Wednesday, December 23

Obligatory Seasons Greetings Post and Annoucement

If you don’t have a bike I hope Santa brings you one.  If you do have one I hope Santa brings you plenty of tubes and other cool accessories.  I hear he’s riding an Xtracycle this year to give the reindeer a break.


From the Pavement’s Edge will return in 2016 with new posts and (hopefully) some new shiny cycling gear.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Team Pavement’s Edge!
 
 
 

Monday, December 21

THE Vow


I mentioned in a previous post my long ago vow that once I graduated EKU and got a “real job” that I would never commute long distances by car again.  And I might have mentioned that the forties are my Decade of Humility.  I consciously broke that Vow to take the job I have now.  Repeat the mantra with me:
Never…Say…Never.
I guess I feel as long as I’m making a difference or have the immediate future potential to make a difference that it’s okay to have broken that solemn promise I made to myself.  It’s hard to keep living with an arrangement that I know is ultimately not sustainable or a good example of what I want to see in the world around me.  But I stick with it—happily—because I know that I am in a place where I can affect other future people’s ability to make better choices.
It’s possible that the cognitive dissonance that results from violating my Solemn Vow has caused some of my stress and depression in the past three years.  Regardless of my altruistic sacrifice the whole car commuting affair just doesn’t jive with me.  I burn a &@#%ton of fossil fuels.  I pollute the $#!+ out of the atmosphere.
What seems to be key is that along with the doublethink there is also a strong desire to resolve the disharmony and find balance.  Bike commuting is complicated in the Bluegrass Region.  There are almost no good commuting roads into Lexington from any other surrounding community.  The other day I told my wife that if we relocated we should look at Georgetown because there is now funding to extend the Legacy Trail (which currently pierces the heart of downtown Lex Vegas) to the Scott County line.  The Legacy will span the Death Zone ring of sport horse farms around the City. 
It’s the horse farm culture that has prevented the Lexington-Big Sandy Rail Trail from escaping Lexington (it currently exists in the form of the Brighton Rail Trail).  “Over our dead bodies” was the response to inquiries of the farm owners in eastern Fayette/Clark Counties regarding a potential trail connecting Lex and Winchester. 
A Lexington-Winchester trail connection would make bike commuting possible for me.  It wouldn’t be feasible due to the sheer distance (45 miles) but on the few occasions that I would have the time and energy to make the commute a Lexington—Big Sandy Trail would provide a cycling option where currently there are few that make any kind of sense.
Said trail would be a huge benefit to both Lexington and Winchester/Clark County.  Clark Countians would be able to bike commute to Lexington as well as recreate on the trail through the beautiful Bluegrass region and Lexington would benefit with potentially reduced traffic congestion, improved air quality, and access to another fine linear park.
Ideally I would just rescind the Solemn Vow and make a new one.  But what promise would I make to myself and the universe at this juncture in my life?  The easy way out would be to pledge to change my commuting arrangement as soon as is humanly possible.  I don’t know if that’s really even a rational assertion to make. 
The best proclamation I think I can make now is that I will do everything I can to bring light to the factors that have created the situation I find myself in, and to work diligently wherever I find myself to improve conditions and find solutions to transportation problems in my home state.

Friday, December 18

Ramming Speed Friday: The Slaughter of Responsibility


We say “safety first,” but in reality we—as in society/government—do not typically address problems, issues, and concerns with safety in mind. Either proactive or reactive assumed liability tends to be the measuring stick by which we govern, decide, and live our lives.

Of course we will smack anyone in the face with the Rule Book of Safety if they suggest we do something that might increase our liability regardless of how much sense the proposal makes. My first experience with this was nearly ten years ago when I approached the superintendent of schools to gauge his support of Safe Routes to School. I described potential projects such as sidewalks, multiuse paths and walking school buses and his reply was: “The school board can't endorse any program which puts kids' lives in danger.”

It's okay to kill them with inactivity, but heaven forbid we suggest that kids might need or even want to walk and bike to school! Or that it would be better for the community and the school board to get more people out of their cars to reduce congestion of both the streets and the heart.

