30 June 2022

In Place

Yesterday I was torn between taking a familiar or a new ride.  So I did a bit of both:  I pedaled through areas of Westchester County I hadn’t seen in a while, on roads I’d never ridden.

While riding, I couldn’t help but to think about how two affluent towns, so close, could feel so different. Scarsdale, New York, like Greenwich, Connecticut, is one of the most affluent towns in the United States.  Both have quaint downtowns full of shops that offer goods and services you don’t find in big-box stores.  But while some Greenwich establishments have the intimacy of places where generations of people have congregated, others are like the ones in Scarsdale and other wealthy parts of Westchester County:  more self-conscious—you can see it in the names, some of which show merely that whoever came up with the name took French or Italian—and more trendy while trying not to seem trendy.  

Also, the mansions of Greenwich are set further from the roadway than those in Scarsdale.  I suspect that has to do with the differences between the towns’ zoning codes—which has to do with the philosophies of the people who made them.  Also, part of Greenwich includes farms where horses are bred and herbs are grown.

In other words, they reflect the difference between New England and suburban New York wealth (though Greenwich is certainly part of the New York Metro area). 

While both towns have public art and sculpture, I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this in Greenwich:

Simone Kestelman, the creator of “Pearls of Wisdom,” says she was inspired by what pearls mean: something to wear for special occasions, purity, spiritual transformation, dignity, charity honesty, integrity—and, of course, wisdom acquired over time.

One might expect to see something like this in Greenwich:

Indeed, the town has public horlogues like that one,  But I encountered it in the Bronx, across the street from Montefiore Hospital!

29 June 2022

Simple Arithmetic?

 Only a mathematician could ever come up with that!

I've forgotten what the "that" was.  But I remember that an engineer said it.  Now, my knowledge of mathematics can be summed up, generously, by the divisor of an equation that yields a quotient of infinity. But I understood, I think, that engineer's exclamation:  Almost nothing is as abstract--and, therefore, divorced from reality, at least in the minds of many--as mathematics.

If there are things only a mathematician can come up with, then I imagine there are things an engineer would never try or, probably, even think about.  To wit:

To be fair, Sergii Gordieiev's project was inspired by a real-life situation:  He crushed his front wheel on a curb.  That left him, in essence, with half of a wheel.  So that got him to wondering how to ride with half of a wheel.  The solution came from a mathematical equation so simple even I could understand it:  half plus half equals one.  Thus, he realized, he could make a bike run on two half-wheels--on the rear, anyway.

Your local bike mechanic probably can perform all sorts of miracles.  I know:  I've resurrected a bike or two in my time.  (If you're inculcated with the language of Catholicism, it never leaves you!)  But, my old engineer acquaintance said, there are some things only a mathematician could come up with. 

28 June 2022

Next On The Journey--Or: Where Is This Going?

After writing yesterday's post, I noticed something interesting, at least to me.  

I began this blog twelve years ago.  You might say that I spun it off from an earlier blog, Transwoman Times.  I started that blog a year before my gender-affirmation surgery and continued it for several years after.  About a year after my surgery, I--and at least one reader--noticed that I was also writing about my rides and bikes, and cycling in general.  I didn't think bikes or cycling were out of place in TT:  After all, they--and the fact that I couldn't ride for a few months after my surgery--were an important part of my gender affirmation process, as they have been in my life. 

After I started this blog, I wrote less about cycling-related stuff on TT.  So, perhaps not surprisingly, I found myself posting less on that site as I had less and less to say about my gender affirmation.  That is to say, rather than a process of affirmation, my gender identity became a fact of my life.

But now I find that I'm writing more about, if not gender-related topics, then political, social and cultural issues, on this blog.  Those subjects are, of course, related to cycling, especially if it's your primary or a major means of transportation.  You know that from my rants about bicycle "infrastructure" planned, designed and built by people who haven't been on a bicycle since the day they got their driver's licenses. 

I also, however, see that gender-related issues are "creeping" into this blog.  In one way it seems ironic, or at least odd:  Am I coming full-circle (or cycle)?, I wonder.  Then again, this shift in focus, if indeed this blog is moving in that direction, is a fulfillment of what I say in my masthead:  I am--as always--a woman on a bicycle--and something else I say in my profile--this is a blog by a transgender woman.

While I haven't posted on Transwoman Times in a while, I have no plans to let this blog lie fallow.  I just hope that the twists and turns of this blog, and my journey, continue to interest you, and others.  But I must warn you:  I won't stop being "political."  I can't.

27 June 2022

The Monday After The Overturn

Last week, I wrote a post on the 50th anniversary of Title IX becoming enshrined in U.S. law.

