Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Canyon Rim Trail

On a lark today we finally tried out the new Canyon Rim trail (I think we may have been the last people in Los Alamos to try it, but better late than never). It was a really relaxing ride, and stunning to boot. We're really excited to have this option to bike out to the new Los Alamos Co-op when it opens next year, but since that isn't open just yet we made our destination De Colores. I never thought that restaurant would be accessible by bike!

Rumor has it that 502 will have bike lanes when they're done updating that road, which will be another option to reach the edge of town. In the meantime, the only challenging section was turning left back onto 502 to get back into town when we reached the end of the paved trail. My only advice is to have patience and be safe. But definitely check that trail out if you haven't.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How to talk about bicycling to a conservative

Given the party makeup of our new County Council and the U.S. House of Representatives, I think everyone should go read this eminently sensible post.

I've never had a hard time working with a Council made up primarily of Republicans. Heck, they even know I'm a Donk...

How to Talk About Cycling to a Conservative

by Tom Bowden
Tom Bowden
Tom Bowden is a bike commuter from Richmond VA, a “suit – a corporate lawyer with an MBA, and a conservative.
 A lot of the pushback cycling gets is less about cycling than about some of the ways that the cycling advocacy community has positioned itself on issues not tightly wound around cycling. Surely there are some in Congress who firmly believe bicycles are toys and are therefore hostile to us asserting that we are legitimate transportation. But I suspect plenty of the new crowd can be reached with Tom Bowden's approach.

Some comments on this issue that I left at the LAB blog.
As I recall, we had a Republican majority on our County Council when it passed the 2005 bike plan and when we passed our "complete streets" style ordinance this year. It can be done.

The Gipper and friend on a tandem

Friday, December 17, 2010

No jail time for Martin Erzinger

As shown in today's Friday's Foaming Rant. W/permission

  In his “Lives,” writing of the Athenian statesman Solon, Plutarch said the philosopher Anacharsis “laughed at him for imagining the dishonesty and covetousness of his countrymen could be restrained by written laws, which were like spiders’ webs, and would catch, it is true, the weak and poor, but easily be broken by the mighty and rich.”

--Patrick O'Grady, in this week's Friday's Foaming Rant.

Patrick O'Grady goes on to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, in prose written a couple thousand years later than Plutarch but strangely reminiscent of the same problem. “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” 

 Some things indeed never change. There is no better example of how money can buy justice in the modern day United States than is seen in this nauseating case from Vail (Eagle County), Colorado.

 "Vail, Colo. (VN) — Martin Erzinger (a wealth manager who juggles billions for Smith Barney) was sentenced to a year’s probation and a suspended jail term on Thursday after a Colorado judge accepted a controversial plea bargain in the case of a cyclist who was the victim of a hit-and-run last July."

In a Vail newspaper, and in VeloNews the state's prosecuting attorney, Mark Hurlbert, was quoted as saying "...felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession, and that entered into..." presumably, entered into his decision to offer a plea bargain. As Charles Pelkey wondered, WTF???. So if you are rich in Vail, the D.A. sure wouldn't want your resume to suffer for your indiscretions. After all, Vail exists on the whims of the rich and famous. One cannot interfere with marketing. Other people will have to clean up the mess they make.

The prosecutor in this case, according to Velonews and the Denver Post, is not averse to throwing the book at really serious criminals. Mark Hurlbert, a stellar example of what can go seriously wrong with the criminal justice system, recently charged two bike racers with felonies for exchanging race numbers before a race. But they didn't have deep pockets.  Hitting someone pretty damn hard with your car and leaving the scene (see pictures of cyclist Milo here if you have a strong stomach) and being caught calling Mercedes-Benz to get the crash damage on your 2010 luxury Benz fixed a few miles down the road? Feh...

Bottom line? We can boycott Vail. Put a dent in the community's tolerance for electing the Mark Hurlberts of the world. And, quite obviously, remember that in your own community, the only thing standing between you and a Mark Hurlbert in a courtroom is you standing at the polls voting for a better candidate.

Charles Pelkey's epilogue to this fiasco is here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bill Hoffman resigns from LAB Board. More damage to the League

This is more bad news for the League of American Bicyclists. I'm sorry Bill resigned. His letter, of which I've only snipped some short excerpts below, is at the LAB Reform page, linked here. Go read it.

"...LAB is no longer a true membership organization; it is now a political pressure group that happens to have members.  And I might add, LAB membership is 27% lower today than it was as recently as 8 years ago—14,836 as of Oct., 2010 vs. 20,257 at 9/30/02...The reasons I joined in 1971 and became a life member in 1976, and why I am the second-longest serving volunteer in League history, are no longer at the fore...over the past dozen years or so there has been a gradual erosion of members' rights and autonomy over the organization, without a vote to move in this direction ever being taken."

---Bill Hoffman, in his resignation letter to the League of American Bicyclists Board.

Bill is a cycling enthusiast and beyond that, has put a huge amount of sweat equity into cycling and LAB governance over his 40 years as a LAB member (and life member).  Like many of us, he rides his bike because he loves to ride his bike. He has done it competently and is a longtime LCI. He has demanded high levels of excellence in LAB and its members.  Not to dismiss all the work the League is doing, some of which is quite good and could potentially be outstanding, but there are basic core values in self-reliance and in keeping high standards. For example, the LCI program promotes self-reliance and high standards. We lose these, or trade them in bits and pieces for government-funded programs, at our peril.

I have my doubts that Bill's resignation will do much to change the present course of LAB governance. If anything, it removes a dissenting voice from the Board. Like I said in my own critique of the recent election petition fiasco, LAB governance has become an insider game. Members have limited, if any, control over LAB's corporate governance and therefore organizational direction. To some members, that is just fine. To others, it is galling. To that 27% who are now former members, perhaps it meant voting via a closed checkbook.

I remain a LAB member. But I don't need to tell you what I think, as I already did.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Death at Comanche and I-25

An experienced cyclist, Albuquerque attorney Timothy Vollman, 64, was killed last week when inexplicably, he (according to the police report) "lost control" of his bike and was run over by a garbage truck while starting out from a red light at Comanche and I-25. The bike lane he was riding in was two feet wide (you read that correctly) next to a busy traffic lane with heavy truck traffic in it.Two feet plus a gutter pan with a ridge on the edge of it.

Check out this video on KOB TV for some details.Here is a more recent one.

My hypothesis, since no one seems to know why a competent (see below) cyclist would simply fall under a truck, is that Tim may have been deflected by contact with the gutter pan ledge (see video) or incidental contact with the truck causing an unfortunate "instant turn" or loss of balance while navigating in these tight quarters. Or perhaps he miss-stepped onto a bike pedal and lost his balance. Perhaps he or the truck driver tried to squeeze into too small a place at the same time. Its presently all conjecture. If we ever find out more information, I'll post it here. See comment # 3 for a recent update.

