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.