31 December 2017

Another Stage Of The Journey

Another year is about to end.  Again!

I'm glad you've followed me on this journey through 2017--and the previous seven years of this blog.  I hope you'll travel with me into 2018.

Thank you!

Wonder wheel

I'm still a little bit under the weather.  But I'm getting better.  I even managed to go for a ride with Bill.

After the ride, at his apartment, he showed me his bike rack and we talked about the challenges of fitting multiple bikes in NYC dwellings.

Although it probably wouldn't fit into either of our apartments, I'd like this rack:

I hope you enjoy the last "Sunday funny" of this year!

30 December 2017

In A City That Never Sleeps, Should Its Bike-Share Program Take A Rest?

One of Frank Sinatra's best-known recordings is his cover of the theme song from Martin Scorsese's "New York, New York".  One of the most famous lines in that song goes, "I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps."

Of course, The Big Apple was known as "The City That Never Sleeps" long before Sinatra recorded that song, or Scorsese made the movie.  Many things in this town operate 24/7.  One of them is the mass-transit system.  To my knowledge, Chicago is the only other US city where the trains and buses run 'round-the-clock.  Even such metropoli as Paris and London, where the buses operate at all hours, shut down their subway systems for a few hours every day.

While we New Yorkers take pride in a subway system that never sleeps, not many of us use it between one and five a.m.--the hours when, as it happens, the Paris Metro trains don't run.  Of course, most of the people who use it during those hours work night shifts and, as often as not, don't make a lot of money.  (Many of them are immigrants.)  Still, I can understand why the folks who run this system and the city question the wisdom of running subways all night:  A train costs as much to operate from three to four a.m. as it does from six to seven p.m, but carries far fewer passengers.  

Those nearly-empty subway cars in the wee hours are one reason why the newest Regional Plan, released last month, suggests that the 24/7 subway system should become 24/3, with the trains running at all hours on weekends, when ridership is greatest.  Another reason why such a scheme is being proposed is that it would make it easier to do much-needed maintenance and, in some cases, rebuilding.  That is what happens in Paris, London and other cities that shut down their trains in the pre-dawn hours.

So...How does the question of whether mass transit systems should run 24/7 relate to a bike-share program in Port Huron, Michigan?

Well, that town is shutting down its bike-share program for a few weeks.  One reason is that, "We've seen a dramatic drop-off" in usage "since the second week in October,"  according to Dave McElroy.  The general manager and finance director of Blue Water Area Transit, which runs the program, says that the bikes will be stowed away in early January and brought back around the first week of March.

Statue of young Thomas Edison in front of the Blue Water Bridge, Port Huron, Michigan

Why have fewer people used the bikes since October?  The same reason why fewer people, in general, ride bikes in places like Port Huron:  the days get shorter, the weather turns colder, and snow soon follows.  Climatic conditions are another reason why the bikes are being stored:  In most bike share programs, the bikes are outdoors most, if not all, of the time.  That leaves them vulnerable to the ravages of snow, sleet, rain and other elements.

And, I would imagine, shutting down the program would allow the program's employees or volunteers the time to inspect, maintain and repair bikes.

So...I now wonder whether other cities where bike ridership is seasonal might consider following Port Huron's example in shutting down their bike share programs for a few weeks during the winter.  

But...If we were to do that here in New York, would we still be a "city that never sleeps"?

29 December 2017

When It's Gone In Tucson: You Have A 3 Percent Chance

I feel like somebody broke my leg.

Tucson, Arizona resident Leif Abrell voiced what many of us felt when a bicycle was stolen from us.  He lost his custom-made mountain bike in the wee hours of 28 September.  Like most bike-theft victims, he didn't see that his trusty steed was gone until it was too late:  A noise woke him and he noticed the door to his carport was open.  He checked to see whether anything valuable was missing, but in his groggy state, it didn't occur to him to look in the dining room of his midtown home.  When he did, he saw that his treasured bike was missing.  And he found a much-inferior bike deserted on the side of the street next to his house.

The rest of his story is also all-too-familiar to those of us who've had our wheels whisked away:  He reported his loss to the police.  While he "didn't have high hopes" for recovering his bike, he clung to "some hopes that something would happen," he recounted.  Alas, "nothing really happened," he said.

