Category Archives: Mobility Culture

Cycling to work and beyond

This week in May many cities celebrate cycling with a “bike to work day.”  Here in Albuquerque it’s Friday May 19.  I’m a believer in cycling everyday, and aligning a ride around work or school is a good way to get started.  That’s how my cycling began 20 years ago in Reno, Nevada.

There are more benefits than we can imagine in cycling to work.  We get to know our cities better.  We see life from a new perspective.  And we develop our cycling skills as we navigate through varied infrastructure to get to where we need to go.  Cycling to work is a healthy habit.

The key is making cycling a routine.  Transportation is a lifeway, just like eating.  When we try changing with a short term fix, like going on a diet, it usually doesn’t stick.  And cycling to work is going to be the same way.  The idea is to make it a habit that becomes integral to your routine.  We can celebrate cycling everyday!  Bike to church.  Bike to the store.  Bike to open space.

The amazing thing about cycle commuting is how much you accomplish outside of the trip itself.  First of all, cycling energize our lives.  We arrive to work fresh, and if the weather was bad outside, actually relieved to be at our desk.  Free shelter!  Many employers reward cycle commuters with health bonuses, and you become an example for your colleagues.  You boost morale and your enthusiasm is contagious.  People are proud to work with you!  And when you arrive home, you’re already refreshed and replenished with a happy and clear mind.

As a student of cycling, the bike commute is a masters course.  It gets us on the bike twice a day.  The preparation it takes commands concentration and mindfulness.  And we get to practice our cycling skills without having to carve away free time.  There’s an interview with our national hill climbing champion, Leroy Popowski, on the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado.  They ask him what he does to get fit, and he responds that most of his training is riding to and from work with a backpack.  He’s not kidding.  You can look him up on Strava.  Same route twice a day.  That’s ten rides a week.  Of course, then he goes off on the weekends and does more exploring.  But the bike commute is the core for a joyful cycling life.  I hope you seize the chance to begin this May!

Resources:
Find out more at Albuquerque’s member-driven volunteer-run not-for-profit, BikeABQ:
http://www.bikeabq.org
Check out Santa Fe, New Mexico’s bike to work day events:  https://www.biketoworksantafe.com
The League of American Cyclists bike to work month page: http://bikeleague.org/bikemonth

Travels in Japan

Japan has a well-tempered travel culture, thank goodness, because tourism is soaring.  Travel elicits curiosity and wonder, and emphasizes our mutual interdependence.  If we can treat everyone equally in public travel spaces, and honor each person’s value and dignity, we are on our way to a better quality of life and facilitating stronger global citizenship.  Japan has a good blueprint for treating everyone like we deserve to be treated, like we’re one big human family.

Osaka has amazing shopping districts, with streets made for walking

Kagoshima in Kyushu has bike share and street greening initiatives

Japan’s traffic system is one of the safer systems in the world.  The photo below shows a few reasons why.  The intersection has huge crosswalks, and the stop bar on the street lane is way behind the crosswalk.  This creates space for pedestrians.  There is no left turn on red in Japan (the U.S.A.’s equivalent of right turn on red), and that reduces possibility for conflict and eases pressure on people walking.  The sight lines at this intersection are open, too, so there is good visibility for all users.  The light gives a pedestrian signal automatically, so no one has to push a button.  The speed limits are also very low (30-40 kph, or 18-25 mph) to increase safety for all.

the van in this photo is a driving school van. Driver training is very intensive in Japan!

Safe streets and lots of good transportation choices makes it easy to relax and access all the good amenities a given place has to offer.  In the the shopping district in Komyoike, where Mai’s parents live, we encountered this country western line dancing gig.  It was cool, upbeat, friendly.

I really love the contrasts and continuity in Japan between historical and present culture.  We went to an Ikebana (art of flower arranging) exhibition in downtown Osaka, and saw this shrine on a rooftop pictured in the photo above.  The photo below is of Osaka’s famous walking mall.

In Japan people are walking everywhere so you get used to it.  Crosswalks, like the one below in Komyoike, are clearly marked and signed.  And the neighborhoods in the newer suburbs have dedicated pathways, mostly off street, to connect to markets, work, parks, schools, and transit.

It’s not all about infrastructure for sure.  Many towns and streets were laid out and built a long time ago, and the car was introduced later.  This is where manners and respect is even more important.  The street pictured below is definitely a “yield street”.  I bicycled this street several times.  There is a transit stop on the left.    People get off the bus and walk on the street.  Bicycles and cars yield to pedestrians and share the road.  There are also other hazards you can see, like open drainage and telephone poles on the side of the road.  These close quarters cultivate cautious users and a culture of sharing!  Courtesy, respect and skills guard our dignity.  Japanese cars and smaller, and pedestrian safety measures are designed into the vehicle.

