31 March 2017

Santa In The Spring

I am an educator.  It's still strange for me to write those words.  You see, I resisted becoming one and  quit for a few years when I was having a midlife crisis.  I then realized that I didn't need to change jobs:  I only had to change my gender.

Anyway, one of the reasons I tried not to become a teacher (which was the only kind of educator I knew about) was that I hated most of my teachers.  I guess that's not so unusual because, well, most kids hate their teachers and some of my elementary-school teachers were Carmelite nuns. Yes, they wore the black habits.

I did, however, have teachers I liked, and not necessarily because they were "easy".  Rather, I realize now that they "got" me:  I wasn't the best-behaved or smartest kid, butI wasn't destructive and I loved to read and write.  So they encouraged me in those areas and even showed interest in whatever happened to interest me at the time.

Cycling wasn't one of those interests, though.  It wasn't that I didn't like to ride:  The reason why they couldn't help or encourage me in those areas is that none of them rode.  Actually, through all of my pre-adult life, adults didn't ride bikes and most assumed that a kid would "grow out of it", probably upon getting his or her driver's license, or not long after.

Now, I don't know whether South Carolina elementary-school teacher Katie Blomquist pedals to her school, or anyplace else.  But she surely understands how much having a bike means to her kids.  She also knew that many of them, or their families, couldn't afford one.  

So, last summer, she decided she would play Santa Claus and make sure all of the kids in her school got a bike for Christmas.  She started a GoFundMe campaign that would raise $80,000.  Donations came from as far away as France and Australia.  In the meantime, she worked with a local bike shop called Affordabike to pick out color schemes and other aspects of the bikes.  Affordabike also provided the kids with matching locks and helmets.

Katie's Kids, if you will, didn't get their bikes for Christmas.  But yesterday the bikes, helmets and locks were delivered to the Pepperhill Elementary School in North Charleston, South Carolina.  The largesse wasn't limited to the pupils of her class:  All 650 Pepperhill pupils received the bikes, helmets and locks.

So, while they didn't get the Christmas gift every kid dreams of, their wheels are ready for the beginning of spring break--and summer.

Pepperhill is a Title 1 school, which means that it receives extra funding from the Federal government for its students, many of whom come from low-income families. But, for a day, they were all equal in the wealth of happiness they experienced--and the kindness of a teacher they, I am sure, will always recall fondly! 

30 March 2017

Keeping Kids Off Bike-Share Bikes

I haven't been to China.  At one time in my life, it was at the top of my "bucket list" of places to go.  That was after someone I knew spent a couple of months there about a quarter of a century ago.  She, like other visitors of the time, described it as a "land of bikes", where pedaled two-wheeled conveyances far outnumbered any other kind of vehicle "by about five hundred to one".  And she is an old-school New Englander who isn't given to exaggeration!

From what I heard, that started to change a few years later, as more Chinese people could afford automobiles.  I read accounts of bicycle-thronged streets that had become choked with cars ten or fifteen years later.  It seemed sad, but, really, no different from what happened decades earlier in the US and other places:  Once people had the means to drive, their bicycles were left to collect dust, or dropped in the dustbin.

These days, from what I've been reading, the bicycle has been making a "comeback".  A few years ago, Beijing's bike-share program seemed like a "bust", as automobiles came to be seen as not only symbols of prosperity, but as prerequisites to marriage, at least for some families.  But in cities like the Chinese capital, streets--particularly those in older neighborhoods--are narrow and in other ways ill-suited to automotive traffic.  Plus, thickening smog led to illness and in other ways degraded people's quality of life, and people found that their commutes were taking longer and longer due to snarled traffic.  

So the bicycle seems to be experiencing a renaissance in The Land of Dragons.  Beijing's bike share program is booming, as are those in other Chinese cities. (Of the world's 15 largest bike share programs, only two--those of Paris and London--aren't in China.)  And start-up companies like Mobike are eliminating the ports or docks other share programs use by offering an app that locates bikes that can be unlocked with a code that's sent to a user's phone.

Making bikes easier to access sounds great, at least for some people.  It has, however, led to some unintended consequences.  As someone who teaches and who didn't touch a computer until age 41, I know firsthand that kids are often more tech-savvy than their elders--in part because they have had access to the same devices, but at much earlier ages.

