31 October 2018

It Could Have Been Me

Today I could have posted something faux-spooky or silly for Halloween.  But, as today is the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that hit close to home, I am going to repeat my post from the day after Halloween:

It could have been me.

I could not get that phrase out of my mind as I rode to work this morning.

It could have been me.

Today dawned bright and clear for me, as it did for them--yesterday.  A beautiful mid-autumn day, sunny, a little chilly but not unpleasantly so, with strong breezes shaking leaves turned red and yellow from their branches and rippling reflections of the sky, glass, steel and concrete at the mouth of the Hudson. 

In other words, the sort of day people picture in their fantasies about bike-riding in New York.

It could have been me.

And so they went for a ride, for fun.  I was riding, too, in an entirely different part of town, from my job back to my apartment.   Though they weren't going to work, many others who followed their path, on bike or on foot, no doubt were.  I myself have ridden along that path, to work and for the same pleasures they were enjoying.

I could have been one of them.

Five came from Argentina--old friends celebrating the 30th anniversary of their graduation from their high school.  Another came from Belgium, with her mother and sister.  They survived because they weren't with her.

I could have been her.

So could any of the kids who were leaving Stuyvesant High School at that very moment.  No doubt some of them sauntered along, or pushed or shoved each other (as high school kids are wont to do) into or along the path.  They would hang out with other kids.  Or they would go to practices in sports they play, languages they are learning, plays in which they are performing or skills for tests they will take and essays they will write in the hopes of getting into the colleges they or their parents choose.  One assumes that one day, at least some of them will be part of some 30th anniversary celebration, wherever in the world they may be.

They could have been among them.

Still others walked dogs, pushed strollers and held hands as they strolled along the nearby piers.  Or they sluiced through crowds on skates and skateboards.  They were all mere blocks away from the 9/11 Memorial and even closer to--though, as fate would have it, a world apart from--the Argentinian and Belgian tourists on bicycles.

I could have been with them.

For a time in my life, I was riding daily along the stretch of the Manhattan Greenway known officially as the Hudson River Greenway-- or more commonly as the West Side Highway Bike Path-- along the stretch that separates Greenwich Village, SoHo and Tribeca from the river.  At that time, it was part of my route to work.  Before and since then, I have ridden there for pleasure--sometimes as part of a city jaunt, as the tourists did yesterday; other times en route to a ferry or bridge that would take me to another part of my ride.  More often than not, I rode alone, but sometimes I'd accompany whomever I happened to meet--along the way to my job or wherever else I happened to go.

They could have been with me.

Every time I pedaled along that path, I was home within a few hours.  Today I will be home about 40 minutes after I leave work and get on my bike.  They, I am sure, thought they were going home, too--today, tomorrow, next week or the week after. 

I could have gone with them.

But they are not going home.  They probably never even imagined that they wouldn't:  They could not have foreseen the way their rides, their vacations, their journeys, would end.

It could have ended that way--for me, for anybody.

The Argentinians, the Belgian, never suspected that under a clear autumn sky in New York, death would descend upon them.  They certainly never expected it to come in the form of a van jumping the barrier that kept all of the other West Street traffic away from them, or for said van to be driven by someone who knew nothing about them except that they were riding bicycles peacefully.  On their bikes, they never expected to meet the fate of the folks sipping drinks at Le Carillon or listening to music at the Bataclan.  Or the ones enjoying a fireworks display on Bastille Day or shopping in a Christmas marketplace.  Or simply out on a summer day.

No one expects it to end that way.

Of those five Argentinians and the Belgian who went for a bike ride--and two others who went for a walk--on the West Side Bike Path, all that remain are mangled bicycles and shards of clothing and other personal items.  They went for a stroll, they went for a ride, and each of them is gone, gone, gone.

It could have been me.

I can only be grateful that it wasn't.  My thoughts are with the victims.

30 October 2018

Where They Weren't Supposed To Go

Immigrants crowded together in conditions roaches and rats would have protested had Jacob Riis.