The following day, the Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade.

I am writing about that now because I fear that so much of what Title IX made possible can be reversed--or, at least, the law could be rendered all but meaningless.

One thing enslavers know is that keep people servile, all they have to do is restrict the movements of the people they want to keep in bondage and take their bodily sovereignty from them.  The Taliban understands that lesson quite well:  They didn't have to close schools or bar women from opening businesses or practicing professions.  All they had to do was make them wear clothing that inhibited their movements and make it all but impossible to leave their homes without a related male escort.  In a matter of months, they reversed all of the gains Afghan women and girls made during the previous two decades.  Until recently, a similar situation prevailed in Saudi Arabia (enforced by a royal family that, ahem, the United States props up) until women were allowed some elementary rights like riding bicycles and driving cars.

One result of the restrictions in Afghanistan and Saudi  Arabia is that women's health deteriorated.  Women's bodies were seen, as they are in all fundamentalist and orthodox religions, as incubators:  Their health care is seen as important only to the extent that it allows them to bear and rear children.  Because women could not go anywhere without a related male escort, they could be denied care because their husbands didn't want them to take off their clothes in the presence of a male doctor (never mind that a female doctor may not be available) or simply decided the women didn't really need care.

So how does this affect us, in a country where we don't have to wear burkas and can come and go as we please? (Well, OK, there are some areas where  we don't go alone.) As a transgender woman, I often think about bodily autonomy:  What if I'd been told I couldn't take hormones or have surgery?  Or what if there wasn't a therapist and social worker available who understood my situation and could guide me into my transition?  If abortion can be denied, what else can a government--whether national, state or local--tell us we need or don't need, or can or can't have?

For that matter, could politicians and judges tell us what we can and can't do in our free time--or as a profession?  Think about it.  In some states, women have been arrested for having miscarriages or stillbirths.  Why?  Those miscarriages and stillbirths were considered as manslaughter or even homicide on the grounds that some behavior--drug use, drinking, smoking or even diet or activities--induced them.  What if some accident or injury in cycling--or some other sport--were considered as "causes" or "contributing factors?"

You might say that I'm being hysterical or alarmist.  In the days before Roe v Wade, girls were discouraged from sports with this admonition: "It'll tip your uterus."  Or our other "tender parts" would be irrevocably damaged, or the effort of pedaling or running or jumping or whatever would contort our pretty little faces. (They obviously never saw mine!)

And I fear that women's health care--which is still nowhere near the level it should be--will revert to its pre-Roe state.  Of course, I'm not talking about the technology.  Rather, I mean that an attitude Roe engendered--that women, as sentient beings, are worthy of health care in their own right--could revert.  If it's harder to obtain care, and care for ourselves, it will be more difficult to not only particiapate in sports, even recreationally, but also to determine our careers and other areas of life.

Our journeys take many unexpected turns.  I know mine has.  I just hope ours don't go off a cliff with the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade.


26 June 2022

The Way To Go

Whether you are straight or gay, trans or cis, or any other gender or sexual orientation, 

here is my advice to you:


25 June 2022

A Bike Lane Network: The Community Wants It. Can The City Get It Right?

Sometimes, when I don't have all day, or even morning or afternoon, to ride, I'll take a spin out to the eastern Queens, the New York City borough where I live (in its western end).  The routes between my Astoria apartment and Fort Totten or Alley Pond include some charming residential streets, cute shops and some lovely parks.  

But as the urban-but-not-claustrophobic character of my neighborhood also gives way to more spacious yards, the neighborhoods also become more suburban--and auto-centric.  While some residents of those areas ride for fitness or simply fun, they ride to and in parks and cycling isn't seen as a means of transportation.  Also, the city's mass transit lines don't reach into those neighborhoods.  So, for most people, going to work, school or shop means driving or being driven.

That is why on at least some of the area's streets, cycling can be just as hazardous as it is in more densely-populated neighborhoods.  Too often, drivers simply aren't accustomed to seeing cyclists on the streets.  Or, they have been inculcated with the notion that the drivers rule and cyclists, pedestrians and everyone else are supposed to get out of their way. Thus, so-called "shared" roadways--which consist of nothing more than lines and bike symbols painted on pavement--do nothing to promote safety.

Also, eastern Queens is laced and ringed with major highways.  The off-ramps from those by-ways merge into the neighborhood's main streets like Northern Boulevard.  One problem with the bike lane on the Boulevard is the difficulty in crossing one of those exit ramps, where there is no traffic light or even a "stop," "slow" or "yield" sign.

