Today is Halloween. I am going trick-or-treating...in drag.
Seriously, I am going in costume...
I mean, what else am I going to do with an old helmet and high-viz ankle straps (Does anybody still make those?) or utility workers' vest? Really!
In the middle of the journey of my life, I am--as always--a woman on a bike. Although I do not know where this road will lead, the way is not lost, for I have arrived here. And I am on my bicycle, again.
I am Justine Valinotti.
Today is Halloween. I am going trick-or-treating...in drag.
Seriously, I am going in costume...
I mean, what else am I going to do with an old helmet and high-viz ankle straps (Does anybody still make those?) or utility workers' vest? Really!
Sports leagues and governing bodies are cracking down on the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). At least, they want you to think they are.
Of course, if the overlords and oligarchs that reign over teams and tournaments are going to assure the public that their favorite performers aren't examples of "better living through chemistry," they have to clearly define what constitutes a PED.
Usually, those substances are seen as the ones that build muscle mass or sensitize nerves so that athletes can hit harder, jump higher, run or pedal faster or longer or exceed whatever they thought they (and their competitors') physical limits were.
Now, any athlete and anyone who coaches, trains or teaches one can tell you that the mind is as important as the body. So, should drugs that calm or excite a person--or expand his or her consciousness--also be considered PEDs?
If so, someone who wanted to win the race, game or match, or set a new world record, but believed, shall we say, that the end justifies the means, might want to check out this:
Now, I'm sure that the pharmacy, located in Flushing (the "Chinatown" of Queens) is perfectly legit. I couldn't help but to wonder, though, just what sorts of drugs Confucius would prescribe or dispense--and whether FIFA, the IOC, UCI or other governing bodies would approve of them.
I rarely truck in conspiracy theories. (Really!) But, every once in a while, a seemingly-farfetched explanation for something turns out to be a precursor for the truth.
Case in point: What Elon Musk said about the meteoric rise of Hans Niemann. The 19-year-old Californian by way of the Netherlands and Hawaii beat the then-reigning world chess champion Magnus Carlsen last month.
Musk claimed that Niemann had help. OK, that's understandable: After all, almost no-one, even in the world of competitive chess, had heard of Niemann just a few months ago, and prodigies are usually well-established by Niemann's age. But Musk claimed that Niemann's "boost" came not from friends or family, or from a performance-enhancing drug. (What kind of PED would help a chess player, I don't know. But I'm sure there must be at least one.) Rather, the world's richest man-child came up with an explanation that even I, in either of the puberties I experienced or under the influence of anything I might or might not have tried, could have come up with. The new chess champion, Musk averred, was guided by vibrating anal beads that signaled the correct moves.
You can't make this stuff up. At least I can't. But Elon Musk can. Maybe that's why he's rich and I'm not.
Anyway, it seems that Musk was right on at least one count: Niemann cheated, not only against Carlsen, but in earlier matches. Chess.com's investigative report says as much. Niemann responded in true Trumpian fashion by starting a lawsuit against them, Carlsen and chess streamer Hikaru Nakamura.
Now, to be fair, other chess masters and fans have characterized Carlsen's recent form as "fragile." In other words, it's not inconceivable that someone--even, perhaps, Niemann--could have beaten him. And participants in the major grandmaster tournaments normally have to pass through several stages of screening before being assigned to a table and chair.
A chess "champion" and "top" cyclist?
There is, however, another part of Niemann's history--or, more specifically, the way he's framed it--that could lead one to doubt his credibility.
When he was a child, he lived in the Netherlands, where his parents--one Danish, the other Hawaiian--were working in the IT industry. He started to take chess classes at the age of eight, at the same time he was in the thrall of another kind of competition. "He liked to get on his racing bike to participate in competitions." An eight-year-old in a bike race is not unusual in bike-obsessed Netherlands. So one part of his claim--that he raced--is not only plausible, but a matter of record.
However, the way he or anyone else could categorize his juvenile cycling career depends on how he or anyone else defines a single word: "top." As in, "top cyclist." As in, "one of the top cyclists in the nation for my age."
Again, to be fair, there is little doubt that he was indeed racing as a child. Nor is it a "stretch" to believe him when he says that he was "advancing much more rapidly in cycling than in chess." But the only results CyclingTips could unearth in its investigation were from the 2012 National Championships. In that race--five laps on a short circuit totaling 7 kilometers, or about 4.5 miles, he finished a minute behind the leader in a 12-minute competition. That made him 25th out of the 35 young entrants.