Using the Ofo bike-sharing app in Shanghai

Thus, a kid can access a bike-share or "Uber" bike as easily as anyone else can.  One problem is that Chinese law forbids children under the age of 12 from riding bikes on public roads.  But the consequences for a kid can be even worse than merely becoming a scofflaw:  Although bicycles are once again becoming a common sight, there is still a lot of motorized traffic on major thoroughfares, and even on side roads.  Adult Chinese cyclists, like their counterparts in other countries, have to exercise caution.  Even doing that, though, may not be enough to ensure a child's safety.

That point was driven home with the death of an 11-year-old boy in Shanghai.   While details of the tragedy haven't been revealed, we know that he was riding a bike from Ofo, one of the two main share companies in that city, on a busy road in the downtown area.  

Ofo is cooperating with the investigation and says it working on a way of deterring under-12s from using their bikes.  Some have suggested that the bright yellow color of its  machines (and the bright orange of Mobike, its rival) might entice young riders .  Others have said that Ofo, Mobike and anyone else who might enter the bike-sharing business should restrict access to their wheels in and around schools and other places frequented by children.

29 March 2017

A Parachute Jump From Wheels?

I love it when old bicycles get new life.  Whether it's a "period" or "showroom" restoration, or retrofitted with modern parts that suit the rider's purposes, I'm glad to see a nicely-crafted (or, at least, well-made) machine giving service and pleasure to someone.  At least it's not in a landfill!

I can't always say the same about old parts.  Some, I like and even prefer to new stuff.  But, really, unless you have almost any non-indexed SunTour derailleur, or one or two other "vintage" models I can think of, almost any modern derailleur will shift better--with or without indexing.  Used vintage cogs, chains, rims and spokes are often too worn or stressed for continued use.  And old tires, unless they've been stored properly, might be too brittle to ride.  

So what do you do with old parts?  Well, more than a few artists and crafts people make jewelry, sculptures and other objets from them.  Because there are so many such creations nowadays--many of which I like--I don't spend a lot of time writing about them.  But, every once in a while one of them will catch my eye.  

Jake Beckman made this 35-foot (11 meter) tall sculpture for the entrance to the Morgana Run Trail, which itself is "recycled":  It's built on a former Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway corridor in the Slavic Village neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio.  

Now, of course, you might be thinking Beckman's sculpture caught my attention because its color scheme is after my own heart.  That is one reason why, but I also couldn't help thinking about a structure I see in a place where I ride rather frequently:

I wonder whether Beckman knew about the Parachute Jump on the Coney Island boardwalk when he conceived of his totem.  

28 March 2017

Good Bicycle Infrastructure: Good For Seniors

On more than one occasion, I've railed against drivers who park in bike lanes--or even use them to pass when they think "the coast is clear".

I used to get annoyed with skateboarders, skaters and runners who use the lanes.  Lately, though, I have had more sympathy for them, in part because of someone I talked to when I stopped for a red light a few weeks ago.

He was pushing his wheelchair in the lane I was pedaling.  I suppose the sympathy I feel for someone in his situation is normal:  After all, who grows up wanting to spend his or her life that way?

Anyway, he was apologized for using the lane.  "Don't worry," I intoned.  "Just be safe."

"Why do you think I do this?"

"What do you mean?"

He explained that he wheels himself along bike lanes because, in some places, the sidewalks are "impossible" to use.  "They're broken, they have debris all over them."  But,he said, "at least here"--meaning in New York--"we have sidewalks".  In other places--"like Florida", he said--"there aren't any sidewalks".  As often as not, it means he has to wait for people to drive him around because "it's just too dangerous to wheel a chair along those roads."

I was reminded of my encounter with that man when I came across an article from Connect Savannah.  In the Georgia city's "New, Arts & Entertainment Weekly," John Bennett writes, "People who ride bikes on Lincoln Street are used to seeing other wheeled conveyances in the bike lane."  He is "not talking about the cars that are regularly parked there."  Rather, he observes, that "people who use wheelchairs, scooters, walkers and other mobility aids" rely on the bike lanes to "permit them to safely reach important destinations."  