I experienced travel in Japan from many perspectives, by foot, bicycle, train, plane, automobile, bus, subway.  They were all valuable experiences.  Cycling was a special joy.  The vending machines in Japan are so well positioned, just where I needed them on excursions.  Some machines offer an hot espresso drink, hot or cold, at the base of a long mountain climb.  Thoughtful touches for travelers in Japan make it welcoming, rewarding and inspiring!

Why Cycle? Because it works!

Cycling in Japan is more about getting the groceries than getting fit.  –Byron Kidd, tokyobybike.com

Anytime we travel or do something out of the ordinary, it gives us a special perspective on our daily lives.  That was certainly the case when I traveled to Japan.  A few things dawned on me that are working in Japan to create a robust walking and cycling culture.  It’s not perfect, but I learned a lot there.  Here are ten reasons why walking and cycling are thriving in Japan.

1. Everyone walks and cycles.  It is a daily necessity, and expected.  It’s the way people go shopping, and to work and school.  It’s the way people access open space, get fresh air, exercise, and spend time outside together.  Walking and cycling are routine, everyday habits.  Errands and exercise flow together.

Seniors ride their bikes to Thai Chi practice in the park

2. Automobile drivers are disciplined, careful and attentive.  Drivers expect to see people on streets and crossing at intersections, and are prepared to yield to slower traffic ahead and when turning.   Drivers reliably use blinkers to communicate intentions.  Driver education and training is extensive and the responsibility of driving is taken seriously and respected.

3. Communities are planned as villages, and are oriented around train stations.  Businesses cluster around the train station, creating a village center.  People live within a short walk or bike from the village center and walking and cycling are the easiest, cheapest, most convenient way of getting to where you want to go, and the best way to access shopping and services.

4. Japan’s train system is awesome.  You really don’t need a car because it makes more sense to take the train.  Trains are accurate, frequent, fast, smooth and safe.  Quality transit makes good community planning a lot easier, and is a building block for healthy, efficient and sustainable transportation.  You have freedom to read, relax, talk or meditate on the train.

5.  Japan has the lowest car usage rate of any of the G8 countries.  This means roads are smaller.  Smaller roads necessitate lower speeds.  Lower speeds for cars means calmer streets for walking, cycling.  Reduced speed differentials increases safety and comfort.  Smaller roads are easier to cross, cycle on, and navigate, and do business along, and it feels like healthier human habitat.

6. Compact, dense development makes destinations closer.  Japan is more careful about space efficiency because space is precious.  With denser building, more destinations are within easy reach by walking and cycling.  Compact, dense development makes walking and cycling very useful, as well as super interesting.  Cars are designed to be space efficient, as well, and the nimbleness of walking and cycling is prized.

7. Japan has a great cycling culture naturally.  From school children to elderly, business people to homemakers, everybody cycles.  It’s just normal.  People cycle in their day clothes, and functional athletic gear, too.  Whatever is fitting.  Towns and businesses serve cyclists by making parking convenient and easy because it makes rational sense and people use bikes for everything.

8.  People walk everywhere, and people are used to sharing space.  Cycling benefits from a strong walking culture.  It means drivers are accustomed to the presence of people on the streets, are on the lookout, and patient to share.  Walking is the foundation of the transportation system in Japan, and it anchors the streets in a culture of sharing.  People have priority.

9. Safety and security is high.  Bicycles are usually parked with a simple lock immobilizing the rear tire.  Streets are family space, and feel inhabited.  Public spaces are clean, organized, cared for and well-tended.  The architecture, design and the way things fit together is beautiful.  There is a strong sense of social responsibility, order, respect and dignity in Japan.  It feels neat and safe.

10.  Walking and cycling is easy, convenient, and effective.  The Japanese take advantage of the most basic forms of transportation by using them as organizing principles and practical tools for daily living, including making people healthier, happier and connected to the community where they live.

Cycling Japan lights my fire

“Touch is the greatest thing on earth. “ –Ray Charles

After five trips to Japan with Mai, on my sixth trip I finally cycled there.  It made all the difference.  This time I was determined to take time for cycling.  I rented a bike on two different occasions, and cycled about 460 kilometers.  Cycling put me in touch with a lot of things.  Here are a few photos and a sketch of my cycling experiences.  I’ll add more detail in my next posts.

My first ride in Japan was in Kagoshima with Mai.  We took a ferry across the bay to Sakurajima, an active volcano.  Mai rented a bike there and we pedaled together on a combination of paved paths, village and farm roads, and highways.  What a beautiful way to experience Japan.  The next day Mai connected me with a local professional cyclist through the bicycle shop I rented from, Fun Ride in Kagoshima, and he led me on a ride through the city and out into the hills.

The vistas from the hills above Kagoshima looking out onto the city, bay and Sakurajima were mesmerizing.  Japan is over 70% mountains, and has more land covered by forest than any countries other than Sweden and Finland.  So once you get out of town, the landscape is rural and a complete contrast to the busy cities.  There are many small farms, and nature abounds.