So...Does Hans Niemann's Trumpian relationship to the truth and fair play make him a Lance Armstrong of the competitive chess world? Or does his Lance Armstrong-like willingness to win at all costs make him the competitive chess world's equivalent of Donald Trump?
Whether or not he realizes it, Pierre Omidyar created one of the world's major rabbit-holes.
At least it is for me. Whenever I look for something on eBay--usually some difficult-to-find small bike part or book--my search triggers other listings, some only loosely, if at all, related to what I was looking for.
Case in point: I was looking for some brake springs. I know I could go to Recycle-a-Bicycle or one of the older shops and raid their old-parts piles. But that might mean taking an entire brake mechanism (for which, admittedly, I probably wouldn't pay much, if anything at all) and end up with a bunch of other parts I am not likely to use. Besides, I wanted to find a "fresh" spring if I could, not one that is rusted and has lost its springiness.
My search took me down a dark, narrow path (OK, I'm being more-than-metaphorical here!) that included this:
Now, I would buy a set of such brakes only if: 1.) the asking price was a small fraction of what the seller wants for them, 2.) I had a bike that needed such brakes or 3.) I were collecting such things.
As for the "if I were a collector" scenario: Those brakes would definitely be interesting. They embody almost everything that no bike builder or brake manufacturer does today.
For one thing, they clamp onto the fork blade. I know that Dia-Compe (a "legacy" manufacturer that's still making very nice brakes and other parts) makes a dual-pivot brake that similarly clamps onto the fork blades. But its reach is much shorter than that of the brakes in the photo because it's mainly intended for use on track bikes. Almost every caliper brake made today mounts through a hole in the fork crown or rear seat stay bridge, or is bolted into braze-on fittings on the forks or stays. The latter includes the so-called "direct mount" brakes.
But probably the biggest difference between this brake and anything made today is in the way it's actuated. It's usually classified as a "center pull" (or "central pull," as the manufacturer called it) because it has two pivot points at each end and its pads are pulled in toward each other when a straddle or traverse spanning the tops of the two arms is pulled away from from the tire.
Actually, "pulled" is not the right word. That describes how the center pull and cantilever brakes we're familiar with work: A yoke attached to the brake lever cable pulls the straddle or transverse wire upward. The arms of one of the brakes in the photos, however, is pushed upward with some sort of cam-like device attached to the cable. Note the position of the cable hole below the spring.
Those "central pull" brakes--some bearing the name "Philco" (I still think of radios!)--were manufactured by Phillips. At one time, they were the second-largest bicycle manufacturer in the world, trailing only Raleigh. In the 1960s, I believe, Raleigh bought them out, as it did to most of their competitors, though bikes--and parts--were still marketed under the "Phillips" name. Those parts include the steel sidepulls found on most British three-speeds until Weinmanns displaced them and the rod brakes on bikes like the Raleigh DL-1 that came with Westwood rims which, unlike rims made for caliper brakes, don't have flat sides.
I've never tried the Philco, "central pull" or whatever you want to call those brakes. But, from what I've read and heard, the share at least one quality with rod brakes and the company's sidepulls: they're better than no brakes at all, but not by much--especially in the rain. Then again, most bikes equipped with such brakes were seldom ridden fast.
One thing I have to say for those Phillips brakes, though: They were lushly chromed in the way only British parts from about 1970 or earlier were. (For an example of what I mean, try to find a Cyclo Benelux Super 60 rear derailleur.) And, well, they did make for an interesting find in the "rabbit hole" Pierre Omidyar sucked me into when I was looking for some center pull brake springs!
No sooner had I left behind the oppressive atmosphere of the city and that reek of smoking cookers which pour out, along with clouds of ashes, all of the poisonous fumes they have accumulated in their interiors whenever they have started up, than I noticed the change in my condition.
The "city" in the above passage is Rome. The person who made wrote that observation about it, and the change in his health upon leaving it, was the philosopher and statesman Seneca, nearly two millenia ago.
His was hardly the first observation about air pollution and its effects. Nor would such observations cease to be made until the twentieth century. About five centuries after Seneca, Gregory of Tours, in his Historia Francorum (History of the Franks), makes passing mention of robes smudged by smoke that lingered in the air.