From Connect Savannah

Bennett said that a tweet from Anders Swanson, a Winnipeg designer and the chairman of the Canada Bikes board of directors, included a video of a man in a motorized wheelchair to remind people that "It's far more than just cycling."  His message to politicians is that unless they "never plan to grow old", bike infrastructure "should be their #1 priority."

As Bennett points out, having a good bicycle infrastructure is not just about separating cyclists from traffic. The lanes--when designed well--calm traffic, "improving safety and the comfort level for people who use mobility aids".  The result, according to Swanson, is that people have choices in their mode of transportation.  As Bennett so eloquently puts it, lanes "allow people like me to ride a bike to work instead of driving."  And, he says, it "makes it possible for a person in a wheelchair to shop for groceries at Kroger's."  

In places like Savannah, "when drivers argue against bike lanes, wider sidewalks and other traffic-calming measures," he explains,"what they are truly afraid of is losing their ability to speed," he explains.  However, "the consequences of prioritizing convenience of motorists over safety are dire," he reminds us, "especially for seniors".  

The reasons?   A 30-year-old chance has a three percent chance of being killed if hit by a car travelling 20 miles per hour.  At age 70, the mortality rate is 23 percent.  And, as speeds increase, so does the death rate.  It's not unusual, Bennett says, for motorists to drive at 45 MPH on Savannah streets.  A 30 year-old has a 50/50 chance of surviving an encounter with a vehicle travelling at that speed.  For 70-year-olds, the mortality rates increase to 83 percent.

So, in brief, creating good bicycle infrastructure (and I emphasize "good" here) is synonymous with making cities safer for people who use walkers, wheelchairs or motorized scooters--or for senior citizens generally.  In addition to enticing more people like me to bike (rather than, say, drive) to work, it also gives senior citizens--and others who can't, or don't want to, drive-- the opportunity to live more active and satisfying lives.

27 March 2017

When You Can't See The Gates Of Hell (Or Hell Gate, Anyway).

My students are reading Dante's Inferno.  

As the narrator descends deeper into Hell, it gets darker. It's hard not to wonder how he doesn't stumble more often than he does.  I imagine it was more difficult for him to see when he passed through the Gates of Hell than it was when I rode by Hell Gate:

Yes, that is what I saw from the RFK Memorial Bridge while I rode into and out of showers on my way to work.  Somewhere in that mist are the Hell Gate Bridge as well as the Bronx and Westchester County.

When we started on Canto III--where the narrator and Virgil come to the Gate of Hell--I made a joke with my students.  "I'll tell you how to get to the Gate of Hell".

Then I advised them to go down the Grand Concourse, make a left at 138th Street (where the GC ends).  Then, they should go four blocks, take a right on St. Ann's Avenue, follow it to the end and take another left.  Pass under the RFK Bridge entrance and , underneath the railroad trestle (the Hell Gate Bridge), take a right to the Randall's Island Connector.  On the island, I told them, go left all the way to the water:  That stretch of the East River is known as Hell Gate.  

Most of my students don't live very far from the route.  Yet none realized that stretch is called Hell Gate.  And one student didn't even realize the post office in her neighborhood--the easternmost part of El Barrio, or East Harlem--is called Hell Gate Station (Zip Code 10035).

They think I'm dragging them through Hell in my class.  They are going to experience it only twice a week for a couple more weeks.  Me, I ride by it every day, on my way to meet them!

26 March 2017

When You Need Them

You know how it is:  Whenever you need a paper clip, you can't find one.

Same goes for a place to park your bike.  Whenever you really need to lock up, it seems all of the usable lamp posts, parking meters and such are taken.

But what if you need a paper clip and a parking space at the same time?

It just figures that this rack is in Washington, DC!

25 March 2017

With Bike-Friendly Cities Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

You know you're an adult when you make the same mistakes as your parents made. 

Sometimes it seems that policy-makers define "progress" in a similar way.  Your city is becoming as big, important and hip as the "big boys" when it emulates their policy and legislative blunders.

At least, it seems that way whenever a city wants to tout itself as "bicycle friendly".  Hardly a day goes by without my learning that some municipality or another tries to show that its affinity for bicycles and cyclists.  The other day Houston was making its declaration of love.  So was Durham, North Carolina.

The enlightened leaders of both metropoli seem to think an alliance with cyclists seems  to involve the same things.  One is "encouraging ridership", whatever that means.  Another is building more bike lanes.