The problems I mentioned were cited by members of Community Board 11 when they sent back a proposal the City's Department of Transportation presented to them.  The proposal called for a series of bike lanes in a five square-mile area.  While the Board is in favor of establishing a network of lanes, the DoT's initial proposal called for fewer miles of them, none of which would have been protected.  Worst of all, at least in my view, this "network" would have the same problem I've encountered in too many bike lane "networks":  It's not a network.  Lanes weren't connected to each other; they are the "bike lanes to nowhere" I've complained about in other posts.  One board member pointed out that the lack of connection between segments actually puts cyclists in more danger than simply riding on the road.

As I often ride out that way, I am interested to see what the DoT does in response.  I am just happy that in an auto-centric area, community board members see the value in having a network of protected bike lanes. I hope the DoT gets it right. 

24 June 2022

On A Cloud, Even If I'm Not Riding Through It

The other day, rain fell in starts and stops, stopping late in the day.  I took Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear, for a spin through neighborhood streets and a couple of times around Roosevelt Island.

Some parts of the island, especially the area around the lighthouse and "Girl Puzzle," feel rather bucolic, in and of themselves and in contrast to the skyline and bridge views less than a mile across the water.  

Those views also highlight certain weather conditions.  Low clouds seem even closer to the streets when they enshroud the spires and upper floors of skyscrapers.

I've pedaled up and downmountains similarly cocooned, through  clouds thick enough that I couldn't see more than a few feet in front of me.  It may have been the most Zen-like riding I've ever done:  When all of the normal cues, including color and sound, are gone, I could only ride, in that space, in that moment.  For a time, I couldn't even see my bike under me: I felt only my rear on the saddle, my hands gripping the handlebars so my arms could prop me up and my feet spinning the pedals.  I didn't even know which gear I was riding. 

Of course, no ride on Roosevelt Island, or anyplace in the city, will take me into the clouds.  But I can feel, if for a moment, that I am on a cloud!

23 June 2022

Title IX, Fifty Years Later

 On this date in 1972–fifty years ago—Title IX became law in the United States.

It’s commonly associated with its most visible manifestation:  women’s sports in educational institutions.  It is, however, a broad piece of legislation (Do I sound like a lawyer or politician?) stating that no educational institution that receives Federal funding—as most, even private colleges and schools do—can discriminate on the basis of sex.

The title of this blog is “Midlife Cycling.”  I am, however, old enough to have grown up with a girl much smarter than I am and possessing talents I can only wish for but whose parents did everything they could to keep her from going to college (or art school, her dream) because “she’ll get married, stop working and it will all be wasted.”

That rationale was used to impose strict quotas on—or ban outright—women in graduate schools, medical and law schools and even undergraduate programs like engineering. Those schools and programs just happened to offer access to some of the highest-paying jobs which, in the minds of decision-makers (nearly all men) “men need more” because they were going to support those women who were denied access to those programs and jobs—and the children those men and women would have.

Such attitudes were also used to discourage or bar girls and women from participating in sports. It was a kind of circular argument:  Girls’ and women’s participation in sports was pointless because once they graduated from school or aged out of whatever program they were in, there were no more opportunities for them, professionally or otherwise. That women and girls didn’t participate in sports was the rationale for not creating such opportunities! 

In addition to being circular, such an argument was hypocritical and nakedly sexist:  To my knowledge, no boy or man (including me, in my previous life) was ever discouraged from participating in sports because he had little or no chance of getting a scholarship or making a living from it.

One irony of Title IX is that sports is not mentioned anywhere in it.  Only subsequent revelations that women’s and girls’ sports budgets were as little as 1% of those for men’s and boy’s teams caused the law to be applied to sports programs.

While female participation in sports is undoubtedly much greater than it was half a century ago, it—and, perhaps more importantly, the budgets for it—are still much lower than those for males, and not nearly in proportion to student enrollment. Women make up nearly 60 percent of college and university enrollments but only 44 percent of varsity athletes.

What’s even more revealing is that budgets for women’s sports teams are not even in proportion to their level of participation.

Much of that has to do with priorities. In most colleges and universities, most of the revenue comes from football (American-style) and basketball.  While there are many women’s basketball programs, they, with few exceptions, don’t garner the attention devoted to men’s teams.

I think the reason for that is also the reason why, even sports in which women’s participation is greater, men’s abilities are prized over women’s.  Because, on average, they are taller and stronger, men can jump higher, hit harder and run faster.  Those abilities translate into dunks, tackles and sprints:  the sorts of things used to promote football, men’s basketball and other men’s sports.

If there were as much respect accorded to the qualities of female athletes—such as flexibility, resilience and endurance—there would be more respect for, and professional opportunities in, not only women’s basketball, but also in other sports like volleyball, gymnastics and, yes, cycling.