A couple of decades later, another exploited (and, to many, invisible) group of people had Lewis Wickes Hine.

Nearly a century before YouTube or podcasts, photographers Riis and Hine exposed the squalid and dangerous conditions in which the poorest and most vulnerable people lived and worked.  

Riis is most famous for his dispatches (He worked as a journalist.) from New York's Lower East Side--in particular, the Five Points area, which was believed to have the highest rates of population density, infectious diseases and murder of any urban neighborhood in the world.  Before Riis' photographs were published, few in New York's--or America's--more privileged classes had any idea of how people in such areas lived.

Hine, on the other hand, roamed the country and turned his focus (no pun intended) on child laborers.  Just as housing, health and safety codes were nonexistent during Riis' peak years of the 1880s and '90's, so were laws against child labor in the early 20th Century, when Hine did most of his work.

Among the laboring lads Hine documented were bicycle messengers, at least one--like the youngster in the following photo-- as young as ten years old:

In the documentation accompanying the image, he is identified only as "Western Union No. 5", working as an "extra" in Danville, Virginia.  He told Hine his boss was goint to lay him off for being too young, but an older messenger admitted they were trying to have him booted because he ate into their profits.

Earle Griffith and Eddie Tahoory worked for the Dime Messenger Service in Washington, DC. They said they never knew when they would go home at night--or whether they might get a call to the red light district.  "The office isn't supposed to send us" but "we go when we get the call."  As if to soften the blow--for themselves, perhaps--one of them added, "not very often."

Marion Davis, 14 years old, also made runs he wasn't "supposed to do" because he was under 16:  He went to the (Alabama-Coushatta) Reservation.  "The boss don't care and the cops don't stop me," he explained.

Here is another Texas messenger:

Unnamed, the 15-year-old was working for the Mackay Telegraph Company in Waco.  He seems almost stylish--or is he just cocky?  And is that a pipe in his mouth?

Also, look at his seat angle.  Did he have any children?

Speaking of style, look at the handlebars ridden by Percy Neville of Shreveport, Louisiana.

Like Marion Davis, he was working in an area where he "wasn't supposed to":  the city's red-light district.

29 October 2018

Fall Contrasts

I'll admit that I've spent time looking at dying leaves, I mean, fall foliage.  This year it seems late in coming--or, at least, a little less colorful than usual.  I'm seeing fallen leaves in bike paths, on sidewalks and in other spots, but the leaves still on trees are green.

More noticeable signs of fall came, for me, on my ride to Point Lookout yesterday.

The reeds on the islands, and the plant life on the shore, never fail to reflect the season's colors.

Even more reliable, to my eyes,is the light surrounding them--especially on overcast days.  Clouds gather and seem to take on the depth of the sea; the sea and sky darken without actually becoming dark.  Yet the reeds and grasses stand, even as they age and turn sere.

Each of them stands alone.

I took a brief ride the day before, between bouts of torrential rain.  Ironically, I saw more color on one corner in Harlem than on my longer ride.

Looking at this building, you might guess that it's a studio or gallery. The latter assumption would be correct:  All of the work on the walls is done by local artists.  But this building serves another function.  Can you guess what it is?

Believe it or not, it's a pediatrics office.  Pediatrics 2000, to be exact.  Two doctors, as well as nurses and other professionals who help children, practice there.

Kids actually enjoy going there.  Their parents seem to like it, too.  The art is one reason.  Another is this:

There are no stairs anywhere in the building.  Only ramps connect the levels.  So, no kid (or adult) is stigmatized for being in a wheelchair.

The best thing is that everyone seems to think as highly of the doctors and other professionals in that building as they think of that building itself.

The kids get culture while doctors take their cultures. It sounds good to me!

28 October 2018

Not What Vittorio De Sica Had In Mind...

In Cambodia and Laos, I didn't have to worry about the bikes I was riding.  Nobody tried to steal them:  not the people, nor the macaques (who will steal just about anything else, if it's edible) nor the elephants or other creatures.