I learned of Abrell's ordeal from an article on Tucson.com.  According to that same article, 1200 bike thefts have been reported to police in "The Old Pueblo".  Only about three percent of those cases ended in arrests of suspected thieves and, worse, there's really how many stolen bikes are returned to their rightful owners.  As in most cities, the police don't track that.

Perhaps most disheartening of all, 63 percent of this year's bike theft cases were marked as "cleared", meaning they reached some sort of conclusion. Why is that disheartening?  Well, most of those cases were closed because there wasn't enough evidence to continue an investigation.  

Everything I've mentioned confirms something known to most of us who have had bikes stole:  Once it's gone, you'll probably never see it again.

Chris Hawkins, a Tucson police spokesman, echoed a common refrain in explaining why it's so difficult to track stolen bicycles:  In most places, "bicycles don't need to be registered like vehicles."  And, he says, bicycle owners rarely record serial numbers, which can be entered into databases for access by owners of second-hand shops and other establishments where stolen bikes might end up. 

The lack of such records, Hawkins says, is one reason why, even when bikes are retrieved by cops and find their way to the evidence room, they are seldom re-united with their owners.  

While Hawkins makes good points, the cynic in me (I am a New Yorker, after all) wonders whether some police departments would actively pursue bike a bike theft even if they had serial numbers and other records.  While some officers, like some people in other professions and jobs, simply don't care, others are simply overwhelmed by competing priorities and directives. 

Sometimes I think one has the best hope of getting a stolen bike back if a shop owner or mechanic recognizes it--or if its owner encounters it on the street.

28 December 2017

Driving Drunk + Hitting Cyclist = 28 Days

Woman Sentenced to Jail for OWI After Hitting Teen on Bicycle

Although I wasn't happy to hear about another cyclist hit by a car, I was somewhat heartened, if only for a moment, when I read "Woman Sentenced".  Too often, motorists who hit and injure, or even kill, cyclists get off scot-free--or don't get much more than the proverbial "slap on the wrist."

Unfortunately, the latter was actually the case for the woman in the headline.  Yes, she is going to jail--for 28 days.  Now, if she had been like the driver who stayed at the scene after smacking into a 14-year-old Guatemalan boy in Brooklyn last month, I might have thought the sentence too harsh.  But there are other, shall we say, mitigating circumstances.

Those circumstances include the fact that she left the scene--and that she was intoxicated.  But, oh, no, this isn't an isolated incident in her resume:  This is her third drunk driving arrest.

Karen Nugent

Karen Nugent probably knew that she was facing serious time--say, five years, which is what the law allows for someone with her record in Michigan, where she smacked into that teenager.  So she pleaded guilty and got a deal:  The charges were reduced to a second-offense Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) and not stopping at the scene of an accident.  

I don't know whether I am more upset at Ms. Nugent--or the judge in Benzie County who made the deal with her.

27 December 2017

Women Cycling For The Environment--In India

Teaching a Women's Studies course during the past semester got me to thinking about the ways in which feminism--however you define it--is tinged with some of the cultural biases feminists have tried to fight.  I have to admit that I brought some of those attitudes and assumptions into my own thinking about gender equality and the ways in which I define myself as a feminist.

I noticed at least one of those unconscious biases while reading one of the best-researched, and most impassioned, papers I read this semester. It was, among other things, an argument that a universal single-payer health care system is the only kind that can help to erase some of the inequalities between men's and women's health care.

The student who wrote the paper hails from Burkina Faso and came to class in a hijab. She expressed her belief that there was nothing incompatible between her religion, Islam, and her wish to bring about gender equality. Another student, who made a slide-show about female infanticide in her native country (Pakistan) as well as other countries like China, expressed a similar belief.

I have to admit that sometimes I still think that the most forward-thinking people when it comes to women's rights are in secular Western democracies. And I admit that I prefer, and probably always will prefer, living in one.

But I must say that some of the most interesting things--including bike rides--undertaken by women have been, lately, in countries where we are supposedly more "oppressed."  One such nation is India.  Now, know some very strong, intelligent and independent Indian women.  And they are some of the most educated women to be found anywhere.  Still, I rarely see one on a bicycle, at least here in New York, or the United States.