Speaking of which:  About 200 post-secondary educational institutions sponsor club-level cycling teams, which compete against other schools but are usually funded by the students themselves.  As of 2020,  21 colleges and universities have what are known as “varsity” cycling teams.  They are funded by the schools, just like (but not at the level of) football, basketball and other “major” teams.  All 21 of those schools have both men’s and women’s teams. In a few, the dollar value of the average woman’s scholarship is greater than the average men’s; in others, it’s less or equal.

So, while intercollegiate cycling might be doing a little better in gender equity than other intercollegiate sports are doing, as researchers might say, the sample size is small.  But, given what I’ve said about the differences between male and female athletes, and the fact that some overall cycling records have been held by women, I think the potential of women’s cycling, whether collegiate, Olympic or professional, has yet to be realized.

22 June 2022

Held To Different Standards

What is your name?  What is today's date?  Who is the President?

I passed the test: I answered all three questions correctly, as much as it pained me to utter Donald Trump's name in response to the third.  

So who administered that exam?  A doctor in Westchester Medical Center, after the worst crash I've suffered in half a century (!) of cycling.  My mishap, which "totaled" Arielle, my first Mercian bike, also included a face-plant.  So that doctor was testing my cognition as a first step to determining whether I'd suffered any brain damage.  

I thought about that after hearing that President Joe Biden fell off his bike while speding the weekend at his family's retreat in Delaware.  According to reports, the President when he came to a stop, his foot got caught in a toe clip, which caused him to tumble.  

President Biden, after falling off his bike.  Photo by Sarah Silbiger, for the New York Times.

He didn't appear to suffer any injuries or require medical attention.  Instead of doctors and nurses, reporters surrounded him as he picked himself up.  So, their "test" was a bit different from the one I "passed."  Before continuing his ride, he answered questions about--are you ready for this?--tariffs on Chinese goods and gun control legislation.

Hmm...If my doctor had asked those questions, I wonder how he would've assessed my condition.

21 June 2022

The Ride: A Constant In The City

Yesterday I answered my own question by taking a ride.  As I often do, I zigzagged through some neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn before ending up in Coney Island. As the day was warm and sunny, and the wind of the past few days had all but died down, people were out: cycling, walking with themselves, canes, strollers, dogs and their friends, lovers, spouses and children.  And although yesterday was officially a holiday, there was, on some streets, nearly as much traffic as on a normal weekday.  People who didn't have to go to work simply wanted to get out, and I couldn't blame them.

It seemed, somehow, that the bike I chose to ride influenced the ride itself.  Because the wind was nearly calm, in contrast to the previous few days, I felt like taking a spin on Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear bike.  And, while I didn't plan my route beforehand--in fact, I thought no further ahead than the next traffic light throughout my ride--I think I stuck to a flat route in part because I couldn't shift gears.

My ride--about 70 kilometers in total--was very nice, except for one thing:

At Prospect Park, I took a detour (if you can call anything on a ride like the one I took yesterday a detour) onto some streets I know but hadn't seen in a while. Hal Ruzal, the former partner and mecahnic/wheelbuilder par excellence of Bicycle Habitat--and the one who introduced me to Mercians and a few interesting bands--moved out of the house in the photo two and a half years ago.  I've joked that he "got out of Dodge": the pandemic struck just a couple of months after he left.  He's now living in another part of the country that, while affected by COVID (where wasn't?), didn't suffer from lockdowns or other ravages were we experienced here in New York.

When I texted that photo, and a couple of others, to Hal, he seemed more saddened by the generic townhouse-like building constructed across the street from his old house, and by the fact that the house next door is vacant and up for sale.  "I hope the lady who owned it didn't die," he said.

My message was more evidence, to him, that the city of our youth no longer exists.  I would agree, and sometimes I mourn the loss of it, but there is still much I enjoy--like the bike ride I took yesterday.

20 June 2022

Solitude And A Holiday

 The other day I rode to Point Lookout.  I began my ride under bright, sunny skies. As I pedaled through the Rockaways, however, clouds gathered, layer upon layer, shade over shade, blues and grays refracting the light of the sea and sky but posing no real threat of rain.

But, although it was Saturday, the scene along the Rockaway and Long Beach boardwalks bore more resemblance to mid-week—and early April rather than mid-June.  

The high temperature—around 19C or 66F—was indeed more like early Spring than early Summer.  What kept people from taking seaside strolls was, I believe, the wind, which at times gusted to 60KPH (about 38MPH). Some of the folks I saw were clad in fleece parkas!