Photo by Marlo Stimpson

The latter always seems to be accepted as the ultimate sign that someone's fair city really and truly wants to make the world--or, at least, its world--safe for cycling.  Surely, they believe, riding in a designated bike lane is better than riding in traffic.  Even if that lane is poorly maintained. Even if there's nothing to stop cars and trucks from parking in it. Even if it leads into a turn more dangerous than anything a cyclist would have to navigate from the main roadway.  Even if it ends, without warning, in the middle of a block.

Or even if that lane is a "contraflow" lane:  a one-way street turned into a roadway shared with bicycle traffic running in the opposite direction from the motor vehicle traffic.

Welcome, Durham, to the Pantheon of Bicycle-Friendly Cities in the United States.  With friends like you, we don't need enemies!

24 March 2017

No Matter What He Says, The Earth Isn't Flat!

Is she opining?  Or is she just whining?

That's a fair question to ask, sometimes. I am sure that I blurred, or even crossed, whatever line separates reasoned evaluation from mere complaint.

That line exists somewhere between recalling what was and lamenting that they aren't what they used to be.  I will attempt to straddle the line but will probably cross it with what I'm about to say.

Time was when being a celebrity meant being a kind of model for the public.  People--especially kids--listened to what they said and tried to emulate them; public figures acted accordingly.  Most of the time, anyway.  Today, though, it seems that being a celebrity is just a license to wear your silliness or stupidity--or display your vitriol--on your sleeve.  Or, as the folks in psychology might say, it gives you permission to live by your id.

During an election season that led to the coronation of hominem qui calumniatur, all some people could talk about was someone who got famous for being famous getting robbed of more than some developing countries own.  It is no wonder, then, that a celebrity who, not so long ago, would have been considered a world-class buffoon is considered to be a harmless side-show, or a cartoon cariacture, for embracing a notion that not even illiterates have espoused in half a millenium.

That notion is that the earth is flat.  And the celebrity who declared it to be a truth is none other than Shaquille O'Neal.

Now, just as El Presidente and Mrs. Kanye West (and, for that matter, Kanye West himself) have stayed in the public eye by being stupid, vulgar or, at times, simply gross, Shaquille's schtick, if you will, is his goofiness.  Even so, his declaration that our blue and green orb is shaped like a flapjack was even more ridiculous than anything else he's done.

From The Human Cyclist

To be fair, today "Shaq" walked back his absurd pronouncement.  Also, in the interests of fairness, I should point out that he is not the only one "who should have known better" but nonetheless made such a crazy declaration. There is, after all, a worldwide organization for those who still believe the notion that The Tall One embraced for three days.

Now, of course, as cyclists, we didn't need Columbus getting lost or photographs from space to prove to us the Earth isn't flat.  Some days, it seems as if we're always pedaling uphill!

23 March 2017

"Uber For Bicycles" Coming To Your Town?

As happy as I am to see bike-sharing programs, I have to admit that I haven't used one myself.  When I'm home in New York, I have my own bikes.  The Florida city where my parents live doesn't have a program and I have a bike (such as it is) there.  And, when I've traveled during the past few years I've rented bikes, even in cities (Paris and Montreal) that have share programs.

I rent bikes mainly for a few reasons.  One is that rental bikes are generally better than share bikes. Also, I figure that renting a bike is actually less expensive, given how much I ride, than using a share bike.  Finally, I would rather use my credit or debit card just once, when I pay the rental shop or agent, than to insert or swipe my card in a docking station every time I use a share bike. I'm no expert on cyber-security, but I reckon that the less often I have to use my card, the less vulnerable I am to theft.

But the main reason why I prefer to rent than to use a share system is that I like having the freedom to ride where I want, for as long as I want, without having to worry about finding a docking station.

Cyclists ride bike-share machines around Hangzhou's West Lake. 

During the past year a number of Chinese start-up companies, led by Mobike, have tried to solve the problem. Users of their services download an app that tells them where to find a bicycle, which they unlock by scanning the bike's code into their phones or using a combination they are sent. Then they can ride wherever they want or need to go, and leave their bikes wherever their trip ends.