From a BikeABQ e-post from an experienced Albuquerque cyclist who often saw Timothy riding, and who is livid with the cursory investigation: "...Tim Vollman was an experienced commuter who rode often enough for me to recognize him from the trail, not some wobbly-kneed kid or weekend warrior on a Wunderbike. Experienced commuters simply don't fall over of their own accord.."

I've been bike commuting since 1979 and agree--experienced commuters rarely pull an Arte Johnson, i.e., simply fall over. But shit happens. Systems fail and even good people make mistakes. That's why we don't build exceptionally marginal "two foot" bike lanes in Los Alamos as an expedient to limits on right of way or cost considerations. There is not a single plausible reason I can think of to build a bike facility that has zero margin for error built into it. Accident theory researchers like Charles Perrow (Normal Accidents) and Scott Sagan (The Limits of Safety) indicate why carefully designed safety margins need to be built into complicated, tightly coupled high hazard systems (specifically, things like air traffic control, nuke or chemical plants, Strategic Air Command systems, etc.). I think urban traffic fits that description to some degree. Hence things like five foot passing rules, three to five second yellow light cycles, and AASHTO-minimum width bike lanes.

So build it right or don't build it at all. Don't advocate for, or design facilities that guide cyclists and motorists into unsafe situations and think you are doing them any favors. We don't need more ghost bikes.

This is not Comanche and I-25. Used for illustrative purposes only
Most LCIs and knowledgeable people I know will advise cyclists to think first about where one should be riding in order to be riding safely and where one will not be hooked, cut off by traffic, doored, sideswiped, or otherwise endangered. If the bike lane stripe conflicts with safe riding, there is something wrong with the lane, not with you. Consider, with John Allen, where it is safest to ride when establishing your position. Your safety has a higher priority than the stripes.I would prefer to attend your citation hearing and testify as an LCI, should you be cited for being outside an unsafe bike lane, than attend your funeral.
Diane Albert, President of the Bicycling Coalition of New Mexico, has contacted two members of the Albuquerque city  government about the conditions at this location, comparing actual conditions with AASHTO standards.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A hui hou, Eve DeCoursey

A good friend from times gone by left last week for that great ride in the sky.

We need more cyclists like EveDeCoursey around. Eve was the longtime Executive Director of the Hawaii Bicycling League. I worked with her throughout the 1990's before moving here. She later left Oahu for Washington, D.C. (after first working with the Honolulu Dept. of Transportation Services as Pedestrian and Traffic Coordinator, promoting the traffic calming Pace Car program and the Red Sneakers program to encourage childhood mobility) and becamee a senior staffer on WABA. Eve knew that to grow cyclists into a great cycling movement, you first had to grow the love of cycling into a lot of cyclists and she did that with uncanny enthusiasm and an intuition into how to reach new and old riders. She was also a concert-quality pianist and several times was the Hawaii Women's State Road Racing Champion.

Eve passed away after a long illness last week. Mahalo to WABA for their memorial to Eve.

As for the rest of us. We need to go ride our bikes.

Eve DeCoursey

Cyclists Pedal Faster on Wednesdays?

Thanks to old friend Roger Snodgrass for this post.

Posted: 30 Nov 2010 09:10 PM PST
The first analysis of data from shared bicycle networks in Europe, reveals some surprising urban cycling patterns
In 2005, the French city of Lyon introduced a shared bicycle system called Velo'v that has since inspired numerous other schemes around the world.
Velo'v differed from earlier schemes in its innovative technology, such as electronic locks, onboard computers and access via smart cards. The system now offers some 400 bikes at almost 350 stations around the city. Most residents agree that the system has transformed the city from a grid-locked nightmare to a cyclists dream, with some 16,000 journeys now being completed each day.
All this presents researchers with an interesting opportunity. Since its introduction, the system has kept track of the start and finishing location plus travel time of every journey. Today, we get a detailed analysis of this data from Pablo Jensen at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon and a few amis.
They looked at 11.6 million bicycle trips in Lyon between May 2005 and December 2007. The result is the first robust characterisation of urban bikers' behaviour, they say.
Some of what they found is unsurprising. Over an average trip, cyclists travel 2.49 km in 14.7 minutes so their average speed is about 10 km/h. That compares well with the average car speed in inner cities across Europe.
During the rush hour, however, the average speed rises to almost 15 km/h, a speed which outstrips the average car speed. And that's not including the time it takes to find a place to park which is much easier for a Velo'v bike than a car.
Other results reveal the habits of the urban cyclist for the first time. For example, there is a clear peak in average speed at 7.45 am and 8.45 am on working days, when presumably there is rush to get to work. The average speed drops to a more leisurely 10 km/h at weekends.
Curiously, the Wednesday morning speeds are systematically higher than on other days, even though there is no change in other factors such as the number of cars. This, say Jensen and co, is probably because women tend to stay at home and look after their children on a Wednesday in France. So the higher proportion of men pushes up the average speed.
The data also shows that bike journeys between two points are shorter in distance than the corresponding journey by car. There are no bike lanes in Lyon so this suggests that cyclists use other techniques to make short cuts, say Jensen and co. Their shocking conclusion is that cyclists often ride on the pavement, along bus lanes and the wrong way up one way streets.
That kind of information will be useful for urban planners. For the first time they have real data to show where to build cycle lanes and how well they will be used. So expect to see more of this kind of analysis as data from smart bike systems in other cities becomes available.
Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1011.6266: Characterizing The Speed And Paths Of Shared Bicycles In Lyon

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The One Mile Solution

Andy Cline makes some compelling comments on the relative psychological ease and economic/political value of short range bicycle commuting in his essay "The One Mile Solution". Short range commuting provides good exercise and eliminates those incredibly inefficient short car trips that get the worst gas milage.

The piece is especially relevant if you live right in town. Even out on North Mesa, the most daunting climb on the way to town is Conoco Hill. This is also a strong rationale for fixing NM502 so it encourages cycling and walking.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Winter Gear post I wish I'd found 10 years ago

According to our flaky wireless thermometer, tt was a brisk -5°C when I rode in this morning. My neck started to hurt after a few minutes, so I went back home and put on a wool scarf. It occurred to me that I could have saved a lot of money if someone had just told me what a scarf was for at some earlier point in my life.

I'm the sort of commuter who likes to wear normal clothing on my ride, and these choices reflect that. I really feel like for any possible trips in this town you don't need fancy high-performance clothes: in my mind, cycling is just a way to get there, not the end goal.

Presented, then, for your edification, my list.

Things that go on you (I've bolded the cycling-specific items):

  1. Thin wool cap: keeps your ears and brain warm. SmartWool makes a nice merino wool hat that you can wear under a helmet or by itself when walking.

  2. Windbreaker: if you just take it easy, a normal sweater under a normal windbreaker is plenty warm for -5°C and below. Remember, you're exercising.

  3. Bright reflective vest: so you can wear a normal-looking windbreaker.

  4. Wool scarf: to keep your face warm when it's really cold. Also looks stylin' when you're off the bike.

  5. Lobster-claw mittens: These are mitten/gloves, with only two "fingers" and a thumb. A good compromise between warmth and mobility.