But from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution until the middle of the 20th Century, air--and other types of--pollution were seen as "the price of progress" and, for some, simply making a living. (Interestingly, the Democratic Party, with was largely opposed or indifferent to environmental concerns until the mid-20th Century, while most conservationists--who weren't necessarily thinking about the overall environment--were Republicans.) Then, a series of deadly smogs--first in mill towns like Donora, Pennsylvania and later in bigger cities like London and New York--made people aware of the dangers of air pollution.
Those toxic clouds also made lay people as well as scientists aware of the need to document specific kinds of air pollution. Devices became more sophisticated and portable, and data analysis more granular. But one thing those devices and pieces of information failed to convey is how widely pollution can vary in a relatively small area. So, a city that is considered relatively "clean" can have pockets--or even larger areas--of concentrated CO2 and other contaminants.
That is where the bicycle comes in. We all know that turning two pedals to spin two wheels instead of stepping on one pedal to propel four wheels is one of the more effective measures a person can take in helping to reduce carbon emissions. But now bicycles themselves are being used to identify, not just large areas of pollutions, but those areas--sometimes unexpected--that have concentrations of emissions.
One of those smog-chasers on bicycles is Jordi Mazon in Barcelona, Spain. He uses an electronic device attached to his bike's handlebars to record variations in emissions all over his city. His work has revealed, not only variations in the levels and types of pollution, but how quickly it can spread from one area to another. Among other things, they show us how inadequate a number for a whole city or town, especially (though he doesn't specifically mention it) when pollution disproportionately affects particular communities and people, mainly the poor and those who are considered "minorities."
Mazon even suggests that governments deploy cyclists with the devices--which are no larger than a typical bike computer and cost around 200 Euros--to take readings in specific areas at specific times. In addition to the relative low cost, another advantage is that people on bicycles can be sent fairly quickly into small areas without adding to the very phenomenon they are sent to measure.
Hmm...Could that be another career for me--a smog-chaser on a bike?
In some recent posts, I have taken heart in the fact that some drivers are being held to account in meaningful ways for injuring or killing cyclists.
Still, there have been many more incidents in which drivers got off with the proverbial "slap on the wrist."
Troy Manz was doing a 72-hour "sea to sea" race from Florida's Gulf to Atlantic coasts in February of last year. The former Marine turned emergency flight doctor and National Guardsman. He and his fiancee, Trish Wilkinson were just 20 miles from their destination--St. Augustine Beach (where I've pedaled during every trip to my parents' house) when they and a friend, Barbara Gilmore, were struck from behind by a car going about 70 miles per hour.
Wilkinson and Gilmore were taken to the hospital and treated for their injuries. Manz, however, died at the scene.
Last week they testified in a traffic case against the driver, Jonathan Quick. While his blood alcohol level was determined to be below the legal limit, conditions were clear and, as Wilkinson recalled, "we took every precaution, we did everything safely." They all wore helmets and had lights on the front and rear of their bikes. Moreover, they complied with all relevant traffic laws, according to the Florida Highway Patrol report of the incident.
Quick was initially charged with careless driving and failure to yield the right of way. The judge in last week's hearing upheld the latter charge but dropped the one for careless driving. As a result, Quick was sentenced to 12 hours of driver improvement school and an $1166 fine.
So..was that judge saying that Troy Manz's life was worth only $1166 and 12 hours?
Perhaps not surprisingly, Quick had a history of driving infractions before he ran into Manz, Wilkinson and Gilmore. "I'm very concerned that this is going to happen to someone else and nothing that happened in the court system will keep the keys out of his hand or will be any sort of repercussion," Wilkinson lamented.
She astutely identified the problem: Such lenient sentences do nothing to prevent future incidents and, really, give no incentive for scofflaw drivers to change their behavior.
Jose Saramago's Blindness, first published nearly a quarter-century ago, might be seen as a kind of "pandemic" novel in a similar way to Colin Whitehead's Zone One and Albert Camus' La Peste (The Plague). In the Portuguese writer's work, an epidemic of blindness affects nearly everyone in an unnamed city. Perhaps not surprisingly, the social order breaks down, along with the infrastructure and conditions in the asylum where the first of the afflicted end up.
I was thinking of it this morning, during a ride in which I did a couple of errands before going to work, because the way Saramago describes the sudden loss of sight is almost the opposite of the way most people picture blindness. Like most people, I have imagined the complete loss of sight in the way I imagine death: everything going black. But in Saramago's novel, for those stricken, everything suddenly goes white.