Three years ago, Beijing's bike share program was deemed a bust.  Increasing affluence brought more cars, seen as symbols of prosperity, into the city and people started to see bicycles as primitive.  Now business is booming for the "Uber of bicycles", as the dockless bike program is called, in the capital as well as in other Chinese cities.

Share bikes piled up near entrance of Xiashan Park in Shenzhen.

In fact, some residents as well as officials complain that they can't park their own bikes when they ride to work, school or wherever because bikes from the dockless share program are parked, often haphazardly, in spaces designated for residents' bikes as well as in other areas--including, at times, the streets.  

Still, the proprietors of those startup companies want to export their service and expand the prosperity they have enjoyed.  They are looking at other Chinese cities, as well as municipalities in Europe and the US.  (Interestingly, of the world's fifteen largest bike share programs, thirteen are in China.  The other two are the ones in Paris, which comes in at number five, and London, which is twelfth.

While some would welcome an "Uber for bicycles", as the service is often called, others fear that they will suffer from the same problems of parking and congestion that are now seen in Chinese cities--especially since some of those places, like Hangzhou and Shanghai, have compact centers that contain historic districts with narrow streets.

N.B.:  Photos are from The Guardian.

22 March 2017

The Idaho Stop: A Women's Issue (Or: Does Obeying The Law Kill Us?)

I learn some interesting things from my students.

From one of them--a criminal justice major--I learned that the vast majority of crime is committed by males between the ages of 15 and 25.  After that age, the crime rate plummets, and there is an even more significant difference between the lawlessness of males and that of females.

Or, to put it another way, females are more law-abiding than males.  Of course, that usually works to our advantage, but there are instances in which it doesn't.

One of those areas in which it doesn't is in traffic law, as applied to cyclists.  In most municipalities, the law requires cyclists to stop for red lights, just as motorists do.  Of course, such laws are not evenly enforced:  A state highway cop in a rural or suburban area is more likely to give a summons for running a red light than an urban police officer, and in cities, Black or Hispanic cyclists are more likely to get tickets (or worse) than a White or Asian person on two wheels.

But, according to studies, women are, proportionally, far more likely than men to be run down by heavy transport vehicles while cycling in urban areas.  As an example, in 2009, ten of the thirteen people killed in cycling accidents in London were female.  Of those ten, eight were killed by "heavy goods vehicles", i.e., lorries or trucks.  That year, about three times as many men as women cycled in the British capital.

That stark reality reflected conditions described in a report leaked by The Guardian's "Transport" section.  According to that report, 86 percent of the female cyclists killed in London from 1999 through 2004 collided with a lorry.  In contrast, 47 percent of male cyclists killed on London streets met their fates with a truck.

In unusually blunt language for such a study, the researchers concluded, "Women may be over-represented (in collisions with goods vehicles) because they are less likely than men to disobey red lights." (Italics are mine.)  They, therefore, confirmed what many of us already know:  We are safer, particularly in areas of dense traffic or in the presence of heavy vehicles, if we get out in front of the traffic in our lane rather than wait for the green light--and run the risk of getting smacked by a right-turning vehicle.

A DePaul University study of Chicago cycling and traffic patterns made use of the British study and came to a similar conclusion.  More broadly, the DePaul researchers concluded that it would be more practical and safer to mandate the "Idaho stop" for cyclists.  

In essence, the "Idaho stop" means that cyclists treat red lights like "Stop" signs and "Stop" signs like "Yield" signs.  It allows cyclists to ride through a red light if there is no cross-traffic in the intersection.  

Believe it or not, Idaho enacted that law all the way back in 1982.  Since then, no other state has adopted it, although a few Colorado municipalities have enacted stop-as-yield policies since 2011.  Interestingly, a 2012 decree allows cyclists in Paris to turn right at--or, if there is no street to the right, to proceed straight through-- a red light as long as they excercise prudence extreme and watch for pedestrians. Three years later, that policy was modified to allow cyclists to treat certain stop lights (designated by signage) as "yield" signs as long as they are making right turns or going straight through "T" junctions.

The funny thing is that you don't hear or read the kinds of flat-earth rants about cyclists in the City of Light that we regularly find in American discourse.  And, it has seemed to me, cycling is generally safer than it is in New York or just about anyplace else in the US I've ridden.

