Monday, November 16

Rural Public Space

I've seen this illustration before:

(Karl Jilg/Swedish Road Administration)
This image satirically shows urban public space and how much has been taken from human beings to cater to the automobile.  It is truly a brilliant representation.

I can't help but try to imagine what a comparable image depicting rural space would look like.  I'm not as artistically inclined as when I was younger, but I'm thinking I may take a crack at it.

Monday, November 2

The Importance of Being Able to Roam

Cross posted from The Chainring Report

There is a concept in the world called the Right to Roam.  In Swedish the word is allemansr├Ątten or “everyman’s right.”  In the U.S. we typically don’t abide by this concept except on publicly owned property.  The vast majority of land in our communities is privately owned.
Because of our strongly held beliefs in the sacredness of private property it is difficult to carve out a sliver of new public space for roads, utilities and even sidewalks.  And because of our dysfunctional fear of liability more and more land is being cut off from public use altogether.  Sometimes even on publicly owned property.
What generally remains as public space in small communities and rural areas are the public road right-of-ways.  Unfortunately those rights-of-ways tend to be narrow and rarely include any accommodation for the non-motoring public.  We have an epidemic of roads that have been designed for cars and not people. 
It may not be a concern to people who own hundreds of acres of land or who live near ample public facilities such as parks and recreation areas.  But for the masses access to space for recreation and exercise (or even non-motorized transportation) is at a premium.  We have limited time to enjoy our meager public spaces with our jam-packed work weeks and far-flung commutes.  For a society that values convenience we sure have sold our souls in regards to trading proximity to the outdoors for the pleasure of driving our cars.
Our world has provided tools of convenience and labor saving devices which have nearly made our bodies obsolete.  And we're suffering for it.  We're losing skills like hand writing and we've lost most of our opportunities to stay naturally healthy.  So now we have to fashion or find ways to exercise our bodies.  We drive to the gym to run on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike.  Why don't we just ride our bikes?  Fear?  Conditioned to convenience?  Maybe it’s that guy that yelled out the window of his SUV to “get on the sidewalk” or “roads are for cars.”
One way to maximize public space is to build more trails.  It doesn’t matter if they’re singletrack dirt or fourteen foot wide paved multiuse trails.  Trails provide more experiential surface area to any community.  They connect us to remote places; they connect us to near places.  They connect us to each other, and they connect us to strangers.  Trails invite us to move, to travel, and when we travel we strengthen important neural connections in our brains.  We exercise our minds, and we exercise our bodies.
Trail require little real estate.  And in fact, they don’t require prime real estate.  For dirt singletrack often junk land is best.  You can even build multiuse trails in places where no one wants to do anything else.  Floodplains are great places for paved multiuse trails.  Utility rights-of ways.  That fringe along the edge of an industrial area.  All good places.
Trail in Berea, KY

A narrow sliver between platted neighborhoods in Arvada, CO

Trails in the Cherry Creek floodplain, Denver, CO

Multiuse trail in a power line easement, Arvada, CO

In conferences and meetings I continually hear about how important physical activity is.  I hear that it is vital for us to have access to opportunities for exercise and movement.  I wonder why we have to talk about it so much if it’s so important.
I remember that when I was a kid there were all kind of places I could ride my bike and hike and play.  There were pockets of wooded land where my contemporaries build forts and ran amuck.  It was an important part of growing up.  It seems like a lot of those places have vanished or have been fenced off. 