Now, I hope not to go blind, whether that means everything in the world going black, white or some other color or form I can't conceive. But, if I had to not see, for a moment, probably the best (or least-bad) way I can think of is this:
That was my view, if you will, from the Williamsburg Bridge. Now, if I were a tourist, I'm not sure of whether I'd feel that it added to the allure of the city or be disappointed that I didn't get that view of the skyline so many envision before coming here.
For those of us who've live in this city, a foggy morning might look more like this:
That is a view down 22nd Street in Long Island City, about half a mile from my apartment.
Of course, I made sure to use my "blinkies," front and rear. That might be a reason why I had no problem with the traffic--and enjoyed the views of what I couldn't see.
The other morning, I set out for Connecticut. Dee-Lilah was certainly up for it: the sky was clear and bright, and a light wind rippled yellow leaves that line my street.
Across the RFK (Triborough) Bridge and the Randalls Island connector. Up the deserted industrial streets of Port Morris and Southern Boulevard to "the Hub," where the Boulevard meets White Plains Road and several subway lines. Traffic was almost as light as the wind (though not me, at my age!) all the way up to the Pelham Bay Bridge, where my visions of the perfect Fall ride to the Nutmeg State met with this:
"Oh, it must be Ian's fault," I thought. Though the Hurricane brushed by us two weeks earlier, the damage, if there had been any, was still there, I mused. But, peering ahead, I couldn't see it:
Then I glanced to my right and got the really bad news:
Spring 2023. If I could believe that, I wouldn't be so upset: I wouldn't be able to ride the Pelham Bay Trail to Westchester County during the rest of this Fall and Spring, but most of that wait would span the winter. But, if you know anything about New York City Department of Transportation projects, you know that Spring 2023 is most likely when the work will start. Then it will be further delayed by some dispute or another, and costs. Call me a cynic, but I've seen such scenarios play out too many times.
Oh, and when I looked on the city's website, I learned that the plan is to replace the bridge altogether. To be fair, it may well need replacement: The bridge wasn't designed for all of the traffic it handles (and, I might add, the bike/pedestrian lane isn't the greatest, but it at least takes you to the trail) and probably is falling apart.
I could have taken one of the routes I rode before I discovered the bridge and trail. But, instead, I wandered in and out of the Bronx and Westchester County. Guess where I took this photo:
It's a view from the Bronx, but not from where even people who know the Bronx might guess. At the far eastern end of the borough, there is a neighborhood with the seemingly-incongruous name of Country Club. The neighborhood was indeed the location of the Westchester Country Club before the Bronx became part of New York City. But, in a way, the area still has a "country club" feel: It's effectively an island, cut off from the rest of the Bronx (and New York City) by water, I-95 and Pelham Bay Park. The houses come in all ranges of styles, but they have this in common: they're big, more like the ones you find in the far reaches of Long Island or New Jersey. The few buildings that aren't single-family houses or small stores or restaurants (mostly Italian and, I suspect, good) are condos, some with their own marinas!
Just on the other side of the highway is another neighborhood that seems to have been untouched by the "burning Bronx" of the 1970s. Like Country Club, it has many Italian-American families and remarkably clean public spaces. And it has a store that seems to have been kept in a 1950s time capsule:
Frank Bee. Transpose the "ee" on Frank, and you could have a nickname for someone in the neighborhood--or a DJ. Frankie B. Now that sounds like a name people would associate with the Bronx.
Just by those signs, you can tell that, like Country Club, Schuylerville has a lot of Italian-American families whose kids Trick-or-Treat freely in the neighborhood. While very little in the store falls into the price range advertised on the store's banner, the prices are actually very good, especially compared to those in other parts of the city.
Whatever happens, I hope the store--and those signs and mannequins--stay where they are. In an ideal world, such friendliness would be an antidote against the odious bellowings of would-be oracles:
Now, I'm not a political scientist and I'm an historian only if you define that term loosely. That said, in my understanding, the notion that "Democracy killed Jesus" is wrong on two counts.
First of all, Pontius Pilate wasn't an elected official; he was an occupying Roman. Second, and more important, an angry mob agreeing on something and acting on it isn't democracy, especially if it doesn't reflect the wishes of most people--or, as in the case of Jesus (if he indeed lived and died as he did in the stories passed on to us), if most people didn't even know about the accused or his alleged deeds.