I never heard anything about the sun bears, which are endangered.  Now, black bears--which don't live in that part of the world--are another story.

Here in the States, you just don't know who you can trust!

(Somehow I don't think this is what Vittorio de Sica had in mind!)

27 October 2018

My Kingdom For--Three Feet?

How is this so complicated?  Just like when a slower vehicle is in front of you, wait until there is no oncoming traffic and pass them.

Give credit to Shaun Jordan for exhibiting common sense (Some would argue that phrase is an oxymoron!) in assessing a new law.

That law is commonly called the "three feet rule", for the berth motorists have to give cyclists when passing them.  This law was passed in Michigan, partly in response to the horrific crash that, two years ago, took the lives of Debbie Bradley, Melissa Fevig-Hughes, Tony Nelson, Larry Paulik and Suzanne Sippel near Kalamazoo.  

(I must say that even though I've never been to Kalamazoo or knew the victims, and have written about them before, I still find it difficult to write about them!)

After that crash, politicians as well as everyday citizens spoke of the need to make the state's roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians.  But the backlash against the new law is widespread, as it always is when motorists "lose" their "rights."  As one Debbie Brown Donaldson whined, "This is sooo stupid!  We need to slow down to practically nothing for a NON-motorized vehicle that isn't registered or licensed.  Who the (fill in the blank) makes these rules?"

Well, Ms. Donaldson, what if that "NON-motorized vehicle that isn't registered or licensed" were a horse?  Or what about any other animal--or pedestrian?  Would it trouble you to slow down for them?  Or would you run them over?

At least other commenters had more sense--and less of a sense of entitlement--than Ms. Donaldson. "Everybody that is up in arms about three feet.  Honestly?" wondered another.

26 October 2018

Is Amazon Sending UPS Back To Its Roots?

I could've been....a UPS delivery person.

Actually, I was, for about four weeks.  The venerable delivery company hired me one holiday season:  from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve.  Back then, the company employed a lot of "helpers" during that time of year.  Many of us were students, as I was.  We didn't drive:  We rode the trucks for a minute or two, leaped off, delivered a few packages, leaped back on and repeated a few hundred times.

I don't know whether UPS still hires extra help during that season.  The pay, as I recall, was decent, but as my driver said, "You earn it."  He was right:  Even though I was young and in good condition (mainly from cycling), I was still tired at the end of a shift:  I'd have just enough energy to ride my bike home.  But it was, in some ways, a satisfying job, at least for those few weeks:  People were usually happy to see us, and I got a few tips and gifts.

That driver, and our supervisor, suggested that I might want to get a driver's license and work for them permanently.  Sometimes I wonder whether I should have:  I understand the retirement benefits are good, and I could have retired by now.  Then again, even if I had more desire to drive at all, I'm not sure that I would have wanted to do it all day.

If I'd been born a few decades earlier, I could have been a bike messenger for them.  After all, I later plied the streets of Manhattan on two wheels, delivering everything from slices of pizza to documents pertaining to mergers, divorces and every other proceeding you can think of--and a few small packages with mysterious contents. (Well, at least I wasn't supposed to know what was in them. But, given their destinations, it wasn't hard to tell.)  And UPS was in the bike messenger business.

In fact, that's how it started more than a century ago:  a few young men delivered packages by bicycle and on foot in Seattle.  Now, it seems that UPS is returning to its roots, sort of.

It's partnered with the Seattle Department of Transportation and the University of Washington in a pilot program to make deliveries in the city's downtown area, around the Pike Place Market.  The program will involve e-bikes pulling wagons with detachable cargo trailers.  Those vehicles remind me a bit of the tuk-tuks I rode while in Cambodia and Laos. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the designers were inspired, at least in part, by them:  these containers can carry up to 400 pounds, and four adult humans (of Western size) can ride in the cab of a tuk-tuk.