  6. Long johns: if it's really cold out, these keep your tuckus warmer. I haven't worn them in years but I may start to.

Things that go on the bike:

  1. Lights: to see and be seen. Check out the photo below of my battery-powered LED strand. Everybody notices my two front lights, one rear light, and string of colored LEDs.

  2. Reflectors: these work even better than lights when headlights hit them (which isn't all the time). I have 6 rear reflectors (on seatpost, rack, fender, two panniers, and under-seat bag) or 4 side reflectors (one on each wheel and each pannier).

  3. Cage pedals: so you can wear whatever shoes (or boots) you need for walking. You may as well put reflectors on these too: they're cheap and my tests show they're the most conspicuous reflector when viewed from the front of the bike. After years of fiddling around with pedals, I've decided that commuters just don't need toe clips, much less clipless pedals.

  4. Fenders: they keep freezing muddy water off your legs.

  5. Fat tires: studded tires are great, but also expensive. Fat tires are the next best option. Just take it easy.

  6. Panniers: they hold your stuff and provide another reflector location. I have one traditional zip-up pannier with coats and an insulated coffee mug, the other side is a folding grocery pannier that carries my lunch and whatever else I tote around.

  7. Rear rack: it holds the panniers to the bike.

  8. Bungee cords: to hold gift boxes, packages, etc. to the rack. I recently acquired a motorcycle "helmet net" which so far has been superior to bungee cords for the few things I've needed to tie down.

Lots of reflectors

Festive lights!

More take to bike commuting?

Picture and story from National Public Radio.  More links to this at the LAB blog.  This includes some recent work by Rutgers Professor of Planning and Policy John Pucher.

I wonder if we can get Michael Anastasio and Tony Mortillaro to commute by bike. When the boss rides a bike to work, folks will notice.

With rumblings in Congress to take away the tax benefits connected with job-based health care coverage, more Americans may want to think carefully about the health quality of their lifestyles rather than expect someone to hand them a pill and a health card. Sedentary behavior? Not. Personal mobility? Right answer.

Thanks and a tip of the skid lid to Andy Cline for reminding me to comment on this story, which I heard on the radio this morning.

National Geographic Society CEO John Fahey (left), pictured with Cole Ingraham, has a long-standing invitation for his employees to join him for a lunchtime bike ride.

Friday, November 26, 2010

This Road Is Your Road, This Road is My Road...

Somehow it seems to work. Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Road Rage comes to Bomb Town (updated)

The proverbial cheery greeting
The potential impact of road rage on public safety was brought home to us in Los Alamos right down on NM-4 in White Rock. This reminds us that it is easier for a confrontation to get out of control than for it to stay in control. Once out of control, it is hard to undo a fractured skull or a felony conviction.  Yeah, people can be buttheads. But lets be careful out there; take a deep breath and let some stuff go. These days it can get ugly, and get ugly real fast. Smile, wave, ride correctly, and then call the cops.

From the Monitor, courtesy of Managing Editor Carol Clark. Police chief breaks up road rage incident  From Carol Clark's report: "While driving along N.M. 4 within the last hour, Los Alamos Police Chief Wayne Torpy came upon a scene resembling something out of an action movie. A truck was parked in the middle of the highway and the driver was wielding a 3-foot-long metal jack handle in the air. A bicyclist was clutching his bicycle in front of himself in a protective manner against the threatened blows from the rod. ....According to reports at the scene, the truck driver passed closely to the bicyclists and they in turn voiced their displeasure. The truck driver slammed on his brakes and the melee ensued."

Here is a brief page over on Edmunds.com about dealing with road rage. Some motorists become enraged simply because we are riding in the road and perhaps slowing down their drive to destiny. That crap needs to stop. On the other side of the coin, from what I have seen, cyclists who engage in rage often do so after a near miss with a motor vehicle. Believe me, I realize that when you see your life flash before your eyes because someone is doing something to you that is (or seems) dangerous, outrageous, insulting, or aggressive, all the while shielded by 5000 lbs of steel and tinted glass, it is easy to lose one's composure. Been there, done that, and don't recommend it.

One thing the general public has to address is the double standard out there. Some motorists consider it their right to be beeping at or gesturing to or buzzing a cyclist to "get outa my way", but get offended when someone on a bicycle tells them where to stow the bad attitude. From my saddle, no one should have a sense of "entitlement" to harass other law abiding operators (and cyclists, obviously, should be law abiding operators). A cyclist, of course doesn't have a big ole horn to beep back with either, often leading to the next best attention getter, The Gesture. There needs to be a lot more mutual understanding out there if we are to ratchet down this endless circle of confrontation.

Is a minute's bad judgment worth three years? My understanding from the Monitor article is that the truck driver in this case is now getting a cot and three squares as a guest of the county after a felony arrest: “...(the motorist) will be arraigned in Magistrate Court within 10 days,” Deputy Chief Kevin Purtymun said. “Aggravated assault is a fourth degree felony and if convicted, the sentence could be as high as three years in prison and up to a $2,500 fine.”   That driver is probably kicking himself.  His family's Thanksgiving ain't exactly pleasant. The victims are lucky to not be in the hospital and if they were, the motorist's fate would likely be sealed in the Big House for quite a few years. So if you find yourself losing your own temper, think about that truck driver's unfortunate predicament. But for the grace of God, there go I?

Share the Road. Share the Love
May the Bird of the Peloton never grace your handlebars.  I don't know if the "One Fingered Victory Salute" was displayed during this incident, but it has become the universal symbol of displeasure in response to those who have committed a real or imagined offense in this age of careless driving, inconsiderate cycling, and rampant jaywalking. Yep. Used it more than once myself . It has become as natural in our society as the sunrise. Unfortunately, the lack of civility has also become as natural as the sunrise. The problem is that whether you are driving, walking, or riding, "flipping the bird" is a sure guarantee to raise the ante as well as the blood pressure with That Other Guy. Plus, that other guy may honestly have no idea that he just buzzed you or nearly took off your new Giro helmet with the extended mirror on his SuperDuty.  Or he may simply not know that you were well within the law doing whatever it was you were doing when he beeped at you. Or perhaps, you were doing something quite culpable; we never saw a bicyclist riding stupid, did we? But regardless of how it started, now that you flipped the bird, he's as mad as a stick-prodded hornet and you have a bigger problem.  Its usually better to get someone's attention in a more neutral way and tell them your story. Don't ask me how I learned that lesson.

My favorite (positive) story here is about the guy who made a U-turn and pulled me over while yelling and giving me several Italian symbols of good health after he was nearly run off the road by a car that passed me over the centerline. After a short and calming discussion (and if I can have a calm discussion, anyone can...), he realized that the real SOB was the impatient motorist who played chicken with him. We left as friends and shaking hands. Whew....

Of course, if someone is actually threatening you or driving recklessly, dispense with the Italian Hand Language and call 911 and get the police where you need them. One can't always assume that the Chief of Police will be driving by as you are dodging the brown stuff.