Monday, October 5

The Suicide Lanes

This blog has its roots in cycling.  Over the seven years I’ve been rambling about here on this back alley wall of the internet I’ve gone from being—really—a wide-eyed neophyte urban cyclist to being a battle hardened full-time bike commuter with a chip on his shoulder and a war to win to a reluctant auto-centric office drone hoping to make a difference in the world despite being absent from the bike seat for long stretches at a time.
Truly, when I started here I was new to the issues.  I was an experienced cyclist.  My urban cycling goes all the way back to my fall freshman semester in college in Nashville, Tennessee when I rode my Huffy Mountain Storm all over the south part of Nashville because my beloved Mustang stayed at home in the stable with a busted motor.  That was 1992.
But I had never really thought about the interplay of bike, road, and car beyond the moment.  I hadn’t considered policy, public opinion, or the implications of choosing to ride a bike instead of driving a car.  I had made the choice many times.  It was my default when it was feasible.  But I had never really given much bandwidth to the whys and wherefores.
The change came when we moved to the Denver area and I became a land use planner.  I had been through some undergraduate classes that opened my eyes to active mobility and related issues.  So when I started bike commuting across the west Denver suburbs I had a new filter.  After a few months of regular cycling on the road and in traffic those issues started to become personal.  After a couple of years my brain had been rewired. 
These days I am not a utility cyclist.  My non-motorized movements is almost exclusively recreational.  I have added running to my repertoire.  To train for long distance trail runs I have been spending a lot of time pounding the pavement.  I’m seeing things in a different light and processing my experiences with a different filter even after all these years.
To run long distances in the rural area where I live you have to incorporate some busy roads or run difficult terrain.  The two main roads bisect the county along the four compass points.  Both roads are major arterials with no shoulders and narrow lanes, yet motorists (myself included) barrel along at excessive speeds.  For runs of less than ten miles there are options that avoid these roads except to cross, but for anything over ten miles or so it becomes necessary to travel on one or the other road for a considerable distance.
On a bike, traveling at 20 mph or better with traffic this is not so daunting.  But on foot, running against traffic, the high speeds and close proximity become a major psychological barrier to getting out for a run for me.
And then there’s Sunny.  Earlier this year a local man—Sunny Yang—was struck by a motor vehicle while running on KY 213 north of Stanton.  Sunny survived, but he’s still locked in a long and difficult recovery.  He may never fully recover.  As I ramped up my mileage and looked at going over twenty miles I was confronted with the reality of running on the dangerous stretch of road where Sunny was hit.
My Strava track bears it out.  I ran an 11:39/mi pace beginning on that stretch bookended by two 12:40/mi miles.  I was nervous.  I wanted off that road.  A few weeks ago as I was running the 0.3 mile long stretch a delivery truck driver laid on his horn as he bore down on me without slowing or getting over.  I had nowhere to go.  I was on the edge of the pavement at the top of a steep dropoff and he was not going to get over into the oncoming lane even through there were no oncoming vehicles.  I had to dance on the edge of a blade, duck, weave to keep from being hit or tumbling down an embankment.
I was mad.  Keyed up.  I would have torn him apart if I could have gotten ahold of that driver at that moment.  What he did was aggressive.  Antagonistic.  He was saying “I don’t like your wussy running lifestyle so I’m going to intimidate you.”
That disturbs me. 
So you’ll have to forgive me for hating our addiction to cars and this autocentric culture we’ve allowed to evolve.  My attitudes are not going to easily change.  People use their cars to bully and intimidate others.  People do things in their cars they would never have the cahones to do face to face with another human being.
It’s this environment that makes me seriously reconsider being a long distance runner.  It’s not enjoyable for me.  I would very much like to go out and run for an hour or two every once in a while.  I’d like to be able to regularly go beyond the comfy four mile loop in front of my house.  It would be nice to have options beyond running on Furnace Mountain to get in some miles.  That’s a tough stretch of road to drive much less bike or run.  While I love riding it, I just don’t have the pluck to tackle it (yet) on foot.
My fellow humans make the local running environment toxic to my health.  Humanity is the barrier to entry.  We could say it’s a lack of infrastructure, but the stark truth is that it’s our own friends and neighbors who make using the roads around us difficult and dangerous.  If I had the road to myself its more than enough infrastructure for my needs.  Throw in a few inattentive drivers and a sociopath or two and they become killing fields.
When you’re already running and your “fight or flight” reflexes kick in the fight comes out.  And I am not a timid user of the roads.  I have ridden my bike in heavy city traffic many times.  I've struggled to carve out a space for myself on the roads.  I've been hit twice.  I was almost run over by a RTD bus once.  And I kept going back.  I steeled myself against the fear and doubt.
I don't know...maybe I've grown soft.  Or maybe I know a dangerous situation when I see one.  While its an inconvenience for me while planning my recreational runs these issues are real and inhibitive for disadvantaged populations.  They are real for people like Sunny Yang who have experienced the worst our transportation system has to offer.
Things need to change.