I’ll admit that I like the relative solitude of rides like the one I took the other day:  I feel my being expanding across the expanse of sea and sky.

After I finish my cup of coffee, I will ride.  This afternoon will be a bit warmer, with less wind.  And it’s the official commemoration of Juneteenth. Government offices and many businesses are closed, so people have the day off.  I wonder whether I’ll see more people—and traffic—than I saw the other day.

19 June 2022

Freedom Rides

Although the holiday will be commemorated tomorrow, today Juneteenth. On this date in 1865, the slaves of Texas got word that they were finally free, some two years after Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the Civil War ended.

This date was first declared a Federal holiday last year.  The law making it a Federal holiday stipulates that if it falls on a weekend, it will be observed on the Friday before or Monday following, whichever is closer.  So, the first two observances of Juneteenth have resulted in three-day weekends!

In any event, there are a number of "Freedom Rides."  I plan to ride, possibly with others who are observing the holiday--and to attend a dinner with some friends.


From BikePortland


18 June 2022

Don't Try This At Home--Or On The Interstate

Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann has been as revered as Nehemiah and reviled as Robert Moses.  However you see him, you can't deny that he is as responsible as anyone for the kind of city Paris is, and has been for the past century-plus.

One of the things he did was to introduce a street grid. Previously, much of Paris--especially the old districts like Le Marais--were laced with streets narrow streets that zigged, zagged and curved.  If you've been in the medieval sections of some European cities--or a few small districts of New York and Boston--you have an idea of what the City of Light was like before Baron Haussmann came along.

In re-doing Paris' streets, he also made them wider.  While they still seem charmingly or claustrophobically narrow, depending on your point of view, compared to American thoroughfares, the newly-made streets were still a good bit wider.  They allowed for Paris' new infrastructure, including sewers and the very thing that gave the city its nicknames:  gas-powered streetlights. 

While most people agree that widening and straightening the streets modernized the city and made it more habitable for many people, others accused Haussmann of being a tool of the powers-that-be.  Up to that time, Parisians were noted for insurrecting on the drop of a chapeau, and instigators who knew the streets could evade soldiers and guardsmen, who often came from other parts of the country and therefore weren't familiar with the twists and turns of those byways.  But the new, arrow-straight streets made pursuits easier because, well, they made it easier to keep perpetrators in their pursuers' sights.

I mention all of this because, while I hope (and assume, dear reader) that you will never steal a bike, I can offer this bit of advice:  If you try to make your escape on wheels you wrested from their rightful owners, don't try to make your escape on a road that stretches straight ahead of you for miles and miles (or kilometers and kilometers).

And, especially, don't try to make your getaway on an Interstate highway.  It will almost certainly result in your getting caught and hurt, or worse.

A 31-year-old man in Seattle learned that lesson the hard way.  At around 7pm on Wednesday, a bicycle was reported stolen on NE 45th Street near Interstate 5. Police were alerted and Washington State Troopers stopped him on the highway.  When he fought, they tasered him.  He ended up in a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

It will be interesting, to say the least, to find out more about this alleged thief--and what prompted him to try to get away on the main north-south highway of the US West Coast.

17 June 2022

Let Us Know So We Can Do Nothing

Be a snitch.  But don't expect us to go after the perps.

That is the message Chicago cyclists are getting from their city.  

On one hand, on Wednesday morning Alderman Daniel La Spata of the Windy City's First Ward sent this Tweet:

He was  encouraging cyclists to take photos of drivers parked in designated bike lanes and send them to 311 so the city can pursue a citation.

That same afternoon, however, a Chicago Department of Transportation spokesperson said that while the agency encourages what La Spata advised, the City uses the information "to guide enforcement and identify hot spots to improve public safety."  Those complaints, however, are not sent to Administrative Hearings for ticketing," the CDoT spokesperson said.

Would Chicago, or any other city, tell its citizens to take videos of robberies or assaults in progress, forward them to the city, and say that it plans to do nothing with them?  How many people would want to be "the eyes and ears" of their communities?  


16 June 2022

Bloomsday: The Clothes And The Bikes

 Today is Bloomsday:  the date, in 1904, in which James Joyce's Ulysses is set.  As it happens, that date, like today, is a Thursday.

Ambassador Emer O'Connell and Consul Dominic Berkeley launch the Embassy of Ireland's book giveaway to celebrate Bloomsday 2021.  This doesn't relate to a bike ride per se, but I like the photo.

Numerous bike rides are holding Bloomsday-themed bike rides.  Some seem to have little more connection to the novel than people cycling in costumes based on clothes of that era:  or, at least people's ideas about it.  I don't mind that:  While I encourage helmet-wearing, I like seeing people crowned with ribboned straw hats astride bikes.  

