31 May 2019

Technology And Propaganda: The Bicycle In World War I

If our only hope of survival is halting climate change, then the only way the human race will truly advance is if we get rid of war.  That's what I believe, anyway.

That said, I also understand that you can't ignore war if you study history. So, because I am interested in history, and the roles the bicycle has played in it, I've written a few posts about how bicycles have been used by the military.

World War I may have been the conflict in which the bicycle played the most pivotal roles.  It raged at exactly the moment when technologies spawned directly and indirectly by the bicycle were starting to take forms we recognize today.  In all of the nations involved, with the exception of the United States, millions of people rode to work and school, and for fun.  Even in the States, many of adults were still riding, as affordable, reliable automobiles (think Model T) were still a decade in the future.

Doran Cart is one person who recognizes the importance of bicycles in the so-called "Great War".  He is the senior curator of the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City.  When the US entered the war in 1917, military leaders "realized bicycles could make a difference in certain situations," according to Cart.

French military folding bicycle

Although they weren't particularly useful in the trenches and weren't particularly safe on open roads, bicycles could reach areas inaccessible to motor vehicles, and were more reliable.  These factors also made the bicycle, in many situations, the quickest way to convey messages. Bikes also were used, interestingly, on airbases.

What might have been as important as the bicycle's utility was its familiarity.  Unlike other technologies deployed during the war, almost everyone was familiar with the bicycle, as most rode them as civilians.  This meant that soldiers didn't have to learn how to use them, as they did with, say, trucks or planes.  Because so many men and women in uniform had been riding bicycles for all or most of their lives, at least some knew how to repair and maintain them.  How many people knew how to fix a plane or tank before the war?

That familiarity, according to Cart, also made bicycles useful in another way:  they were "a humanizing aspect to the war."  Because bicycles "represented something that every person could use" and were (and are) "available to everyone regardless of social class", they turned out to be rather effective propaganda tools.  Countless illustrations from that time depict young soldiers on or with their bicycles.  I mean, if you see this "Avanti Savoia" ("Onward Savoy"), you might think the 26th Bersaglieri Battalion was embarking on a bike tour.

30 May 2019

Bike-Outs: Super-Predators Wilding? Oh, The Menace!

They ride bikes together.

Oh, and those bikes are s-s-scary:  They’ve got fat wheels and look like Hell’s Angels motorcycles without the motors.

And the kids who ride them—T-they ride in packs and make a lot of noise.  A-and, you know, they pop wheelies and stuff.

They’re-they’re teenagers.  And they’re...

If you were in New York thirty years ago, you can fill in that last ellipsis.  Let’s just say they’re, um, darker than I am—and use words I didn’t learn in Spanish 101.

It seems that every generation or so, some j-school grads with too much time on their hands find new ways to whip up hysteria about groups of urban teenage boys being, well, groups of urban teenage boys.  The latest, it seems, is something that’s been dubbed the “bike-out.”

A Bike-Out?! Oh, my!

Indignation over boys riding modern versions of “Choppers” or “Stingrays” has been ignited by a 74-year-old man who was out for a stroll when, he says, he was attacked by a group of “lawless” teenagers on bikes.

My purpose is not to doubt the man.  One attack, however, does not a phenomenon make.  I am reminded about the hysteria about “wilding” generated by the Central Park Jogger case.

That assault was indeed brutal.  But a certain entrepreneur took it upon himself to take out full-page ads in which he demanded the death penalty for the alleged attackers:  teenagers whose confessions, as it turned out, were coerced and who were finally released from prison on the cusp of middle age.

I am, of course, referring to Donald Trump.  In his ad, he famously bellowed, "I hate them. I want to hate them."  

One thing you have got to say for El Cheeto Grande:  He knows how to play the media.  Or, at least, he shows what one can do with the media if one has, say, a couple of billion lying around.

The "bike-outs" are as much a phantom phenomenon as "wilding" was, and their perpetrators were just as mythical as Hilary Clinton's "super predators."  Those ghost stories (pun intended) involve urban teenage boys and young men who are black and Latino. The only difference between them, as far as I can tell, is that in one legend, the bogeyman show up on bicycles.