Tuesday, September 22

Join a Great Wave

I used to be funny.  Back when I rode my bike in traffic every day to and from a job I hated…yeah, those were the days!  My go-for-broke wit poured forth like dingy water from a busted sewer pipe.  I made people laugh.  Well, I made myself laugh.
My got-nothing-to-lose humor carried me through some tough times.  I really did hate my job.  I won’t lie; I wanted to kill myself some days.  I was in a dark and self-destructive mental ecosystem.  I didn’t know if I was going to survive.  Ha ha!  So funny!
But I was able to write silly and sometimes borderline informative blog posts on a daily basis.  Sometimes I posted three times a day!  I wrote short stories.  I cranked out a book.  Writing was an escape for me.  It protected me from a daily reality I didn’t have the energy to deal with.
Somehow I got through those five years.  I had my amazing family.  I had my Leadville obsession.  And I had my long bike rides.
My commutes were therapy even though they were stressful in themselves at times.  My mountain biking diversions were better therapy, though these days I think I’m more of a mountain biker than I was then despite having less time and opportunity to ride.
I don’t hate my job now.  I’m able to do things that I want to do.  I’m able to bend and twist my job duties to fit my own world view and values.  And it’s not even a bad thing!  There’s even the possibility that I might end up creating my dream job with full organizational support.  Still working on it, but it’s not too far out of reach right now.
I’ve managed to draft a bike-ped plan for my home town(s) and they adopted it.  I’m working on improving river access in my community and seeing great gains.  I’m making some progress on getting the ball rolling to build a lot of mountain bike trails a half hour drive from my house.  What’s really encouraging with all three of these efforts is that other people are taking up the cause and moving forward with them.  These aren’t just my dreams and fancies.  I’m acting as a catalyst to get things moving.
But oddly, I’m not inspired to write like I was when I lived in Colorado.  I find it terrible ironic that Colorado was the kind of landscape I have dreamed of living in (and still do) my whole life, but I was so miserable while we were there that I could hardly think about anything except escaping the situation I was in.  It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t find a path that kept us in the West.  But it’s fortunate in ways too.  I feel like I’m contributing and making a difference.  It’s just that there’s no wallowing and escapism to drive me to write.
Recently I saw a story about Gov. Hickenlooper pledging $100 million to make Colorado the best state for cycling in the country.  I thought bitterly that maybe that could go to creating a few more bike professional positions. Ha ha.  I try not to look down those dark roads.  I try to forget Colorado.
You can see that I’m insanely successful.  Recently one of my coworkers started pointing out every time I mentioned “when I worked in Colorado.”  I didn’t realize I was doing it.  My delivery was off too.
This last year I’ve been trying to realign my priorities and focus.  It may not seem like it to those who know me IRL.  But I have known for years that I am too self-centered.  I want to be a good person and a good member of my global village, but I’ve been too mired down by the sludge inside my own brain and heart. 
The change started eight years ago.  I took my first planning class at EKU with Alice Jones.  It was a joint class between the regular university and the College of Justice.  There were a handful of geography students and an equal number of police officers.  The first exercise in class was to go out and take twenty photos of our communities.  We were supposed to take ten of things we liked about the community and ten of things we didn’t like.  I couldn’t find ten images of things I liked about Stanton.
At the end of the semester she paired us across colleges to do a final assignment which used those initial photos to build on.  The officer I was paired with had similar problems with finding good things to capture.  And we had even focused on the same types of things within the community.  The most notable were sidewalks.  Except, where I was simply disgusted by the state of disrepair and neglect he was concerned the pedestrian infrastructure in his community because his teenage son was blind and in a wheelchair.
By the time we finished our paper my worldview had changed.  That’s when I decided I wanted to be a planner.  I couldn’t sit back and let apathy and ignorance shape the world around me anymore.  And believe me; trying to make a difference is a constant battle with apathy and ignorance.  I don’t think most people are intentionally difficult, but there are just so many hurdles to overcome in reshaping the status quo.
You can’t just whack them in the knees with a baseball bat if you think you’re losing ground.  And that’s too bad, because I think it would speed up progress even if we’d need a lot more ADA accessible facilities.  Job security, I guess?
Man, it’s a good thing I don’t ever plan on running for office.  I give my fictitious future opponents sooooo much fodder for the mudslinging.
Yesterday a circle closed.  The speaker for my Regional Transportation Committee meeting was Casey Schaeffer.  She is Miss Wheelchair Kentucky 2015.  Hearing her story and talking to her about the challenges she faces reminded me why I got into this.  She reminded me why I wanted to change the world in the first place.  It matters to have a name and a face to put with the issues.  We all need someone to plug in when we are moving through life, to think “how would (insert name) deal with this?” and to continually remind ourselves that the world was not put here just for ourselves.  Not one of us abides here alone or independent of our communities.  We need to care about our communities enough to do the right thing.  And the right thing is rarely the cheapest or conversely the most profitable way.  When profit is the motive the outcome is likely to disappoint.
But you already knew that, right?  I mean, look at the mess we’re in because of profit driven health care, profit driven insurance, profit driven agriculture, profit driven war, profit driven housing and banking, and profit driven education.  When money becomes the motive people suffer.  And if you don’t care about the suffering of other people then I am sure your money will take care of all of your needs.