That is why I was so impressed to read about a group of 13 cyclists, 10 of whom are women, on a ride through western India.  They left Pune last week and plan ton cover 1500 kilometers (about 1000 miles) in 16 days before they end up in Kanniyakumari on 3 January.  Along the way, they will pass through a number of cities containing some of the most sacred Hindu and other religious monuments, as well as any number of World Heritage sites--not to mention some beautiful mountain, river and sea coast vistas.

Cyclists in Pune, just before they embarked on their ride.

They are riding, in part, to bring attention to some of those natural and man-made wonders.  Why?  Well, India is one of the world's fastest-growing economies:  According to a report I heard this morning on BBC World News, India will leapfrog England and France (ironically, the countries that colonized it) to become the world's fifth-largest economy in 2018.  All of that development means more motorized traffic, cell towers, factories and mines--which mean, of course, more pollution.  Indian cities have some of the world's worst air quality, and, since wind does not stop at a city line, the smog and other pollution are spreading and threatening some of the world's most awe-inspiring sights, not to mention the health of humans and other living beings.

One of the things I learned in the research I did for the class is that in India and other developing countries, women are leading, or at least are giving much of the momentum, to environmental movements.  Of course, part of my own cultural arrogance led me to believe that such nations "don't care about the environment", seduced as they are by their newly-created wealth.  In addition to being disabused of such notions, I have learned that concern for the environment has been spurred, in India, China and other places, by feminists.  They see--to a degree that almost no one, male or female, in the Western world can--that environmental issues are women's issues. And children's issues.  And that men will be better off if women and children are.

And the bicycle is, if you will, a vehicle for delivering such equality--just as Susan B. Anthony said it was more than a century ago.

26 December 2017

Boxing Day Bicycle

George Bernard Shaw once quipped that England and the US are two countries separated by a common language.

He had a point.  After all, there are specific words we use and they don't, or vice versa. And, of course, there are words and expressions that have different meanings when they are used on one side or another of the Atlantic.  Also, I think we use our language in very different ways, and for very different purposes, from the way it's used on what James Baldwin called the "damp little island."  That, of course, would take a book or two to describe.

Anyway, I'm going to talk about one expression in particular:  Boxing Day. Say it to an American, and it would probably conjure up an afternoon--a Saturday, probably--when men and, possibly, a few boys, go to an arena to see pugilists engaged in their metier.  At least, that's what I thought the first time I heard the expression--from my aunt, who hails from a town across the river from Manchester--many years ago.

She, of course, was referring to today--the day after Christmas, which is celebrated as a holiday in her native land.  It's also observed in just about every country that ever was ruled by the Crown--with the exception, of course, of the good ol' Yoo-Ess-Ayy!

The origins of the day are debated, but most authorities seem to agree that it was a day on which servants, house maids, delivery boys and post men received gifts or gratuities. Since most such workers worked on Christmas Day, they were given the following day off to spend with their families, and were sent off with boxes containing gifts.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Halfords and other retailers hold major sales on that day.   Here in the US, it always seemed to be the day people went to exchange gifts--which, of course, were often in boxes.  

So, I guess, we did keep at least part of the traidition--that of carrying boxes.  Thus, Ann Stuart-Teter had the right idea when she dubbed this photo "Boxing Day Bicycle":

24 December 2017

What Do We Have In Common?

The virus was kind. Or, at least, it was courteous:  It delayed its gratification.  It could have made me really, really sick more than a week ago.  Instead, it decided to wait until I finished my semester.  Not that I was feeling great as I graded all of those papers and exams:  I was functioning just well enough for that, but not much else.

So now that I'm finished until next month, I still haven't been riding.  It has nothing to do with the weather, which has been cold, but not unseasonably so:  last week's snow is gone.  It also has nothing to do with the shorter hours of daylight:  I have my blinkies and other safety equipment. And I do have one thing in common with Santa's most famous reindeer.

Yes, my nose is red.  But it won't guide any sleighs or bikes or much of anything else besides my sneezes.  

Since I can't ride, or do much else, I will try to find out what, exactly, gave Rudolph his red nose.  Surely it wasn't my virus!