But by the time the novel was published, women's clothing was less voluminous than it was before the bike boom of the 1890s.  Bicycling led to hoopskirts and whalebone corsets being replaced by shorter skirts and bloomers. (The latter would be particularly appropriate on "Bloomsday," wouldn't it?)  Also, as the sartorial revolution in progress, cyclists were forsaking high-wheelers in favor of "safety" bicycles with two wheels of equal diameter.

So...while I am not against some "artistic license," if you will, I think riding a high-wheeler in a Bloomsbury ride is a bit like showing up for a Woodstock-themed celebration with a "punk" haircut and clothing.   Or baking chocolate chips into bagels (hey, I'm a New Yorker) or topping pizzas with, well, almost anything.

15 June 2022

Go To School, Get A License--And 100 Euros Toward Your Bike

Since Vladimir Putin launched his Ukraine invasion, many have worred that other adjacent countries, which were part of the Soviet Union, may also be in his sights.  Among them is Estonia.  Although, unlike Ukraine, it's a NATO member, it's also much smalller. 

In the three decades since the Soviet Union dissolved, Estonia has, in many ways, become more progressive than other countries.  While its policies on gender and homosexuality aren't like those of, say, the Netherlands (in large part because of its vocal Russian minority), it nonetheless recognizes same-sex partnerships and the gender identities of transgender people.  And it was the first nation to enshrine internet access as a human right in its laws.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the country is also encouraging people to cycle for transportation and recreation.  The government of its capital city, Talinn, has submitted a draft proposal to the city council to subsidize a local "cycling school" for kids aged 10 to 15.  Upon completion of its curriculum, which will include courses in traffic safety, those young people would receive bicycle license--and 100 Euros toward the purchase of a bicycle.

The goal of this program is to popularize cycling as a form of mobility among the young.  I am guessing that the city planners hope that people will continue to cycle for transportation and recreation when they are old enough to drive.  Licensing and offering the subsidy might indeed help.  I just hope that the school's classes don't perpetuate some of the misconceptions that "bike safety" programs promulgate here--and planners, policy makers and law-enforcement officers perpetuate--here in the US.  

Somehow I don't think such a program would make Putain, I mean Putin, happy.  That might be enough reason to support it!

14 June 2022

Bike Parking For Business And Democracy

Warning:  I am going to complain.  And I will quote someone who shares my complaint.  So if you want a feel-good piece, skip this one--though, I promise, it's entirely related to you if you do practical cycling of any sort.

Yesterday was the deadline to file for an absentee ballot in New York.  Even so, there weren't many people at the Board of Elections and the woman at the desk, in an orange blazer that matched her lipstick, was friendly and helpful.  We even shared a chuckle when she asked, "Can I help you?" and I replied, "Well, if you know somoene between 45 and 65; race, religion and gender not important, who likes bicycling, the arts, reading and writing and cats--not necessarily in that order.  Or, a winning lottery number would be nice."

"Of course, I wouldn't blame you if you kept them for yourself."

I started to fill out my application when I saw that I was using a red pen.  I brought my application to her. "Oh,  no problem," she said.  I explained that, as someone who teaches, I associate red pens with correcting mistakes. "Don't worry, you didn't make any," she quipped.

The whole process didn't take more than five minutes.  And the ride there, which I stretched out with a circuitous route that took me around Forest and Flushing Meadow Parks and into a couple of quiet neighborhoods tourists never see, was pleasant even on what turned into a hot, humid day.  My complaint about yesterday involves my arriving at the Board of Elections.

It takes up the 11th floor of a building that stands on the opposite side of the Van Wyck Expressway from the Queens County Courthouse.  The Queens Boulevard block on which it stands is short and its sidewalk too narrow for the subway station and stands for three buses that stop there--or for the stores, coffee and sandwich shops and hair salon that occupy it.  So, it's like the stereotype of a Manhattan street you see in the movies or on TV where, the moment yo set foot on it, you're competing for space.

You have three choices for parking your bike:  three sign posts for the buses. So, if you lock up to any of them, you'll get dirty looks from the people who crowd around them, waiting for their ride.  And there's a good chance that you'll have to thread your way through those throngs of people waiting for their bus when you go to retrieve your bike.

When I can't find parking on the block where I'm running an errand, I look around the corner.  Unfortunately, the situation was even worse on the side streets:  There wasn't anything to which one could lock a bike.