Now, back to my original point:  Allowing the "Idaho Stop", or even the policies of Paris or those Colorado municipalities, is not only a cycling or transportation issue.  It's a women's issue!

21 March 2017

Happy Spring Equinox!

According to the calendar, today is the first full day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere.

The day is more or less springlike, at least weather-wise.  We had warmer weather a couple of weeks ago and last week, while the storm wasn't as intense as the forecasters predicted, snow fell and the temperature dropped, leaving sheets of ice on sidewalks and streets.

Tomorrow is supposed to be almost wintry, and there might be a warm-up next week.

I have noticed a few trees and flowers budding.  Soon we'll see more.  Now, if I move out of this country--as so many of us said we would if you-know-who was elected--I could go to the Netherlands, just to have a morning commute like this:

Then again, in a few weeks, I'll find vistas like this not so far from my apartment:

From The Province 

Crocuses, lilies, irises cherry blossoms:  They're all wonderful.  Best of all is biking by them.

Even if her "bike" has a 1200cc engine, I like the way the "Steel Cowgirl" welcomed the season last year:

Happy Spring Equinox, everybody!

By Michael Titherington.  From the Working Bikes Cooperative of Chicago

20 March 2017

A Menage A Trois Of Wolves?

Every culture has its odd and interesting ways of describing natural phenomena.  One of my favorites is the "mariage du loup".  The first time I heard it, I wondered what a wolf's wedding had to do with the weather I'd just experienced.  For that matter, I wondered whether wolves indeed had weddings:  Was there something I missed?

I was cycling near Chenonceau, which alone made me a very privileged individual at that moment. (Really, there are very few better places to ride!)  The weather that day created the sort of picture that every agence du tourisme likes to post on its websites or brochures:  a sea of sunflowers softly undulating a reflection of the sunlight that filled the clear blue sky.  

At least, that's what I saw until the early afternoon.  Then, I felt a couple of drops plip onto my arms.  For a moment, I thought it was sweat, as the air had warmed up.  But then I felt a few more drops on my legs, and on top of my head.  Those drops were falling from the sky--but the sun shone as brightly as it had earlier in the day!

That night, I described my ride to a hostel-keeper.  "Une mariage du loup," he said.  

Most of you,  I am sure, have experienced a "sunshower", perhaps during a ride.  Although I've experienced them here in New York, I think they're more common in more open areas, like the countryside I was touring when I experienced the "mariage du loup".

I encountered it again, sort of, yesterday afternoon:

My first ride since last week's snow took me to Randall's Island, where rain fell on me as the sun shone.  Well, actually, it wasn't rain:  The snow was melting from the railroad viaduct over my head.  

Now, if a train had rumbled overhead, I would have had a sun-thunder shower.  Would that be a menage a trois des loups?

19 March 2017

How Many Bikes Do You Have?

How do you explain this?

Is it the team van for a very low-budget operation?

Or is the driver (or a passenger) shopping for a bike and can't decide on one?

Or could there be another explanation?

Whatever it is, I hope the driver (and/or passnger(s)) are not part of a bike-theft ring!

18 March 2017

Bicycling While Black In The Windy City

Two decades ago, I was living on Bergen Street, on the northern side of Park Slope, Brooklyn.  I was midway between Fifth Avenue, then one of the area's main shopping strips, and Flatbush Avenue, one of Brooklyn's main throughfares. 

The latter street was often called, in a grim joke,  "The Mason-Dixon Line."  The difference between the two sides of the Aveune was literally black and white.  I ended up on the white side.  Some time after I moved there, I realized that all of the apartments the agent with whom I'd dealt showed me were on the side of Flatbush where I lived.  

The local precinct house was just on the other side.  I often heard stories about how differently each side was policed.   It was during that time I heard an expression that may be familiar to you: Driving While Black, or DWB for short.

Of course, the phenomenon was not limited to that neighoborhood--or, for that matter, to any particular American city, or to the US.  It's also not surprising to realize that there's a two-wheeled equivalent:  BWB, or Biking While Black.

From phmelody.com

Yesterday, an article by Chicago Tribune reporter Mary Wisniewski revealed that of the ten community areas with the most bike tickets from 2008 to September 2016, not a single one has a white majority of residents.  Seven of those neighborhoods have an African-American majority, while Latinos are the majority in the other three.

