end of the Civil War, outlawed slavery nationwide.  Many people--including yours truly--argue that the prison-industrial complex is today's version of slavery.  So, apparently, does Randolph:  He is employing recently-released prisoners and starting a training program that will help bring all of the manufacturing in-house--and teach the parolees valuable skills they can use, whether they continue to work for him or elsewhere. And he will pay them "living wages," he said.

He started making bikes only this year and is looking for financing to move his company forward.  His plans, as idealistic as they are, have basis in his knowledge and experience:  A former hedge fund manager, he graduated from the streets of South Central Los Angeles to the prestigious Thacher School (by way of A Better Chance, a program for inner-city kids) and earned a degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. (Irony of ironies:   A certain Wharton alum is now in the White House!)

His business instincts tell him that the bicycle market will grow "exponentially" in the next ten years, as more and more people, particularly in cities, give up their cars.  His vision is not to become a major manufacturer like Specialized or Giant, or one of the"niches brand, like in craft beers", that "only have to sell a couple" of their bikes every year.  He wants to fit "somewhere between the two", he explains.

That might be just the right spot for him--and those whose escape from modern slavery he is trying to aid.

12 October 2017

Borne--And Born--Out Of The Fire

Sometimes natural--or human-caused--disasters can make it impossible to drive a car or truck.  Roads might be impassable, gasoline supplies could be low or non-existent or wind, rain or other conditions might reduce visibility or eliminate it altogether.

During such crises, some people ride bicycles to stores that might still be open,  to check up on relatives, friends or neighbors or even to rescue or transport victims.  Last month, after Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf Coast of Texas, Jeff Whitehead pedaled 300 miles from his home in Laguna Park, a town near the center of the Lone Star state, to the coastal community of Rockport "just to do whatever I could to help," he explained.  He could not have made that trip in his car due to the destruction wrought by the storm.

Other times, however, it's not the disaster itself that makes driving impossible:  it's, ironically, other drivers.  A mass exodus from a storm, wildfire or other catastrophe can lead to huge traffic jams on roads leading out of the afflicted area.  That is what happened to Charity Ruiz when she evacuated her Santa Rosa, California home in the wake of wildfires that have singed their way through the northern California wine country.

The traffic tie-up stopped her in the middle of a street on fire.  She feared, not only for her own life, but for those of her two daughters--and yet-unborn baby son.

Yes, she is pregnant.  In fact, she is due to have a C-section next week. (That is on hold, because the fires closed the hospital in which she was scheduled for the procedure.) That makes what she did to get herself and her children out of harm's way all the more heroic.

She ran back to her house and grabbed her bicycle, which is equipped with a toddler trailer.   With her two girls in the trailer, she pedaled through the fire.  

Her greatest worry, she said, was tipping over and falling.  "I just kept yelling at the girls, 'Tell me if you're OK'," she recalled.

After riding for a while, a Good Samaritan in a Jeep drove them to a friend's house, where they were reunited with Charity's husband Mike.

The family is now staying with relatives in San Jose.  And one day, Charity Ruiz will be able to tell her son of all that she did to bring him into this world!

11 October 2017

Just Ahead Of The Dawn

This semester, I teach early classes on Monday and Wednesday. Yes, I volunteered for that as part of a deal, sort of. But that's another story.

Anyway, today I decided to ride to work a little earlier than usual so I could do a bit of work before classes.  Also, I sensed I would have an even more pleasant commute than usual.

I pedaled across the Queens span of the RFK Memorial Bridge just in time to see the sun rising over the North Shore of Queens and Long Island--just beyond Rikers Island, and just ahead of a southbound Amtrak train that would pass over the Hell Gate Bridge.

And I was pedaling just ahead of the sunrise.  One of my students said I brought light into the room today.  I wonder whether she saw me riding across the river, in front of Hell Gate.  

10 October 2017

Are We 19 Percent More Lawless Than We Were Last Year?

Are New York City cyclists committing 19 percent more traffic violations than they were last year?

As of 1 October, the New York Police Department handed out 23,452 summonses to cyclists in 2017.  During the same nine-month period in 2016, cyclists in the Big Apple were issued 18,991 summonses.

"Ticket blitzes" are a common topic of conversations I have with other cyclists in this town.  Of course, the NYPD--like just about every other police department--denies that its members engage in such practices, or are under pressure to meet quotas.  It does, however, seem that we are ticketed en masse over certain hours, days or weeks.