According to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, the alliance will "help us better understand how we can ensure the delivery of goods while making space on our streets for transit, bikes and pedestrians."  Seattle, like other American cities, has experienced an increase in motorized traffic in spite of growing numbers of cyclists, pedestrians and people who use mass transit.  

While UPS and other couriers (including the US Postal Service and Fed Ex) can't be blamed for it, one could say they are vehicles (no pun intended) for it:  According to a report from the World Economic Forum and Deloitte, in the decade from 2005 to 2015, the global total number of parcels delivered increased by 128 percent.  Much of this increase, according to researchers, is a result of consumers increasingly having single items shipped at a time.  This trend has been fueled, in large part, by retailers like Amazon and Walmart--who use UPS and the other carriers I've mentioned--who make it easy to order, and offer free shipping on, cheap items.   

If the collaboration between the UPS, the city and the university proves successful, UPS says it will be expanded to other parts of the Emerald City.  It could also be exported to other cities experiencing traffic congestion problems.

It Really Is Good For You!

The other day, I went to my doctor.

Everything is just fine, he said. 

25 October 2018

What Should You Watch For? A Horse, Of Course!

In previous posts, I've written about close encounters with animals.

As Steve A pointed out, it's pretty rare for cyclists to get hit by a deer because we're "a lot easier for a running deer to avoid than a large, speeding car."  I would imagine the same could be said for other animals.  Even so, it's pretty scary to see a deer dart across a path or a road 10 meters in front of you--especially if you're speeding down a hill!

One scenario that most of us rarely, if ever, imagine is a horse galloping into our path.  That's pretty odd when you realize that, at least here in North America, we are riding in proximity to our equine more often than we are to, say, Alpine Ibexes or macaques (or elephants--I saw one not far away but I think I might've scared it off!).  This is especially true in urban parks, which often have designated bike paths and horse trails not far from each other. 

Well, about a week and a half ago, a woman lost control of the horse she was riding in Gates Mills, an affluent village near Cleveland.  She and the horse careened into a couple riding a tandem bicycle.  I couldn't find many other details about the crash except that the cycling couple suffered "non-life-threatening" injuries.

Oh, and the woman riding the horse was found to be at fault for the crash, but she wasn't charged.  Hmm...Maybe she should get points on her license.  

24 October 2018

Making Drivers Bicycle-Friendly in Colorado

Whenever I've ridden outside the US, I couldn't help but to notice how much more courteous drivers are to cyclists.  Even in Cambodia and Laos, which don't have cycling cultures like those in some European countries, I had less fear of riding even the most chaotic streets than I sometimes have in my home town and country.

What's especially interesting, to me, is that it doesn't seem to matter whether I'm in the city or the country.  In France, the country where I've spent the most time (besides the US), I find drivers in Paris nearly as accommodating as those in Provence or Picardy.

The reason, I believe, is that drivers are simply more conscious of cyclists and of how cycling is different from driving.  In the US, many people never get on a bike again after they get their drivers' licenses, usually at age 16 or thereabouts.  In other countries, some people continue to pedal, at least for short distances, even after they're allowed to drive.  Some never even become regular drivers, usually because they can't afford it, but sometimes out of choice:  There are situations in which a bicycle is actually more convenient than a motorized vehicle.

In other words, in other places, drivers are more conscious of cyclists because they are more likely to be, or have recently been, regular or occasional cyclists themselves.  Also, most countries didn't experience two or three generations of people who didn't ride as adults, as the US did from the end of World War I until recently.

Thankfully, a few policy makers are at least beginning to understand what I've just described.  That seems to be the reason why the National Safety Council has given one of its Road to Zero grants to Bicycle Colorado so it can conduct Bicycle-Friendly Driver Certification programs throughout the state.  

The curriculum was created in Fort Collins, a city in the northern part of the state long known for its cycling infrastructure.  Since then, Bicycle Colorado has brought its classes, which are free for participants,  to other parts of the state--including, most recently, Colorado Springs.  BC has also made its curriculum available so that other communities can adapt it.  

