Voting isn’t over

No, I’m not talking about the electoral college votes. And I’m not talking about what you did or didn’t do in a voting booth on Tuesday.

We vote every day, whether we are cognizant of it or not.

When you ride your bike instead of driving, you vote for clean air, clean water, energy independence, and better infrastructure.

When you put your dollars in local businesses (local bike shops and beyond), you vote for Main Street, small business owners and in support of your local economy.

When we eat, we can vote for our local farmers, for the wellbeing of workers and animals, and for the environment.

When you speak words to others, it is the chance to vote for more love and compassion in this world, for understanding and tolerance.

When we forgive, it is a vote for healing in ourselves and in those who have hurt us.

We are all human. Not one of us is perfect. But we each have so much power to make the world a better, kinder, cleaner and healthier place the second we decide to apply action to that which we hold most dear.

So please, keep voting. Early and often. As long as you are on this side of the dirt, you have choices that matter.

 
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

Jane Goodall

Voting isn’t over

Lend me your ears

I’ve been enjoying The Spokesmen podcast since re-discovering it this summer, but this week’s crossover episode by Off Peak about the history of roads in America is exceptionally fascinating. Seriously, go listen to it!

I thought I knew a good bit about the history of roads, but I wasn’t aware it involved mastodons or germ theory. I also loved the part where cars were called “noisy smoking stinkwagons” (also, I think that would make a great bumper sticker). It’s so interesting to see how our perception of what is “normal” and acceptable to society can be altered, especially in terms of infrastructure that we typically take for granted and tend to assume has never or hardly changed. And with all of the recent buzz about self-driving cars, it’s intriguing to think about how our relationship with public roadways could change in the next few decades.

 

 

Lend me your ears

We need more trail yesterday

It’s great to hear from people who want to bike commute in their town, and even better when it’s local people who I can share personal experience with on specific routes and ideas. What’s not so great is when the answer is something like, “well I do it, but most people would never reach that level of crazy”.

This article from Bike Walk Greenville recounts an email exchange I was cc’d on last week from a newcomer to Greenville who is interested in a commute similar to what I traversed last year. On the one hand, there are some options to consider and we are lucky to have a reliable, albeit massively underfunded, bike friendly public transit option to supplement a bike commute. On the other hand, without protected bike lanes, low traffic bypasses or better yet a bike trail network, we are stuck with a community design that says to people “you’d better get in your car and stay there, if you want to live.”

Thankfully, the planned Swamp Rabbit Trail extension has huge potential to transform the Southeast concrete jungle of Greenville from a gridlocked mess into a highly desirable area to live as well as work and shop. We need this kind of connective infrastructure yesterday, and I can only hope that sooner than later, we will learn some valuable lessons to apply toward future development as Greenville continues to grow.

We need more trail yesterday

In which I stop reading comment sections

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I’ve been hearing about the tragedy that happened in Kalamazoo on Tuesday night after a reckless (rumored intoxicated) driver plowed into a group ride, with 5 riders declared dead on the scene.

I’ve been trying to distance myself mentally and emotionally from this horrific news. But this photograph of the riders’ bicycles was too much to ignore. Along with some of the comments, because yes I read comment sections despite my own better judgment telling me not to.

There is a lot of victim blaming going on in the news this week. We all wish that tragedies could be prevented, but you don’t tell legal road users to stay off the roads because “what do you expect will happen”.

What do I expect? I expect others to look where they are going when they are managing a 2-ton vehicle and assume appropriate responsibility for it. I expect that if you are behind the wheel, you will know where the brake pedal is and apply it when necessary. If you are not able to slow down and steer enough to not kill other people, then you should not be driving a vehicle.

Cyclists are not naive or stupid. We are not selfish. We are determined. At least half of my casual conversations end with someone telling me “be safe”. Coworkers tell me I am brave for commuting on the roads every day. My friends ask me to call or text them when I get home. My boyfriend has an app to locate me should I get injured or not come home one day. Most cyclists can relate to these as routine exchanges.

Every time I ride, I realize that my life is in the hands of other road users. If I die on my bike, I am not going to die because I was an obstruction in the road, and my helmet will probably not save my life. I will die from either someone deciding that their rush is more important than my life and passing unsafely, or they will be texting or sending a snapchat, and they will not even see me at all. I don’t hate drivers and after commuting for two years, I can count on one hand the mild unpleasant encounters I’ve had with cars on the road.  But statistically speaking, I will die because someone else is being an asshole.