It also seems that we are ticketed disproportionately compared to drivers.  I take that back:  There is evidence of this.  Officers often say that, under the law, we are operating vehicles and are therefore subject to the same regulations.  They are mostly correct about that. However, I have witnessed many drivers running red lights or talking on their phones while driving.  I have never seen any pulled over and ticketed.  Drivers routinely "gun it" through yellow signals in the intersection nearest my apartment,  and none ever seem to be penalized for it.  

cyclists, nyc, biking nyc, bike tickets
Photo by Billie Grace Ward

And their actions can have far more serious consequences--but not to themselves, usually.  The metal surrounding them offers protection--to them, but not the cyclists, pedestrians (some of whom are residents of a senior center on the corner) or anyone else who happens to be on the outside.

Also, many cyclists feel "targeted" by the police.  I know I did when I was summonsed last year in Harrison:  The cop, on a motorcycle, followed me for about a kilometer to the intersection where I was charged with pedaling through a red light. The fact that it was near the end of the month and the officer told me to plead "not guilty" and just happened to be at the front desk when I appeared in court leads me to think that as a cyclist, I was simply an easy mark.  And, I am sure, other cyclists in New York City and other places are ticketed for that reason alone.

Or it could just be that the NYPD is under some mandate to raise 19 percent more revenue than it raised last year?  Who knows?

09 October 2017

What If He'd Had A GPS?

Today Columbus Day is being celebrated in the US.  When I was growing up, it was always observed on 12 October.  But, some time during the '70's, many traditional holidays were moved to Mondays because folks in the government realized it was cheaper to close offices for three days in a row rather than to interrupt the work week.  Of course, not too many people complain about the three-day weekend.

This morning, I was talking with my friend Mildred.  She is not a terribly political person, and she doesn't normally involve herself with what much of the alt-right derisively calls "identity politics".  Today, though, was different.  The first thing out of her mouth was, "They should take down his statue! They should re-name that circle at 59th Street!"

From her daughter, she recently learned that he was a "murderer" and "rapist".  I assured her that there was much I didn't know for a very long time, so she shouldn't flagellate herself.

I tried to make light of the situation.  "And on top of everything, he got lost."  She laughed.

She shares an Italian-American heritage with me.  So she practically applauded when I said, "We have Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante and Armani.  Why do we celebrate a guy who got lost?"

Image result for Columbus Day sale bicycle
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That got me to thinking about another feature of this holiday: sales.  All of the big department stores are running them.  So are many smaller retailers.  Interestingly, bike shops don't seem to follow their example.   I guess there's no particular reason for them to have a sale today.  What could they offer?  GPS devices?  What would history have been like if Chris had a Garmin Edge?  

I think I'd get lost even if I used one.  I may have descended from the same line of people as Columbus.  Sometimes, though, I think that all I inherited was his sense of direction!

08 October 2017

07 October 2017

If Marcel Duchamp Had Done It....

Last week, I gave the students in one of my classes a very short piece of writing. Some said it looked like a haiku and, perhaps, it bears a passing resemblance to one.  I asked the students why that particular piece of writing--which doesn't rhyme, at least not in the way of, say, a ballad or sonnet--was published in a poetry magazine.

At first, there was the silence of students afraid of seeming ignorant.  But I reassured them that I wasn't looking for a right answer: I just wanted to know what they thought, and why.

Then, a student pointed out the imagery and figurative language.  Another student said the piece of writing didn't rhyme but had "echoes"--internal rhymes.  Finally, another student mused, "Well, the writer said it's a poem and the people at the magazine thought it was a poem.  So I guess it must be a poem."

I still don't know what to make of that answer.  I told him--and the rest of the class--to take a look at Marcel Duchamp's "Bicycle Wheel"--which, in fact, is a bicycle wheel in a bicycle fork mounted upside-down in a stool--and ask themselves whether or not it's a work of art.

Funny I should give that assignment and, soon afterward, come across this:

Police in Springfield, Missouri are investigating what they are calling a "property situation" at a house that's been vacant for some time.  In addition to the bicycle wheel hanging from a tree, there are bicycles and parts strewn about the property.  Bicycle tires had been thrown through windows.  A large trampoline hung from the chimney and a smaller one, with a bicycle on it, topped the house.

