Monthly Archives: March 2016

Bicycles in the American Tradition

“It’s completely clear to me that we’re in a midst of a total revolution in the way we get around…the street does not belong to the car, it has to be shared, get used to it.”
–Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, interview in 2012

The bicycle is the most common vehicle used in the world.  In America we are emerging from an era where “development of a transportation infrastructure focused almost exclusively on the private motor car” (from FHWA, A Recommended Approach for Accommodating Bicycle and Pedestrian Travel).  With movements such as New Mexico Complete Streets and multimodal transportation planning, we are seeing an unprecedented amount of collaboration across sectors and between disciplines and communities to change the built environment and diversify mobility culture.  The result is a disruption of the status quo and more equity in transportation, and the emergence of a bold movement toward active transportation and a culture of health.

Bicycles have been here all along, but are becoming more visible now.  To a lot of people seeing bicycles using the road looks different.  It reminds me of the acting cast of the Broadway Musical Hamilton which recasts Alexander Hamilton’s story with black and Latino actors.

In an interview on Charlie Rose, Ron Chernow, the musical’s historical advisor and popular author of American history, said:  ‘When I sat down to watch Hamilton, I thought my God all the actors are black and Latino.  What is the director doing?  But then watching the show I forgot what race or ethnicity they were.  The show is showing us who we are now.  Historically, people felt excluded from America.  This show is one of the greatest advertisements for diversity we’ve ever had.  It announces the arrival of a new generation in American life…this is the new face of America…and the beautiful thing is this new face of America, people who might have felt excluded before, have embraced American history.’  America’s inclusion and accommodation of diversity and expansion of our values is our greatest ongoing story propelling us forward toward a more perfect union.

For all Americans to have equal opportunity at a healthy life, it is important that we include active transportation choices in our everyday roads for routine travel to work, school and extracurricular activities.  To embrace diversity of travel modes on our roads is to help usher in positive change.  Health is a palpable kind of wealth that can easily be shared and there is no limit for how much of it there is to go around.  We are redefining life on the road.  It feels good.

Daveed Digs, who plays Thomas Jefferson in the theatrical musical production Hamilton, says about his experience on the show.  ‘This is the only time I’ve ever felt particularly American…it gives value to whoever you are…This show says you are part of the history of this country, what you are doing is leading up to the next moment.’–on Charlie Rose, The Cast of Hamilton (worth listening to!)

picture setting

view of Salinas Pueblo Missions monument, a place that stirs the imagination

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UNM Health and Wellness Fair

Check out the University of New Mexico’s Health and Wellness Fair, Wednesday, March 30, if you can!  Daily activity such as bicycling and walking sets the rhythm for the body’s metabolism and builds an appetite for delicious and nutritious fresh food.  Active movement creates a positive feedback loop that teaches us what foods work well for us and how much we need.  Activity and nutrition go together like dance partners and are part of the matrix of good health.

UNM Nutrition Club March 25 UNM's 6th annual Health and Wellness Fair

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
–John Muir

CenterLines, the Active Transportation Digest

CenterLines, the National Center for Bicycling and Walking’s biweekly news bulletin, covers current developments in the world of active transportation in North America.  It’s a one stop source for all things bicycling and walking and more.  If you’re just beginning to investigate active transportation, an experienced professional, or somewhere in between, CenterLines is a smorgasbord of opportunities, ideas, and ways to make new connections.  It covers research, policies, events, conferences, job listings, trainings, news and ways to get involved.  Here are a couple content examples from the most recent CenterLines issue published on March 23.

* Health Impacts of Active Transportation in Europe
This study measured the health impact of increased bicycling and walking in six European cities.  Increases in cycling to 35% of all trips improved health the most of all the scenarios analyzed in the study.  The research team concluded that “Increased collaboration between health practitioners, transport specialists and urban planners will help to introduce the health perspective in transport policies and promote active transportation” for substantial benefits.

* The International Mtn. Biking Assocation (IMBA) World Summit is in Bentonville, AR
November 10-12, 2016 Arkansas welcomes the IMBA summit, which gathers together mountain bikers, public land stewards, the business community and advocates of all kinds.  I was just in Arkansas visiting my grandmother and it is an incredible place to bicycle (blog posts here).  When IMBA came to Santa Fe in 2012 the local scene “got discovered.”  Certainly Northwest Arkansas will experience a similar recognition for their beautiful countryside and the way local communities have wholeheartedly embraced cycling as a way to explore the Natural State.

