28 February 2018

The Tax Is Unfair? Tax 'Em All!

I suppose I should thank my lucky stars that Donald Trump, a.k.a. El Cheeto Grande, is President.  Almost every day, he manages to say or do something that proves me right.  And I like being right.

Well, sometimes, anyway.

One notion of mine that Ein Trumpf manages to confirm on an almost daily basis is this:  There is no idea or policy so bad that a politician, or some public figure, won't double down on it.

Oregon's bike tax is a case in point.  The Beaver State's Legislature voted for it in July.  One of the bill's authors, state Senator Lee Beyer, said that the tax would ensure that cyclists "have skin in the game", apparently ignorant of the fact that we pay the same taxes that everyone else does.  And US Congressman and fellow Democrat Earl Blumenauer claimed that the tax would "raise the profile of cycling," whatever that means.

The rationale for the tax is based on faulty logic and some notions that are just plain wrong.  For one, the tax was supposed to apply to bicycles costing $500 or more because they are "luxury" items.  For someone who commutes or makes deliveries every day, such a machine is not a "luxury", and $500 is about what such a person would have to spend for a new bike that's reliable and durable.  If that wasn't bad enough, before the bill was approved, the threshold was lowered to $200.

Worse, it applies to bikes with wheels 26 inches or more in diameter because they are "adult" bikes. Never mind that some good bikes for adults, as well as most folding bikes (which many commuters use) have smaller wheels.  

So, instead of realizing how arbitrary their distinctions-- and how unfair and ineffective the tax-- would be, a state Legislative committee wants to do away with 26 inch lower limit but keep the $200 threshold.  But, just as there are adult bikes with wheels smaller than 26 inches, some kids' bikes cost well north of $200.  

Tax me if you can!

Even worse, to my mind, than any ignorant or misguided definition "luxury" or "adult-sized" is the stipulation that the tax will  be used to help improve and maintain the state's
"bicycle infrastructure" system.  Now, whenever I hear that phrase, I'm skeptical:  What do they mean by it?  Bike lanes and paths?  I've seen too many that are so poorly-designed,-constructed and -maintained to think "More are better!" Bicycle safety classes?  If so, for whom?  Drivers?  Kids?  

As I said previously, cyclists are paying the same taxes as everyone else.  That includes gasoline tax:  In states like Oregon, nearly all cyclists are also drivers, or at least car owners.  The taxes (and I'm not only talking about the ones for petrol) everyone pays are supposed to help improve and maintain the transportation system--of which the "bicycle infrastructure" (the paths and lanes, anyway) are a part.  If the "infrastructure" were conceived by engineers and other professionals who are cyclists, I might not mind paying more.  But if a new tax is only going to buy more of the same, I'm against it.  

Moreover, as left-ish as I am, I still retain some of my youthful libertarian skepticism and cynicism about what the government will actually do once it gets the money.  Will it be siphoned off into something other than its stated purpose?  Will some politician's pet project be classified as cycling or transportation "infrastructure" so it can receive some of the tax revenue?

If there is no idea or policy so bad that someone with power won't double down on it, there isn't a project so poorly conceived or simply wasteful that someone doesn't want to throw more money at it.  And, of course, such people would never pay for such a project themselves:  They will tax someone else for the privilege.

27 February 2018

Concrete Plant, Banana Kelly And Longwood

The past couple of weeks, we've had our best weather during the work week--just when I've had to teach classes and go to meetings.  And all through the past weekend, we had the sort of weather only Marlee could love--because it keeps me home and she can cuddle with me!

So, yesterday, I snuck out for a ride between classes and a meeting.  A curtain of clouds crept between us and the sun, but no rain fell and the air was rather mild.  Once again, I rode in the Bronx, within a few kilometers of my job.

Yes, that really is dust in the background.  But it has nothing to do with the tall cylindrical structures in the background

though it could have at one time.  Until the 1980s or thereabouts, they served as an industrial facility.  Now they are part of the Cement Plant Park along the Bronx River.  I've ridden by and through that park before.  It's small, and not exactly rustic, but is oddly quaint and bucolic in the way an old industrial town in New England or the Midwest might be.