Did that bit of graffiti reflect what most people in Country Club or the Bronx believe about the death of Christ or democracy? I suspect not. Whatever they think, I have to say this for them: They, whether they were walking, raking their leaves or even driving, were very nice and a couple even cheered me on. What I didn't tell them, of course, is that Dee-Lilah, my custom Mercian Vincitore Special, makes me look like a better rider than I am!😉
When I first became a dedicated cyclist, as a teenager in the mid-1970s, we were still seen as latter-day hippies: Whether we rode to work or school, for fitness, to race or tour, or just because, we tended to be more environmentally-conscious than other people. In fact, the environment was the very reason some people rode. It was, and is, one of my reasons.
The funny thing is that, nearly half a century later, cycling is still associated, correctly, with environmental consciousness. These days, though, those associations have more overtly political overtones: If you pedal, drive a hybrid or electric vehicle, look for ethically-sourced products and recycle, even when it isn't mandated, that makes you a"lib" and an enemy to the MAGA crowd.
There is, I must say, at least some truth to the stereotype. We live up to it every day:
Interesting, what detours on a morning bicycle commute (yes, I'm doing that again: more about that later) will bring into view.
First, in an industrial area of Long Island City just south of Silvercup Studios, I had to detour for this:
OK, I'd seen it before. But if you're pedaling down 22nd Street and pass under the overpasses for the Queensborough (59th Street) Bridge and the #7 train of the MTA, turn right and then left, you'll run into something that disrupted the street grid:
Some time in the past, I started a search I just may resume. Specifically, I was (and am) curious as to whether that rock outcropping was left in place because it was too hard to break or blast (there are a few similar outcroppings in Upper Manhattan for that reason)--or, perhaps too expensive. Or, for all I know, someone or some group of people didn't want it destroyed. Could it have been sacred to people who no longer live in the neighborhood?
The other morning brought a crisp, cool breeze and a blaze of color some living beings--I include myself, sometimes--hold as a store, a memory, against the season that inevitably follows.
Whenever I see a leaf or a flower, I see a hand. Sometimes it is trying to capture water, light--or to hold whatever time it may have left. I couldn't help but to wonder whether those leaves I saw not far from the rock were trying to hold onto their beauty in that moment--or whether they were bleeding away, however slowly, those last flickerings of the light they still hold.
I know that since I've returned to the classroom, my experiences, and those of my students, are different--whether in obvious or not-so-obvious ways--from what they, and I, experienced before the pandemic. I wonder whether it has anything to do with bicycle commutes like the one I did the other morning.
There is the Paris Climate Accord. And there are other agreements between nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Among them is the European Green Deal, adopted by the European Union member states.
A common criticism of such plans is that they're "too little, too late." Or, more precisely, the goals are ambitious but there are few or no details about what will be done to meet them, or how. Also, many scientists and others who study pollution and climate change say that the target dates are too far into the future: The crisis is, and therefore the work needs to be done, now.
In an article she wrote for Parliament, Jill Warren points out another deficiency of the EGD which, I suspect could also be a fault of other plans to "go green" or make cities--and the planet--"sustainable." I mentioned it last month in writing about Nicolas Collignon's excellent Next City article.
Essentially, both Warren and Collignon say that any plan to make a city or this planet more livable or "sustainable" should include bicycling--or, more exactly, ways to get more people to ride bicycles. But planners, whether at the municipal or continental level, seem to have a blind spot where there are vehicles with two wheels, two pedals and no motor (unless you count the humans pedaling them). Neither says, but I believe both agree with, what I am about to say next: While not everyone will, or want to, be a racer or long-distance tourer, most people can cycle for short trips.
And, I think that each one makes a proposal that, while seemingly very different, are very closely related. Collignon says that one problem with much planning is that the planners think we can "technology" our way out of our problems. (Some of that mentality is, of course, a result of the sway technology companies have over policy-makers.) Thus, planners are oblivious, not only to bicycles, but other low-tech solutions.
As planners think in terms of high-tech, they also tend, especially if they are in large governing bodies like the EU, to see the world in macroeconomic terms. That is why, I believe, that the drafters of the EGD don't mention something that, when I read about it, seems glaringly obvious: re-shoring Europe's bicycle industry.