*CenterLines has a Quotes R Us section.  “Our ultimate goal is to improve the economic and environmental health of American communities and the personal health of the people who live there.  To achieve this, we will reconnect America with trails in the same way that railroads once connected people and places.”  –Keith Laughlin, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy President

CenterLines is free, published online and open to the general public.  It is a good place to start and come back to when you want to grow your understanding of the quickly expanding frontiers of the active transportation world.  The presentation is not flashy, but the content is deep, diverse, and leading edge.  The National Center for Bicycling and Walking is my Bike Org. of the Month for March 2016.  Keep up the important work that you are doing.  Arigato.

benches

Spring bloom outside of Mesa Vista Hall on the main campus of UNM in central Albuquerque

Investing in People with Bus Rapid Transit

“Developers gravitate toward places where they see investment happening.”
–Lillian Kuri, on Cleveland’s Health Line

On March 21 Albuquerque City Council voted 7-2 to launch the Bus Rapid Transit project on Central Avenue, our historic main street.  The debate surrounding this big change was passionate.  The project aligns with core economic values by increasing efficiency in the transportation system, and reducing the per capita transportation footprint.  Transit oriented development is a creative process for structuring development around connecting people, creating inclusive economic growth, reshaping the City’s form and updating plans for the future.

Realizing the game changing impacts of this project depends on how well we embrace the opportunities.  If we move forward with a spirit for advancing common goals by leveraging transit’s benefits, Bus Rapid Transit can promote cultural and economic growth, ecological stability and integrity, and a healthier and forward looking City renowned for its vibrancy and innovation.  Here are a few opportunities Bus Rapid Transit on Central opens up.

  • Street ergonomics improve by tailoring infrastructure to support essential mobility freedom and efficiency for people, with traffic flow structured on pedestrian movements
  • Improving public health and pleasure by generating walking during routine daily activities
  • Opportunity for retooling the way construction, transportation and development are done
  • Creates jobs and trains a skilled workforce for sustainable development that can be scaled
  • Sets a leading example as New Mexico’s largest city for sustainable urban development and lifts the quality of experiences for public life in shared spaces, with health at the center
  • Enables ABQ to welcome more population growth without adding traffic congestion
  • Increases connectivity and mobility in our City while reducing car dependency

Welcome ART, ABQ Rapid Transit!  This is an historic moment for Albuquerque.  I’ve been writing consistently about sustainable urban development.  Here are a few blog posts and quotes.

“[the] City is looking forward, not backward.”
“Public works projects…catalyze a cultural shift in thinking about what kinds of policies and infrastructure we should be investing in.”
Reflecting Emerging Values in the Built Environment, September 3, 2015

“Leading edge transit is an integral aspect of the new American dream.”
“A transportation CEO would see this is as easy executive decision to make.  It’s…efficient..”
The Mystery of Albuquerque’s Development, September 18, 2015

“Quality of place is important too — numerous surveys have shown that the physical and intangible features of a city are associated with higher levels of happiness and better health.”
Health and Transportation in Cities, December 11, 2015

“We have to imagine a revitalization of Central Ave. that invites more businesses and people in”.
Land Use Planning and Better Walking and Bicycling, January 21, 2016

sprinkles

Spring is blooming in Albuquerque

Walking for Health and Designing for People

“We started with a hundred idealistic cyclists…then we evolved because we found common cause with walking: streets that are unsafe for biking are also difficult to cross for pedestrians.”  —Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place  meets next in Vancouver, BC, September 12-15, 2016

“Transportation engineers are spending millions on developing automated people-mover systems.  But the best, by far, is a person.”
–William H. Whyte, City: Rediscovering the Center

Walking is the universal and essential means for human mobility.  America Walks is an advocacy organization working to improve walking.  They are accepting applications for Walking College 2016 to train community advocates.  This is a winning strategy for implementing policies linking health and transportation together.  Social change occurs through community networks at the local and grass roots levels.  Walking College helps graduates to cross pollinate dialogue in public health, planning, transportation, and education, based on community needs, and reach across scales to achieve local, national and global coordination.  Here are particular skills one may acquire at Walking College, according to their website.

The curriculum has been designed to nurture the development of the “hard” and “soft” skills that are necessary to become effective change agents.