(Thanks to Eben Weiss for writing about the "Bike-Out" hysteria in Outside magazine.)

29 May 2019

Dealing With A Transit Strike, The Dutch Way

When there's a transit strike in a US city...

All right, I'm starting off with an iffy proposition.  There aren't many US cities with real transit systems:  New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and a few others. 

OK, so now that we've got that out of the way, let's proceed:  In a US city with a transit system has a transit worker's strike, what happens?

Well, if history (at least here in NYC) is any guide, the city will try to make it easier for cars to enter and park.  A road shoulder or part of a bridge might be designated as an ad hoc bike and pedestrian lane.  And, given the way things are today, the city just might grant more Uber permits.

Now you might think I'm being cranky and cynical. (I am a New Yorker, after all!) But we all know that when it comes to bicycling or transportation, the most forward-thinking American cities might do something the Danes or Dutch did twenty years ago.

Yesterday, transit workers went on strike in the Netherlands.  Yes, in the whole country, not just in Amsterdam or Rotterdam.  That work stoppage involves, not only train and bus operators, but all other workers in those areas, as well as on trams and ferries.

That last item is important because Amsterdam isn't the only part of the country that's laced with canals. Also, the geography of the capital and other Dutch cities means that getting from one part of town or another often involves crossing a body of water.

So what did authorities in Amsterdam do?  They closed the IJ Tunnel--an artery as important to the city as, say, the Brooklyn Battery, Queens-Midtown, Lincoln or Holland (!) tunnels are to New York--to "fast moving" traffic.  They then opened the mile-long tube, which connects the center of the city with its north end--to bicycles.  Pedestrians, though, still aren't allowed.

The way commuters are howling over the prospect of congestion pricing, can you imagine how they'd react if any of those tunnels were opened to cyclists?

28 May 2019

4-1/2 Ft.

Probably the most famous objet d'art that has anything to do with cycling is the "bull" Pablo Picasso fashioned from a bicycle saddle and handlebars.  

There are others, of course, including Marcel Duchamp's bicycle wheel.  On the other hand, we don't often hear about performance art based on bicycles or bicycling.

Now an artist and librarian based in Oakland, California plans to help fill that void.

Lisa Conrad plans to cycle across the state of Nebraska from Thursday, 30 May until 15 June.  She will be accompanied by other artists who plan to traverse the state from west to east.  After the Cornhusker State, they plan to ride across Iowa. 

Now, they are not the first cyclists to ride across either state.  What will be different is their route, which will trace abandoned railroad tracks and the gaps between them.  The purpose, she says, is to explore the role of the railroad in the making of the United States, in particular through examining the tension between the romance of the rails and the reality of making them, which was often exploitative, to put it mildly.

While she doesn't mention anything about it, the ride/performance piece--called 4 -1/2 ft, after the standard width of a railroad track--the  coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental railroad. 

This isn't the first such ride for Conrad and the other artist-cyclists.  Previously, they did a similarly-themed ride across Washington State and Northern Idaho, and another through Montana into Wyoming.

You can learn more about 4 -1/2 ft at their website.

27 May 2019

Remembering A War’s Legacy

Today, on Memorial Day, I am remembering something I saw last July, while cycling in Cambodia.

Few countries have been more devastated by war.  The land mines that remain, after half a century, continue to bind the nation and its people to the legacy of a war that spread from Vietnam and led to the horrors of the Pol Pot regime.

Aki Ra was conscripted to fight at age 10, he estimates:  He doesn’t know the exact date of his birth. By the time he was old enough to vote in most countries, he had fought in theee different armies.  During that time, he became a specialist in explosives, specifically land mines.

As a civilian, he has devoted himself to finding and defusing land mines, not only in Cambodia, but in other former war zones.  He’s even unearthed World War I - era ordnance in Europe.

This work led to his founding the Landmine Museum and a school for children, many of whom would not otherwise have the opportunity to do so.