Road transport accounts for 26 percent of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions. I suspect the proportion in similar in Japan and other developed economies. Some of those emissions come from vehicles transporting manufactured goods, and still more from planes and other forms of transportation. Re-shoring bicycle (and other) industries would mean that bikes, parts and accessories now made in China would be manufactured once again in France, Italy and other EU countries, as they were until around the beginning of this century.
|Cyclists waiting at a red light in Munich, Germany.|
Warren's idea ties into Collignon's because as raw materials and manufactured goods have to travel shorter distances to their customers, the means of accounting for, as well as transporting, them don't have to be as technologically sophisticated.
So, yet another voice is saying that planners and policy-makers need to take a longer and closer look at the bicycle. Let's hope that Jill Warren and Nicolas Collignon are seen as oracles or prophets rather than as Cassandras.
Some of us have seen bikes "to die for." When I was a teenager, almost anything with a frame made from Reynolds 531 tubing and Campagnolo components would have been, if not Nirvana, then a ticket to it.
Speaking of which: A year before he offed himself, Kurt Cobain expressed shock at ticket prices for his band's concerts: $17-18. In today's dollars, those prices would be double that amount. At the time, other acts charged anywhere from 50 to 75 dollars for the privilege of attending one of their shows.
Anyway, what I said in the first paragraph might, for some of you, beg the question of whether any bike is worth dying for. Or, to follow this line of thinking, worth killing for.
That is what Bobby Peters asked Tellious Savalas Brown. Peters, however, was not merely posing a rhetorical question during a casual conversation. Rather, he was determining the course of 19-year-old Brown's life.
Three years ago, at a Columbus, Georgia bus stop, Brown fatally shot 60-year-old Roy Wilborn to steal his bicycle. Turns out, he'd committed an armed robbery of a restaurant and shot at said restaurant's employees. Oh, and the car he used to get to the crime scene, and wrecked in fleeing from it, was stolen--hijacked at gunpoint, to be exact.
The hijacking charge and more than a dozen others were dropped in a plea deal. But, as a penalty for killing a man for his bike, robbing the restaurant and shooting at employees, Judge Peters sentenced Brown to life with the possibility of parole--after 30 years.
"Why do all this?," the judge asked. "All over a bicycle? This just doesn't make sense."
Around 2010, a new kind of business emerged: the bike cafe. Some were established bike shops that added counters, stools and even tables and served coffees, teas, snacks, sandwiches and even light meals and craft beers. Others, though, like Red Lantern in Brooklyn, offered bikes, accessories and repairs along with fuel for the ride (or re-fueling for after it) from the day they opened.
About five years ago, Red Lantern closed. According to its owners, Brian and Lena Gluck, the final nail in the shop's coffin was a large rent increase, although they noted that they started to lose business a couple of years earlier when a Starbucks opened two blocks away and the Citibike program rode into full gear. The bikeshare program wasn't the "gateway drug" to a bike purchase, Brian noted. Although Citibikes, like most other share programs' bikes, are heavy and clunky, people weren't interested in getting a nicer bike. Rather, they liked "compromising between not getting stolen, not having to maintain it, and not having to lug it up four flights of stairs," he explained. Also, many Citibike users are tourists who aren't going to buy a bicycle during their trip unless it's very different from, or much less expensive than, whatever they can buy at home.
|He's not the only one who misses Red Lantern.|
The factors Gluck cited upon closing the shop may well have led to other bike shop/cafe establishments ending their runs. After Red Lantern, I noticed a few other such closures. At the time I thought it had to do with the things that led the Glucks to close their shop and, possibly, that Millenials--who were those establishments' chief patrons and sometimes the proprietors--were simply moving on to other things.
But now I am hearing of, and reading about the end even more such businesses, here in New York and elsewhere. Still others--like Mello Velo in Syracuse, New York--are getting out of the brew 'n' bagel business. I have to wonder whether the cafes of Mello Velo and other such establishments simply never recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. While bike shops remained open, I can't help but to think that when masking was mandatory early in the pandemic, people didn't stay for coffee when they bought their bikes or had them fixed.
If that is the case, it's ironic: While the pandemic was a boon for many shops (though others closed because they couldn't get any more inventory), it was a disaster for almost anything having to do with hospitality--except, of course, for takeout.