While the are more bike parking "donuts" available throughout the city, they're found mainly in downtown Manhattan and the Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods directly across the river.  They're scarce or non-existence further from what I call Linus-Land, where the young and affluent ride stylish-looking bikes to the kinds of work spaces or cafes one sees in design magazines--in other words, locales like the Queens Board of Elections.

The Board of Elections is on the 11th floor of this tower.

Of course, difficulties in parking a bike are not limited to Queens or any other part of New York City.  Sharon Bailey recounts similar experiences in and around Buffalo and Niagara Falls, where she lives.  She works remotely and rides for transportation as well as recreation.  There are few dedicated bike racks and while she can find railings at or near some of her regular destinations--or can wheel her bike up to a counter--she and her partner can't ride to some of their favorite al fresco dining spots.

Sharon Bailey

Some merchants on Queens Boulevard protested the bike lane, believing that it would take away parking and thus hurt business.  I don't know whether that's happened, but it seems that bike parking facilities would probably help.  They should think about cyclists like Ms. Bailey and her partner who would patronize their businesses.  Oh, and cities should consider folks like me who are riding their bikes to register to vote--or, of course, to vote.

13 June 2022

Fuel For Thought

Yesterday, my brother told me he'd spent over $100 to fill his gas tank.

On one hand, I sympathise with him.  For one thing, he is my brother. (This is what age does:  I didn't say, "in spite of the fact that he's my brother." LOL)  For another, he lives in an area that's more car-centric than my hometown of New York.  Even if that weren't the case, he'd rely on his car because medical conditions constrain his physical activity, at least somewhat.

On the other hand, I remind myself that petrol prices are only now surpassing levels I saw when I first set foot (actually, bike tires) in Europe, back in 1980.  I could get into a rant about how playing nice with Saudi Arabia and giving tax breaks to oil companies wouldn't have continued to keep down the price at the pump forever, but it would be just that--a rant.  Others with far more expertise in national and global politics and energy markets can explain it better, or at least in more depth, than I ever could, even if I were to hijack the focus of this blog (really, it exists).

But what my brother told me is nonetheless relevant and can perhaps be best illustrated by something I've just come across.  In Electrek, Micah Toll points out that at the current average cost of gasoline in the US--around 5 dollars a gallon (around a euro a liter)--it would take only five fills of an F-150 truck's tank to buy an entry-level electric bike.  Or, it would take someone fueling an evil SUV six times, while a sober, sedate sedan would need to be topped off seven to eight times to buy a basic e-bike like Ancheers being sold on Amazon--and driven by many delivery workers here in New York.

Photo from Electrek

The old adage "your mileage may vary" applies in more ways than one. If you live here in New York or in California, where gasoline averages more than $6 a  gallon, it would take even fewer fills to equal the cost of an ebike.

Of course, a regular bicycle, especially a used one, can be had for less, even as we enter a third year of COVID pandemic-induced shortages.  I don't know whether the gas-bike equation I've described will persuade many people would persuade to give up driving, even for short local trips.  But it's certainly food, or fuel, for thought.  So is this:  Once gas is burned, it's gone.  A bike, however, can last for years, or even decades.


12 June 2022

Can They Be Bred For This?

 During the pandemic, many people adopted dogs. I joked with a neighbor that our street should be renamed "Westminster" because of all of the folks promenading with their pooches.

Along with the increased numbers came canines in configurations and colors I'd never seen before.  Some are previously-obscure breeds that found popularity; others, it turns out are new cross-breeds.

I wonder whether some cyclist is trying to create a dog that can accompany a rider without being bundled into a basket or box.  

For that matter, is someone trying to breed a cat that can be brought on a bike ride, period?  No offense, Marlee!

11 June 2022

Bobby Holley Performs--And Delivers --For Kids

 Bobby Holley is a musician (With a name like that, what else could he be?), entertainer and teacher in Battle Creek, Michigan.  Last year, he also took on another role: He became a kind of summertime Santa Claus, giving bicycles and helmets to kids in need.

Bobby Holley.  Photo by Trace Christinson, for the Battle Creek Enquirer.

He's reprising that role this year.  Today, he's distributing 125 bikes and helmets to needy children, in first through sixth grades, in Battle Creek and neighboring Marshall.  The recipients were chosen on the basis of  essays they wrote about on the prompt, "Why I Need A Bike."

The bicycles and helmets will be given out at Seelye Kia of Battle Creek.  The car dealership donated 33 of the bikes in an effort led by salesman Keith Wright.  Other businesses donated bikes, some of which were collected as Holley performed, solo or with his band.  

Apparently, he plans to continue this work.  If you miss his performances, you can donate to the drive at Church of Living Water, P.O. Box 2296, Battle Creek, Michigan 49016.