The notion that we—as individuals, as private organizations, or as governments—might be liable for some tiny infraction and potentially exorbitant costs (regardless of who was at fault in the matter) has warped the way we make individual and collective decisions. We can no longer choose to embark on some valuable endeavor and plan out a course using good judgment and values as our guide. No, we have to scale every color swatch and good idea against our potential liability for some imagined future accident.

If you should find yourself in a meeting with engineering-minded folks you'll no doubt hear the answer to some hypothetical: “But it doesn't meet the standard.” We got to meet those standards! Don't deviate from the standards! Because if you don't meet the standard and some drunken soul plows headlong into a misplaced guardrail with their Grand Am we might have to compensate the so-called victim.

If the court determines that the City or County (We) were 10% liable because We failed to put a #3 Object Marker on that ol' hick'ry tree next to the road and they managed to inflict $2 million upon flesh and property then We might be on the hook for 10% or $200,000.

Our now disabled Grand Am pilot got off pretty good for simply plowing into a fixed liability.

Or maybe We had set the speed limit too low. How could We do such a thing? Well, you do a radar study. You clock users on a County road and then take the 85th percentile of the overall speed and that's where you set your speed limit. So if your neighbors are comfortable and have made habit of driving excessively fast on your road then likely the speed limit will be set too high for the “design” of the road. That's what sparked the complaints to begin with.

Ha. Design. The road in front of my house was not designed for a certain prevailing speed. It was, in fact, evolved from a wagon road into the ribbon of curvy racetrack that it is today. There was no design and there was no plan for the current level of traffic that it handles. So while twenty or thirty new houses have been built along said narrow, curvy, geometrically deficient roadway in the past twenty years no additional width, planning, or design have been applied.

This is truly not the fault of my cash-strapped County. Except that perhaps we could have benefited from county-wide zoning beginning twenty years ago.

Speed limits on my road...

So we take the 85th percentile of 50 mph which is the prevailing speed (I'm estimating) and post the speed limit at 45 mph. Will the prevailing speed be 45 or 10 miles over as many people assume is safe and legal? Okay, the neighbors complain, You posted the speed limit and people are driving faster and now some teenager has struck Ol' Hick'ry and died. We'll do another radar study.  Prevailing speed is now 55 mph. We set the limit at 50 mph accordingly.

I'm not kidding; this kind of stuff happens.

Alright then, if we can't lower the speed limit on my road can we at least get a “Slow: Children at Play” sign near my house? My kids like to play in the yard, but I'm afraid one of my speeding neighbors will fail to qualify and careen into my yard and kill Billy and/or Sally.

Nope. Those signs are not approved by the MUTCD; they imply that children can, should, and will be playing in the road. We can't promote that type of behavior or We'll be liable.
 
The only thing that would make this dangerous would be a reckless motorist
 
Okay, then can you put up a guardrail in front of my house to keep people from glancing off of Ol' Hick'ry and skidding into my front porch?

No. Guardrails must be warranted (which they are not in front of your residence) and they are unsafe because they are a fixed object within the Clear Zone and pose a hazard to motorists.
 
Oh, which motorists? That guy who is driving 60 mph in front of my house on a twelve foot wide crumbling strip of asphalt with blind horizontal and vertical curves? While texting?

Yes, what if he hits the guardrail and it spears all the way through the car and kills him? His family might sue Us. (I saw photos of such a spearing just the other day)

The dysfunctional web of policies that are meted down from above (The State) have so entangled us in bad logic, poor compulsory decision making, and just plain stupid governance have got to go. Unfortunately I think the real monster in the swamp are the lawyers who create the fiction of liability that the rest of us see as reality.

The hallowed standards typically fail to address context or the living environment around infrastructure. And our standards for construction and the arrangement of signs and road markings favor the careless motorist at the expense of the inhabitants and their property lining both sides of the road.