Out the other side of the park, I followed a few streets to the area around The Hub, and into a neighborhood often referred to as "Banana Kelly" after the shape of Kelly Street.  On another street a couple of blocks from Kelly--Dawson Street--I saw this

and this

and this

all within a block.  Not surprisingly, that street is landmarked as part of the Longwood Historic District.

All of those houses, and others on nearby streets, were designed by the same architect, Warren Dickerson, in the 1890s.  At that time, the Bronx was still developing:  much of the northern and eastern parts were still marshlands, woods or farms.  

The houses in this district are 2 1/2 stories tall and semi-detached, separated from each other by side driveways and ornamental iron gates.  As attractive as they are, they seem, at first glance to be variations on a theme.  That is becuase they are, and that is what Dickerson intended.  He wanted to create a unified streetscape, and that he did.  While they started with the same basic design, they distinguish themselves from each other in the details in much the same way family members have their own individual characteristics but resemble each other.  But what makes them work together is that houses alongside or across from each other "mirror" the angles curves of each others' stoops and bays.  

The houses in that district were one of the first attempts--if not the first attempt--to create such visual unity in a neighborhood in New York City.  That such a block, and others like it, were created is all the more remarkable when you realize that there were basically no zoning codes in Westchester County--of which the Bronx was a part until it joined New York City, which also had no zoning laws, in 1898.

That those houses remained intact is practically a miracle given the devastation and abandonment that consumed nearby streets and communities during the 1970s.  While some of those surrounding areas in the South Bronx have been rebuilt, they do not have the character of the houses I saw on Dawson Street.

Then I biked back to the college, and a meeting.  Nobody tells you about such things when you're in graduate school!

26 February 2018

I'm In Love With My...

My track record in love relationships is, to put it charitably, spotty.

Now my road and trail records are another story.

All right, that last sentence was yet another of my many lame attempts at cycling humor.  

About my relationships:  They seem to have a four-year lifespan--you know, like a Presidential term.  I found out that one of my paramours was a Republican, but that isn't what ended our liaison.

Nor did cycling.  In fact, of everyone with whom I've been involved, she was the only one who had any sort of passion for cycling.  Though hers didn't quite match mine, I didn't have to use my powers of persuasion (Yes, go ahead and laugh!) to get her to accompany me for a spin.  In fact, more than a few times, she initiated the ride and I went along.

But, my other partners--including my former spouse--had little or no enthusiasm for cycling.  The ex-cohabitant would go for a ride with me every now and again and, at one point, even wanted a bike of her own, which I bought for her. (It wasn't a gift for any particular occasion.) And when I wanted to go on a longer ride, by myself or "with the guys", we'd agree upon a day--usually Saturday--and she would spend time with the friends of hers I didn't like.

So I can't say cycling broke us up.  In fact, my riding wasn't a factor in any of my other break-ups, not even with the girlfriend (ironically, my first after my divorce) who'd never ridden a bike in her life and had no wish to get in the saddle.   (That, honestly, was a "rebound" relationship for both of us, and we both knew it.)  And then there was the boyfriend who rode with me once, and we never talked about cycling again.  Even he, as possessive as he was, at least knew that I needed a Day of Riding (Yes, it became official, more or less.) every week during the season and once or twice a month during the off-season, as weather permitted.

I guess I've been relatively lucky:  Other cyclists have told me that their riding--and the time they spend working on their bikes and shopping for parts and accessories--had something or a lot to do with the end of their relationships and even marriages.

So it was for a man in Istanbul who was identified as Burak Z.  His wife, identified as Yagmur Z., said his obsession with his bicycle damaged her mental health and left their marriage in shambles.  She has filed for divorce and is seeking 400,000 Turkish lira (about 106,000 USD) in damages.  

Instead of spending time with her, she says, he works on his machine.  He sets it up in the living room, she alleges, and cleans and fixes it daily.  "This is no ordinary attachment, he is literally in love with his bike," she explained.

I couldn't help but to think of one of the most deliriously funny songs on what is probably Queen's most deliberately campy album, Night At The Opera. 