The Museum is a testament to a legacy of war—specifically, how it continues to terrorize people who weren’t even born when their land was laced with explosives.


26 May 2019

Be Safe. Don't Become A Memory Just Yet!

Today is Memorial Day.  

In spite of our current President, I still hope that, one day, people will be able to look at military installations and armaments in much the same way they look at Stonehenge:  as monuments to practices abandoned.  That, to me, is the only way the millions of combat-related deaths and mutilations will have any meaning.  In other words, those wasted lives and bodies will matter if they teach us that we don't have to squander our talent and treasure.

Now, I hope none of this sounds so lugubrious that you won't go for a bike ride.  If you do, be safe.  I don't want this day to be a memorial for you, before your time!

Protecting Yourself--And Your Riding Buddies

If you use fenders, you know that the front and about half of your rear fender help to keep you and your bike clean and dry.

The rearmost part of your back fender--and its mudflap--serve mainly to keep the riders behind you from getting splattered or sprayed.

In other words, a long rear fender and flap is a courtesy to your fellow cyclists.   If that's the case, there may be no more considerate rider than this one:

25 May 2019

The Signs In Delaware

You're riding down a street.  You see a swath of green--and white lines and--barricades!?  Really?  There's a bike lane here?

More than a few times, I've had bike paths appear seemingly out of nowhere--and end just as abruptly. Or someone tells me about a lane I somehow missed in an area I ride frequently.

Now, I can only imagine how often someone who's newer to cycling than I am--or who rides less frequently than I do--is totally oblivious to whatever bicycle infrastructure might be available to them.  Or they just don't know what might be a good route to pedal from their homes to work, school, the park or wherever they want or need to go.

The folks at Bike Delaware understand as much.  They were instrumental in getting the state to build bike lanes-- including the Wilmington-New Castle Greenway, a safe, direct, flat and nearly uninterrupted seven-mile motor-free trail linking the Wilmington riverfront with downtown New Castle.

That lane opened last September.  Three years earlier, in July of 2015, Bike Delaware began working with the Delaware Department of Transportation to to secure the necessary regulatory approval for "wayfinding" signage.  Transportation signs are highly regulated by the Federal government--more so than roadways or bike paths, which are mainly state or county projects.  

Best of all, the bike signs have their own unique color, so they can't be confused with other road signs.  

I haven't been to Delaware in a long time. But if I ever find myself there, at least I'll know which way to ride!

24 May 2019

Make Sure You Invest In The Right Bicycle!

Not so long ago, nobody would have named a product "Brooklyn".  It was the declasse downmarket cousin of Manhattan.  And, in certain circles, one could be judged (as I was) for having grown up in it.  When I moved to the borough as an adult, I lived in a neighborhood where nobody would admit to being from Brooklyn.  Instead, they told people they lived in Park Slope.  I'll admit, I fell into that guise a few times.

Now, of course, "Brooklyn" is cool. At least, if you moved there from someplace else.  Brooklyn's cachet isn't found in  just any of the borough's neighborhoods:  The one in which I grew up is not the hipster haven that Williamsburg--at least, a section of it--has become, and isn't a maze of young women in $200 yoga pants pushing $1500 strollers along bar- and restaurant-lined avenues, as "The Slope" has become.  When marketers and entrepreneurs name their products or emporia after Brooklyn, they're not thinking about East New York or Brownsville--or even, for that matter, the parts of Williamsburg south of the eponymous bridge and east of Union Avenue, where Hasidim and Hispanics, respectively, live.

Lately, it seems that "bicycle" is starting to gain status, however slowly, in much the same way Brooklyn is.  For as long as I can remember, the only non-bicycle related product named for the two-wheeler has been playing cards.  And they were so named in the days when a bike cost about as much as the average worker made in a year.  

Of course, you aren't going to find breakfast cereals or cosmetics named for anything velocipedic. At least, not now. That could change, however, very soon.  Slowly but surely, our two-wheeled obsession is gaining status--in one industry, anyway.