During the training session that I recently sat in on that inspired this particular post a magistrate asked the question: “Could we set speed limits countywide to 35 mph through an ordinance?” And instead of answering the question the district highway representative answered by defending the state statute rural speed limit of 55 mph with no good logic. To which the magistrate countered: “Fifty-five is too fast on almost all of our roads.” The district rep countered with: “Well, if you pas the ordinance with no enforcement then you're doing more harm than good” which I see as classic engineering deflection from the issue at hand.

If 55 is realistically too fast for motorists to travel upon rural roads that evolved from wagon roads then you have absolutely no power of enforcement against unsafe speeding if you abide by KRS 178.blah, blah, blah. But if you pass an ordinance that states that all county roads are 35 mph unless otherwise posted then you suddenly have the ability to enforce speeds for motorists who drive 50 mph on a road for which that speed is far too fast for safety.

And so it's get sued this and get sued that. If the sign isn't reflective you'll get sued. If the sign is in the wrong place you'll get sued. If someone drives off in a rage and plows into a tree and dies you'll probably get sued by the “victim's” family because you didn't maintain the Clear Zone. This did actually happen and the family was awarded a cash prize...er, settlement.

Fear of being sued is the only metric that seems to apply in roadway decision-making. The higher the level of fear the more likely we protect the reckless motorists?
 
In the end it seems all questionable decisions are justified by safety, though if safety were truly paramount ALL speed limits would be 25 mph or less. The moral of today's story is that signs are placed along roadways and speed limits are set in your neighborhood based on the perceived liability associated with doing so or not.


Wednesday, December 16

Uniformity


There is an ongoing sideline debate amongst Cyclists (the outspoken of the cycling world) about the value of wearing cycling specific clothing to ride or to forego it for just riding in the clothes you happen to be wearing.  My earliest mountain biking days I pretty much just wore BDUs or cargo pants, hiking boots, and a t-shirt.  When I got my first road bike I gave in slightly, and bought a pair of padded mountain bike shorts, mountain bike shoes, and finally a helmet.
When I started bike commuting in 2008 I had tight lycra bike shorts, a couple of jerseys, and the mountain bike shoes.  I was in “full kit” as they say.
© Rick Smith | Yehudamoon.com
I was fortunate that my workplace had a gym and locker room with showers so I was able to drive on Mondays and take four changes of clothing in to the office and then I rode my bike the other four days.  Each day I wadded up my worn clothes and carried them home in my backpack.
Eventually I added a cargo bike to the stable and then I rode it on Mondays and took five outfits and then rode the mountain bike or road bike the other four days.
After a couple of years of riding every day I got sick of transporting clothes back and forth and changing clothes all the time.  It seemed I was wasting so much daylight by having to make a costume change before I could go anywhere.
For a brief time I became attached to a certain pair of khaki cargo pants and started to wear them to ride and then at work where the dress code was business casual.  I was able to get by with the pants I rode in because no one ever looked at my lower legs, but it didn’t take long before the cuff of my right pantleg was ragged and oil stained beyond repair.

 
And then the saddle sores flared up.  I won’t go into details, but I finally had to concede defeat and went back to wearing chamois to ride in and changed clothes for work.  
Where the debate comes into play is that for many people looking to get into cycling there is pressure from bike shop employees and other cyclists to “kit out” from the get go.  I disagree that bike specific clothing is necessary despite my own ups and downs with the issue.  What follows is my take on the three main articles of cycling-specific clothing that can be a barrier to new (or old) cyclists getting out on the bike.
Whatever works
 
Clipless pedals are NOT NECESSARY AT ALL.  Flat pedals work fine.  Bike shoes are an added expense that is not necessary and can actually ruin the experience of cycling for some people.  If you choose to use clipless pedals it should be because you have reached the limit of what you can do with flat pedals and want more control or speed from your bike.  If you don’t feel you need either then don’t bother with clipless pedals. 
It's just that easy!
 