Wednesday, September 9

The Walk of Life

You could find more diametrically opposed communities than my hometown and New York City, but what would be the point?  NYC is NYC.  And Stanton is about as small town as you can get and still maintain all the services that rural residents need for daily life.  2,700 souls and change…
So for comparison you could find a smaller town in American than Stanton.  But for practical considerations it makes good sense to compare and contrast these two megalopolises.  Well, one may actually fall into the nanomicropolis category.
Over Labor Day weekend we took a sprint road trip north to New York to visit my wife’s family.  We actually stayed outside of “The City” at a place I like to call Bushwood.  My son did his best Napoleon Dynamite impression all weekend and the in-laws put on a show for the esteemed guests as well.  Imagine Jersey Shore but with an Appalachian flavor.  I am not kidding.
Anyway, what I am actually here to talk about is walkability.  On Saturday the entire tribe went into “The City.”  It’s about a forty minute train ride from Rye Station to Grand Central.  According to Google Maps it would take about an hour to drive and then parking would become an issue.  In 2002 when my wife and I visited her grandfather we walked a mile from his house to the station and took the train into the city.  No cars were involved.  Saturday we parked at the Rye police station and walked across the street to catch the train.
Once we were in NYC we utilized the oldest form of transportation: walking on sidewalks.  Our intent was to walk shorter distances and take the subway for longer ones.  If we hadn’t been such a large group (eight) I would have opted for a CitiBike instead of the subway.  In fact, I was jealous of the cyclists we saw even though the thought of riding in such a large city (THE City) gave me butterflies.  But I digress.
We walked from Grand Central to Central Park and then from the southeast corner up to Strawberry Fields.  We caught the subway there and rode it down to Tribeca.  We walked a couple of blocks south to Ground Zero.  In 2002 Mandy and I walked from Grand Central all the way to Ground Zero, then on to Battery Park (about four miles), and took the subway back to Central Park.  Then we walked from Central Park to Times Square and then back over to Grand Central.  All total we walked about six miles during our visit in 2002.  With the four kids we knew walking that much was out of the question.
Not counting navigating around subway stations we only walked about 2.8 miles around NYC this trip.  We covered about the same amount of ground (minus the jaunt to Battery Park and accidental subway excursion into the Bronx) as we did thirteen years ago but with greater use of public transportation.  The biggest difference for me is confidence in using the system. 
San Diego streetscene
Since my first visit to New York City I have navigated public transportation in Denver, Chicago, and San Diego.  By the time I got to San Diego I had it pretty well figured out.  I was all over that city swiping my five day metro pass to ride the light rail and buses to visit Old Town San Diego from downtown and going as far as Mission Beach and El Cajon.  I even took the bus over to Coronado one morning to run on the beach.  NYC is a little more intimidating than San Diego but much less intimidating with so many more miles under my belt. 
I won’t even get into what it was like to drive around Rye, Port Chester, and points in Connecticut.  By the time we were traipsing west across the Tappan Zee early Monday morning I was honking and “tweeting” with the best of them (New England drivers).  I tried not to translate my experiences to my morning commute into Lexington this morning.  It was hard not to fly the bird randomly.
Anyway, imagine moving about a city like THE City, using public transportation, walking, cycling.  And then transport yourself in a day’s time to…Stanton, Kentucky.  The town is a mile across.  To walk from one end to the other it is necessary at some point to walk IN the narrow street.  No shoulders.  No sidewalks in most places.  It should be ridiculously easy to be car free in such a condensed and laid back place.  It’s not.
This is the best we've got
There is almost no space carved out for pedestrians where I live.  It feels more dangerous than walking around the biggest city in North America.  It feels less welcoming.
What is most troubling to me is that it would cost so much less to build or have built adequate pedestrian infrastructure where I live.  Construction costs are proportionately less even if we don’t have the population demands to necessitate sidewalks and transit opportunities.  Essentially, there is no reason my hometown shouldn’t have sidewalks on every street. 
The real difference is timing.  Much of NYC was laid out before the automobile came onto the scene.  Much of the infrastructure was either built or conceived and allocated before we became so enamored with supreme vehicular freedom.  Conversely, Stanton grew to its current size after the Mountain Parkway was constructed in the late 1960s and the Big Sinking Oil Field in Lee County boomed around the same time.  My hometown’s development was driven mainly by car culture, and it shows. 
We value our conveniences.  They make us feel wealthy.  If we can drive the mile to the grocery store we probably should.  It’s an exercise in freedom and modernity but not of our bodies.  Except—as Mark Twain recognized—we are twenty years behind the rest of the world here in Kentucky.  Maybe by the time my kids are in my shoes things will finally catch up in good ole Powell County.  Maybe by then we’ll have a few more sidewalks and a bike lane or two.