Community Safety Cooridiator Molly McKinley says the classes teach drivers about "sharing the road" from the motorist's perspective:  how to pass and yield to cyclists, how to turn and how to utilize a bike lane.  She says it also is an attempt to inculcate drivers with the notion that cyclists are drivers of vehicles who have just as much right to the road as motorists.  The importance of exercising caution and patience when passing a cyclist is also emphasized, McKinley says.

Molly McKinley leading a Bicycle-Freindly Driver Certification class.

Perhaps most important of all, Bicycle Colorado is trying to reach drivers who might not otherwise come into contact with such a program.  According to Maureen McCanna, Bicycle Colorado's education program manager, BC is "trying to support communities who want to incorporate this education but don't have the resources to do it."   Also, she says, her group wants to "make sure we are reaching people who may not be avid cyclists and may not have that perspective."

I think she has a clear understanding of what needs to be done.  Now, all she and others have to do is figure out a way to make it all happen nationwide.  After all, we have two or three generations' worth of knowledge to catch up on.

23 October 2018

Make American Bikes Again: Will Tariffs Make That Happen?

I've never been very good at predicting the future.  One thing I can tell you, though, is that come the first of January, bikes and anything related to them are going to be more expensive.  Way more expensive.

Currently, most imported bikes are subject to tariffs of 5 to 11 percent. (I learned that when I purchased my Mercian frames.  I was even charged import duties when I had two of my frames refinished by Mercian!)  An additional fee of 10 percent was added to bikes, and most parts, from China in August.  That extra fee will increase to 25 percent when the new year begins.

Given that most new bikes and parts are made in China, and very few are made in the US, most people who buy bikes or parts will notice the difference, if they haven't already.  Now a couple of manufacturers want even higher tariffs, and to expand them to cover more bikes.

Bicycle Corporation of America (BCA) and Detroit Bikes are about as different as any two companies in the bike business can be.  For one thing, the bikes they offer have little in common:  Detroit Bikes offers a full line of city bikes as well as "comfort bikes" assembled in the USA and, for next year, plans to offer a  line of USA-made bikes.  As near as I can tell, their products are aimed at the sorts of riders who might buy, say, a Linus:  folks who want stylish bikes without the price tag of a bike from another Detroit maker: Shinola.  On the other hand, BCA's offerings (some of which are sold under the "Concord" name) seem to consist of kid's bikes along with beach cruisers and inexpensive mountain bikes for adults.

City FC Limited Edition from Detroit Bikes

I laud both companies for their attempts to bring bike manufacturing jobs back--in Detroit's case, to a ravaged city and in that of BCA, to a part of South Carolina that has been economically stagnant for most of the past century.  But I have to chastise them (as if they're listening to me) for asking the Federal Trade Commission to increase tariffs on all imported bicycles to as much as 50 percent.  

BCA Bicycles

Not only that, they want to reduce the de minimis threshold for such duties.  Currently, any package of imported goods valued at less than $800 is not subject to import duties.  BCA and Detroit's petition calls for reducing the de minimis to $50 for at least four years.  That would include, of course, just about any imported bike but could also mean that, say, a package containing bicycle parts such as inner tubes (nearly all of which are made in China) could be subject to the charges.  

To be fair, the US industry as a whole has been lobbying for a reduction of the de minimis for all imports.  So have American companies in other industries.

While BCA, Detroit Bikes and other American bike companies believe that such tariffs will increase their business and bring jobs back to the US, at least one example from another industry shows that their move could backfire.  Last year, the US International Trade Commission recommended tariffs on some photovoltaic cells and large residential washing machines. Last January, the Trump administration approved 30 percent tariffs on the cells, which would decrease after the first year.  On the other hand, it approved a 20 percent tariff on the first 1.2 million washers imported, and 50 percent on any imported after that.

It won't surprise you to know which company initiated the petition for these tariffs:  Whirlpool.  Though the company celebrated its initial success, its profits have declined in recent months because the Trump administration's tariffs on steel and aluminum imports have driven manufacturing costs upward.