Just substitute "bike" for "car" and the names of bike parts for the names of car parts, and the song would work for some of us.

Seriously, though:  He didn't pay attention to her.  He paid attention to his bike instead.  Now he'll have to pay her.  As much as we love our bikes, we have to remember that we can't fix our relationships with people in the same way we patch our tubes or adjust our derailleurs! 

25 February 2018

A Rim, Maybe. A Whole Wheel...

Mavic introduced its alloy rims in 1920.  Until then, cyclists had two choices in rim material--steel or wood.  Most, of course, opted for the latter because it is much lighter.  

Interestingly, alloy rims were banned from the Tour de France until 1934, when Antonin Magne rode a pair of Mavics that were painted in wood colors.  His secret wasn't revealed, of course, until after he won the race.  Then, Mavic duraluminum rims became a staple of the peloton.  

As alloy rims became lighter and more durable, other riders, from road racers to tourists, used them because they worked better and lasted longer than wood rims when used with caliper brakes.  Track racers, however, don't use brakes and continued to ride wood rims until the 1950s, when they were banned because they tended to shatter--sending splinters flying hither and thither--when crashed.  Such mishaps were all the more likely on track wheels, which are tensioned tighter and ridden with the highest-pressure tires.

I have ridden wooden rims and enjoyed their resilient yet responsive ride.  I had to wonder, though, how much of that "feel" had to do with the tubular tires that were glued to the rims. (You pretty much have to ride tubulars if you ride wooden rims!)  I would never buy them, though, because just about all of my riding these days (even on my fixed gear) is done with brakes and because wooden rims have to be treated with more TLC than metal or carbon-fiber rims.

One thing I haven't seen is a whole wheel made of wood.  That is, until I came across this:

24 February 2018

Investment In Cycling In The Equality State?

Wyoming is the least populated state in the US. As a New Yorker, my perspective is that The Equality State has barely more people than Staten Island, the least populated of the Big Apple's five boroughs. And only Alaska is more sparsely populated.

Why is Wyoming nicknamed "The Equality State"?  Well, in 1869--twenty-one years before it became a state, and fifty-one years before the  Nineteenth Amendment was passed--the then-territory of Wyoming became the first government in the world to give women the right to vote.  The reasons for this have long been debated, but almost everyone seems to agree that one motivation was that Wyoming's legislators wanted their territory to become a state and, because there were so few people, women's votes were necessary to get Congress to consider the territory for statehood.

20180218_feature_bicycle rider_01.JPG
Cheyenne resident Dave Flores riding in his hometown.

But I digress.  Wyoming's stunning vistas and open spaces mean that people travel great distances for work, school or almost anything else in their lives.  So, getting the state to invest in bike or pedestrian lanes can't be the easiest "sell" in the world.  And that is what the Bicycle and Pedestrian System Task Force is telling the state to do.  

Although people often vacation in, or even move to, places like Wyoming because they believe the environment is pristine, there are environmental problems  not found in the larger, denser coastal cities.  Like neighbors Colorado and Montana, much of the state lies two kilometers or more above sea level.  Since the air is thinner at such high altitudes, it doesn't take very many vehicles to pollute the air. (Denver has some of the worst smog of major American cities.)  So, perhaps, Wyoming needs to encourage people to walk and cycle as much as, or more than, even Los Angeles--especially if more people decide to move there and enjoy its "rustic" charms.

23 February 2018

Gerry-cycling or Bike-Mandering?

Here in the US, it seems that political campaigns never end.  El Cheeto Grande has been in office barely a year, yet there is already talk about whether he'll run for re-election--or make it through this term.  There's even more talk about the midterm elections:  This November, many members of Congress are retiring, not running for re-election or face challenges to retain their seats.  Such things are normal after a new President is elected, especially if he is from a different party from his predecessor's:  The "opposite" party usually gains a few Congressional seats in the "midterm".