Interestingly, that area is biotechnology.  Perhaps it's not surprising when you realize that at scientists have likened the motion of at least one kind of molecule to the way pedals rotate around a bottom bracket.  

So now there is a company called Bicycle Therapeutics.  Now pharmaceutical giant Merck (funny, how much that looks like the name of the greatest racer of all time) has announced that it acquired a biotech startup that was ready to announce an Initial Public Offering.  

The name of that company is Peloton Therapeutics.

Nicholas Janski of Barron's wondered whether would-be investors might mistake the biotech company--which actually is applying some of the recently-discovered knowledge about the "bicycle" molecules I've mentioned--for Peloton Interactive, the maker of at-home "spin" bikes.  He cited similar confusion last month, when investors piled money into Zoom Technologies, causing the price of its stock to more than double, after Zoom Video Communications, an entirely unrelated company, announced its IPO.

(Me, when I hear "Zoom," I think of handlebars, stems, seatposts and other bike parts, mainly for mountain bikes!) 

Hmm...I wonder whether Eddie bought stock in any of those companies.  Does he think "Brooklyn" is cool?

23 May 2019

200 Years Of Bicycling In New York

It looks like I'll be taking a trip to the Museum of the City New York soon.

If you read this blog regularly, you know I'm not the sort of person who has to be dragged into a museum.  But even if you are that sort of person, and you happen to be in New York, you might want to take a trip to the MCNY.

Bicyclists in Central Park in 1941

There, "Cycling in the City:  A 200-Year History" will include photographs and other objects intended to "trace the bike's transformation of urban transportation and leisure" and reveal "the complex, creative and often contentious (No, really?--ed.) relationship between New York and the bicycle."  This exhibition has been organized by Evan Friss, the author of On Bicycles:  A 200-Year History of Cycling in New York City and Donald Albrecht, one of the museum's curators.  

At least one of the topics covered by the exhibit is something I've discussed in at least a few of my posts:  the bicycle's role in liberating women.  The way we dress today owes everything to the shorter and split skirts, and "bloomers" developed for female riders, as well as those female riders tossing off their hoopskirts, petticoats and whalebone corsets. 

This photograph, taken by renowned photographer Alice Austen, shows her friend Violet Ward on the right with Daisy Elliott.  Ms. Ward, who lived on Staten Island, started one of the first bike clubs for women and wrote Bicycling for Ladies, a 200-page book advising women on how to become serious cyclists.

Another interesting topic the exhibit highlights is the ways in which bicycles and bicycling helped different ethnic and racial groups, some of whom had only recently arrived in the city, to assert their American identity as well as to promote solidarity.  German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican and Mongolian created their own riding groups.  So did Caribbean immigrants, as well as African-Americans, most of whom came from the South.  Black cyclists started the Alpha Wheelmen to challenge the notion that cycling was only for privileged white men (We sure can use that now!) and a certain black man rode with the South Brooklyn Wheelmen into worldwide fame as the second black athlete to win a title in any sport. (Canadian boxer George Dixon was the first.)  He was none other than Marshall, a.k.a. Major, Taylor.

A bicycle club member in the Bronx, 2007. Photo Carlos Alvarez Montero

Now, being a white cyclist, I'm not aware of current New York City-based bike clubs organized around the ethnic or racial identities, though their existence wouldn't surprise me:  I often see groups of black or Latino men (and, less frequently, women) riding together, sometimes dressed in the same colors. They might be actual clubs, or less formal organizations. And there is at least one women's cycling group that I know about:  WE Bicycle.

Steve Athineos, center, leads NYC bike messengers in protest against midtown bike lane closure, 1987

And, about the "contentious" part of the museum's introduction:  The exhibit shows that conflict between cyclists and the police or segments of the public are not new.  One reason why we had to fight to get Prospect and Central Parks closed to traffic is that bicycles had actually been banned from those parks, and others, during the first "bike boom" because of confrontations between cyclists and pedestrians as well as horseback riders.  Now, how anyone thought that vehicular traffic was less of a hazard than bicycles is beyond me.  Then again, I don't claim to have one of the great minds of this, or any other, era.