When police officers asked a man at the house next door whether he knew what happened, this was his reply:  "Bicycles."  Other neighbors wouldn't talk to the cops.  An employee at a nearby Domino's pizza said she noticed the bike parts, but not the trampolines, a couple of days earlier.

Since no one seems to know how or those bikes and parts ended up on the property, some folks--including a writer for a local newspaper--wonder whether it was an act of vandalism or an art installation.

Hmm...If Marcel Duchamp had done it...

06 October 2017

I Am Happy To Pass My Wrench To Them

Yesterday I "outed" myself in the Women's Studies class I teach.

Now, I am guessing that a couple of students knew that I'm transgender because they're on the "rainbow" themselves.  And, I suspect one or two others might've known because they Googled my name and found that I indeed published and did all sorts of other things under my old name and identity.  And, perhaps, one or two might've guessed just because, well, they've seen enough different kinds of people: They're in New York, after all.

I told the students about my history because this week's readings, discussions and writing assignment were about the different kinds of feminism.  I joked that the class was going to be the Baskin Robbins of the women's movement, as we read about Black, Lesbian separatist, Asian and other kinds of feminism, as well as the ways in which feminism intersects with other areas such as the Civil Rights movement and Disability studies.

Oh, and they read a bit about where transgenders and feminism.  That, of course, was my "segue" into "outing" myself.

I will soon find out what sort of an effect that has on the class dynamic, and the students themselves.  But I told them, toward the end of class, that because I am transgender and started to live as a woman in my mid-40s, I have a different perspective on feminism--and on being a woman--from what others might have.

After that class, I couldn't help but to think about some aspects of my life as a male:  my education, my work history, the ways I related (or didn't) to family members and peers and, of course my cycling.  Though I knew a few active female cyclists--I dated one and rode with others, some of whom were members of clubs or groups with whom I rode--I wondered how much of a cyclist I'd have been, or would be now, had I lived as female all of those years.

And, of course, I wonder whether I would have worked as a bike mechanic.  In the years I did that work--on and off from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s--I never saw a female mechanic.  Oh, I saw women who worked in shops, but they always did sales or customer service.  One of those women was a partner (in a strictly business sense) in one of the shops in which I worked; another owned, along with her husband, another shop for which I fixed bikes.  In fact, it wasn't until my brief stint of fixing Citibikes four years ago, just after the share program started, that I actually worked alongside another female bike mechanic.  They, and I, were Recycle-A-Bicycle volunteers recruited for the task.

Those other female mechanics are considerably younger than I am.  I couldn't help but to wonder whether they would have learned how to fix bikes had they not volunteered for RAB--or whether they would have even been in RAB had they been part of my generation.  And, of course, I wonder whether I would have ever learned how to fix bicycles, let alone work in a shop, had I lived my teens and twenties as male.

At that time, there almost certainly wouldn't have been anything like the scholarships Quality Bicycle Products (QBP) is offering, along with other sponsors, for women to attend the two-week Professional Repair and Shop Operations class at the United Bicycle Institute.  "It's no secret that women have been historically underrepresented in cycling," says Kaitlin Johnson, QBP's Director of the Women's Mechanic Scholarship Program.  "Scholarship recipients gain a wealth of knowledge that helps them serve their communities better and helps them create a more inclusive environment," she added.

Previous scholarship recipients

In 2018, this scholarship is being offered for the fifth year.  Recipients must be able to attend the 29 January-9 February or 15-26 October classes in 2018.  Their scholarships will pay for the full tuition as well as lodging at UBI's Ashland, Oregon campus.  Recipients will also receive a small stipend upon completion of the class to help offset meal and travel expenses.

Oh, and scholarship applicants must be "women, trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming or intersex U.S. residents who are currently employed at a bike shop in the U.S.," according to QBP.  That sounds like something that would help Ms. Johnson's stated objective of "inclusion".  

Most important, it gives people like me--or, at least, younger versions of me who "might have been"--opportunities that I might not have had.  I am glad for that.

05 October 2017

What If They Took Out The Traffic Lights?

Here's an experience that's in the "Don't Try This At Home" category:

Once, years ago, a NYPD officer pulled me over for riding through a red light on Broadway, just north of 23rd Street, in Manhattan.  He lectured me about how traffic lights are for everyone, and that I could endanger myself or others by not heeding them.  