23 December 2017

A Huracan vs A Housewife

There are reasons why police departments all over the world have bicycle patrols.  The main one is that an officer pedaling two wheels can reach places, such as congested downtown streets and alleyways of campuses, inaccessible to the cop with his or her foot on a gas pedal.  And, the constable on two wheels can get to a scene more quickly than his or her counterpart in a motorized vehicle.

What most police department brass don't know, however, is that one of its officer's legs can generate 573 horsepower on a bicycle. 

All right.  That's just a slight exaggeration.  In this one instance, however, a Japanese cop on a bike was a match for 573 horsepower of Italian automotivery. (All right, I made up that last word.)  Or, at least, those 573 horses--costing more than a lovely Louisiana abode that wouldn't look out of place in Gone With The Wind--couldn't escape from justice delievered from the seat of "a housewife-style chari bike.

For years, I've heard that red cars are more frequently pulled over than vehicles of any other color.  It makes sense: If you're going to speed, make illegal turns or do almost anything else you shouldn't be doing while driving, you're more likely to be caught if you catch an officer's eye while doing it.  And, of course, you are more likely to get such unwanted attention if your car has a bright, eye-catching hue.   

Now, of course, if you're buying a Lamborghini, you're probably not trying to be inconspicuous. So, of course, you'll go for a color like the bright orange of the Huracan in the video.  But even if that car had been painted in primer gray, its driver wouldn't have escaped the cop on the "housewife" bike.  Why?  Well, that cop had the law on his side.  No, I'm not talking about Japanese traffic code:  I mean the law of gravity.  

So, if you are contemplating whether to treat yourself to a sports car or a bike, just read this post--and watch the video! 

22 December 2017

R.I.P. The Bicycle Chef

A few days ago, I wrote about Stephen Ambruzs' bike shop/ cafe, "Downshift", and how it--and other bike cafes--could be affected by the repeal of "net neutrality."

Today, nearly any municipality with a community of a few hundred or more cyclists has at least one place where you can have espresso or Earl Grey--or even a craft beer or cider--and chat, check your e-mail or check out some books and magazines while your brakes are being adjusted.  It's sometimes hard to believe that just a decade ago, very few such places existed.

One of the first bicycle cafes--or, at least, one of the first places to bill itself as such--opened in Sacramento (near Davis), California in 2005.  Business owners, especially restaurateurs, often name their enterprises after themselves.  Well, the fellow who started the bicycle cafe I'm about to mention did just that--well, sort of.  Bicycle Chef was indeed begun by someone who was a bicycle racer--Category II, to be exact--and a certified chef.

Actually, by the time he started the cafe, he was no longer racing:  a back injury ended his career. But he never gave up his passion for pedaling:  He continued to ride and coach young riders--as well as football (soccer) players--even as the responsibilities of his business and family took up most of his time.

Christopher Davis-Murai with his wife, Jennifer Davis-Murai, and their children, Naomi and Toshiro.

It never seems fair that, like the rest of us, such a person has only a limited amount of time in this world.  For Christopher Davis-Murai, that amount of time totaled 51 years, and it ended last Thursday when he collapsed just after stepping outside his house. 

Jennifer Davis-Murai has just lost her husband, and Naomi and Toshiro their father.  Many others in their community lost a mentor and friend.  And, many of us could say we've lost a pioneer who helped to create an idea--a bicycle cafe--that is part of today's cycling landscape.

21 December 2017

Tosca Returns

You've seen her before:

Soon you'll see her all dressed up.

Yes, she's Tosca.  She absconded a few weeks ago and now she's back.  

Well, we all know that if we let our friends out of our sight for a while, they change.  I shouldn't be surprised. ;-)

Because It Isn't Easy Being Green....

By now, I'm sure you've heard that it's possible to balance an egg on its narrow end at the moment of Spring Equinox.

I've never tested that theory/rumor.  I don't think I ever will:  If I have to break an egg, I want to get an omelet out of it.

Anyway, Spring Equinox is three months today. Today, of course, is Winter Solstice.  Now, whether it's possible to balance anything at the moment the North Pole is closest to the sun (the definition of the Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere), I don't know.  