OK, I'll turn off the sarcasm meter and repeat that I intend to see the exhibit. 

22 May 2019

Spoke'n Words And Unchained Melodies

Can musicians make music without a musical instruments?

One of the oldest American musical traditions involves musicians doing exactly that.  Now, some might not say it's strictly a musical tradition, but it certainly involves music--and dance and other kinds of performance.  

It originated in Charleston, South Carolina. Actually, Kongo slaves brought a dance called the Juba from their native land.  The Juba involves stomping as well as patting and drumming the arms, legs, chest and other parts of the body.  Later, lyrics were added to it.

If any of this sounds familiar, you've seen what's commonly called the "Hambone."  Slaves weren't allowed to have rhythm instruments because masters believed secret codes were embedded in the drumming.  So, the "Hambone" and related music and dances became one of the primary means of expression for slaves--and for African Americans after the so-called Emancipation.

I like to think of Juba or Hambone as a precursor to hip-hop.

Anyway, it seems that the idea of making music without instruments--or, at least, what most people would think of as instruments--hasn't died. And, as with the slaves, one particular contemporary performer felt the need to make music without guitars, keyboards, saxophones or the like.

Percussionist Reynaliz Herrera probably isn't the first musician to ride a bicycle to street performances.  She, however, grew frustrated with the limits to what she could carry on two wheels.  So, the Braintree (Don't you just love that name?), Massachusetts wondered, "What if I drum on my bike?"  

If you know anything about her musicianship, the question doesn't sound so far-fetched.  Ever since she came from her native Mexico to study music in Canada and, later, Boston, she has wanted to go beyond traditional theories of classical music, she says.  


While she cites Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and classical music as her main influences, she says that playing on a bicycle is a return to her own roots.  As a child, she experimented by banging on pots and pans, and created a band with buckets of water in her yard.  That led her to the realization that "everything can create a sound" and that her job is to find out "the qualities of sounds and which sound good together."

What's interesting is how the bicycle is composed of parts that create a range of tones, from high to low, that resemble the parts of a drum ensemble.  For example, she explains, the chainwheel can sound like a bell or snare drum, the freewheel like a high hat and the tire like a kick drum.  Technically, playing a bicycle, she says, is most like playing a xylophone because both require a musician to strike closely-spaced parts spread over a wide area.

21 May 2019

Little Ricky Wasn't Afraid Of Me

No matter how well you know your route, you never really know whom or  what you'll encounter along the way.

During yesterday's commute, I encountered this:

"Ricky" (It sounds more gender-neutral than "Rocky") crossed my path, literally, under the Hell Gate trestle. If you've taken an Amtrak train between New York and Boston, you've ridden on that trestle.  The path leads to the Randall's Island Connector, which I take to the Bronx.

Since that path bisects fields and the connector crosses over the Bronx Kill, which connects the Harlem River with the East River, near the point where it meets Long Island Sound, it's not unusual to see animals, including the Randall's Island Salamander.  

What surprised me, though, is that when I stopped, little Ricky approached me.  Usually, when I see a raccoon, they dart away.  Perhaps nobody had taught Ricky to be afraid of humans--or to defend territory against them.

It took me too long to get my phone out of my bag, so I only captured an image of Ricky in retreat.  He/she was sooo cute (OK, how many baby animals aren't?) but I knew enough not to pick him/her up.  As the Parks Department reminds us, they're never too small to have rabies.

But, really, how can you associate someone so little and cute with something so terrible?  If I ever see little Ricky again, though, he won't be so little--and probably will've learned to be afraid.

20 May 2019

Take A Bike Ride And Call Me In The Morning

Lately, there's been a burst of interest in "social prescribing", particularly in the UK.  In fact, the UK plans to implement it nationwide, as part of a strategy to combat loneliness, by 2023.

