Category Archives: Bicycling Ecologies

Mountain roads and sacred places

“A good scientist doesn’t have to be separate from the world to make sense of it.”  –Eva Saulitis, Every Reason to Stay in The Sun Magazine, January 2017

While cycling in Japan I discovered some amazing places, like the one pictured above.  I was on a super narrow road, a path really, and the light shining through the bamboo forest canopy and pooling on the ground startled me.  When I’m out cycling my work interests in geography, culture and sustainable transportation flow together with my sense of curiosity and wonder.

Sakai City Japan, the suburb of Osaka where Mai’s parents live, is the home of Shimano, a leader in cycling manufacturing.  Shimano adapted technologies from gun manufacturing in the 1800’s and applied them to cycling parts construction to meet demand for cycling.  Shimano has a bicycle museum in Sakai City.  I’ll have to visit!  This time around I was happy making my own firsthand experiences cycling in Sakai City and the adjacent mountains.  The museum looks very interesting, as they tie together the evolution of technology with the ongoing development of cycling culture.  Cycling is an epic story, a way to relax in nature, build community, be joyful and work towards big picture goals such as global sustainability.  The museum website is here.

Cycling works as a positive force promoting a sustainable, connected, healthy way of being.  When I met other cyclists on the road in Japan there were head bows, encouraging words, and looks of understanding, unspoken communication of shared joy.  The bicycle builds natural and inclusive culture amazingly well if people are open to it.  Cycling creates communion.

Japan’s beauty is awesome.  On this road pictured below climbing up into the Kongo Range, a creek and waterfalls were flowing beside the road.  The landscape’s sweet music.  It reminded me of the sound of meltwater running off the San Juan Mountains I hear in the Ironhorse in Durango, Colorado, which is upcoming this May.  Cycling keeps me motivated and looking ahead to the next sequence of discoveries and shared experiences.  What a joy.  Thank you!

The Many Faces of Cycling, Most Beautiful Ones

I came home from a Saturday morning ride with friends, ate lunch, started reading and came across this.  An article called Pimp My Bike: Detroit’s Custom Cycles in Pictures in The Guardian.  Here are a few pictures from the article.  Photos are credited to Nick Van Mead, from the article.

slow-roll-detroit

long-chain

beautiful

Ashia, waving in the photo above, is quoted in the article saying she feels safer with groups, “It’s positive — and God Knows in Detroit, we need positive things like this.”

This blog is usually original posts, but obviously the Slow Roll movement in Detroit merits our attention.  They are innovating and reaching out to expand the conversation about our public roads, our cities and neighborhoods, economic renewal, social wellness, all propelled by bicycling.  This movement is bigger than any one group, in fact, it’s a global movement.

“It makes the city far more human…they have conversations, make eye contact…the people are friendlier” than they were before all these rides started, says Todd Scott of the Detroit Greenways Coalition (quoted from the article).  And my goodness, don’t we all need friends.

Resources/Credits–
Go read the article on The Guardian, it conveys the beautiful essence–  https://www.theguardian.com/cities/gallery/2016/nov/02/pimp-my-bike-detroit-custom-cycles-slow-ride-in-pictures
Photo Credits to Nick Van Mead
I’ve blogged about Slow Roll before.  Let’s be cities of friendly bicyclists.
Check out my post Green Infused Classic Cars for another innovator, a very famous one.
And more landmark journalism by Nick Van Mead and The Guardian–
America’s Road Trip: Will the US Ever Kick the Car Habit

Urban Landscapes in Living Terms

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Lao Tzu

One of the reasons I moved to Albuquerque was to work on urban sustainability.  The majority of the world lives in cities.  Cities are important places!  On a trip to Taos I had a chance to decompress beneath the extraordinary sky and consider urban life from a rural perspective.

Williams Lake

into the Taos mountains

Sage plains

I see our cities as an integral part of nature, and don’t think they need to be places where we want to escape from.  We can do better making them living and breathing landscapes.  The soundscapes, the night skies, the ecosystem functions of our cities can all be restored to produce high quality habitat that nurtures human life.  We don’t have to leave the city to learn about nature.  We are part of it.  Activities such as walking, cycling and growing food help us learn.  Cycling teaches me conservation and efficiency for example, since my energy is so precious and limited, and it reminds me to carry only what I need, to travel light.

majestic

streaming down

Cycling helps me tune in to places.  There are no walls around me when I ride.  I feel like I belong.  But when I visited the mountains above Taos, it was much quieter and I felt at ease and could pay attention to the subtle things a little more.  At our campsite I realized the automatic beeping from our car key fob was a significant disturbance to the soundscape, so I started locking the car with the key only, in simple mechanical fashion.  That way the car doesn’t beep.  Much better!  Sometimes we feel so overwhelmed by the magnitude of problems in the world we sabotage our journey towards solutions before we even start.  But big successes are made up of small victories.  Taking the opportunities presented, however tiny, add up, and carry us a long way.  Especially when we collaborate, embrace our cities and each do our part.