So, while Zak Pashak, the Canadian-born head of Detroit Bikes, is excited at the prospect of running three shifts "at full tilt" and thus bringing "hundreds of new jobs" in "an area where we really need jobs", one has to wonder whether his enterprise will be so profitable if he, like Whirlpool, has to pay more not only for raw materials, but also for the parts--almost none of which are made here--he hangs on his frames.

22 October 2018

Starry Bike Path?

I know I've posed more than a few ridiculous questions, on this blog and away from it.  I seem to have a penchant for them.  So here comes another:  If Vincent Van Gogh were to design a bike lane, what would it look like?

My question isn't, I believe, as frivolous or flippant as it might seem.  I've long felt that we are more sensitive to light and color when we're pedaling. (At least, I feel that I am.)  That might be a reason why cycling and photography go so well together, and why any number of riders I've known (including current riding buddy Bill) are fine photographers.  

I also have another reason for my question:  There is actually a Van Gogh bicycle path in the Dutch town of Nuenen, where Vincent (Yes, I'm on a first-name basis with him! ;-))worked from 1883 until 1885. During that time, he completed The Potato Eaters, one of his early masterpieces.

Interestingly, the path is more evocative of a later and better-known masterpiece of his.  I am talking about Starry Night, which has inspired all sorts of other work--including the only Don McLean song besides "American Pie" most people can name.  

To me, the path is a work of art in its own right.  Although the swirls and colors in it echo Vincent's painting, it has a different effect:  The painting is its own dynamic, while the environment of the path creates its plays of light and color.  

The path, designed by artist Daan Roosegarrd, is paved with colored stones that are charged in daylight and emit twinkling light--mostly in blue and green--at night.  When so lit, the path displays parts of the painting as you ride on, or look at, it.

From what I've read and heard, the Van Gogh path has turned Nuenen, near Eindhoven, into an atrraction, if not a destination, for tourists.  While it contains several homages to its most famous resident, most Van Gogh pilgrimages include Arles, the Provencal town where he painted Starry Night, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.  Only those who are really in the know about the artist make a detour to Nuenen, whose other distinction is that it was the site of a battle in the significant, but unsuccessful (for the Allies) Operation Market Garden in World War II.

Some folks thousands of kilometers away believe that they can help to continue the revitalization of their city by capturing Nuenen's lightning (all right, light) in a bottle.  It's a "rust belt" city in the US that, like a few others, has sought to revitalize itself by using its history and culture to create a vibrant arts scene.  

In other words, Hamilton is trying to do what a much larger city at the other end of Ohio--Cleveland--has been doing.  Other cities in that part of the United States, like Grand Rapids, Michigan and Milwaukee, have had recent success in stemming, at lest in part, economic decline wrought by the relocation or disappearance of manufacturing industries.

In such cities, as well as in neighborhoods like Bushwick, Brooklyn, the emphasis has been on public art, like sculpture and murals, that can make use of industrial sites and structures as a backdrop, or as material for the works themselves.

Something like the Van Gogh bike path would fit such communities, especially one like Hamilton, which has a very popular bike/walking path along the Miami River.  It also just happens to pass the Fitton Center for the Creative Arts and a sculpture garden.  Wade Johnston, the director of Tri-State Trails, thinks it would be a great spot for a similar sort of path--or, at least one where "public art and beautiful landscaping" could "promote a sense of place" and--not insignificant to city leaders--"encourage reinvestment in Hamilton."

As much as I love art, I am enough of a realist to acknowledge that the arts can't replace high-wage factory jobs.  But, as neighborhoods like Bushwick and cities like Cleveland (once the butt of jokes, many of which referred to a river that caught fire) have shown, the arts can provide other opportunities and encourage talented, creative people to live and work in areas other people abandoned.

21 October 2018

Preach It!

I think we've all had times when we felt as if we were flying while riding.  Sometimes the wind at your back can make you feel as if you've sprouted wings. Or a particularly beautiful vista or perfect weather (however you define it) can make you feel as if you're in heaven, or at least riding above the clouds.