"Social prescibing" is a loose term of practices that draw upon therapeutic art-, hobby- or exercise-based programs to help patients with a range of issues ranging from dementia to lung conditions.  The idea behind it is that for many patients, particularly the elderly, their physical ailments are exacerbated (if not initiated) by their isolation.  Not surprisingly, depression and anxiety plague many who have outlived friends, family members, colleagues and neighbors and create a vicious cycle in which emotional conditions worsen physical ones--which, of course, make the people who suffer those conditions even more unhappy, and sicker.

As part of "social prescribing", general practitioners and, in some cases, other health care providers can prescribe any number of activities, including museum visits, cooking classes or walking tours for patients. These activities are not meant to replace medical or surgical treatments, though they may well reduce, or even eliminate, the need for medications to treat emotional and other conditions.

Those activities could include bike rides.

The Welsh National Health Service has just announced that doctors at two Cardiff medical centers can now prescribe free six-month prescriptions to a bicycle-rental service.  The intent of the pilot program is to not only improve cardiovascular health, but also to support overall mental well-being.  If successful, the program could be expanded to include other health care professionals in the city, and perhaps even the country.

Under the plan, patients will be given a code that will provide them access to an unlimited number of free 30-minute riding sessions.  These sessions, which will be made available by European bike-share company Nextbike, can cost 10 pounds sterling (about $13 at current exchange rates) per day.  

The announcement of this plan, the first of its kind in the UK, closely follows an NHS report detailing a 15 percent increase in obesity-related hospital admissions in the UK.  That is not surprising when you consider that five years ago, the city of Boston started a "Prescribe-a-Bike" program for low-income patients, in part to combat the obesity that disproportionately affects the poor.  It has since morphed into a discounted BLUEbikes membership program for people who receive government benefits.

18 May 2019

Where It's Really Hard To Get Out Of The Way

I've ridden the block dozens of times.  And walked it at least as often.

It's less than a kilometer from where I grew up.  Relatives, friends and classmates lived along the streets that crossed it.

Unfortunately, for a 16-year-old boy, it's where his life ended. 

Yisroel Schwartz was riding north on 17th Avenue, a narrow thoroughfare that runs through the heart of Borough Park, a neighborhood that is no as riding north on 17th Avenue, a narrow thoroughfare that runs through the heart of Borough Park, a neighborhood that is now home to one of the world's largest yet most cohesive Hasidic Jewish communities.

Although it's called an "avenue," it's narrower than most streets or roads in other American cities.  And because the Hasidim, who have large families, are among the most car-reliant people in New York City, the avenue is often crowded--even when drivers aren't pulled over to pick up or discharge family members, or simply double-parked. 

Those conditions, unfortunately, make getting "doored" a particular hazard.  That was the last lesson Yisroel Schwartz learned in his brief life.

He saw the door opening and swerved.  But he couldn't avoid it, striking the door and falling to the pavement.

But it gets worse:  While prone, he was struck by an Econoline E350 van that was heading in the same direction.  He suffered severe trauma to his head and body, and was pronounced dead soon after arriving at Maimonides Medical Center, about halfway between that block and my old house.

Both drivers--of he car whose door he struck and the van that struck him--remained at the scene of the accident.  The NYPD are investigating. Knowing that stretch of 17th Avenue--which I probably wouldn't ride if I weren't so familiar with it--I am actually inclined to give the van driver at least,  the benefit of the doubt.  No matter your cycling or driving skills, it's really hard to get out of the way on that stretch of the Avenue, between 53rd and 52nd Streets.

17 May 2019

If He Flies, It Won't Be A High For Him

When I first became a dedicated cyclist, in the mid-1970s, I eagerly awaited my monthly copy of Bicycling! magazine.  Among the reviews and ads for bikes and equipment I couldn't afford, there was John Rakowski's serialized account of his ride around the world.

To this day, it's one of the most impressive feats I've ever read or heard about. Riding a bicycle around the world!    Over three years, he pedaled through every continent except Antarctica.  

It's such an impressive feat that I simply could not, imagine doing it more than once--until yesterday.  While surfing the web over supper (not a "best practice," I know!) I came across a story about Armando Basile, who hails from Germany.  