New Mexico Sunshine

Taos basin

Santa Fe aspen trails with indian paintbrush

Resources–
Here are some tips on making a difference from our National Parks.  https://www.nps.gov/subjects/sound/difference.htm

Building Lasting Partnerships

A big thank you to my friends at Conservation Science Partners and the Landscape Conservation Initiative for supporting the Southwest Bike Initiative.  They also brought their friends at Live Oak Associates, Inc., an ecological consulting firm, to strengthen our network.  Because of the team CSP put together, they are my bike org. of the month for May 2016.  Check out the article here announcing our collaboration promoting the role of cycling in conservation.

magenta Sandia

When I was choosing “categories” for this blog post, I started clicking every one.  This partnerships embodies all that I’ve been doing up to this point, and connects a series of journeys that began long ago.  I’m enthused to be working with such classy organizations and bright people.  LCI’s philosophy of mobilizing science through collaborative planning, education and practical experiences has been influential in instigating new approaches for solving environmental challenges.  CSP’s innovative structure and novel science applications has created a paradigm shift in how we do conservation.  LOA’s ecological expertise delivers practical solutions fostering environmental sustainability throughout California and the Western United States.  Together their collaboration is raising the bar for conservation science.

Truchas

Cycling is a great practical exercise for improving health, the environment, and building lasting partnerships.   Our cycling team builds grassroots coalitions, and increases collaboration between diverse communities around common objectives to achieve new vistas on what is possible.  Please follow SBI’s website and media to keep in touch with our development.

SimWorks Custom Bicycles

Has the Japanese bicycle industry lost not only their production power but imagination as well?”  –SimWorks custom bicycles,  Imagination and Creation of Your Quality of Life

We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

I’ve been busy, so I’m catching up on designating my bike org. of the month for April 2016.  I read about SimWorks in an article on handcrafted bicycles.  I checked out their website and was impressed by their narrative.  I’ve been wanting to write about them for months.

SimWorks suggests bicycles create a kind of social fabric between craftspeople and customers.  They think a quality handbuilt bicycle can “guide the next generation” into being a more conscientious consumer.  It’s bicycle manufacturing with personality and an intentional continuity between the manufacturing process and the user of the product.

The English translation on the website is not perfect, but the essence of the story still comes through.  SimWorks taps into the cycling roots of Japan and builds products that communicate history and meaning with their style.  As a sustainable enterprise it makes a lot of sense, with product quality and distinctness helping people be happier with what they have.  Craftsmanship like this takes time and cultivates highly valued and skilled artisans.

The diversity and variety custom bikes offer make the world more interesting and exciting, and they seem to generate a virtuous cycle between the maker and the consumer.  Cycling creates bridges to the future in a lot of ways, from rebuilding bonds between people and the environment, to connecting us to the integrity and identity of a manufactured product.

SimWorks sees themselves “changing the system”, encouraging us to look with precision and make decisions with care.  Their products are imaginative, dreams on wheels, and humanely empower the life they carry forward.   It’s never too late to build the kind of world we want.

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pictures from recent travels–

Exercise your mind

Bicycles and Reading are both grand adventures

tall glass of clouds

the New Mexico sky up close, in person, is definitely worth seeing

Crest road

the Sandia Crest road is great cycling

Lilacs and trees

above 10,400'

The Ozark Hill Country of NW Arkansas

While at Grandma’s in Arkansas I took a road ride from her house up in the Ozark Hills.  She lives in Bella Vista, a town with a rural feel set in the hickory and oak highlands above Sugar Creek.  The day before her birthday Grandma made us sloppy joe sandwiches for lunch.  When early afternoon rolled around and people took a siesta or read to relax and rejuvenate, I took a bike ride.  This sweet land could not look any better than it does from the saddle of a bicycle.

ARK Bella Vista road ride

ARK horses

Horses in pastures watched me spool by.  I greeted them and talked to them.  The country roads circle the hills and dive down into the hollows, flowing with the contours of the land.

ark hungry

ARK ride

My bike rides usually start out with a question.  Sometimes it is how am I feeling today?  I find out more about this when I pedal a bicycle.  Other times it is what can I discover today?  This sets the stage for adventure, no matter how small it is.  Daily adventures keep us enlivened.