The best part is:  You don't even have to bring your Bible.  Or Koran.  Or any other "holy book." 

20 October 2018

Riding In Her Mortal Dress

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hand and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress

Those lines, from the second stanza of William Butler Yeats' Sailing to Byzantium, will never be found on the door of any plastic surgeon's office.  But for me, they have become an inspiration, if not outright instruction.

They are among the reasons I continue to call this blog "Midlife Cycling" at a time when many would argue that I am no longer in mid-life.  To them, I say that as long as I don't know when my life will end, I am in the middle of it.

Such an outlook provides an answer to another question.  If it doesn't, then perhaps Martha Stewart does.

Truth be told, I never paid a lot of attention to her because, in the days before saving episodes of TV shows for future viewing was possible, let alone convenient, she always aired at times when I couldn't watch them.  Also, I always sensed that I would never be able to replicate some of the things she showed because I didn't have a big enough living space or enough money, or I didn't just happen to have the ingredients on hand.

But now I look to her to solve a riddle.  Actually, it's one that never really exercised my mind before, but someone brought it up in a tweet:

So, this "seafoodpedia" thinks Ms. Stewart will "set an example" by giving up cycling.  Why?  I suspect that "seafoodpedia" is trying to rationalize his or her own laziness or indolence--or is simply upset that Martha is riding faster or better than he or she is--or riding at all.  For all I know, "seafoodpedia" might just be someone who hates bicycles or cyclists.

So, how old does "seafoodpedia" think is "too old to bike safely."  Well, apparently he/she would say 77--Ms. Stewart's current age--or younger.

While I might be practicing a form of denial in calling myself "middle aged", I think it will keep me from believing I'm "too old" to ride a bike--or do many other things.  With every pedal stroke, I can clap my hand and sing, louder, for every tatter in my mortal dress.

So can Martha Stewart--though, I must say, her "tattered dress" looks pretty darned good!

19 October 2018

Enrigester--ou Laissez-Faire?

Woonsocket, Rhode Island claims it's "la ville plus francaise aux Etats-Unis": the most French city in the United States. In one sense, that's true:  An estimated 46 percent  of its residents  are of French or French-Canadian heritage. It's believed that proportion is higher in Woonsocket (Don't you just love saying that name?) than in any other US municipality.  Moreover, the city is home to the American-French Genealogical Society.

But of all cities in the States, the one with the most French influence is undoubtedly New Orleans.  You can see it in the food, architecture, street names and the pace of life:  Gallic joie de vivre combined with Southern languor.  And while other US states are divided into counties, Louisiana, where New Orleans is located, consists of parishes:  a remnant of the region's French Catholic colonial past.  For that matter, the city's and state's codes bear more semblance to France's (or Quebec's) Civil Codes than to the Common Law-derived jurisprudence found in the rest of America.

Interestingly, it seems that the former colony and the former coloniser could go in opposite directions, at least in one area of bicycle policy.

Yesterday, "N'awlins" (All right, I'm a New Yorker but I don't say "Noo Yawk".  So this is the last time I'll pronounce New Orleans as a contraction!) announced that bicycle registration is no longer mandatory--except for rental bicycles.  The city will still offer registration; however, it will be voluntary and the fee will rise from $3 to $5 on New Year's Day.

What spurred the change, according to local advocates, is the $1000 in fines levied against musician Kevin Louis when he rode his "raggedy old" bike to buy a pack of cigarettes in the wee hours of morning.  Others have suggested, though, that the process for registering too often proved to be cumbersome, especially for those who couldn't provide a sales receipt or other proof of purchase for their wheels.  Examples include bikes purchased at yard sales or passed down between family members or friends--or, say, a bike someone gave away when he or she was moving.

But I believe there are also other reasons for the repeal.  One is the laissez-faire Southern attitude.  Remember, the city and state are deep in a part of the nation where the Second Amendment (or, at least a particular interpretation of it) is as sacred a document as the Gospels or the book of Leviticus.  People there really don't like governments telling them what to do; for them, having to register anything reeks of "Big Brother."