Bike pants/shorts.  As long as you take proper care with the clothing you wear while riding you can get away without ever buying padded pants for riding.  The main concern is that you don’t ride and get sweaty in clothing and then keep riding in those clothes after funk has started to grow in them.  From a comfort standpoint if you just ride eventually your sit muscles will strengthen and you can ride nearly naked on a minimally padded seat.  Bike specific bottoms can be helpful because they are typically cut different from non-cycling pants and have different flexibility for riding.  Some have built in features to keep your cuff from getting chewed up in the chain.  Or you can simply use a little Velcro strap.
If you’re going to pick a single bike specific article of clothing I would recommend pants or shorts with a chamois.  But it really comes down to what your purpose in riding is.

 
Jerseys.  Jerseys are really a fashion choice.  I like them because when I do ride in bike shorts the jersey has pockets for my phone and keys.  On long rides I do like them for stuffing full of food and emergency gear.  But for commuting or utility cycling a jersey is just silly.  For short rides I find they’re too uncomfortable (tight) and usually serve no useful purpose.
My standard super hero costume for quite a while
 
That’s really it.  Anything else you could buy/wear is just accessories.  I’m not going to get into the whole winter clothing discussion.  We’ll save that for another time, but suffice it to say that there are even better arguments for foregoing the kit in winter. 
Having said all of that, if you want to blur the lines there are a few companies that make cycling specific clothing that can pass for business casual, and every once in a while you’ll see someone touting professional dress that doubles as cycling gear.  I see those items as specialty clothing.  If you need them you’ll know it and seek them out.  I’ve never needed a suit with a gusseted crotch, wicking abilities, and a chamois.  Some people may need that. 
 
What has been a huge barrier for me this past year is that I have grown really tired of changing clothes at lunch time to ride.  Sometimes I portage the mountain bike to a local park to ride and other times I have gone out on the road bike for a recreational ride or even to ride into downtown Lexington for meetings at the MPO or the KYTC District office. 
For meetings it is frustrating to have to deal with changing a shirt to keep from sweating too much in my office uniform and then carrying the clean shirt with me in a backpack which makes me sweat more, and then changing at the meeting place to look presentable.  And then after the meeting repeating the whole process in reverse…
I’ve always resisted the idea of the crossover bike/business articles of clothing, but I think I need to start looking into it a little deeper.  I might be able to get myself back on the bike much more often if I can short circuit my laziness. 
 

Monday, December 14

THE Commute


I distinctly remember driving eastbound on I-64 between Winchester and Lexington and vowing to myself that after I graduated from EKU I would never make the commute from Powell County to Lexington ever again.
The theme in my forties has been: never say never.
Each and every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I make the commute forty-five miles west to Lexington and forty-five miles east back to Stanton.  It’s still better than it was in 2007.  During my undergraduate sentence I commuted forty-five miles to Lexington to work at UPS, then thirty minutes to Richmond to go to class, and then forty miles home after class.  I did that two days a week unless I had a class I could not shoehorn into the Tues-Thurs schedule.  I loathed night classes.

 
What has changed in my early forties (I was in my early thirties back then) is that sitting wrecks my back.  I don’t know if its tension, age related decrepitude, or the general abuse I’ve put my body through since my teens, but the longer I sit the worse I feel.  At night I can’t relax knotted muscles enough to get decent sleep.  In the morning the first thing I do is get back in the goddamn car and sit for forty five minutes trying not to remember the vow I made to myself, only to reach the cubicle farm where I then sit for seven and a half hours before another forty-five minute stint in the car to return home where I generally collapse into a snarl of knotted muscles and weep.
When I was still in school I understood that long commutes were not sustainable or healthy.  When my wife and I started looking for places to relocate one of our criteria was that we could live and work close enough together to be able to walk or ride a bike to commute.  And so Denver was one of those cities that fulfilled a lot of criteria, and that’s why we landed there.
The move back didn’t go as planned.  We had fully embraced the car-free/car-lite lifestyle and did not want to give it up.  We knew short term we would be living back in Powell County until we could find a place closer to Lexington.  I was okay with that because I felt like in my job I would be working to correct the poor conditions that kept people locked in long distance car commutes in Central Kentucky.
 