Enjoy the ride, be safe, cooperate with each other, give the other guy a break, and share the road.

With acknowledgments to Patrick O'Grady for the illustrations and to former President George W. Bush for the "one fingered victory salute" demonstration.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Visioning a new Trinity Drive

 The Transportation Board recommended to Council that the county conduct further study of the A1 and A2 choices to rebuild Trinity Drive. These would include roundabouts or roundabouts and signalized intersections, single lane in each direction, and bike lanes.  Council is supposed to take this issue up in January.

Start visioning Trinity Drive, or attempts to improve will go down in flames and it will look the same. This is one place where we really could model a rebuild on a "Complete Street".

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jim Borgman on the high cost of gasoline

Thanks and a tip of the helmet to Steve Magas for posting this cartoon on his law site.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cerrillos and St. Francis Bike Trap

I had posted this comment on my other site as it doesn't have to do with Los Alamos and further, I wanted some offline (of this list) comments back. But here it is--my response to the NM DoT signage warning cyclists that they can cross the St. Francis-Cerrillos intersection at their own peril. Like NM DoT's lip paving of shoulders, this intersection isn't exactly considerate of cyclists or for that matter, anyone on two wheels. If this was an out of the way crossing, it might be excusable. For the main intersection in the State Capitol, it seems to me this treatment sends a message.

Feel free to comment. I have comment moderation set up on that site as most of the posts are my typical, Left of Karl Marx stuff, and I want to keep it civilized over there.

See full post over at the North Mesa Mutts site.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

County Streets Standards Resolution passes Council

Last night, the "Resolution on the Policy for the Design of Public Streets and Rights-of-Way in Los Alamos County", Resolution 10-32, passed Council on a vote of 6-1. Thank you to all who worked on this, especially to T-Board member Janie O'Rourke and Community Development Director Rick Bohn, and to Council for its patience and constructive criticism as we muddled through in order to get this ready for Prime Time.

This document will be of considerable help as we look forward to considerable change in the downtown area and in the NM-502 Corridor, just as the 2005 "Los Alamos bike plan" (not the official name) gave us the neccesary guidance for rebuilding Diamond Drive. This stuff matters.

Khal Spencer, Transportation Board Chair

Text is here, at least for now. I'm including the "Whereas" jazz below.

WHEREAS, the Los Alamos County Council has established six (6) main Strategic Goals, three (3) of which are “Enhance Environmental Quality and Sustainability”, “Improve Transportation and Mobility”, and “Diversify the Economy/Revitalize White Rock and Los Alamos Downtowns”; and

WHEREAS, the Council has established a series of Strategic Objectives to carry out these goals, including objectives to “Incorporate smart growth concepts”, “Pursue community-wide independence from hydrocarbon energy sources”, “Promote and expand regional transit organization”, “Develop a Transportation Master Plan”, and “Improve downtowns by attracting at least $30 million of private investment and making available $6 million of public funds”; and

WHEREAS, recent advances in the practice of traffic engineering and urban planning have developed new “best practices” for the design of streets that better accommodate the needs of private vehicles, transit riders, pedestrians, cyclists, and those with disabilities, while enhancing safety and convenience for all users; and

WHEREAS, a consistent policy on the development of streets and rights-of-way in the County that supports consideration of all modes of transportation during the design process will help to achieve Council’s three aforementioned Strategic Goals.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Council of the Incorporated County of Los Alamos that the “Policy for the Design of Streets and Rights-of-Way in Los Alamos County” (Attachment “A”) shall be adopted as the official policy of the County.

PASSED AND ADOPTED this 9th day of November, 2010.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why the Tea Party should support cycling as transportation

From NPR: Sharp Rise in Oil Prices Could Hinder Recovery

The pace of a national recovery will be challenged as a healthier economy needs to increase transport of goods and services (and people as they go back to work) but the cost of gas and diesel go up in a global oil market no longer dominated by the West and USA alone. As the NPR story says, the price of a barrel has nearly tripled since January, 2009. With other economies competing for that finite supply of barrels, supply vs. demand will have its way. According to a source in the NPR story, "a $10 increase in the price of oil is like a $200 million tax on the economy a day." or $73 billion per year, much of which goes overseas. With oil at $32/bbl in Jan '09 and closing in on $90/bbl today, that's a cool half trillion dollars.

That is one reason why replacing a car trip with a bike trip is a national energy strategy and national debt issue. Not to mention, that bike trip may keep you out of the doctor's office from sedentary-related diseases, making it a better health care solution than simply handing out medical care cards.The list goes on, but only if the bike is on the road instead of being an ornament on a car's roof rack.

Have a nice day, and remind your Congressman that conservation is more than "...a sign of personal virtue...". It may be a sign of a national will to survive and prosper in an increasingly challenging world.

(with acknowledgments to Andy Cline over at Carbon Trace for instigating this post)

Monday, November 8, 2010

In Vail, Colorado, the connection between money and justice couldn't be clearer

This one simply takes one's breath away. 

EAGLE, Colorado — A financial manager for wealthy clients will not face felony charges for a hit-and-run because it could jeopardize his job, prosecutors said Thursday.

 There is a petition drive started on the web, if that will make any difference in reversing this money-buys-justice travesty. Or as Keri Caffrey says, "What other craven felonies can a person commit and be let off easy because felony convictions have “serious job implications?”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

John Allen: A Review of Bicycling Designs in Davis, CA

John Allen has put up a page documenting an examination of the long history of bicycle facility R and D in Davis California. As John says, "...Davis has the longest experience with a bicycle program of any city in the USA, and a large population of cyclists thanks to its being the home of the University of California at Davis..." You may surf to his table of contents page for the Davis documents — but also, lest we make the same mistakes as well as enjoy the same successes elsewhere, please read the rest of his post. 

John has updated his blog with an additional Davis post. Davis Planners Opine on Sidepaths

Standard Time is back with us

...So please, PLEASE make sure your bike is actively lit up if you are commuting home after work. It should be pretty dark by shortly after five p.m. tomorrow. Be ready and be visible. Reflectors alone are not enough, says John Schubert. I can't say that emphatically enough and don't have to because John Allen says so too.

For lights, the sky is the limit as far as the market goes; dollars generally correlate with light output. But prices per lumen are definitely coming down. You can save some money buying a headlamp at a local hardware or home appliance store or an LED flashlight pair at Costco or Sam's and lash together a mount with a buck's worth of zipties. Or consider this. Some of the new high output tactical flashlights can pump out up to 900 lumens for a tenth the price of a comparable spec bike light (perhaps with a less optimal beam pattern) and with innovation, can be mounted in a trick fashion.
One way to kludge together a handlebar mount.

Bottom line is you want to see and be seen. Being seen might be a lower standard. Seeing ahead requires that you analyze your route, your speed, and your willingness to risk hitting something. Pick a light that illuminates the road far enough ahead and well enough for you to avoid a hazard. Anyone wanting a quick discussion of that is welcome to contact me and we can arrange a little tutorial.