Charles Marohn's book is called The Confessions of a Recovering Engineer. In it, the former road designer and transportation planner describes how conventional American traffic engineering makes people and communities less safe, destroys the fabric of communities, bankrupts towns and cities and exacerbates the very problems--like congestion--engineers like himself were trying to solve.
His greatest disdain is for what he calls "stroads." I mentioned them in an August post. Think of them as Franken-lanes: They are supposed to be streets in cities and towns but in reality are highways with multiple lanes of high-speed traffic. (Even if the speed limit is more like that of an urban or residential street--say, 30 mph (50 kph), drivers are often sprinting at twice that between lights.) They are usually lined with big-box stores and other businesses that provide a steady stream of cars and trucks pulling in and out of the lanes.
Examples of "stroads" in my area are the Hempstead Turnpike, which I wrote about in an earlier post, West Street (a.k.a. Route 9A) in Manhattan and, even closer to home, Northern and Queens Boulevards. A particularly egregious example of a "stroad" is US 19 on Florida's Gulf Coast.
In some places, particularly in the southern and western US states, cyclists use "stroads" because there are few or no alternative routes. Even if a cyclist is not riding along the route itself, he or she probably will need to cross it because, as Mahron points out, they often divide downtown areas, leaving, say, a store somebody frequents on one side and a doctor or other service provider on the other. Or said cyclist might live on one side of the stroad and want to go to a park or movie theatre--or need to get to school or work--on the other side.
Michael Weilert discovered this danger the hard way. He was crossing, with his bicycle, one such stroad--Pacific Avenue (a.k.a. State Route 7) in Tacoma, Washington--when he was struck and killed in a crosswalk. Last week, a hundred people gathered for a silent ride at the site where Michael's life ended after only 13 years.
|Photo by Carla Gramlich for Strong Towns|
While such tragedies motivate the families, friends and immediate communities of victims, they don't lead to fundamental change because of what Marohn calls the "drip, drip, drip" effect. When hundreds of people are killed, say, in a plane crash or building collapse, it gets the attention of planners, policy-makers and, sometimes, politicians. On the other hand, incidents like the one that claimed young Michael Weilert usually claim one, or a few victims, so they receive less notice.
How many more "drips" will it take before those in authority see a tidal wave?
During the past week, my bikes were envious. They knew about my long weekend with near-perfect weather in Florida. I couldn't replicate those conditions here in New York, at this time of year. But the past weekend was quite lovely, with sunlight turning the falling and fallen red, yellow and orange leaves into jewels in necklaces that rimmed streets and curbs.
They wanted that, and a seascape like the ones I saw while riding along Route A1A. A view just like that one isn't available along the South Shores of Queens or Long Island because the water is more of a steely blue-gray and the light more diffuse, but the vistas are there.
La-Vande, my Mercian King of Mercia, was ready for one of those views of the ocean. But when we arrived at Point Lookout, after pushing against the wind most of the way, we were greeted with this:
I could sense her disappointment, though she didn't show it on the ride back. Of course, we had the wind with us but, more important, she was the nimble, stable ride she's been since she entered my fleet last year.
And when I stopped at the Gateway reception center on Beach Channel Boulevard, a woman exulted, "I just love that color!"
So do I--and the hues of autumn, and the sea.
As a transgender woman, I often ask, "What if?"
What if I had been assigned, at birth, the gender and name under which I live?
What kind of cyclist might I have been?
When I go for a ride, people--usually non-cyclists--implore me to "be careful." Sometimes I think they've been inculcated, if unwittingly, with the notion that the car reigns supreme and if a driver harms a cyclist, the cyclist was careless.
That said, there are indeed dangers in cycling, as there are in almost any other activity. But there is one that almost no one ever thinks of.
An Italian fellow was riding his bike away from house on the Costa del Sol, the Spanish region that's become Europe's Florida: a warm-weather magnet for vacationers and pensioners.
But he didn't retire from the Carbineri. In fact, the Carbineri and their counterparts in a few other countries were looking for him.
Turns out, he was part of the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta mafia gang and had been on the run from his country's authorities for seven years. In addition to committing the common grifter offenses of money laundering, forging documents and tax evasion, according to said authorities, he was a point man for shipping cocaine from Colombia to Europe.
Someone should have told him to "be careful" when he went out for his ride.
This blog is twelve years old. During that time, I've argued--fairly consistently, I believe--that bike lanes and other physical forms of "bicycle infrastructure" aren't, by themselves, enough to make cycling safer or to encourage people to trade one pedal and four wheels for two pedals and two (or three) wheels, if only for short trips.