Three years have passed and we’re stuck with a money pit that won’t quickly become marketable.  And so for the time being I am a dedicated car commuter putting in over four hundred fifty miles a week behind the wheel compared to the one hundred miles I commuted by bike in Colorado.  
I’ve tried making the forty-five mile commute by bike.  It works okay on days that my wife or someone else can either drop me off or pick me up in Lexington, but I really can’t put in five or six hours a day just commuting.  And the Lexington side of the commute is stressful.  There are no low traffic options to get into town.  Every road into the city from the east has a high traffic count.  None of them have shoulders to speak of either.  High speed, high traffic, low light in the AM = one dead bike commuter.  When you throw all of those conditions together as a bike commuter you begin playing a numbers game. 
The problem wouldn’t be solved by moving closer to Lexington.  The “death zone” around the city is pretty well defined.  See, way back in the dawn of time Lexington, Kentucky was one of the first—if not the first—city to establish urban service boundaries.  The reasoning was at least partly political, to keep suburban development from creeping into the expensive sport horse farms that surround the city.
That resulted in the workforce (it’s natural habitat is suburbia) leapfrogging the horse farms into the surrounding counties.  Therefore Lexington’s job market is served by a lot of commuters from outside Fayette County and sometimes (like myself) from two or even three counties away.
I understand this is probably normal for any big city, but there is no suburban fabric to patch the urban to the rural.  There’s just the “death zone” where all the roads are narrow, lined with historic stone fences and big beautiful trees, and no one is willing to accommodate cyclists or pedestrians, and the distances are prohibitive anyway.
Change is slow, but it is coming to Central Kentucky
This was the opening of a new section of the Brighton Rail Trail
It just needs to go a few more miles east!
 
In Denver I was able to go anywhere in the city by winding around connecting low speed and volume suburban streets with greenways, urban bike lanes, and even open space trails.  Lexington is fortified against that kind of shenanigans.
You might be wondering why we don’t just move to Lexington.  It’s complicated.  The aforementioned money pit is keeping us put for a little while.  To be honest I don’t want to live in Lexington.  If I didn’t work in the city there is very little Lex Vegas has to offer to entice me within the Circle (New Circle Road).  I loathe driving anywhere in Lexington and want to scream and yell and bite my steering wheel anytime I have to get on Man O War Boulevard (which is every day).
My wife would like nothing better than to move into the Horse Capital.  I’ve got my issues that make city living difficult and Lexington represents all of the things that invade my mind and make me crazy.  I kind of need the reprieve I get from driving out of the urban core rot where I linger every day.
You might wonder why I don’t just get a job in my hometown.  I’ve never been financially stable enough to start my own business, and it would be risky there for sure.  There are really no decent jobs outside of the school or local government, and I want something that allows me to see that I’m making a difference.  I don’t need to save polar bears, but I don’t want to spend my life pushing widgets out the door and struggling to pay the bills, or run for office and wonder what I’ll do after I get beat in the next election.
In future posts I want to explore the more concrete barriers to entry for cyclist (and pedestrians) in Central and Eastern Kentucky.  