A more legitimate argument, however, was raised by other people.  Whenever any jurisdiction implements bike registration, a stated purpose is invariably to combat bike theft.  Registration supposedly deters at least some thieves, and makes it more likely that stolen bikes will be returned to their owners.

While there is no way to verify the first claim, one would expect that registration might deter casual thieves or "crimes of opportunity".  On the other hand, while some bikes in New Orleans and other places have been returned as a result of registration, the chances that you will ever see your bike again if it's nicked is depressingly small.

Yet, another jurisdiction--a nation, in fact--is making the arguments about theft deterrence and returning stolen bikes as it proposes a bike registration program.  It's part of a Plan Velo that, if implemented, would take effect in France in 2020.  Each frame would be marked with a number registered in a national database, much as motor vehicles are.

Other parts of the plan include installing secure bicycle parking facilities at SNCF (the French national rail system) stations, creating more widespread networks of bicycle lanes, offering employer-disbursed incentives for employees who ride their bikes to work.  (Similar subsidies are offered for those who use mass transit.)  It also would provide for bicycle classes in elementary schools.

While few doubt that building infrastructure and offering financial incentives could entice some commuters out of their cars and onto bikes, it's legitimate to question whether bicycle registration will actually help, as its proponents claim, to curb bicycle theft.  In fairness, some people, especially in cities, might be more willing to pedal to work if they felt confident they would still have their bikes at the end of the work day.

It's always interesting to see what happens when nations and their former colonies forge very different solutions to a problem.  Could 64 million French people really not be wrong?  Or do 393,292  folks in The Big Easy have the right idea?

What would they do in Woonsocket?

18 October 2018

Trying To Clear The Air

According to the World Health Organization, the cities with the world's worst air quality are clustered, with a few exceptions, in three areas:  India/Pakistan, China and the Middle East.

What most of the cities on WHO's list have in common is rapidly-developing economies, mainly in manufacturing and other highly-polluting industries.  However, one of the reasons why so many Chinese and Indian cities make the list is, ironically, the opposite of a reason why Middle Eastern urban areas are found on that same list.

That reason has to do with petroleum.  Countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran have lots of it, and use it.  On the other hand, while India and China are also petrol producers, they have also become importers because their industries and vehicular traffic have grown so much, and because their current oil reserves are more difficult to tap than the ones that have previously been tapped.  Plus, both countries are rich in coal, which is widely used as fuel as well as in making steel, a major export for both countries.

But it seems that even in parts of the oil-rich Middle East, there is some awareness of the perils of petrol dependency.  Some of them are, of course, economic:  What will they do when the oil runs out, or simply becomes too difficult or expensive to extract from the ground--or, for that matter, if demand for it decreases?  Other hazards of fossil-fuel addiction include--you guessed it--health hazards related to poor air quality.

So, perhaps, it is not surprising that the Netherlands Bicycle Partnership, a consortium of public and private organizations working with the University of Amsterdam, is working to encourage cycling in Tehran, the capital of Iran, as well as other cities (which made the WHO list) in the country.

The NBP, formed in 2015, works with local governments and organizations on sustainability issues.  It recently helped to devise a document designed to encourage cycling in the Iranian capital over the next five years.  The city is starting to take the steps necessary to develop the infrastructure and do the other things needed to meet the goals of the document.  This is significant because previous attempts to promote cycling failed, in part, due to the lack of said infrastructure--including bike lanes and ride-sharing programs.

It would be interesting--and gratifying--if an area with an economy so tied to petrol production can develop the sort of bicycle infrastructure--which, one imagines, could encourage bicycle commuting as well as recreational cycling--found in petrol-poor countries like the Netherlands, which has significantly better air quality in its cities.

(Interesting side-note: In Europe, the west generally has better air quality than the east--and the differences are stark.  In fact, there's a clear line between the two, and it roughly follows the old Iron Curtain.)