Some politicians will do just about anything to get themselves re-elected, including re-drawing maps. The purpose is to isolate voters of the opposing party in districts that vote for the party of the candidate who is running for re-election.  The boundaries of some redrawn districts are abstract, to put it charitably.  Others are creative in perhaps unintentionally perverse ways, such as the infamous one drawn for Elbridge Gerry (hence the name) in early 19th Century Massachusetts.

Now, if politicians are really interested in "fair and free" elections, their maps should look more like this:

which, by the way, is a GPS map of the ride Bill and I took Saturday!

22 February 2018

Playing Hooky--Sort Of

Yesterday and the day before, the weather was more like May--or even June!--than February.  Best of all, I managed to get out of work early enough the other day, and have enough time between classes and a late-day meeting yesterday, to do some non-commute riding.

I wasn't really "playing hooky", but I like to feel as if I were.  (Do people who say "as if I were" play hooky?)  In my defense, I'll say that I took my "guilty pleasures" in the Bronx, where I work.

New York City's most maligned borough has some of the most amazing murals.  I saw this one while riding a bike lane in the Hunts Point Market area that must have opened in the last year or two.  At least, I hadn't ridden there in a year or two, until the other day.  

Then I took in a view of the East River and South and North Brother Islands--the latter of which was the site of one of the worst maritime disasters in this city's history--from Barretto Park.

Not a bad way to end a work day, don't you think?

21 February 2018

Losing The War He Described: Andrew Tilin

Riders take to the road and take their chances.  There, they can encounter distracted, impatient or drunk drivers, lane-hogging SUVs, deteriorating pavement and traffic-clogged grids.  Multiple dangers exist from coast to coast.

So wrote Andrew Tilin in a 2014 issue of Outside magazine.  A frequent contributor to that magazine, Bicycling and other related publications.  A dedicated cyclist and amateur racer, he knew the hazards he described as well as anyone did.

Well, he became a victim of those very dangers.  On Saturday morning, he was riding in fog with the Gruppo VOP Cycling Club, based in Austin, Texas, when he got a flat tire.  He pulled to the side of the road to change a flat tire.  Meantime, a car skidded on the slick pavement and crashed into a truck, sending it careening into the side of the road--and Tilin.  He died soon after.

Andrew Tilin (center)

In addition to his columns, he is known in and out of the cycling community for what may have been our equivalent of Super Size MeSeveral years after Morgan Spurlock lived on McDonald's food and made a documentary of his resulting weight gain and other health issues, Tilin spent a year taking testosterone and wrote about how it affected his athletic performance and life in The Doper Next Door.

Members of Gruppo VOP are planning a memorial for him.

20 February 2018

Imprisoned In The Mist

I must say, I am really enjoying my morning commutes, now that I go through Randall's Island.  Even the knowledge of what lies beyond does not dampen (pardon the pun) my mood.

In this case, beyond that flock of geese--who are free to go wherever they like--and the fog are the most un-free people in this city.  Yes, Rikers Island is shrouded in that scrim of mist!

Well, almost:  It's hard not to feel down--no, let's say it, angry--when thinking about that place now, during Black History Month.  Instead of slave ships pulling into the harbor (Slavery was legal in New York until 1827.), black people--mostly young and male--are locked up on an island.

I channeled some of that anger into my pedals. And, I assure you, it goes into other kinds of activity!

19 February 2018

Just A Banana Peel Away...

Today is Presidents' Day in the US.

In past years, I've shown pictures of our leaders on bikes. Two years ago, I wrote about the origins of Presidents' Day automobile sales in the Washington's Birthday bicycle sales late in the 19th century.

Today I'm going to talk about one of the most maligned Presidents of our history.

To be fair, Gerald Ford ascended to the office under difficult circumstances:  His predecessor, Richard Nixon, had resigned because he was on the brink of impeachment.  

People might've cut Ford some slack had they elected him as Vice President.  The problem was, Ford became Nixon's second-in-command when his predecessor, Spiro Agnew, resigned his office as part of a deal to keep himself out of prison for, among other things, tax evasion.

Thus did Ford become the first unelected President in US history.  Some people felt resentful of this, which alone would have been enough to sully his reputation. Fair or not, it's not the only reason why, whether professional historians or laypeople are polled, he ranks low among Presidents.  

