It’s time to kill the cul-de-sac

Keeping up with local news on top of national news is pretty much a Sisyphean task, but the Coastal Conservation League does an excellent job of summing up both in terms of environmental related news. And although it’s focused on the Lowcountry (aka the coastal side of South Carolina), most of what is recapped reflects what is going on in many other parts of the country as well.

In the most recent installment, Dana hit the nail on the head when talking about how ludicrous our neighborhood planning is:

“Without belaboring the point, a dense, connected street network is the only way to reduce congestion. It provides trip options for cars; it makes bicycling and walking more practical, and it supports public transit. There should never be another development built on the coast, or anywhere, without a dense road network that connects seamlessly to the larger system.”

 

 

Case in point? This elementary school just Southeast of Greenville has over 1,000 students, and fewer than 5 students walked or rode a bike the year that I worked there. It’s surrounded by neighborhoods whose developers apparently assumed that the only way to leave one’s house is in a car. There is simply no functional connectivity from the neighborhoods to any stores, schools or other neighborhoods unless you are driving (and when you are driving, you’re going the same circuitous route as everyone else).

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Thankfully, this area is getting more bike trail extensions and bike lanes as it is feeling the negative impacts of the cars-only planning. I used to commute through these roads, and if I still worked in this area I would be relieved to have more options on the way. At the same time, it’s incredibly frustrating that efficient neighborhood design and connectivity isn’t a no-brainer for planners and developers by this point.

 

This is just one example of the type of poor street design that fails everyone (except for perhaps the car manufacturers). Small businesses and rural towns miss out on customers, our children don’t have safe routes to school, and chronic disease and pollution levels continue to kill us. Transit may be a boring topic, but it’s central to our quality of life and goals for a sustainable and better future.

 

So what can we do about this mess?

  1. Tell your elected officials that multi modal transit and complete streets design is important to you as a voter and a taxpayer. Facebook has a relatively new Town Hall feature where you can find many state and federal level officials, but look up your local city/county council representatives as well. You can stop in to a meeting or just write/call their offices.
  2. Join Strong Towns. This group is doing amazing things nationwide to make real positive changes in our communities through policy and planning.
  3. If you bike commute, log your ride on Strava. It contributes to the heat map data that can be used by local groups and officials to see where and how often people are cycling. Think of it as a vote for bikes with every ride!
  4. Listen and learn more about infrastructure and design from the Small Towns podcast, 99% invisible, Off Peak, and others (I’m always open to suggestions, let me know if you have a favorite!).
  5. Once you learn these new things, talk about them! Nerd out on facebook, twitter, instagram, bring them up in conversation, email articles to your friends. The more we talk about something, the closer a concept gets to reality.

 

It’s time to kill the cul-de-sac

Steel is real (as is teal) 

I haven’t really mentioned the fact that I bought a custom built steel frame road bike earlier this year. Probably because I’ve been busy riding it. 

    


   

   

It was a long time coming, as I bought the groupset for a steal online last summer. Then pondered what kind of frame I wanted and where I would buy it. 

    

    

  

  

I wanted a road bike that would replace my 27 lb touring bike with something lighter, while still being durable and hardy enough for long distance riding and tours.
And of course, I wanted something pretty. 

  

   

 

   So a friend mentioned that there was a small outfit in Italy that did custom steel frames with Columbus Spirit Tubing, and I decided to give it a shot. 

     

     

It’s an expensive gamble to do something like this online and across the ocean more or less on a whim, but when you don’t spend $9k a year on a car, you do have these luxuries. 

    

   

Vincenzo did a beautiful job, and there were more details and options than I could have imagined. From the tapered head tube to the exact RA# paint colors to the placement of the cables, it was a treat to get to select each aspect of the bike. 

    

   

      

One of my favorite details to select was the writing on the top tube. I selected “senza pareti”, which is Italian for “without walls”, after a particularly zen morning commute where I realized that I felt particularly connected and at one with the environment when on my bike, surrounded by cars where people are walled in and cut off from the world, stuck to the confines of doors and windows while on the open road.

   

     

    

The custom build process also forced me to learn more about bike mechanics and look up the pros/cons of each aspect of the bike. Most of my choices were focused on weight or aesthetics, but I did go with disc brakes because I’m a control freak about descending. Maybe about a few other things as well. 

    

The finished built bike (with 11-speed Ultegra, mechanical disc brakes, some carbon fiber pieces like bars and seatpost, and Chris King wheels) weighs in around 20 lbs.  If you’re in Greenville, Carlo at Velo Valets is your guy for custom builds!

     

   

   

I changed out my beloved Selle Anatomica saddle for weight, but I’ll probably try one of their new lighter models before too long.

   

   

    

    

We’ve already explored roads and trails in 6 states and covered over 1,000 miles, and we’re just getting started!

Steel is real (as is teal) 

two-wheel-barrow

 

In unexpected ways, biking lets you be super lazy sometimes. For instance, why walk over to the community garden when you can ride out and fill a pannier?

 
Speaking of which, I’m really digging my Brooks rolltop pannier for my commuter. It’s waterproof, has a nice neutral tone look, and stays put nicely on a standard rear rack. I already have a set of Ortliebs for touring and grocery runs, but the simple hooks plus exterior pocket and interior organizer features on this pannier made it worth the impulse buy (and it was half price to boot!). Frustratingly I can’t find this exact model online but it’s most similar to the Land’s End Rear Pannier here (just with aforementioned pocket and organizer).

two-wheel-barrow