There will be plenty more said about this incident before the news moves on to the next headline. But we have to remember that the easiest answer isn’t necessarily the right answer. We cannot be shortsighted in how we deal with tragedies like this if we want to truly make them a thing of the past.

My heart is with the families of those we lost on Tuesday. In their memory, we ride onward.

In which I stop reading comment sections

bike it list

Summer is officially here, and I’ve made it through my first year of teaching! I suppose now I can finally get to the 1,347 “saved links” on facebook (approx 90% of which are biking/infrastructure related)..

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… Or I’ll ride my bike. With the Ride to Remember coming up in July, I have some miles to log to prepare for a 3 day cross-state trek. I’m also going to ride the Allegheny Passage at the end of July, and attend a kayaking/yoga retreat right before school starts back up.

In a recent conversation a friend told me that she didn’t know if she could afford to move to DC with the salary she was offered at a new job that she was really excited about. I told her that I have several friends in DC and NYC who haven’t owned a car in years, which helps them afford the higher cost of living. She said that she didn’t know if she could give up her car, because to her it meant freedom.

To each her own. I get that ‘freedom’ is for most people the ability to get in your car and go wherever you want, whenever you want. I remember that feeling. But that concept faded into an adult world of working to pay bills, and looking back on the last 10 years I realize that vague daydream of driving off toward the California sunset would be better accomplished in a rental car (or better yet, a touring bike). And on a day to day basis, I end up more satisfied by a ride outside to the closest store to get something I actually need than I was when I would drive out to Target for some random shopping. Not having a car has also freed me of obligations I used to feel to go everywhere and do everything.

But most of all, for me freedom is having time to myself and not spending all of it working for a paycheck (even if I do happen to love my job). Before I sold my car last year, every May I would have to fork out about $1000 or so in property tax, insurance payments, and frequent repairs (my car was a lemon). Most people view this as just a necessary evil; to me it felt like torture to spend my hard earned money on something I didn’t really want in the first place. The first bike ride I took after I sold my car is still engrained in my memory, as I felt as if a physical weight had been lifted off of my shoulders.

Now that I have summers off, the sizeable chunk of teacher salary that would go towards car ownership can be applied in a much more satisfying way. So I’m going off to Mexico in a couple of weeks for a 10 day jaunt, and my goal is to visit a new country or state every year. I’ll think of it as a bucket list to go along with my bike it list. Because my bike is more to me than just a replacement for my car. To me, it’s freedom.

 

bike it list

It’s the asphalt

flaneur

I ran across the story behind this picture in my newsfeed and I think it really speaks volumes about how we have been treating our outdoor and public spaces in the present age of motor vehicles. Illustrating this mindset, the CDC has 3 suggestions listed on their website under “prevention” for pedestrian deaths:

  • Pedestrians can increase their visibility at night by carrying a flashlight when walking and by wearing retro-reflective clothing.
  • Whenever possible, cross the street at a designated crosswalk or intersection.
  • It is much safer to walk on a sidewalk or path, but if a sidewalk or path is not available, walk on the shoulder and facing traffic.

Well that’s all well and good, CDC, and I do agree, on the road is not where you should bust out any ninja camouflaging techniques. But if we want to get serious about pursuing a Vision Zero world, we need to think bigger picture.

Talking about how we design public spaces for more than just cars sounds about as sexy as those fluorescent safety vests look. “Imagine all the people sharing all the world” sounds a lot more poetic than “your petroleum based method of transportation is simultaneously killing and paving the whole damn planet”. But unless you are an Indiana mole woman, this Culture of Car directly affects your health and well being every single day. How we interact with the world around us is directly tied to how we physically get around. If we want to start creating solutions instead of more problems*, we need to start planning our communities with healthy, active transportation options. And we need to start today.

So on National Walking Day, take a walk. Ride your bike. But don’t stop there. Tell your local officials, planning committees, representatives, even your local school PTA that walking is important and the time to take action is now. If your child’s school principal is threatening to have you arrested for walking your child to school, get her fired. Donate to a local trail or volunteer to pick up litter and encourage others to do the same. Because to quote Jane Goodall, “what you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

And now I will step off of my soapbox, and go take a walk.

*we have enough problems as is: rising obesity, soaring asthma rates, air pollution deaths, chronic stress from our commutes, and that’s just a start. 

It’s the asphalt