Ankle reflectors, some shown here, are good choices because they move and when illuminated, catch motorist attention. I put a pair on my wrists as well to use when signaling a turn.

For winter use, I have the Black Diamond Icon, available at REI, ziptied to my helmet. Works great; I can point it to where I want to see something (or at a side street with a motorist waiting at a stop sign). The main beam on the handlebar is a slightly dated but quite powerful (a claimed 675/550 lumen but the light pattern is iffy) Light and Motion Arc-HID headlamp.

And don't forget your back! Both John Allen and John Schubert discuss the limitations of rear reflectors, including that they may be dirty (hence fenders can keep them free of road grime) and only work well under optimal conditions of following traffic. On the bike right now is a five LED Cateye rear light (an older version of this). I augment that with a belt beacon. In addition, I have a 3" reflector from the local hardware store and a bunch of stick-on reflective dots.

Lights are so much better than in the old days. Enjoy the advantages of technology. If it seems I'm overdoing this, perhaps I am. But I've been commuting in the dark for 31 years. There is something to be said for taking safety into your own hands.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Morning in America?

"Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right."
--H.L. Mencken

Acknowledgments to Steve A. for posting that quote on his DFW Point to Point site.

As Andy Clarke says on the BikeLeague blog, Jim Oberstar,chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a longtime champion of a lot of Federal support for cycling programs, projects and infrastructure, was one of the casualties of the Tuesday Night Massacre, with the Dems playing the part of Gen. Custer's 7th Calvary and the Republicans and Tea Party folks playing the part of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho people.

For me, this morning was the political equivalent of a cheap-whiskey hangover. My sense is that the American people may have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Be that as it may...

One can cut the size and scope of Government, but when translated into real world terms, you may find yourself doing without things you have quietly taken for granted. The problem is not just the size of government but the shrinking of our tax base with the sagging U.S. economy to the point where it can’t easily support things we are used to having. Like good roads, good schools, and medical care. Somehow we have to grow our economy and tax base back, pay our bills, end our wars, and start building and exporting things again. I'd like to hear someone from either party offer something constructive here.

Greed and mistrust are separate issues. Americans are being brainwashed by extremist politics, esp. outlets like FAUX News (and during the Bush administration, by MoveOn and its ilk), into not trusting their government as far as they can throw it. Not surprising we would not trust it with our tax dollars. As far as greed? Look no farther than resistance to marginal tax cut increases and compare our taxes to other nations. Greed and mistrust have to go, too.

As far as bicycling. Bicyclists who use their bikes as real-world transportation rather than cartop decorations already know something about being conservative. As I said yesterday on the League's blog, I think bicycling advocates are going to have to be ready with some compelling arguments on why using bicycling (and other alternatives to the car) are cost-effective in a new political era where the House (which originates Federal spending bills) looks at every Federal expenditure with a sharp knife. That is going to mean talking to a lot of new Republicans who have been elected on the promise of shrinking our government. They and their constituencies often look critically at transportation alternatives, see bicycling as quaint and irrelevant, have made some bike-specific projects the laughing stock of the TV networks, and were elected yesterday. They will have to be convinced that there is value in some of this stuff and cycling advocates will have to be a lot more selective in what they ask for.

Perhaps more cycling advocacy should be delegated to the state and local levels, since bicycling as transportation is local. The Bike League might want to concentrate on key projects that have the most bang for the buck, such as LCI network expansion and core missions of preserving our cycling rights in an uncertain era. Trained and confident cyclists can ride on most roads, set good examples to non-cyclists, and are not highly dependent on new bike-specific infrastructure that might or might not be funded by this new and conservative Congress.

As Andy said, one of our best friends in Congress is gone. Single point failures, as we say in my business, are not good. Cycling should not rise or fall on the fickleness of one election cycle or on the promise of continued Federal funding. Like our bicycles, we will have to be quick and manuverable. We need to learn from the past. Check out this link to the history of the Physical Fitness movement under President Eisenhower.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Renewable is clean, right?

Ahh. Ride our bikes to work. Drive a hybrid. Put solar panels on the roof and a wind farm on the ridges. Fill up the blue recycling bin instead of the black garbage can and eat low, and locally, on the food chain. All good stuff. Pat ourselves on the back for being proud stewards of the environment. Um...what was that rattling around in the closet like Jacob Marley in his chains?Could it be the sound of our future, having taken advantage of all those Chinese miners and factory workers providing us all those renewables? We should worry, and not just because of the plight of that Chinese miner.

The recent Chinese "embargo" of rare-earth elements (REE) to Japan, and therefore to the U.S. and the West, has caused quite a stir. As has China's attempts to gobble up ownership of REE abroad, including both mining and manufacturing, in the US and Australia.  REE, aside from their critical use in geochemical modelling (which is why I know just a little bit about them), are critical chemical components in a lot of renewable and "green" energy projects such as solar panels, wind farms, and hybrid cars and are therefore a clean energy and a national security issue. For example, a Prius gobbles up about 10-15 kg of REE, according to this source.

Once again, we are beholden to China, which produces over 90% of the world's supplies (see links above and the figure caption below). So why does China control the market? According to the Christian Science Monitor, "Although the US and other countries served as major sources for rare earth minerals for 50 years, China's low labor costs and lax environmental rules allow it to produce both raw and refined minerals at much lower costs than elsewhere."

So once again, we have traded energy security and jobs for cheap prices. It is apparently OK to build bicycles and mine REE in China, allowing Chinese air and water to be polluted and Chinese miners to die, as long as we can save a few bucks in the short run. In the long run, we lose further ground in high technologies and eventually become utterly vulnerable to economic blackmail. That's pathetic.

So I guess China will force us to mine REE here at home, assuming they don't buy up our mines before we even put a shovel in the ground.... But mining REE is not pretty, which is why some so-called "environmentalists" don't bitch too loudly as long as it is done in China. I can hardly wait for the environmental protection lawsuits to begin once we start digging up and processing those Thorium and Uranium (gasp!) bearing REE deposits here in the USA.

You want clean energy? Someone's gotta do the dirty work. If the benefits of a REE mine and processing plant in the US outweigh the costs, it needs to be done. I think those costs are worth paying. The alternative is a once great nation with an economic, and eventually a literal, gun to its head.
Rick Sixberry, operations general foreman at Molycorp Minerals Mountain Pass rare-earth element mine in Mountain Pass, California, surveys the open pit August 19, 2009.
Photo: David Becker 

Mountain Pass Geology explained here.

CMR-R Project, NEPA, and Bicycling

I'm not taking a public position on the issue below since I work at LANL (not to mention, I'm Chair of the County Transportation Board), so am festooned with conflicts of interest. I am, however, purely as a courtesy, forwarding a message from Diane Albert below without further comment or personal opinion. Diane is an attorney and President of the Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico. Contact her for more information.
(Diane Albert, attorney at law) is involved in a NEPA lawsuit against LANL and UC, regarding their refusal to update the EIS that was finalized in 2002. In the meantime, a seismic analysis was performed and due to the results of that seismic analysis, the project design was completely changed, but no new EIS was done.