I am sure, however, that other things will balance just fine:

20 December 2017

Chasing Zero In The Emerald City

Nearly four years ago, Bill de Blasio began his first term as Mayor of New York City.  One of his first major acts was to implement Vision Zero, a project with the goal of eliminating traffic fatalities.  It began in Sweden two decades ago and, since then, most European nations, as well as Canada, Japan and other countries, have adopted it.  So have a number of US cites besides New York.

One such city is Seattle.  The stated goal of the Emerald City is zero fatalities by 2030.  Casualties have certainly decreased since its implementation, but questions remain as to how much this reduction has to do with the program itself or the demographics of the city.

by Gabriel Campanario, The Seattle Times

To its credit, Seattle has achieved decreases in traffic casualties, particularly among pedestrians and cyclists, even though it is the fastest-growing large city in the nation.  It has among the largest percentages of commuters who cycle or walk to work among large cities, though those percentages have remained unchanged since 2012 and had changed little for several years before it. It should be noted, however, that mass transit usage has increased at a faster pace than the population growth, in part because of changes to bus routes and new light-rail stations in key locations.

It's also interesting to compare Seattle's statistics with those of other comparably-sized cities.  In 2016, the number of police-reported traffic collisions increased to 11,603 from 10,930 in 2015.  That followed a decade of steady decreases in both the number of collisions (15,744 in 2005) and the collision rate per traffic volume (79.4 to 55.5 from 2005 to 2015).  The 2016 collisions resulted in more serious injuries than those in 2015, but in 20 fatalities, compared to 21 in 2015.  In all, five pedestrians and three cyclists were killed in 2016:  both numbers were down by one from the previous year.  

(It should also be noted that 23 percent of the 2015 fatalities occurred in just one crash on the Aurora Bridge.)

While one fatality is too many, I think it's fair to let Seattle take some pride in its numbers.  While it witnessed a total of eight fatalities among cyclists and pedestrians, in Nashville, with roughly the same number of people, 50 cyclists and pedestrians died in traffic crashes.  Meanwhile, Washington DC and Portland OR, with slightly fewer people than Seattle, had 26 and 13 such deaths, respectively.  And, in the same year, my hometown of New York, which has about twelve times the population, recorded 162 deaths (18 cyclists and 144 pedestrians).

Will any city or country ever reach "zero"?  If so, which will be first?  If not, which will come closest?

19 December 2017

Quicker In Queensland: Bicycle Ambulances

Police departments have long known that some "beats" can be more effectively patrolled by bicycle than in motor vehicles.  Such places include downtown areas, housing complexes, college campuses and almost any place where tourists and pedestrians congregate.  In such places, narrow streets or paths are difficult to navigate, or simply inaccessible, for motor vehicles, so an officer on two wheels can arrive more quickly than one who is behind a wheel.

Less common are ambulance bicycle fleets.  I am guessing it's because the idea so rarely occurs to anyone who decides on such things:  My searches have not yielded any reports of any city or other jurisdiction trying it and deciding it was a bust.

However, I have found out that in the Queensland, Australia city of Gold Coast, bicycle ambulances have been responding to calls in the Surfers Paradise and Broad Beach tourist zones.  The program is seen as so successful that the nearby city of Brisbane is launching a similar service. 

Gold Coast Bicycle Response Team

Officials hope that the Gold Coast and Brisbane paramedics on bikes will help to ease the extra burdens that will no doubt be placed on local emergency services when the 2018 Commonwealth Games are held in Gold Coast.  One sign that this is possible, and that the benefits of paramedics on bikes could extend well beyond the games, is that the average response time for a cycling paramedic has been, on average, eight minutes faster than that of an ambulance in a motor vehicle, according to Jane McDonald, one of the paramedics.  She recounts, as an example, a bicycle response team arriving four minutes after an anaphylaxis patient making a call.

Ms. McDonald herself might have something to do with those times:  After all, she raced and was considered one of her country's elite female cyclists.

18 December 2017

How A Stolen Bike Became The Gift That Gave Back

By now you know that I have a soft spot for people who, in whatever ways, bring bikes to kids who couldn't otherwise afford them.