Tuesday, September 1

Silently Does the Blog Shine

First, before I get down to blogging away like I am wont, I should probably explain what’s going on. 
I began blogging regularly when I moved from Kentucky to Colorado.  My blog quickly evolved to a cycling specific space and my daily cycling adventures drove the blog while the blog sometimes drove the daily cycling activities.
When we moved back from Colorado to rural Eastern Kentucky the tone of the blog didn’t translate like I had hoped.  For one thing, my family had gone from one car to two and I had gone from bike commuting 100 miles a week to car commuting 450 miles a week not counting travel for work.
I allowed myself to fall into this situation because I had become a regional transportation planner, and I thought I could make a difference.  If it took reverting back to a car-centric lifestyle I was willing to make the sacrifice.  But it has taken its toll on my writing and my cycling.  I have to search high and low for inspiration.  It’s a constant struggle.
Things are changing.  I’m finally finding my place.  I’m finally seeing my influence grow and my efforts pay off.  I’m getting mountain bike trails built.  I’m working with communities to get multi-use paths and sidewalk projects developed to be built.  I’m changing the way people think about transportation.  I’m part of the bigger conversations.  I’m moving my chess pieces with patience and intent.
My other blog—The Chainring Report—has focused more on personal things.  I tried to keep it as a collection of trip reports.  But my adventures are growing more tame.  It seems redundant and uninteresting even to me.  I’m not doing as many organized events, and I’m even trying to cut back more.
In the past I have tried numerous times to maintain two blogs: one for personal fluff and one for more serious issues.  But it’s never worked.  What worked best was when I was living the issues and writing solely here on the Pavement’s Edge.
I can’t say what will happen going forward, but a few things have cropped up lately that make me think reviving this blog is timely and relevant.  There have been two cycling fatalities in Central Kentucky this summer (that I know of).  A distant acquaintance was struck by a car while running just outside of my hometown.  He’s at the Cleveland Clinic recovering.
Also, activists in Kentucky have proposed a three foot law.  I have pretty strong opinions about the three foot law so I figured it was time to write something about it.  Maybe definitive.
And in general cycling and walking advocacy is growing in my district.  Interest is growing.  The issues exist in spades.  And so I recognize that I have plenty of fodder for the blog machine.  I just need to stop being lazy and get back to work.
I can’t promise regular posts.  I want my pieces here now to be well-thought out, well researched, and well vetted in the community.  I don’t want to go off half-cocked and make anyone feel funny or make myself look stupid.  It’s time to own it.
You’ll notice all of the posts before this one are gone.  Fear not, I have moved them over to an archive page and may refer to them from time to time.  I just wanted to make a clean break and move forward with a clear vision in a definite direction.