What must be most galling, particularly to Black and Hispanic cyclists in the Windy City, is that the neighborhoods with the greatest numbers of cyclists are mainly-white enclaves such as West Town and Lincoln Park, whose cyclists didn't come anywhere to getting as many summonses as those in such communities as Austin and North Lawndale.

But African-American cyclists are bearing the greatest burden of constabular harassment, according to Wisniewski.
"As Chicago police ramp up their ticketing of cyclists," she writes,  "more than twice as many citations are being written in African-American communities than in white or Latino areas."

Some law enforcement officers and commanders repeat an argument I have heard before and is condescending or simply insulting, depending on your point of view.  In essence, they say people in low income (which usually means African or Hispanic) communities are less educated and therefore more ignorant of the rules of the road.  But others, including cycling advocates, point out there are simply more cops on the streets because of their higher crime rates, so there are more opportunities to stop cyclists in such neighborhoods.

Whatever the explanation, such tactics can only worsen relations between the police and non-white residents in a city where, by many accounts, such relations are worse than in most other cities.

And don't get me started on relations between cops and cyclists--or trans women!

17 March 2017

Shay Elliott and The Roches On St. Patrick's Day

Today is St. Patrick's Day.  Here is a message for the President whose name I dare not say:

Actually, it might be even more appropriate for the guy he appointed to direct the Environmental Protection Agency!

Yes, "Go Green" on St. Patrick's Day!  And every other day of the year.  That might just be a good all-around political philosophy.  Forget the Democrats and Republicans. Go Green!

Today is as good a day as any to think about the great Irish cyclists.  I am one of the many people who regard Stephen Roche as the greatest of all.  He remains, to date, the only Irishman to win the Tour de France and one of the few from any nation to achieve a "Triple Crown" with victories in the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana in 1987.  In addition, he won or placed highly in a number of "classics" and proved himself in a wide variety of courses, from mountains to time trials.  

The reason why he will never have the status of Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Mercx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain--whom I, like many other fans, see as the "Big Four"--is that his career was cut short by a chronic knee problem.  But the reason why he's beloved is that probably no other racer's form was as graceful as his.  He really was, to use a cliche, poetry in motion.

Roche, Sean Kelly and every other Irish rider owes a debt to Shay Elliott.  In 1963, he became the first Irishman to win the maillot jaune, which he wore for three days during that year's Tour.  


Unfortunately for him, his career spiraled downward because of financial and marital problems.  Worse, he became a pariah in the peloton when he sold a story to a newspaper about drug-taking in the sport.  Two weeks after his father died, he was found dead in the living quarters above the family business premises.  The cause of his death, at age 36, was a gunshot wound.

The Route de Chill Mhantain, a race held every May, was named for Elliott after his death.  It's considered the most prestigious race in Ireland besides the national championships.

About the Irish Road Race and Time Trial Championships:  Last year, they were won by a fellow named Nicolas Roche.  Yes, he's Stephen's son.

16 March 2017

Collecting 200 Years Of Bikes

There are all sorts of great reasons to visit the Bourgogne region of France.  There are the food and wine, of course.  If you're interested in art, history or architecture, the place is a treasure-trove.  And the cycling is great.  I know:  three of my bike tours included excursions to the area.

Speaking of which:  In 2010, la Musee du Velo opened in the town of Tournus, which is also home to l'Eglise de Saint Philbert, one of the oldest and best surviving examples of Romanesque architecture.  Earlier, the Musee had been in nearby Cormatin, where it closed due to financial reasons in 2007.  

I saw the museum in its earlier location.  France is known for such monumental museums as the Louvre and Orsay, but small, quirky places like the Musee du Velo are found all over the country.  (If you're in Saumur, you simply must check out the Musee du Champignon. Really!)  

One of the things that makes the Musee du Velo so interesting is its collection.  It includes a version of the hobby-horse Karl van Drais created 200 years ago and is considered, by some, to be the first bicycle.  

Another fascinating artifact is this brake on an 1869 bike:

I hear someone's still trying to break that saddle in!

There are also a number of penny-farthing (high-wheel) machines and one of the first Tour de France bikes to use a derailleur in 1937, when such mechanisms were first permitted in the Tour.