Most of the stories I've posted so far are about individuals or organizations who restore old bikes that might otherwise have ended up in a landfill.   Some started out as one-person operations and mushroomed into local non-profit organizations.

Well, today I'm going to tell you about a kid who gave his bike to another kid, and whose family helped out that other kid's family at the holidays.  And there's a particularly interesting "twist" to this story.

Fifty years ago, on Christmas Eve 1967, 18-year-old William Lynn Weaver was walking around in his neighborhood, the Mechanicsville area of Knoxville, Tennessee.  He saw another boy gliding down the street on a bike.  "Boy, that looks like my brother's bike," he thought.

When he got home, he asked his younger brother Wayne whether he knew where his bicycle was.  "It's down on the steps," he replied.  Except that it wasn't.

William Lynn Weaver with his brother in 1963.

Well, Mr. Weaver tracked down the kid who took his brother's bike--to an unlit shack in an alley--and planned to confront the kid.  But his father, who accompanied him, told him,"Just shut up and let me talk."

He knocked on the door.  An elderly man answered.  Inside, the shack was cold and dark, with only a single candle for light.  It turned out that the thief was indeed the old man's grandson.

He and William took the bike and walked home.

The father told the mother, who was cutting a turkey, about the incident.  She said nothing, but packed up some of the food.  Then "my father went to the coal yard and got a bag of coal," William recalls.  Then his father looked at his brother and said, "You've got another bike, don't you?"  The brother nodded, and the three of them returned to the shack with the food, coal and bike.  

The father handed over $20--not an inconsiderable sum in those days--and said, "Merry Christmas."  The man broke down in tears.

William Lynn Weaver today.

As William explains, his family wasn't as badly-off as the boy and man who lived in the shack, but they didn't have much, either.  "My father was a chauffeur, and my mother was a domestic," he explained.  "That Christmas, I don't remember what gift I got, but I do know that [giving to the boy and his grandfather] made me feel better than any Christmas I've ever had."

Ah, the power of a bike...

17 December 2017

When Does Size Matter?

If something has two wheels and pedals, and nobody rides it, is it still a bicycle?

What if it's too small for anybody to ride?

I got to thinking about those questions when I saw this sign:

Can something be "extra large" or "jumbo" and still be a shrimp?

16 December 2017

One Way The Repeal Of Net Neutrality Affects Us

The other day, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to get rid of "net neutrality", which prevented internet service providers (ISP) from blocking, or drastically slowing the uploads, from other ISPs.

Most people I know who don't own ISPs (OK, I don't know anyone who does!) don't like this.  Most agree that it will lead to poorer-quality service at higher prices and severely impact those who live in areas that have only one ISP.

OK.  So how, you ask, does it afffect cycling?  Well, since I don't use electronic devices while I ride, I couldn't tell you.  I did learn, however, of ways it could affect people in the bike business.

Stephen Ambruzs is one of them.  He recently realized a longtime dream when he opened Downshift, a bicycle cafe with AirBnb lodgings upstairs, in Roanoke, Virginia.

Of course, since so many people, particularly the young, use the internet for everything from answering e-mails to, well, finding information about bike-related stuff and issues, it's easy to see how the repeal of net neutrality would take a bite out of that part of his business.  He points out, however, it would negatively impact his sales of bikes, parts and accessories, as well as his repair business.  

Stephen Ambrusz and employee greet customer at Downshift.

Today, he explains, most people--again, particularly the young--find shops like his by using apps on their "smart" phones.   And he just happens to be in an area that has only one ISP.  Encumbering access to sites that are not part of the ISP might keep some people from finding his shop.

Now, Donald Trump probably wasn't thinking about cycling when he appointed his acolytes to the FCC board. (Actually, he doesn't think much about cycling at all, except to denigrate particular people, like John Kerry, for engaging in it.)  But it seems that almost every one of his actions, or those of his appointees, has been bad for us.

Of course, many other small business owners will be similarly hurt by the repeal of net neutrality.  But, as a cyclist, I have a soft spot for folks like Ambruzs and want to see them succeed.