10 June 2022

How "Bicycle Friendly" Is It?

Yesterday, in "Windshield Bias," I described  the way bike issues are covered in the media and how it's affected public perceptions and policy.  I focused on how the stories are covered in Boston because the question of media coverage came to my attention via a Boston Streetsblog stories.

One thing I touched upon is the perception vs. reality of "bicycle friendliness."  I mentioned that it's a relative term. Sure, there are bike lanes and "safety" laws in some jurisdictions.  But, on the whole, the US is a motor-centric country and most policy and planning is done by people who don't cycle, walk or even take mass transportation.

Photo by Samantha Carey, for Boston magazine.

Recently, Boston was chosen as  America's eighth- most "bike friendly" city by Clever, a real-estate data company. Of course, such a study by a real estate data company is suspect.  Still, some will give it credibility.  But not everyone, according to a survey done by Boston.com.

Respondents echoed many of the observations and complaints I've made in this blog, including bike lanes that appear and end abruptly, snow that is plowed and debris dumped into them, and hostile drivers. On the other hand, other respondents echoed what you hear from bike-phobic folks everywhere:  "They're taking away our parking spaces!"  

What the survey confirms, for me, is something that one respondent expressed--and I've said, as recently as yesterday, on this blog:  "bicycle-friendly" is a relative term, at least in the United States of America.

09 June 2022

Windshield Bias

Many of us envy countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, where people cycle even if they have other transportation or recreation options.  Here in the US, we have "bicycle friendly" (a relative term, to be sure) islands in a motor-centric sea.

One reason for the difference between the cycling environments has to do with policies. Europeans seem to understand what it takes to make bicycling safe and practical enough for people to choose it over driving or other forms of transportation, at least for short trips. In America, on the other hand the notion of "bicycle friendliness" seems to consist of building bicycle lanes--which, as I've said in other posts, are too often poorly-conceived, -constructed and -maintained--and passing "safety" regulations that bear no relation to the experience of riding.

A reason for so much misguided policy, I believe, has to do with media coverage.  I'm not familiar with what the Danes and Dutch print or broadcast, but I suspect that it's less auto-centric than what the French see and hear which, in turn, seems like tout l'Equipe compared to what we see on our pages and screens in America.

Now, some might say that I am in a "Big Apple Bubble."  It's true that on many issues--including, ahem, gun rights (Guns have rights?)--most New Yorkers, including yours truly, think differently from a state legislator in Mississippi or Texas.  But from what I've been seeing and hearing, New York City's news stories aren't the only ones infected with "windshield bias."

That apt phrase came to me from Christian MilNeil, a reporter on the Boston edition of Streetsblog.  In his article, he describes how the city's broadcast news programs and newspapers have framed the debates in neighboring Cambridge over bike lanes and pedestrianizing public spaces.  He noted something I've seen here in New York: the debates are too often framed as "bike lanes vs. parking spaces" or some other false equivalency, as in "we have more important issues, like gun violence and affordable housing."

I will not argue that gun violence and affordable housing are not urgent issues. But comparing issues is not useful.  Moreover, how does making a park car-free prevent the  construction of apartments and houses that people and families can afford on worker's wages?  Or passing a law that would keep people who aren't old enough to drink or who have mental health issues from acquiring military-style assault weapons?  

Speaking of which:  A car, especially an SUV, is as deadly a weapon as an AR-15 when an unbalanced person is at the wheel.  If policy-makers actually want to encourage more people to pedal or walk to work or school, they could take measures to prevent and more severely punish violence committed against cyclists and pedestrians in which the motor vehicle is the weapon.  

But I digress.  MilNeil's article shows that while coverage in Boston's print media has been somewhat more balanced, the city's television and other electronic media are heavily skewed toward organizations like "Save Mass Ave" who argue that building bike lanes will destroy their businesses.  Too often, he points out, stories show only outraged owners of the businesses in question or give only a few seconds to a cycling or pedestrian advocate.

(For the record, the Cambridge City Council has consistently favored policies to build bike lanes and ban cars from parks and other public areas.)

Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge.  Photo from Boston Streetsblog.

I suspect that some of that distortion is inevitable.  For one thing, I'd guess that most reporters and editors aren't cyclists and probably don't often walk to get to wherever they're going.  But there is a more important built-in bias, I think:  As we've seen all too clearly during since Trump launched his first Presidential campaign, loud, angry voices are better than calm voices relating facts at "bringing the eyeballs to the screens" or keeping earbuds in ears. 

Could it be that we need advocates who foam at the mouth the way some folks do when their right to have as many and whatever kind of guns--or parking spaces--as they want. Or to use them whenever, whenever they want.