Aside from the way he came into the office, another thing some people hold against him was his pardoning of Nixon.  But, whatever people think of that, or any of his other actions, the only other thing people seem to remember about him is his clumsiness.  According to a popular joke of the time, Nelson Rockefeller, his vice-president, was just a banana peel away from the presidency.

From what I understand, though, "Gerry" wasn't always so cllumsy.  After all, he was an athlete in his youth.  And he managed to look pretty good on a bike:

Gerald Ford, surrounded by his cousins in front of his childhood home in Grand Rapids, Michigan

18 February 2018

Out For A Walk?

Sometimes, when I see a small person with a really big dog, I wonder who is walking whom?

Of course, if the dog is leashed to a bike, neither the canine nor the cyclist are walking each other.  But I have to wonder whether the dog is pulling the cyclist:

What's that about a dog's life?

17 February 2018

Ebony, Ivory....And Rubies

Did Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney go to the North American Handmade Bicycle Show?

They probably didn't. But Helio Ascari did.

Of course, he brought something he crafted in his Brooklyn workshop.  The Brazilian-born custom bike builder is probably best known for wrapping leather string around his frame tubes to make them look as if they're woven, like baskets.  While the work is eye-catching, it's probably not surprising when one realizes that Ascari has made furniture and leather goods, and restored antiques.

The "something" he brought to the show takes his showmanship to another level.  It draws on skills acquired in other work he did before he became a bike builder:  as a fabricator of steel goods, and in the fashion industry. 

The bike in question, which starts with one of his leather-wrapped, Columbus-tubed frames, includes dynamo hub lighting and a Brooks B17 saddle with large copper rivets.  All right, those things are nice, but not terribly unusual. 

There's more copper-- and brass-- in accents on  the frame.  Oh, and carbon fiber-reinforced beech wood Ghisallo rims.

But the pieces de resistance are the brake levers made of gold and ebony--and 13 rubies applied on various parts of the bike, including the levers.

For only $38,000, it could be yours.  Or Paul's.  Or Stevie's.

16 February 2018

Where You Can Get Your Kicks

"You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you."

That, of course, is a line from Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone."   When I was growing up, people said that whatever they did for pleasure was how they "got their kicks."

And, of course, there was that famous Nat King Cole song, "Get Your Kicks On Route 66."

I don't hear that expression much anymore.  But if I were to use it, I would say that cycling is one of the ways I get my kicks.

If I manage to get out to Missouri and Kansas, I must might be able to "get my kicks on Route 66."  Officials in those states are working to have part of the iconic highway, much of which fell into disuse after the Interstate system was built, as a bicycle route.

Joplin, Missouri bicycle shop owner Debra Johnson says designating a stretch of Route 66 as a bicycle route would be great for business.

So far, it seems that Missouri is closer to that goal.  According to a report, the designation could occur in the "Show Me" State some time this year.  To be fair, Kansas, which has the shortest stretch of Route 66, isn't far behind.

If efforts in those states succeed, we might be able to get our kicks on Route 66 in a way that Nat might not have imagined.  And we would be following Bob's admonition.

15 February 2018

Is It Still A Bicycle?

An Outside magazine article raised this question, specifically in reference to the HPC Revolution.

Here is the verdict, from Ty Brookhart and Wes Siler, the article's authors:  "Because no one is going to buy an 82-pound bicycle, that essentially means HPC is selling a very light electric motorcycle that, thanks to pedals and post-sale programming, is legally considered a bicycle."


Got that?  The pedals are there simply to fit the legal definition of a bicycle.  That confirms what I suspected about many of the e-bikes I've seen lately:  It's hard to imagine that their riders actually used the pedals.  Or, if they did, it was difficult to conceive of using them for anything but starting the bike.  

My purpose in raising  that issue is not to rebuke riders who choose to motor rather than pedal.  Rather, I mention it because of a concern I have:  Those bikes are often ridden at motorcycle speeds, often in places where motorized vehicles don't belong.