The most important form of "bicycle infrastructure" is, I believe, attitudes and policies and about cycling and cyclists. As I've done before, I'm going to make a comparison between victims of sexual crimes and victims of motorists' aggression or carelessness against cyclists. (I've been both.) In both cases, victims have been blamed, implicitly or explicitly, for what happened to them.
|Photo by Tim Grist|
Although some attitudes have changed, it's still not unusual for some people to wonder aloud what someone "was doing on the street at that time of night" or was wearing at the time she, he or they were attacked. Or, worse, to blame the victim's sexual orientation or gender presentation for the attack. And the ways in which too many police officers treat victims re-traumatizes them and discourages others from reporting attacks against them.
Similarly, when an intoxicated or distracted driver runs down a cyclist, or when any driver uses a bike lane as a parking or passing lane, the cyclist or bicycling is, too often blamed, again, whether explicitly or implicitly. The former happened after a woman driving an SUV in Houston struck and killed an eight-year-old boy on a bicycle. In response, the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a statement that he "was riding his bike in an area that isn't safe for pedestrians or people riding bikes."
As it turns out, the boy was crossing an intersection where the driver had a stop sign. So, in brief, the Texas DPS blamed the boy for riding--to school? home?--as so many other kids, and adults, do.
The bike- and cyclist-blaming is also extended to users of any form of transportation that isn't an automobile. Pedestrians have also been similarly held culpable for crossing a street when a driver blew through a red light. And, in Bloomington, Indiana--home to Indiana University--a student was killed while riding a scooter in a bike lane. How did the city respond? It decided to limit scooter use.
The real infrastructure improvement, if you will, the city needs is for its planners and policy makers to shift their goals away from moving as many cars or trucks as possible as quickly as possible from one point to another. In other words, they need to stop thinking that the car is king--and to spread the message that motorists share space with cyclists, pedestrians, scooter-users--and folks in wheelchairs or walkers.
To be fair, just about every other US municipality, even if it's deemed "bike friendly," needs to make such a shift. Otherwise, kids riding their bikes to school or adults riding to work or for exercise will be blamed when they're run down by people who drink or text while they drive, or use bike lanes for parking or passing.
Today this blog reaches another milestone: post #4000. Every milestone, whether of this blog or in any other area of my life, is a time to reflect.
It's perhaps not such a coincidence that I, and this blog, have reached such a landmark after my latest trip to Florida. I hadn't been there--or seen my father--in three years. The occasion of my previous visit to the Sunshine State, which wasn't long enough (or quite the occasion) for a ride, was my mother's funeral. That was not long after my 3000th post on this blog.
As I mentioned a few days ago, a couple of months after my mother passed, "COVID happened." In many ways, the world--at least the parts I know--have changed.
I got to thinking about that while in Florida. For one thing, while riding I noticed many more cyclists (which, of course, made me happy), and many more young or youngish people, than during previous visits. Both of those developments are, at least partially, results of the pandemic. I also saw what I had never seen before on any of the streets, paths or trails: e-bikes and scooters. Of the latter, I would say that I saw, not only fewer overall-- which would make sense because there are fewer people in Palm Coast than in my neighborhood-- but also a lower ratio of scooters to bikes, e-bikes and other vehicles. Or so it seemed. Also, the e-bikes and motorized bicycles were ridden, it seemed, by recreational riders: I didn't see anyone who seemed to be delivering anything.
Seeing the damage Ian wrought, though not as severe or extensive as what other parts of the state have endured, is enough to make me wonder how or whether some of the very things that attract people--namely, the scenic roads along the ocean and through the woods--can endure. Perhaps more important, though, is how the psyche, if you will, of the place might change. I couldn't help but to feel a more--for lack of a better term--sober atmosphere than I'd seen before. Even the tourists, whether the motorcyclists along the A1A or the college students and other tourists out for the long weekend, didn't seem as carefree as in times past.
I hope some of the joy will return--accompanied, of course, by a safer environment for cyclists -- in Florida and elsewhere. As long as people are cycling, I have hope. And as long as I can pedal, whether to a milestone or no place in particular, I have at least one source of joy in my life.
For the occasion of this milestone, here is a "4000" bike--an early '80's classic from Panasonic:
|Panasonic DX-4000, circa 1981|