(Albert et al) are preparing a motion for a permanent injunction on the project and need affidavits from concerned persons. (She is) hoping that bicyclists who ride on the roads in LA County or Santa Fe county might write a letter on this topic describing the harms one would experience due to the tens of thousands of truckloads of materials trucked up on the county roads.
Please contact Ms. Albert (see below) with any questions.

Diane Albert, PhD

Registered Patent Attorney
The Law Office of Diane Albert
2108 Charlevoix St NW
Albuquerque, NM 87104
505.842.1800 phone  505.842.0033 FAX
cell 505.235.2277



NNSA extends scoping period for CMRR study

Public now has until Nov. 16   Read the SEIS Notice of Intent

NNSA has added another two weeks to the public scoping period for the CMRR supplemental environmental impact statement. Comments are now due on November 16. In October, NNSA held scoping meetings in White Rock and Pojoaque seeking public input on what should be studied in the new environmental document. About 50 members of the general public attended and 14 submitted written or audio-recorded comments.

Written comments may still be submitted

Written comments may be submitted to:
Mr. John Tegtmeier
CMRR–NF SEIS Document Manager
U.S. Department of Energy
National Nuclear Security Administration, Los Alamos Site Office
3747 West Jemez Road
TA–3 Building 1410
Los Alamos, New Mexico, 87544
Fax to 505–667–5948 or e-mail at nepalaso@doeal.gov

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You could be in Paradise...

Enough of the bike politics. This video, on the Hawaii Bicycling League website, was shot by HiRoad at the Fall Honolulu Century Ride. The Century starts in Waikiki (Kapiolani Park), goes around the southeastern tip of the island heads about two thirds of the way up the Windward side (to Kaaawa) before turning around and retracing its steps.

With the days growing shorter and colder, that sure looks nice and brings back some really wonderful memories of my 14 years there. Mahalo to HBL for the hard work, and Ride Aloha!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

League petition drive comes up short of 5%

As some of you know, after being rejected to run for the LAB Board by the LAB Nominating Committee, and not getting any reason why, I considered my options carefully and decided to exercise the petition option  with two other League Cycling Instructors, John Brooking and Eli Damon. The current  League board chose not to nominate any of the three of us (i.e., allow us on the ballot) on the basis of our applications, but has never told membership why, in detail, it chose who it chose and rejected who it rejected. That fault in governance, i.e., transparency, is my single, overriding criticism of the League. As I said, if we treated our national elections this way, citizens might as well stay home and leave Congressional appointments to Congress and their lobbyist backers. Opaque or even translucent elections are excellent generators of mistrust. We have to do better.

My decision was not made lightly. Don't worry. I don't claim to ride on water nor am I probably the worst possible candidate either--apparently over 400 members didn't think we were too shabby either. The bottom line is members, not the existing Board, should decide such things.

LAB Reform, long critical of the League's Board election policies, helped us with the petition drive. We needed to form an alliance because frankly, the League has made it a herculean task in time, effort, and money, to mount a petition drive.  Since 2003, the League's bylaws have required signatures from 5% of the League members to put a candidate on the ballot via petition (around 800-1000 signatures).  Until 2003, it took only 50 signatures to get on the  ballot by petition. According to LAB Reform, most of the directors who pushed this change through did not even need members' votes for their seats but were themselves appointed (I doubt any of them know 5% of members).  I further surmise that the current League Board's philosophy is increasingly that a "corporate" style board vetted from the top  is better suited to running the organization than a grassroots, membership-elected board. I have no problem setting high standards for Board membership, but the details of how candidates are chosen need to be more transparent and member-friendly. Presently, the system has resulted in serious disagreement on the state of LAB governance; solutions need to be worked out.

Eli and John spearheaded this drive and I thank them for their efforts. They found the League board and management frustrating to deal with.  Further, LAB Board members ignored my request for information on the vetting process and my suggestion for a more transparent system (note added 10/26/10--I had a long and fruitful conversation with Governance Committee Chair Tim Young tonight). Nonetheless, it seems LAB interpreted  requirements to our disadvantage, and, when time was running short, refused to allow an email announcement to members on the grounds that it was not an option explicitly spelled out in policy, despite the fact that it was known to be technically feasible and that frankly, the LAB Board adjusts both governance and policy to its own goals and objectives. For example, changing the ratio of appointed to elected Board members, and the total number of board members, without membership approval. Shades of FDR's Court-Packing Plan!

In addition, this year's election will be conducted entirely electronically, and obtaining petitions is a long-established part of the election process. So why did LAB refuse to allow us to send a petition request--that they would approve in advance--to all members for whom it has email addresses, as it's apparently been done for candidates in the past few elections? I think that is a rhetorical question but welcome a response here. Therefore, our appeal was limited to lists, clubs,  instructors and individual cyclists we know or for whom we could find addresses. One of my comments to LAB is that LAB ought to cooperate with members in a petition situation so it doesn't seem like we are bitter adversaries, thus fanning the flames of disengagement, but instead that we are colleagues with honorable and negotiable disagreements.

Some of whom we contacted told us that they could not sign the petition because they had quit the League due to concerns about its current management practices. Despite these limitations, we ended up with about 400 valid signatures.  We think this is considerably more than the number of ballots cast in any recent LAB election. A large portion of the signatures are from LCIs. Many are from life members, former directors, and even former League presidents and current director nominees. These are among the League's most active and valuable members. By signing the petition, they have voiced their displeasure over the election process.

We (i.e., the three of us, petitioners, and LAB Reform) have been discussing tactics to follow up the petition. Some who signed the petition have suggested forming a new organization to take up the causes the League has abandoned or in some of our opinions, has given inadequate effort. 

The League (that's supposed to be us) may wish to consider whether we want to stay in one big tent--I think we do. Forming a separate organization is a huge challenge and one has to ask what we would accomplish fractured that could not be accomplished better with all of us speaking with a common, if sometimes discordant voice. But the alternatives to reform are to see yet more people drift away from LAB. Individual League memberships are estimated to be less than 20,000. Membership peaked at over 100,000 a century ago in a much smaller nation but at a time when cycling was in its heyday. Isn't it supposed to be in a heyday again? The turnout to the League Rally, held in Albuquerque last summer, was disappointing. Albuquerque is a great place to ride. Where was everybody**? Have individual members decided that the League is now a house organ for the money players in DC, i.e., the bike industry and urban planners? I hope not.