I am not merely expressing anxiety over a "what if?"  Instead, I am speaking from observation and experience--in particular, a close encounter I had with one of those "bikes" on the Queensborough Bridge bike lane last night.  It was rolling faster than the cars on the main roadway, where traffic volume was considerably below that of the rush-hour peak.  It was also faster than the train that rose from the tunnel and up the ramp--just a few yards to the side of the bike lane--to the Queensborough Plaza station.

The worst part was that I didn't hear the e-bike approaching me until the rider came within a few hairs from brushing against my elbow.

And, yes, that "bike" had pedals.  More than likely, it also had the "programming" Brookhart and Siler mention--a speed limiter that caps the bike's velocity at 20MPH.  That limiter, along with the pedals, allows such machines to be sold as "bicycles".  As often as not, users remove that limiter.  I'm sure that the guy who almost knocked me down removed his--or had it removed.

I am not the first to argue that such "bikes" shouldn't be ridden anywhere near where human-powered bikes are pedaled.  If anything, those bikes are even more dangerous, to pedestrians as well as cyclists, because they are silent and less visible than cars or other motorized vehicles.  But, as best as I can tell, as long as those "bikes" can be classified as bicycles, there isn't much anyone can do to restrict them.

14 February 2018

Will The Idaho Stop Become The Utah Yield?

Now you can call it "The Utah Yield."

At least, that's what Carol Spackman Moss is calling it.

She's a member of the Beehive State's House of Representatives.  More to the point, she is part of that body's Transportation Committee, which passed House Bill 58 yesterday.

That bill, if it becomes law, would allow cyclists to forego the 90-second wait at "Stop" signs mandated in current statutes.  In other words, "Stop" would mean "Yield".

In 1982, Idaho--Utah's northern neighbor--passed such a law.  Since then, other jurisdictions, including several Colorado towns as well as the city of Paris, have passed similar legislation which allow cyclists to proceed through stop signs or red lights under certain conditions.  Still, treating "Stop" signs as "Yield" signs is often referred to, colloquially, as the "Idaho stop".

But Bill 58 goes a step further than Idaho's law.  If passed, it would allow cyclists to treat red traffic signals as if they were "Stop" signs, meaning that we could proceed through them after 90 seconds if there is the intersection is clear.

These provisions, together, create what Ms. Moss calls the "Utah Yield".

I applaud her work and that of her colleagues, especially since they took the time to read studies about other jurisdictions with "stop-as-yield" policies.  In none of them was any increase in the risk of car-bicycle crashes found.  Moreover, one Idaho study found a 14 percent decrease in collisions between cars and bikes.

I can't help but to wonder whether she or her any of her colleagues are cyclists:  In addition to their research, they based their work on some commonsense observations.  The bill ought to become law, Ms. Moss says, because traffic signals throughout the state are "designed for cars and not for bicycles."  As an example, she says that, all too often, when cyclists stop for a red light, they have to "wait and wait because they are not heavy enough to trigger the road sensors."

Bill 58 will now go to the House floor consideration.                                                                         

13 February 2018

Mott Haven Morning

What is the difference between "dawn" and "sunrise"?

Someone, I forget who, said that if you call it "dawn", you probably aren't awake for it.  Whatever you call it, it's early in the morning.

I'm not complaining.  I was just thinking of a title for this post. "Dawn In The Bronx" seems like a Chamber of Commerce slogan.  So I opted for "Mott Haven Morning."  Whatever you call it, I was up for it.  And it was good.

12 February 2018

Revolutionaries, With Or Without Bikes

I just happen to live in one of those states where today--Lincoln's birthday--is a holiday.

When I was a kid, it was a holiday everywhere in the US.  So was George Washington's birthday, the 22nd of this month.  In 1971, Congress passed a law that collapsed the  two holidays into one Federal holiday, known as dead white Presidents' Day.  That day is observed on the third Monday of February, which happens to be a week from today.  Individual states, however, could choose to observe Lincoln's birthday. Luckily for me, New York is one of them.