I got a kick out of this 1938 triplet

with its drop bars in front and two moustache bars (No, Grant Petersen didn't invent them!) for the "stokers".  If you want to turn your kids into tandem riders, there is this:

If their legs tire out, let one of them ride this 1950 machine

which can be propelled by pumping the handlebars from side to side!

In addition to these and other bikes, the museum has a fantastic collection of Tour de France memorabilia, items from chinaware to match boxes with images of bicycles and cyclists, and what might be the most beautiful collection of bicycle bells in the world.

The museum's collection might be said to have begun with this:

which was used by a fellow named Michel Grezaud.  He was a butcher in the area during the 1950s who used that trike to make deliveries.

He is also the one who amassed the museum's collection and, with his wife Josette, founded the original museum.  Sadly, he did not live to see it in its new location.

15 March 2017

Thinking About The Bicycle

Go to any residential college or university--or even to some commuter schools--and you will see racks full of bikes.  Where racks are lacking, bikes will be locked to lamp posts, fences and any other stationary object.

It's likely that the majority of those bikes belong to students.  Administrators don't seem to ride much, but more than a few faculty members (including yours truly) pedal from their homes to their campuses. 

Given how many bikes and riders are on American post-secondary campuses, it's astounding that so little academic attention is paid to them.  I don't recall any course about any aspect of bicycles or bicycling--or even any class that mentions them in any way--offered in any of the schools in which I've studied or taught.

Among that rare breed of academic offerings is something with an unlikely title.  At least, the first part is unlikely--for a college class, anyway:  Cars Are Coffins:  Ideologies of Transportation, offered at Adrian College in Michigan.

The emphasis is, of course, on the second part of the title.  The course in question "draws attention to how decisions we make concerning mobility and the design of our public environments have profound implications for how we understand community and identity," according to Scott Elliot, one of the course's instructors.  A study of such matters is important, he says, because it provides an "opportunity to discuss matters of justice, ethics and quality of life."

What makes that course unique (to my knowledge, anyway) is that it includes work in a bicycle shop.  The students dismantle, repair and reassemble bicycles, in part to make them intimately familiar (if they aren't already) with the mode of transportation they're studying.  Another reason for this work is that it brings students into contact with people and communities they might not otherwise encounter.  You see, the shop in which they work isn't selling carbon fiber machines with five-figure price tags to investment bankers.  Rather, it's ReBicycle, located in the same town as the college.

Adrian College senior Scott Campbell works on a donated bicycle under the guidance of  Scott Dedenbach, a professional mechanic who volunteers at ReBicycle.  Photo by Mark Haney of the Daily Telegram.

Like similar shops in other locales (such as Recycle-A-Bicycle, which I've mentioned in this blog), ReBicycle refurbishes used bikes donated to them.  Some of those bikes are sold; others are earned by people--including some students--who take their classes and volunteer in the shop.  Places like ReBicycle and RAB, as a result of such work, serve a wider cross-section of a community--from people who see bikes strictly as a form of transportation to those who cycle for fun, and a few as a religion--than bike boutiques.  

Elliott and fellow Adrian professor Tony Coumondourous taught a smaller but similar course for two years.  That effort helped to bring about Bruiser's Cruisers, the campus bike sharing program.  The increasing demand for the service and what the class was teaching were among the factors that motivated Elliott to continue and expand the course this year.

Another thing that spurred him on was an experience he had last July: "I was nearly killed when I was hit by a drunk driver while riding my bicycle".  If such an experience doesn't highlight how auto-centric transportation planning and infrastructure are (at least here in the US), I don't know what does.  

Interestingly, neither Elliott nor Coumondouros has any formal education or training in urban planning or engineering.  They are both professors of Philosophy and Religion:  Elliott is a Bible scholar and literary theorist, while Coumondouros is a specialist in ancient and political philosophy, the history of philosophy--and ethics.  So, not surprisingly, students in the bicycle course come from a wide variety of majors and backgrounds.

Talk to any scholar and educator, and he or she will probably tell you the purpose of research and education is not to "know stuff".  Rather, it is helping people to learn ways of thinking about a number of topics, including some students may not have previously considered.  From what I can see, Coumondouros and Elliott are doing that for their students, precisely because they had to do it for themselves.