We thank all those who signed and especially those who helped us collect signatures. Please check back for future news about the reform campaign, and please let us know if you have any thoughts or ideas. Frustrating as this is, let's stay optimistic about the future of the League.  There are good programs, and others which if improved could be outstanding. The LCI network is LAB's crown jewel and needs to be nurtured--LCIs donate a lot of time and sweat equity to the League's core missions. Every quality cyclist, every police officer, and every government official positively influenced by an LCI is a huge contribution to the future of cycling and to cyclist's rights. Furthermore, integrating the LCI network into the Bicycle-Friendly Community program, with power of veto over the application (Local LCIs including me reviewed Santa Fe's recent application) would make that an outstanding program. The recent fiasco with Reed Bates aside, the League is starting a legal defense program according to a recent League statement. Finally, we need to do more fun stuff to raise membership. League rallies and bennies bring in customers. When I was President of the Hawaii Bicycling League, we knew the best way to raise member numbers was to put on great rides and offer great rider benefits. All other activities rode on top of that.

Although staff administers programs and is held accountable for operations, the Board is responsible for the overall strategic tenor of the organization. That's why members who want to have any real power to influence LAB need to be more than a passive rubber stamp during Board elections that largely decide themselves in a closed, smoke-free room.

Let's keep plugging away. I still advise folks to join the League, but also tell them to write the League and demand that members be far more empowered in the governance of the organization.

If you got this far, thanks for reading. If you have two cents to put in to LAB, contact Exec. Director Andy Clarke or Board Chair Hans vanNaerssen

For LAB Reform, you can contact Fred Oswald at

For Eli Damon's extensive timeline of this process, go here.

Keep the rubber side down,
Khal Spencer

** The League reports from The 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors that "...approximately 57 million people, 27.3% of the population age 16 or older, rode a bicycle at least once during the summer of 2002..."  But there are less than 20,000 individual League members, or less than one tenth of one percent of that total. By contrast, the AAA claims about 50 million members. Looks like we need to be far more relevant to the everyday cyclist.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Utility bike

I've been trying to avoid getting into an automobile lately. When Amy saw the two suitcases I had to bring in to work this morning she suggested we just take the car, but I wanted to see how it would go on the bike. It was a little wobbly but not bad once I got used to it. I really appreciate the low gearing that my New World Tourist came with. I can't do my 35mph runs in front of the high school any more, but I can't say I really miss them either.

Los Alamos Food Co-Op: Distinctly bicycle-unfriendly location

I rode my bike out to the Co-Op yesterday for the "Meet the Manager" celebration. It is a 7.5 mile ride from our house on North Mesa. Most of the ride is quite acceptable but I really wonder how many people are going to be willing to ride down NM 502 all the way to the co-op. Especially if they need to shop during periods when commuter traffic is both heavy and fast on this main drag into town and LANL.

The worst cycling location is only about an eighth of a mile or so long, but in that location near the airport and East Gate Pool, one runs out of what is otherwise pretty decent shoulder and is "hourglassed" into traffic that is speeding up to 50 mph as it leaves town, or slowing from 50 while entering town. I was riding my commuter bike unladen and for me, no big deal.. Doing this on the way home with a cart or panniers full of groceries will intimidate some and certainly not make me happy since traffic is having to slow from 40-50 mph behind some guy trundling a load of groceries on a two-wheeler.

I asked those at the get-together to consider expressing their opinion on providing safe crossing of NM 502 for those who would use the new paved, multiuse Canyon Rim Trail as an alternative to riding down NM 502. A tunnel would be ideal and was, I understand, once considered but cut out of the budget. Since Councillor Gibson recently expressed an opinion on using alternative rights of way instead of roads for cycling transportation, this is a perfect example of why historically, its a tough sell to many cyclists: we build recreational paths and do not connect them from our homes to our destinations. Lets face it, those who would choose to ride on the Rim Trail to work in the new County offices at the Airport Basin site, or to a food cooperative or the Holiday Inn, are probably not going to be too keen to ride or walk their bikes across a 50 mph heavily trafficked state highway without any crossing protection. These incomplete facilities become automobile trip generators. This is a bright, shining example.

NM 502 itself is under the jurisdiction of the NM Dept. of Transportation, not our progressive county government, so be prepared for more than the usual amount of frustration in addressing this problem. Whoever wins the election for our state senate and representative districts should get a raft of phone calls and letters about this road. It is a far cry from ideal, and will create some animosity if we increasingly ride bikes to County destinations in and around the Airport Basin. As Patrick O'Grady reminds us, in addition to sharing the road, we need to "share the love"...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Beware of false dichotomies

The proposition made by some (see Paul Dorn comment at this link) that breaks us down into vehicular cyclists or paint and path advocates is a false dichotomy (or false dilemma, if you prefer). Sure, lacking cycling specific facilities, we must ride vehicularly. But in that parallel universe, even the best separated cycling facilities in urban areas have to cross intersections sometimes, and cyclists will at some point have to behave as traffic, even if only to avoid crashing into other cyclists. Cyclists, all cyclists, need to know how to ride in traffic, whether they are sharing general-use lanes or whether riding in a separated cycletrack. Intersections are intersections and traffic is traffic.

I recieved a chilling email this morning from a scientific colleague and friend here at LANL who cycles a lot. Joe just got back from some work at Palo Alto and was riding to work in the Canyon bike lane, headed for Diamond Drive. He merged left into the dedicated left turn lane and waited for the left turn green arrow.

Luckily, he checked traffic before he fully committed to the turn. A few seconds after my friend got the green left turn arrow, a motorist on Diamond ran the red light at high speed. If my friend had not looked, he would probably be in bad shape or dead.

Meanwhile, this morning I observed a different cyclist riding on our recently added bike lanes. I first saw him riding on the sidewalk headed south towards Diamond/Arizona. He rode through an unprotected crosswalk without looking for traffic. He then rode diagonally through the Conoco Hill intersection and ran a red. As I closed on him, he ran another red light at Diamond and Trinity so I never did get to talk to him.

In one case, good vehicular cycling skills may well have saved a rider’s life. In another case, the rider is playing with fire and we may eventually read about him in the paper. Both using the same bikelane system.

Let’s stop screwing around with artificial distinctions, and just do good work for cyclists. The reason LAB has an education program is that it takes resources to design, organize, manage, and indemnify and it clearly fits within a mission of serving the best interests of, and keeping cyclists alive out there.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Black Hawk, CO bike ban being challenged in court

This is why all states need strong state and local advocacy groups, backed up by a national organization (LAB) that brings more money and political firepower to bear on these cases when needed. Read more about this case here, including links to all the legal briefs.

The motion to dismiss is here.

The city’s attorney has filed a brief in response posted here. The defendants have now filed their reply brief and a hearing is set for October 20.

Wish our side luck. Bike bans could happen anywhere, and at a low level, have been surfacing.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cut Carbon Rally and Bike League Petition

I figure the best way to cut carbon is to not go to the rally today, which would be a double century if done by bike and I've let my training slide since the Red River Century. Instead, I'll try to do some required shopping on the commuter bike.

And, if you have not electronically signed our LAB election petition, please consider it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Welcome home, Brother Smith...

Link to an obituary from the St. Petersburg, Florida Times.

"He was a quiet guy. He was easy to be around, just did his job,"  --David Rupp, a manager at The Crab Shack.