He's completed six velocipedic circumnavigations of the globe.  Yes, six.  And he was on his seventh such sojourn (Yes, I plagiarized the Moody Blues!) in Crescent City, California, the other day when the only thing that could have stopped him happened.

Surveillance video reportedly shows suspect with Basile's bike.

His Tout Terrain bicycle was stolen.  He called the Crescent City Police Department to say that his mount was taken at the Chevron South on Highway 101 at Elk Valley Road.

"The way it looks, the tour is finished," Basile posted to his Facebook page.  That is, unless someone calls 707-464-2133 with information that could lead to the wheels' whereabouts.

Otherwise, he'll be going from San Francisco to Frankfurt tomorrow--on a plane.  I don't think the best in-flight amenities could make him feel good under such circumstances!


16 May 2019

Who Needs A Wall? A Fence Will Do The Job.

In other posts, I've pointed out that bike lanes and other bicycle-related infrastructure are not always received warmly by low-income or working-class people, or by people of color.

Bike lanes are often seen as paths to gentrification.  While the income level and hue of a neighborhood may well change after one of those green ribbons winds down a street, we cannot, as at least one of your teachers has said, confuse coincidence with causation. (The same association is often made between art and the ways neighborhoods change:  More than one commentator has referred to artists as the canaries in the coal mine.)  Still, I can understand why someone who's just getting by would feel resentment when he or she sees a cyclist who seems to be having fun--even if said cyclist is riding to work.

Also, that cyclist is, as likely as not, to be white.  Or, if he or she is not, he or she is, as often as not, an educated professional, and young.  That last fact is even more important than one might realize:  Gentrification often pushes out people who have been living in a neighborhood for decades--in some cases, their entire lives--and really have nowhere else to go.  

One more thing:  Nearly all planners and designers involved in building bike infrastructure are like the folks spinning down those lanes:  white, with at least one university degree and from at least the middle class, if not a higher rung on the socio-economic ladder.  Urban and transportation planning, it seems, are a bit like architecture:  a difficult profession to enter if you're not already connected, in some way, to the people who are already in it.  And, of course, it takes financial and other resources to, not only get the education required for such work, but to endure long periods at jobs that don't pay well.  That is why, for example, most of the students in the college in which I teach are preparing to become nurses, dental hygenists and the like, if they're not studying business. 

But today, in taking a slightly different route to work, I found yet another reason why poor, working-class and nonwhite people might fear and hate the arrival of a bike lane in their neighborhood.

As you might have guessed, those tall brick buildings to the left of the bike lane are projects (or what the British call "council flats").  Guess who lives in them?  

If you were one of them, how welcome would you feel on that bike lane?

Oh, and that ferry:  It's nice.  But, even with the location of that dock, one sees hardly a dark face on board.  

By the way, just beyond the end of the lane, a new development is going up. If nothing else, it just might make the bike lane seem welcoming, by comparison anyway, to the folks in the projects. 

15 May 2019

Citizens and Business Owners

A motorist once accused me and other cyclists of using "for free" the things he and other non-cyclists pay for.  I pointed out that he pays only one tax that I don't pay:  for gasoline.  Roads and other infrastructure are not, as he and others believe, wholly funded by that levy on fuel.  In fact, in most US states--including New York--most of the money for roads comes from general taxes, whether at the local, state or federal level.

In essence, I was telling that driver that I am as much of a citizen as he is, and that cyclists pay their share as much as anybody does.  If anything, we are taxed more heavily because motorists can often deduct the expenses of owning and operating their vehicles.

Now, if cyclists are citizens, just as motorists are, what does that make bicycle shop owners?

Business owners.  Mostly, small business owners.