At that time, I, as a cyclist, was even more of a minority than I am now.  Moreover, I was a messenger on duty that day, which made me even more of an outcast.  So I was not expecting that officer to understand what it was like to ride on city streets, let alone have any sympathy for me.

But I pointed out that I went through the red light ahead of two trucks that turned right when the light turned green.  Had I waited for the light, I could very well have ended up underneath one of those vehicles.

He put his pen down and looked at me.  I had the feeling he didn't trust me; after all, he'd probably heard all sorts of things from people who were trying to talk their way out of traffic summonses.  After what seemed like an endless silence, he said, "OK.  Just be careful."

"Good day, officer."

Now urban planners are starting, however slowly, something that cyclists have long known:  Following traffic signals doesn't always ensure a cyclist's, or a pedestrian's safety. If anything, at times--such as the situation I described--it can actually endanger us.  

Part of the reason for that is that, according to at least one study, signals can actually make drivers less attentive to their surroundings.  According to proponents of this idea, having fewer demarcations such as traffic lights, kerbs/curbs, traffic signs, road surface markings and regulations actually encourages cyclists, pedestrians and motorists to negotiate their movements with each other, usually through eye contact or hand signals.

The late Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman was one of the chief proponents of this urban planning concept, commonly known as "shared space".  His studies found that traffic safety and efficiency increased for all when public spaces were redesigned so that cyclists, motorists and pedestrians had to negotiate their movements with each other.  He went so far to say that the safest roads are those with the fewest marking, signs and traffic lights.

Meredith Glaser probably had his work in mind.  She's a researcher at the University of Amsterdam's Urban Cycling Institute (Can you imagine such a thing in the US?), which did a study of cycling in Alexanderplein, a busy intersection near the center of Amsterdam.  According to the study, about 40,000 cyclists ride through it every day--6000 an hour during peak times.  In addition, many pedestrians, automobiles and streetcars tranverse the crossroads every day.  

Institute researchers then asked 200 cyclists what they thought of the intersection.  "Chaotic" and "messy" were the most common responses.  Most said more traffic lights were necessary.

However, the researchers knew the city had a different plan:  The lights were shut off in May of last year.

While the lights were off,the researchers returned and asked another 150 cyclists for their thoughts.  About 60 percent said the intersection worked better without the signals.    The city's technical study found similar positive results, and no increase in the number of accidents.  In September, the city decided to remove the lights altogether, citing the fact that trams were not delayed and motor delays were cut in half.  In addition, bicycle traffic jams, usually caused by signals, were all but eliminated.

In the intervening year, the city has done similar things in other spots, with success.  Glaser thinks this could be a model for other cities in the world.  So does Dongho Chang, the Chief Traffic Engineer for the City of Seattle. "In an urban environment, you don't want a driver to be zoning out," he explains.  "You need them paying attention and looking for the unexpected."  He points out that only 8 percent of his city's intersections have traffic lights, but they account for 51 percent of accidents over the past 13 years.

Now, one obvious explanation is that the signalled intersections are the most heavily-trafficked and tend to have the most complex or complicated configurations.   Chang concedes as much, but also says that in such intersections, signals lead to dangerous behaviors such as speeding through a yellow light or accelerating quickly from a green.

Chang's, Glaser's and Monderman's points are well-taken.  However, they (perhaps surprisingly, in the case of Chang) fail to take into consideration something I, and other cyclists, know from experience:  Few American drivers have the level of awareness of cyclists most Dutch--or, for that matter, European--drivers have.  Seattle's drivers might be among the exceptions (I don't know:  I've never cycled there) but it's hard to imagine that even they have that level of awareness I found even in Montreal, less than an hour from the US, let alone cities in France, Belgium or the Netherlands.

Still, the work of the researchers and planners I've mentioned helps to indicate a greater truth:  Most cycling infrastructure, as it's currently planned, constructed and maintain doesn't make cycling--or walking or driving--safer.

04 October 2017

What Will They Accomplish By Cracking Down On The "Chop Shops"?

At least a few of my rides have included stops at flea markets.  

So why are they called "flea markets"?

Well, it's a translation of "marche aux puces", the name given to an outdoor bazaar at the Porte de Clignancourt, on Paris' northern edge.  It's been operating there since some time around 1880.

So why is it called the "marche aux puces"?  It was often said--sometimes, with justification--that items, particularly upholstery, sold there were infested with fleas.  