15 December 2017

Angels Across America

One thing I learned about myself early on is that cynicism comes easily, sometimes too easily, for me.  So I try to look for the things that give me realistic hopes about the world.  That's better than waiting for events like Roy No-Moore in Alabama to strike like a sugar rush that, ineveitably, leaves me feeling let-down after the initial euphoria dies down.

Well, today, I didn't have to look far to find good news.  You see, I decided to type "bicycle news" into a Google search bar to see what ideas I could come up for today's post.  And, wouldn't you know it, the first four entries under "news" were about people or programs that were giving bikes to needy kids for Christmas.

Burbank Bike Angels

I have written about such people and programs before.  But I am seeing now that there are even more than I realized, including the Burbank Bike Angels in the Los Angeles area, the Davenport (Iowa) Friendly House--which gives away bikes restored by inmates in the local jail.

Naiomia Jenkins receives a bike at the Davenport Friendly House

I want to make special mention of Ann Mathis in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  Yes, that town has something besides Fort Bragg, although it might be hard to know that sometimes.  (I know; I've been there.)  The people are great, but even in such an environment, someone like Ms. Mathis stands out.

Ann Mathis, with some of "her" kids.

As did her husband, Moses.  For 27 years, he ran an operation that restored bikes and, a few days before Christmas, allowed kids to choose them, without any adults present.  "Moses would turn over in his grave if I had the parents come in here and pick a bike," she explained.  "That is the truth."

She has been running the operation since Moses Mathis died in July of 2013.  When the kids pick a bike, they are given a gift bag to go along with it. Those bags include things like shoes, socks, hats and gloves, which nearly all of the children need, as well as "something educational," according to volunteer Ada Johnson.  Over the years, she estimates, they have given about 17,000 bags.

Another volunteer, Keith Melvin, has been restoring bikes for the past six years.  It isn't always easy, he says, "to make a new bike new" but "we get it done."  All they have to do, he said, is go into their storeroom and "find the parts."

They are part of a community of people who bring Christmas cheer to needy kids. They all are motivated by the delight kids express upon receiving their bikes, and they know that few things can make a kid happier at Christmastime than a new bike--even if that bike didn't come straight from the showroom!

14 December 2017

Bike Share Over The Cuckoo's Nest?

I haven't been to Eugene, Oregon.  From what I hear, though, it's developing the sort of reputation Portland had maybe fifteen years ago:  a town of young artists, old and latter-day hippies as well as other free spirits.  And cyclists.

Someone I know described it as "Madison West."

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. After all, the University of Oregon is there.  And, interestingly, several tech startups first saw the light of day there.  So did a certain company launched by a guy who paid a graduate student $35 for her design.

That graduate student was Carolyn Davidson. And the guy who bought her drawing was none other than Phil Knight, the founder of Nike.

Imagine that:  the designer of the Nike "Swoosh" was paid only $35. But, she says, it led to other things that made her quite a bit of money.

Oh, and the author of a certain book that became one of the texts, if you will, of the counterculture--and, later, a much-lauded film--spent much of his life in Eugene.  I am talking about Ken Kesey, who wrote One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.

So, I am not surprised, really, to find out that Eugene residents anticipate having something Madison has.  Austin, Texas--another town to which Eugene is increasingly compared--also has it.

I'm talking about a bike share program.  A local business owner is working on a plan for it.  Lindsey Harward's newly-formed company, Eugene Bike Share, will offer rides for a couple of dollars a day as well as yearly memberships.  Her current plan calls for 300 bicycles and 30 pick-up/drop-off locations.

While Eugene has only slightly fewer people than Salem, the capital and second-largest city of the Beaver State, it has only about a quarter of the population of the state's largest city, Portland.  So, while it might not be considered a "small" city, few would confuse it with a megalopolis or world capital.  

I find it interesting that the fastest growth in bike share programs is found in second- and third-tier cities like Portland and Madison.  And you could be forgiven for thinking that the bike-share concept is "trickling down" from world capitals and centers like Paris, London and New York.

The irony is that, as I learned recently, a city with about half of Eugene's population (though on a quarter as much land-area) had the first known bike-share program.  In 1976, La Rochelle, a lovely town on the French Atlantic (Bay of Biscay) coast, launched its fleet of velos jaunes for use by the public.  The current incarnation of the program is called Yelo and still uses, yes, yellow bicycles!