That is the point made by several bike emporium proprietors in a letter to Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser.  In it, they point out that their interest in Vision Zero--which, they believe, Bowser's administration has been slow to implement--is for the benefit not only of their customers, but also the community as a whole.  They say a few things about themselves that, really, any conscientious small business owner could say:

Bikeshops are active in their communities. Although we compete for the same customers, we share the same goal: put more people on bikes. More people on bikes helps all of us as business owners and the city where our shops are located.
We provide emergency repairs and some of us provide free tool use to get our customers and neighbors moving again.
We donate to local charities.
We create jobs and train young people that have just started working.
We create positive activity in retail corridors.

We create sales tax revenue for the District.

In other words, they're saying that they are serving, not only cyclists, but the Washington DC community as a whole.  That also reinforces the argument I made with the motorist I mentioned at the beginning of this post:  Cyclists are part of the community, too:  We come from "every Ward and all walks of life," in the words of the letter.  We hold the same kinds of jobs, have the same kinds of families, live in the same kinds of places and have all of the same needs as other members of the community.  One of those needs is safety, and the one major difference between us and motorists, or other citizens is--as the writers of the letter point out--we are more vulnerable on the roads.

Oh, and we are customers, not only of bike shops, but the other businesses in their vicinity:  greenmarkets, book sellers, hardware stores, haircutters and beauticians, clothing boutiques, coffee shops, supermarkets and eateries of any and all kinds.  If I owned any of those businesses, I would want my customers to remain safe--and alive. 

14 May 2019

What's Stopping Them From Biking To Work?

It's rained nonstop, sometimes torrentially, since early Sunday morning. And it's been unseasonably cold.  My friend Millie remarked, "The weather is always nasty on Mother's Day but nice on Father's Day."

I mused that the weather might be a metaphor for a mother's life and a father's life, or a woman's and a man's.  Or, perhaps, it means that God really is a man--and one who hates women, at that.

She, who's enough of a Catholic to believe that if she lives right, she'll join her husband John in Heaven, laughed.

About the weather: That it comes during Bike to Week work seems like a conspiracy.  I used to know someone who believed that the CIA controlled the weather.  I could believe that, at least for the past few days, the clouds and precipitation have been regulated by someone who hates cyclists.

Now, this weather might deter someone who was thinking about riding his or her bike to work or school for the first time.  It doesn't seem to have driven most of the regular bike commuters to the subway or buses.  And, yes, I rode to work, but I haven't done a "fun" ride since Saturday.

While the rain might not be a disincentive for die-hard veteran bike commuters, this could be

You have to admit, though, that there is something ironic about a Department of Transportation vehicle in the approach to the Queensborough Bridge bike lane:

Thank you, Coleman Barton, for the image--and tweet.

13 May 2019

He Survived The Un-Survivable

Once, the chair of a department in which I taught asked for lesson plans, assignments and other materials "in case you get hit by a truck."  My father implored me to write a will for the same contingency.

"Getting hit by a truck" has long been a metaphor for spontaneous, sudden, instantaneous death.  And one's demise usually is the result of such an encounter with a multi-ton, many-wheeled vehicle, especially if there's nothing between the person who is struck and the bumper of the truck but a jacket--or the rear wheel of a bicycle.

Donald Graham of Omaha is an exception.

He was riding his bicycle on the shoulder of Highway 75 North when he veered into the traffic lane--and the path of a truck.

According to Police Captain Wayne Hudson, Heyl Trucking driver Danile Forno did everything he could to avoid hitting Graham.  Forno said he saw another vehicle move to another lane to avoid hitting Graham.

Hudson said that Forno will not be charged but Graham, who suffered a broken leg and brain bleed, might be ticketed.  Because he was riding home from the "Forgot Store" bar,  Hudson believes that alcohol "may have played a role" in the crash.

Even with his current woes, I imagine Donald Graham is one of those rare people who survived getting hit by a truck.  I have to wonder how, or whether, he wants to remember--and, given his alcohol consumption, how much he will remember.

12 May 2019

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day!

This day is not only a time to honor the woman who gave birth to, raised--and did so much else for--me, but also the other women who have been our inspirations, guides, role models, friends, mentors and companions.

In other words, this is for the women who rock.  And roll!

I've never had children.  But Marlee seems to think I'm her mama.