Not long before the market began to operate, the straight, wide boulevards lined with sandstone-colored buildings one sees all over the City of Light were first constructed.  To make way for them, old buildings on narrow, winding streets were demolished.  This left a residue of old furniture and other items out in the open, where they could have been infested with vermin.

There is another reason why people might have thought those items were infested with fleas:  The folks who salvaged them were, as often as not, themselves infested.  Not surprisingly, when Georges-Eugene, Baron Haussmann, executed Napoleon III's vision for modernising Paris, it left many Parisians homeless or simply destitute.*  During the city's transitional period, many such people had few, if any, other ways to generate income.

Homeless people all over the world continue to "pick up the pieces", if you will, all over the world.  In my hometown of New York, I have seen them selling everything from corsets to computers, from books to barbed wire.  And, of course, many pick up soda and beer bottles and cans, which they can recycle for 5 cents each, from trash bins.

In San Francisco, that city of entrepreneurs, it seems that some of the homeless have become small-time operators in the bike business:  They operate what detractors call "chop shops" from underneath bridge and highway overpasses and other semi-enclosed public spaces.  

While even homeless advocates admit that some of the bikes are stolen, the majority are the fruits of dumpster-diving, scavenging on the streets or barter.  Usually, the homeless or poor people who operate these pop-up bike shops fix up the bikes they sell or trade, or assemble bikes from parts found in various places or stripped from other bikes. 

Most of the complaints the city receives regarding these operations are not about the shops, per se:  Most people don't have a problem with people doing whatever they have to do to put food in their mouths.  Rather, many residents say that these vagabond mechanics spread their wares across sidewalks, bike paths and sometimes even into streets, making it impossible or simply dangerous to navigate.   

With that in mind, the city's Board of Supervisors is expected to pass a bill that would prohibit anyone from storing or selling the following on any public street, sidewalk or right-of-way:

  • five or more complete bicycles
  • a bicycle frame with its gear or brake cables cut
  • three or more bicycles with missing parts
  • five or more bicycle parts.
The prohibition would not apply to anyone who has a commercial license (which, of course, includes almost no homeless person) or a permit for an event like a bike rally or clinic.  The bill gives the Public Works Department authority to seize items deemed to be in violation of the code. If the owner of the items doesn't allow the PWD to seize the items, police officers can be called in.  And, the owner can appeal to have the items returned 30 days after the seizure and notice of violation.

Not surprisingly, small business associations support this bill, mainly because the "chop shops" often impede access to stores, cafes and other establishments.  Bike shops are among such small businesses, and support the bill for the same reason.  Interestingly, though, none seems to have made an argument that these shops are taking business away from them because of their lower prices, probably because people who would buy (or barter for) bikes from "chop shops" weren't going to buy their bikes in a bike shop anyway.

Also not surprisingly, this bill is adamantly opposed by homeless advocates, civil liberties organizations and the Democratic Socialist party.  Most interesting of all, though, is a letter of opposition penned by Jeremy Pollock. He writes as a ten-year member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition who, as he says, has had bikes and parts stolen and recovered a "ghost bike" from a homeless encampment.  

He effectively makes a point that the bill, should it become law, could violate the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution.  He also decries the lack of collaboration between the city government and its citizens (especially cyclists) in drafting and voting on the bill.  

Pollock also expresses concern that enforcing such a mandate could make the already-challenging  jobs of DPW workers who clear homeless encampments even more difficult by making already-strained relationships between those workers and the residents of homeless encampments even more tense and hostile.  This will put a further strain on the DPW's resources, and will stretch the police department and criminal justice system even thinner than it already is.

Oh, and if the San Francisco Police Department is stretched thinner, it will dedicate even less manpower and fewer resources than it does to combat bike theft.  As it is, the Department--like others across the country--simply doesn't regard bike theft as a priority.  And, if it wants to combat bike theft, according to Pollock, "we don't need this cumbersome new notice of violation, we need SFPD to focus on catching bike thieves!"

*To be fair, Haussmann's work also made it possible, for the first time, to navigate Paris with relative ease, which helped Paris to grow as a commercial as well as cultural center.  When he widened the streets, he also added sidewalks, which made Paris the walkable city it is today. Moreover, his plan included other public works, including sewers, which greatly improved sanitation and the health of people, as well as a series of public parks and gardens.

Then again, he also made it all but impossible to mount an insurrection in Paris by widening and straightening those streets that could previously be barricaded--or used as escape routes by people who knew them.