ARK country

ARK Bella Vista ride

ark curve

Though I liked the rides I took on the multiuse trails of Oklahoma City and Fayetteville during this trip, my favorite ride was this one on these country roads of NW Arkansas.  I love being in the working landscape and seeing the way human activity fits together with the fabric of the countryside.  The horses, the farms, the active living born from the habits of daily routine.  I am grateful my grandparents decided to retire here from North Dakota.  Over the last 30 years, they have introduced several generations of their family to the beauties of Northwest Arkansas.

ARK slow rollin

ARK Bella Vista country lane

ARK all the pretty horses

I admire the dramatic landscapes of the West, the oceanic high altitude skies, incredible mountains and vast open spaces.  But this trip to Arkansas cured me of any doubt.  This whole country is absolutely gorgeous.  The variety and diversity tucked into this small corner of Arkansas is enormous.  Travel experiences release us from convention, including our own tendencies to think that love is exclusive and small.  Love is expansive and love conquers all.
ARK crosshatched landscape

ARK bike the natural state

Creating Sustainable Streets

There are complex factors underlying good walking and bicycling environments.  The layout of streets and cities is fundamentally important.   The basic structure of cities changed with the advent of mass travel by automobiles.  By the 1950’s cities were sprawling outwards and people were being encouraged to drive longer distances to work and to meet other necessities.  Streets were designed in longer blocks and for higher speeds and maximized for throughput.   This graph shows one of the undesirable consequences of this. (from Bad Street Design Kills People)

garrick-graph_1

Districts built before 1950  “display triple the walking, four times the transit use, six times the bicycling, and immeasurably more charm” (A. Schmidt, Street Design).  But most of the land in Albuquerque and in all Southwestern cities was developed after 1950.  Albuquerque went form 35,000 people in 1940 to 97,000 in 1950, and grew to 200,000 by 1960.  We have upwards of half a million residents today.  Phoenix went from 100,000 in 1950 to 1.5 million today.  A sprawling network of arterial streets and urban space has been prioritized for fast driving.

The Comprehensive Plan and Rezoning process in Albuquerque is a big opportunity to shift the structure and direct the growth of our city.  Making a city that is safe for bicycling begins here.  This means focusing on quality and building places that endure.  Denser, mixed use development locates more destinations within easy reach of bicycle travel, and utilizes the bicycle’s agility, maneuverability and compact footprint to best advantage.  Incentivizing stronger transit systems through transit oriented development makes cars optional and delivers people within walking and bicycling distance (1-3 miles) from every destination.  Enabling people to move via high speed transit all over the city would help build a more connected and livable city.  Citizens can spend more time and allocate more resources for doing what they want to do, and spend less time and money on driving.  This frees us up to generate economic power.

Part of this sustainable urban revolution involves incorporating ecosystem vitality into social spaces.  “The interest in complete streets is part of a growing demand for retooling the rights-of-way in cities to reflect changing values that citizens have now,” says Clark Wilson, senior urban designer, with EPA’s Office of Policy, Economics, and Innovation. “Federal departments and agencies are responding by, for instance, including criteria related to livability and sustainability. This approach not only addresses community values, but also is more fiscally sound because of multiple objectives being met with limited funding.” (quoted from Sustainable Streets)

Although the challenge of delivering broader benefits through the design of public spaces is daunting, the expansion in value and the benefit for the public generated by such efforts is worth it.  If we invest now we’ll get eightfold benefits down the road.  This is an economic development opportunity we can be ambitious about, something we can incentivize, a common challenge that unites people and restores nature.  The building blocks for sustainable cities are sustainable streets.  We’ll get better results if we change our view of streets and redesign them  to include all forms of human movement beginning with the indispensible ones, walking and bicycling.  We can create streets that intentionally deliver ecosystem services.  When can create streets to serve a robust economy that matures with connected, equitable, and safe communities.  We’ll spend more time being here rather than passing through.  We have an opportunity to accomplish something great as a generation, and embark on a path of discovery.

References:

The Centerlines newsletter from the National Center for Bicycling and Walking (bikewalk.org) is here:  http://www.bikewalk.org/newsletterarch2015.php

http://www.streetsblog.net/2015/12/01/bad-street-design-kills-people/#more-166214

Sustainable Streets https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/publicroads/11marapr/02.cfm