“Hard” skills include: 
The science behind the benefits of walking
Ability to evaluate the built environment, master the public policy process, and understand how projects can be funded with local, state, and federal dollars
Knowledge in specific campaign areas, such as access to transit and “Vision Zero”

“Soft” skills include:
Communications, relationships, and building trust
Fostering a local advocacy movement with diverse stakeholders
Engaging effectively with decision-makers

See more at America Walks

Resources:
America Walks Federal Policy Position Paper
http://americawalks.org/federal-policy-position-paper/

Salinas Pueblo Missions

On Sunday I visited the Salinas Pueblo Missions on the far side of the Manzano Mountains.  From Albuquerque Mai and I took the road south down the sinuous Rio Grande rift valley for 40 miles and then veered eastward up to Abo Pass.  There are three main ruin sites to explore.

Abo mas

surprise

Cornering

It is easy to zoom in and out of Albuquerque.  I like seeing the agriculture in the South Valley and the buffalo herd by the river at the Isleta Pueblo.  During winter you can see Cranes in the fields.  Then it’s on past the volcanic escarpment with creosote dotting the rippled and folded desert plains.  The long chain of the Manzanos presides over the eastern horizon.  Los Lunas feels like a suburban boomtown with cookie cutter homes snug up to the Interstate, a movie theater, shopping.  Off the interstate in Belen we passed over the river and into rural New Mexico.  Approaching the mountains the plains are sparsely populated with loose herds of cows and horses.  Joining highway 60 and climbing Abo Pass juniper and red sandstone abound.  It is these locally quarried rocks, the Abo Formation, that the missions were built from.

red green blue

Abo comb over

corners

Abo green

I visited two of the missions and learned lots but left with even more questions.  This place is a confluence of cultures and geography.  The pueblo people were here and then the Spanish came from Mexico looking for riches and converts around 1600.  They forged an economy of agriculture and hunting, and traded salt from the nearby salt lakes.  It’s an austere landscape where the mountains meet the high plains.  Bison and pronghorn belong here.  I took the roads on the eastern flank of the mountains back to Tijeras and on home to Albuquerque.  The crisp colors of earth, stone and sky and unsettling vastness on this trip impressed me, but a brief hike in the foothills (following three pictures) reminded me that Albuquerque is a sweet spot too, in the echo of the arced and banked Sandia range, with the flow of the west mesa’s volcanoes somehow answering back, and the plaited and fertile river running between these massive landforms.  New Mexico is defined by open space and stabilized by rural traditions.  Now if we may develop an inclusive economy that brings good health and lasts.

health

Foothills blooming

piñon in foothills

 

Desert Rat in a High Altitude City

“This is paradise.”  –a City employee on living in Albuquerque
“With an average elevation of 5,312 feet, ABQ is the highest U.S. metropolitan city.”
–Albuquerque Change Your Perspective, The Official Visitors Guide 2016 visitabq.org

I expressed concern in my last post, but I feel optimistic about the change we are seeing in Albuquerque and the North American Southwest.  Sometimes we worry about intractable problems but a historical perspective shakes us free of any notion that culture is static.  It’s always changing and the bicycle is a positive change agent in every sector of society.

It’s true that the bicycle is sometimes seen as an outsider on the road and held to a narrower band of acceptable behavior.  We make crazy statements that make no sense, like we could accept bicycles if they would all start following the rules.  I say that is crazy since we don’t reject cars just because some drivers don’t follow the rules.  When we say things about bicycles it really says more about our attitudes toward a minority than it does about the group we are speaking of.  Classic profiling, stigmatizing, stereotyping we see in the pattern of race, class and gender discrimination.  What has really surprised me is how many people who bicycle themselves hold these kinds of judgmental views that divide bicyclists up into categories.  I’ve been working on dissolving my own prejudices (got ’em!) and I gotta say that this is the consolation of middle age and self examination, that you get to relax and enjoy more freely.

People are people and there is no way to tell us apart without getting to know individuals.  Bicycling on the whole recharges my faith in humanity.  The positive interactions I have with citizens, the smiles, the shared knowledge, beauty of a given day, mutual admiration, connect on a bicycle.  You can make it safer.  We are lulled into a complacency enclosed in motor vehicles when in reality the mass of the vehicle plus the speeds make it the most dangerous travel mode.  People make extraordinary efforts to safeguard bicyclists and pedestrians on the roadway.  The more people out walking and biking, the more beautiful our landscape.  Springtime in Albuquerque I can’t think of a better time to ride.  Buen provecho, go get those miles and give yourself and your community the best of everything, ride a bicycle!

sun so yellow

A high desert evening with a glass sky turning westward like a magic carpet trailing a cosmic menagerie it its wake