"About 11 p.m. Sept. 12, a car struck Neil Alan Smith and threw him off his bicycle on Fourth Street N. The car didn't stop. Mr. Smith, who was pedaling home from his (minimum wage) job as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack, struck his head on a light post. He was taken to Bayfront Medical Center. He died there six days later. He was 48..."

A few years back, cycling authors Dan Koeppel and Patrick O'Grady both wrote about the plight of the invisible cyclist, that low-income guy on a cheap bike who doesn't quite make the cover of Bicycling Magazine or the American Bicyclist, but who depends on his bicycle more than any in the lycra-wearing crowd ever will and who is compelled to ride, day or night, on whatever road or walkway can get him to work. He has few options.

Mr. Smith fit the bill. And like most of the invisible cyclists, he only achieved recognition in death because of the cruelty and heartlessness of those still left alive, such as the hit-run motorist who left him to die, or those who see so little value in the Mr. Smiths of the world that we ignore their needs through our actions (DWI, texting, speeding) or inactions (not providing decent infrastructure, not giving a damn). We have built our transportation infrastructure for those who can afford cars. Many cannot, and many struggle to drive cars because they feel this is their only choice in a world where a guy riding his bike to work instead of wrapping himself in an SUV sometimes feels like he is destined to be roadkill. Don't lecture me with statistics, either. I'm talking about perceptions. They probably influence the lion's share of people more than statistics ever will.

Koeppel's story: L.A.'s Invisible Riders
O’Grady: Outerbiking in Las Vegas

What is especially cruel is the statement of the SOB who opined, in the St. Pete's online newspaper, that Smith’s life was worth so little. The obituary excerpted above was not the original story of this crime.  It was a followup obituary written by newsman Andrew Meacham after an unnamed commenter wrote, in response to the original story,  "A man who is working as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack at the age of 48 is surely better off dead.". An outraged Meacham decided to put Mr. Smith to rest with some dignity. Mahalo nui loa, Mr. Meacham.

But perhaps in a nation which is fast losing its heart and soul, there is some brutal truth to that cynical statement. Life is increasingly cheap, even when lived in dignity, at the low end of the status pool.

If there is a personal God, and I've not made my mind up on that one, I am sure such a God was waiting those six days at Neil's bedside. I am sure He was ready to greet Neil Smith, two Budweisers and a portable radio in hand, and tell him "Welcome home, Brother Smith. You won't ever have to ride home in the dark again."

I'm not so sure about the greeting awaiting the rest of us.

Photo of Neil Alan Smith from the Tampa Bay Online (re-used in the Atlantic Magazine, where writer James Fallows commented on this sad death.).
 I should say that my very first job, as a janitor in a hotel, paid ten cents above minimum wage. I got to the hotel by riding my Sears bicycle or on the city bus. But that was a 7 am to 4 pm job.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Return the League of American Bicyclists to Greater Democratic Governance

From Wikipedia: An oligarchy (from Greek ὀλιγαρχία, oligarkhía[1]) is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small segment of society distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, or military control. The word oligarchy is from the Greek words "ὀλίγος" (olígos), "a few"[2] and the verb "ἄρχω" (archo), "to rule, to govern, to command".[3] Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who pass their influence from one generation to the next.

Dear Friends

Along with fellow LCIs Eli Damon and John Brooking, I am attempting a petition candidacy to run for the League of American Bicyclists Board of Directors. Why? Because the current LAB governance rules give the sitting Board overwhelming power to skew our elections, including the right to screen candidates and reject any whom they disapprove. Furthermore, those who wish to be on the ballot without existing Board member approval must obtain an almost impossible 5% of the membership's names in petitions. These are dire warning to not attempt to buck the power structure. Finally, the sitting Board appoints seven of the fifteen new members. Many of these election rule changes were put in without member input. There are good reasons for sitting boards to want to cherry-pick candidates, but the good is balanced or outweighed by the bad--the board amasses a huge amount of power at your (the member's) expense.

Three of us are attempting to break into this closed loop in the December elections via the petition process. Go here to sign the petition adding us to the ballot, if you wish to do so and are a LAB member.
The three of us represent divergent viewpoints (our statements and qualifications are at the link above or here) but for the common view that League members must have greater voice in League governance if we are to call ourselves a membership based organization. We are working together because it is a difficult job to qualify. By supporting this petition, you are not voting to put us on the Board or voting to appoint us in a bloc, but petitioning that our names be added to the ballot, where we take our chances with the other candidates. To me, that is the important part.

Imagine if the sitting U.S. Congress was empowered to internally elect 47% of the next Congressional delegation without your input, change the election rules on their own, and internally screen those who are allowed to run for office. Its not hard to imagine that the present members could control the agenda and the political point of view of Congress indefinitely, cutting you, the voter, out of the loop. That's what the present governance policies of the League of American Bicyclists governance have produced. If you object to this bad flavor of organizational democracy, this is your chance to act.

That's not to say that some of the "approved" candidates are not excellent, including our own Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico President Diane Albert, whom I worked with establishing the Los Alamos bicycle plan and who we all MUST vote for (check out her statement on the BCNM site!  Jennifer Grey Fox likewise had a compelling c.v. as a Board-appointed candidate. But this is about fair elections, too.

Our platforms are in the link below. As for me? This blog is my transparency as well as my outlet for hot air.

No hidden agenda on my part, and thanks for reading,

Khal Spencer

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Look before you leap...

I had the car today because I had a lunchtime errand and agreed to do the Smith's grocery shopping, therefore justifying taking Old Belchfire to work. On the way home, I was driving up to the Conoco Hill intersection. A cyclist in the bike lane was slow and wobbly on the ascent. I wondered, given he was riding right on the line between the bike lane and right travel lane, if he was going to change lanes. So I slowed.

Without looking, he veered directly in front of my car. I'm glad it was me he veered in front of since I was sorta expecting it. Thankfully, he did not veer in front of a dualie that was accelerating.

I mentioned "look before you leap" as I passed on his right since at that point he was in the center lane preparing for a left turn. I think cyclists need to learn the "over the shoulder scan" technique we teach in Traffic Skills 101. It both allows the cyclist to see what is approaching behind him and telegraphs to following motorists that the cyclist is changing lanes. Here is a Mass Bike video showing how its done.

Positioning for turns
  • Before a turn: turn and look back at traffic (turn your head) and scan, signal, negotiate, and when you verify it is safe,  move into the lane that leads to your destination. (Practice this maneuver in a safe place such as a parking lot or soccer field because if not done correctly, you might veer when you turn your head and upper body, inadvertently pulling on the handlebars.)
  • If you feel like you are wobbling or veering too much while turning and looking, try doing the head turn while out of the saddle and accelerating, which may tend to stabilize your steering by freeing up your upper body a little. I suggested this to a cyclist who was uncomfortable with the seated version of the maneuver, and he said it actually worked.
  • Ride in the right third or middle of the lane, as lane width dictates
  • To traverse multiple lanes in busy and faster traffic, move one lane at a time, scanning and signaling each move

Traffic Skills is better than Traffic Kills...