Hmm...I wonder what color Eugene's share bikes will be.

13 December 2017

Whenever They Drain The Canal...

I remember hearing about it when I was in Paris last year:  the Canal St. Martin was drained.

Even before the neighborhoods lining it became fashionable, I enjoyed walking along its banks, or cycling the streets that ran alongside it.  The old houses and industrial buildings that stand beside it made it seem more like the Paris of my imagination than the sites along the Seine did.

The canal connects the Seine with the Canal de l'Ourcq, which in turn connects with the Marne River north of the city.  From what I understand, St. Martin is drained every fifteen years or so.  I've often thought the detritus found at the bottom could tell some interesting stories.

It was drained in January of last year and, the last time before that, in 2001.  As the millenium began, the 10th Arrondissement--through which much of the canal runs--was in its transition from a working-class neighborhood to an area full of some of the most interesting galleries and trendiest cafes in the City of Light.  (Indeed, it was this area that suffered the November 2015 terrorist attacks.)

In this country, we call it "gentrification."  But to the folks who cleaned out the canal, it meant more and different kinds of refuse.

As for "different kinds", you only have to think of one thing that Paris had by 2016 but not in 2001:

Unfortunately, in the early days of Velib--Paris' bicycle share program--a number of the bikes were stolen.  Guess where they ended up?

Now, bicycles have been dumped in the canal probably since, well, there were bicycles in Paris.  So have motorbikes, house furnishings and even an old camera or two.  But if some archaeologist or historian were to study St. Martin's detritus, what would they learn from finding Velib bikes?

Probably the same things they'd learn from comparing the wine bottles tossed into the canal in one period with those of another.    One thing is for sure: You don't see any of it in Amelie or any of Alfred Sisley's paintings!

12 December 2017

In Delhi: Getting People To Ride Before It's Too Late

Delhi, like other major cities in developing countries, has an air pollution problem that some are calling a crisis. It's so bad that international players on the cricket field wear masks.

While political parties are playing the "blame game", more than a few people realize that some things must change.  Akash Gupta, the founder of Mobycy--which claims to be India's first dockless bicycle sharing startup system--tells of a report he recently read, which indicated that one of the reasons why people drive or take cabs to work or school is the problem they have with "last mile connectivity".  People can take public transportation, but to actually reach their destinations, they must make switches of transport.  And, the closer they come to their destination, the more likely it is that they will need to switch--whether from one bus line to another or to another mode of transportation entirely.

So, Gupta says, bicycling can offer a solution.  "Cycles should become a norm," he explains, "because they are easy to ride, quick to find, don't let you become dependent on someone else and are also cost effective."  That last point is not lost on businesses, who are finding that making deliveries by bike or e-bike is more effective--because it's faster--in dense city traffic.  

Even as bike share programs and delivery bicycles are becoming more common, and increasing numbers of people are riding for recreation, getting people to trade pistons for pedals in their daily commute has been a difficult task for city planners.  The biggest obstacle for most people is the motorized traffic that planners are trying to reduce.  Many people in Delhi echo a familiar refrain heard in cities all over the globe:  They don't feel safe riding among the cars, trucks and other motorized vehicles--or, more to the point, drivers.   

To that end, bike lanes and other physical infrastructure are being built.  But, as studies have shown, lanes by themselves don't do much to increase the number of bicycle commuters, or cyclists overall.  Vishala Reddy seems to recognize as much.  The founder and Director of Identcity has been behind many projects, such as car-free Tuesdays, to promote cycling during the past decade.  But she says that the real infrastructure consists of attitudes and incentives.  About the former, she says that more respect has to be developed for cyclists on the road.  As for the latter, she believes offices and other workplaces could offer them--and physical infrastructure, such as parking facilities, for cyclists.

Cyclists in Delhi

She and Gupta, unlike too many involved with planning in American cities, recognize that making cycling more appealing and safe is not just something that will make hipsters happy. They understand that their city's economic well-being--and, indeed, its very survival, as well as that of the planet--hinge at least in part on getting people's feet off gas pedals and onto bicycle pedals.  As Gupta warns, "If we don't start using e-vehicles or cycles now, it will be too late."