Friday, December 11

Ramming Speed Friday: Reinvention


They say the wheel was the single greatest human invention in all of history.  I say it was perfected when it was paired with a second wheel, pedals, a seat, and handlebars.  It wasn’t really a reinvention of the wheel, but an evolutionary inevitability.  Why invent the wheel if not so the bicycle could come into existence?  I’m sure the original R&D team was actually thinking more along the lines of the bike, but they just didn’t have the funding to take it that far.
My original Pavement’s Edge blog fit into a certain time and place.  I wasn’t new to urban bike commuting, but I was new to the idea of fully committing to the bike as an individual mode of transportation while being part of a family that depended on me to provide.
The blog quickly evolved into my daily observations on bicycle life and culture.  My interest in policy issues grew as I rambled all over the computer screen with my sometimes naïve exposés and smorgasbords of semi-prose.
I’ve tried to reinvent the blog since we left Colorado and I ceased to be a full time (or even part time) bike commuter.  In the past six months I’ve hardly even been a cyclist.  I thought I would remain ingrained in the advocate-blogger mindset through my running activities, but it never panned out.
I think part of the problem is that I’ve grown complacent.  I’m not angry.  I don’t have drivers trying to kill me on my bike every day.  I don’t have to deal so directly with poor infrastructure.  I sit in my hybrid compact for an hour and a half every day listening to NPR and pissing off all the Friends of Coal with my Friends of Sol sticker, and I forget that I have things I want to say and should be saying about the issues of bicycle and pedestrian inequality in the world.  Particularly in Kentucky…my home state has a long way to go.  There is a huge gap in the culture here and there is a lot of good work that needs to be done.  I’ve found that basically all you have to do is start having the conversations and things start to change.
I’ve failed to capitalize on that.
My intention had been to delve into the underlying conditions that have led to my daily commute-work routine as being normal for so many people.  I’ve not really written much about it, though I have been researching, pondering, and trying to shape my conclusions.  I wonder if I have enough information. 
For more than a year I’ve been meaning to read Night Comes to the Cumberlands because I am certain that understanding the history of Eastern Kentucky is crucial to explain my particular view point of the world.  Three or four times I tried, but never got more than a couple of chapters. But finally I’m making headway and am halfway through the book.  Extractive industries have played an enormous role in shaping the economic, political, and social structures of my world. 
I’m not saying that the answers to all my questions are hidden between the pages of Harry M. Caudill’s iconic book.  I think I have a lot of my answers already.  I need to start fleshing them out and throwing them up here on this back alley wall of the internet and see if they stick.
My recent few posts here have not gone very deep.  They are beginning to scratch the skin of the monster I want to awaken, but we’ve not really taken a big bite out of the meat yet.  Don’t take this as a bold promise to begin writing scathing critiques of the hordes of SOVs flowing in a torrent to and from Lexington every day, but maybe I will start looking into why I’m not riding my bike to work and why I can’t live the simple life I yearn to live.
I need to ask the questions and plumb the depths for the answers.
That’s really the true spirit of this blog going back to its roots.  One of my earliest posts was a weak effort to understand the Jersey Guys that raced laps around Washington Park in Denver in a wolfpack that terrorized the walkers, runners, and roller skaters that congregated in the park instead of taking to the multiuse trails or roadways that were more appropriate for the speeds they wanted to ride.
In that paragraph I think I got deeper than that long ago post, so maybe I’ve grown in my understanding of the issues enough to really begin taking on the hard stuff.
We’ll see.

I'm still that guy
 

Wednesday, December 2

The Tao of Yehuda

Cross-posted from The Chainring Report

I miss daily Yehuda Moon comics.  I discovered Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery when I was at the height of my bike advocacy blogging during my long stint as a bike commuter in Colorado.
This morning I realized that Yehuda has been sneaking out with new strips from time to time.  I had seen a few unfamiliar strips but thought maybe they were just some of the bonus strips from the printed books.  But then I saw the hashtag #NewYehudaMoonStrip and the sun broke over the horizon.
The recent Kickstarter campaign has renewed my interest in Yehuda somewhat.  We have the first four books and there are two more now.  I liked it as a webcomic, but honestly, I’ll take Rick Smith and Brian Griggs’ peek into cycling culture in any shape I can get it.
Yehuda seemed to speak as I wanted to speak.  Maybe he was a little over the top, but I felt like his windmills were my windmills and I would gladly tilt at them together instead of plodding along by myself.  Yehuda seemed like Truth.  What dedicated bike commuter hasn’t thought about going out with a brush and a can of white paint and just putting in their own bike lanes?
One strip struck me particularly.  And honestly, I saw through the top layer and saw the less cyclo-centric Truth underneath.  When I commented on the strip via Twitter I got a surprisingly funny response from Yehuda:

© Rick Smith | YehudaMoon.com

 
And that is the beauty of Yehuda Moon.  While to many he might seem a radical activist with crazy notions about bikes and cars in the end he’s just a regular guy like the rest of us.  And he probably doesn't read "Missed Connections" on craigslist.

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 allemansrätten 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.