It's not likely that Abe ever rode anything we would recognize as a bicycle. Quite possibly the closest I ever came to seeing our 16th President on two wheels was this:

I would guess, from my admittedly limited experience with him (as a person), that he had a lot more fun than Abe ever seemed to have!

(By the way, Sheldon's birthday is 14 July--le jour de Bastille.  Could it have been any other day?)

11 February 2018

Is It Really The Thought That Counts?

In a neighborhood where I once lived, there was a "high concept" bicycle shop.

Perhaps that tells you something about the neighborhood.  As far as I could tell, though, "high concept" meant there wasn't much there but the intent of the owners.  They didn't have the space to stock lots of high-quality (or merely expensive) bikes and equipment, but you were supposed to know somehow that such stuff would be there if the owners had the wherewithal for it.

It was sort of like conceptual art, I guess:  The owner's intent, like the artist's, was more important than the product--if indeed there was one.  That might've been the reason why the shop stayed in business for a few years before the dot-com bubble burst just after the turn of the century/milennium.

This picture got me to thinking about that place:

Are those conceptual or high-concept wheels?

10 February 2018

"Cars Are So 2005"

No one wants more cars in cities.  Cars are so 2005.

So said a spokesman from Milan, Italy, where private vehicles were recently banned for six hours.  

Officials from just about any major city could, and would, have said something similar.  Even the most adamant opponents of congestion pricing admit that shoehorning more motorized vehicles into Manhattan streets will not do any good.  If nothing else, they're tired of sitting in traffic jams if they're not cognizant of the health hazards from pollution.

Likewise, even some of the folks who hate cyclists will admit, if grudgingly, that one of the best ways to keep more cars from funneling into the bridges and tunnels that lead to Manhattan is to move people's feet from gas pedals to bicycle pedals--or the pavement.

But, they will point out, people will pedal or walk to work, school or wherever else they need to go if those places are within, say, a couple of miles.  Some people simply don't have the time for longer bike commutes: If they have to spend an hour or more in a car or on a bus or train, how long will it take them to pedal to the office or classroom? On the other hand, there are many people for whom bicycle commuting would be feasible, but are afraid of (or just don't want to deal with) motor traffic.

The solution for that latter group seems to be incentives to cycle.  I'm not talking only about tax credits (which would be nice) or other "perks" governments or employers might provide; I also mean things--what some might call "infrastructure"--to make cycling more convenient and safe for those who would consider riding to work, school or shop.

One criticism of the bicycle infrastructure, such as it is, in the United States is that it is concentrated in major urban areas and serves mainly the young and affluent within them.  As an example, ports and bikes for Citibike, New York City's share program, are abundant in Manhattan south of 125th Street as well as in the Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods nearest to Manhattan.  But there are none in the Bronx or Staten Island, or in the outlying area of Queens and Brooklyn.

One reason for that is that planners don't seem to think bicycle infrastructure, however good its quality, would be of any benefit outside of large cities like New York, Boston and San Francisco.  If it takes an hour to drive to the nearest supermarket, according to their thinking, there is little hope of encouraging anyone to get out of their cars and onto bike.

That may well be true.  But there are other areas, such as those in and around college towns and other small- to medium-sized cities, where bicycle facilities might encourage people to ride.  One such area is a stretch of the Ruhr Valley in Germany, where a "bicycle autobahn" has been under construction.  It is more than half-finished; when it is complete, it will span 100 kilometers and connect three mid-sized cities (Duisberg, Hamm and Bochum) as well as four universities.

It's hard to believe that there aren't similar areas here in the United States.  An longtime Iowa cyclist has identified one such area in his backyard, so to speak.  Chuck Oestreich, in a recent editorial, said that Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, could be connected to Quad-Cities, which is--you guessed it--100 kilometers away. 

Now, he doesn't envision anyone commuting between those cities.  Rather, he sees people taking weekend excursions or riding instead of driving to places in between.  Even those of us who have no business in such places would, he says, have the opportunity to see the small towns and countryside, and thus get "a true taste of the real Midwest."

Moreover, Oestreich points out, a "bicycle interstate" could take cars off some of the highways--which, at certain hours of the day, become elongated parking lots.

And we can look at those traffic jams and sigh, "That's so 2005!"

09 February 2018

Girl Wins Bike As Mother Loses Hers

It'll cost $1000 to replace her mother's bike.  I just hope she doesn't have to spend that much, or more, for therapy.

On Wendnesday, seven-year-old Nayaraq Alvarez was returning home with her father, Carlos--and her new bicycle.  It was a prize for a poster she made as part of an anti-bullying campaign sponsored by the Miami Beach Police Department. 

When they arrived, they saw a suspicious-looking man running from their apartment building.  They then discovered that thieves had broken in and stolen her mother's Cannondale Quick 4 bicycle.  "It's a shame because we have lots of good memories with it," Carlos said.  Though he plans to help her "look for a new one", he hopes "someone can find it for us."

Surveillance footage provided clear footage of a man with a backpack entering and leaving the building several times.  During one of those trips, he is seen wheeling the bike out.  

That Cannondale, like the bikes of many other residents in that building, had been in a storage room.  Since then, other residents have moved their bikes into their apartments.  Not surprisingly, Nayaraq's new bike is in her family's living quarters.  

Several other Miami Beach residents have reported their bikes stolen during the past couple of weeks.  Although the thief who took Nayraq's mother's bike may have been involved in one or more of those thefts, no one is saying that it's definitely the case.  But Mr. Alvarez is not only concerned with bike theft.  "He's carrying a big backpack, so what else does he have in there?" he wondered.  "[I]t could be a potentially dangerous situation for everybody," he says.

Hopefully, young Nayaraq won't have nearly as  much baggage from the incident.

08 February 2018

Real Pedal Power?

I have to admit that I know nothing about molecular chemistry.  It's one of those areas, like much of physics, that sounds interesting but for which I lack the background, and possibly the aptitude (My math skills are, depending on your point of view, comically or frightfully bad!) to understand.

So when I read this article, all I knew was that scientists somehow managed to synthesize molecules that operate like the pedals of a bicycle. It sounded really cool.

 From what I understand, these molecules can be activated by light to act as "switches", moving from one structural state to another as they move like the pedals around a bottom bracket.  However, they do not perform a full rotation, but move back and forth in arcs around the "axle."

In contrast, other kinds of molecules exhibit large-scale rotation around one bond, and need much more space than the "pedal" molecules need in order to make the "switch".

Why is this important?  Well, "switching" is necessary in order to create the molecular structures necessary in a number of applicatons, from pharmaceuticals to computers.  I would imagine that it is also vital to much "green" technology.  

I once built a wheel that looked like this.  I didn't ride it, though!

As I understand, these molecules change their structure in a way analagous to that of water it becomes ice or vapor.  When water is heated, its vapor needs more space because it expands.  On the other hand, when water cools down to 4 degrees C, it contracts but, unlike other liquids, expands when it freezes. You can see this when a river or lake ices over.) Just as liquid water acts differently from vapor or ice when you try to combine it with other things, whether and how molecules bond depends on their structural state.  So, the necessary molecular structures for a number of things, from pharmaceuticals to plastics, can be created only when the molecules can reach the right state.  And that can only happen when the would-be "switches" are allowed to switch.  

If water in a pipe freezes, it will expand the pipe until it bursts.  On the other hand, if molecules in other environments are so restricted, they just don't move and therefore don't make the necessary "switches." That is the reason why researchers and engineers have been limited in what they can create.

The "pedal" motion, as it turns out, is more compact than other kinds of molecular motion.  This means the atoms that are part of the molecule aren't displaced much, if at all--which,  in turn, means that the molecule doesn't (and doesn't have to) move as much.  This could allow scientists and engineers to create new kinds of structures.

Of course, we as cyclists always knew that the pedaling motion was very economical and efficient--and, when performed even by people of ordinary ability, graceful.  Is it any wonder, then, that so much of today's technology--including that of automobiles and aircraft--came directly or indirectly from bicycles.  Now it looks like even more sophisticated technology will soon owe its debt to our beloved two-wheeled vehicles--in this case, our method of propulsion!