After two days of cycling in Kagoshima, we took the Shinkansen (high-speed rail) back to Osaka where Mai’s parents live.  I rented a bicycle there, and ventured into the mountains straddling the border between Osaka and Wakayama, Mount Izumi Katsuragi, in the Kongo Range.

I was delighted by the back roads.  There are so many byways from the foothills up the mountains that are only a lane or a lane in a half wide.  There is hardly any motorized traffic on them so it seems more like a mountain bike ride.  Very peaceful, quiet and enchanting.  There are roads like this in California such as Ebbetts Pass (though it has more traffic) but Japan has an incredible network of them.   I had some knowledge of these roads based on what I’d seen on maps and Google Earth, but cycling them gave me an entirely new understanding.

The access to the mountains from Osaka is pretty amazing.   Since it was the start of Spring, blooms were beginning and farmers were busy working their fields.  Schools were on break.  It was a great time to be cycling, and I can’t wait to go back and explore more.  Arigato Japan!

Walking the land and thriving

That which we are, we shall teach.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

tent-rocks-expansive

For President’s Day, Mai and I headed north towards Santa Fe.  Before ascending La Bajada we veered west and crossed the Río Grande.  Nestled against the Jemez Mountains, there’s an unlikely place where volcanic pumice, tuff and ash cliffs have eroded into conical forms. This place is called Kasha-Katuwe, meaning “white cliffs” in the Keresan language of the Pueblo de Cochiti.  It’s also called Tent Rocks.  We took a hike there, and walked into surprising beauty.


this song by Gil and Cartas reminds me of walking in beauty

tent-rocks-climbing-the-canyon

It felt so good to get out of the car and walk into the fresh air.  Our legs reached for the land like a tree grows to light.  The trail begins at the base of the white cliffs.  We walked through juniper and piñon forest.  Then we entered a canyon, which narrows down to a slot several stories high and barely wide enough to walk through.  The trail curves around rock, its way carved by water.  It seems an improbable passage but it leads out into open higher ground.

tent-rocks-emerging-from-canyon

tent-rocks-perspective-from-slot

Unexpectedly we found ourselves at eye level with the tops of the “tent rocks”.  The last steep pitch delivered us to the plateau above the tent rocks and awesome views of the Southwest’s grandeur and splendor.  We gazed at mountains all around, the Sandia Crest above Albuquerque, the Sangre de Cristo above Santa Fe, and volcanic peaks of the Jemez Mountains.

tent-rocks-hello

tent-rocks-overview-with-cochiti-kids-climbing

At the top we sat on a rock and drank water.  A group of school kids climbed up the trail just behind us, and their teacher sat on a rock next to us.  The class was from the Cochiti Pueblo.  The kids had the day off from school.  They were wearing shirts with a slogan about being healthy and fit.  Their teacher said activities like this were helping the kids realize their powers to live a healthy life.  The kids were catching the wind, smiling, enjoying the day.  An experience like this walk helps us get acquainted with ourselves and the living land community first hand.  As humans we are constituted to walk.  It fills us with insight.  We inhabit the heart of nature.    When we joyfully obey this enthusiasm, we find ourselves in new country, walking into health.

tent-rocks-sandia-in-view

Sharing the air and voting with legs

Equality is in the air we breathe. –Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again”

Life’s greatest satisfaction is staying in good health. –Warren Buffett on Charlie Rose

the-mountains

I remember walking into the classroom at commercial driving school at age 21 and gagging on the heavy stench of diesel fumes wafting through the building.  The classroom was next to the yard where old flat-faced Mack trucks with over a million miles were jockeying 48 foot long trailers, dark foggy plumes rolling out of their vertical chrome exhaust stacks.  For three months I would know that smell.  When I graduated and hired on to Cannon Express, they issued a company truck to me.  I drove it across the country hauling loads for companies like WalMart and looking for parking spaces at night that were upwind from the rest of the idling trucks and vapor-letting fuel pumps.  The smell of engine exhaust and fuel vapors remind some people of work, but for me I thought of cancer, asthma, and diminished health.  I tried to avoid it as much as possible, but it is impossible to avoid completely, even for those that don’t work as drivers.  I won fuel awards for high average miles per gallon in my company truck because I refused to idle it at night like the other drivers did for heat or air conditioning.  I preferred clean and quiet.

bike

My love for driving and the road is mostly funneled through cycling now.  But I still get exposed to all kinds of fumes.  We all do.  There was an interesting article in The Guardian yesterday that tried to determine how bad air quality would have to be to negate the health benefits one creates from the physical activities of cycling and walking.  The answer is it has to be pretty bad but in some cities around the world–particularly in India, China and the Middle East–the air has passed that tipping point.  Bad air exacerbates the problem by suppressing healthier transport choices, unjustly impacting active and thrifty people.  The Guardian cites a study in Preventative Medicine: “Since transport is an important source of air pollution in urban areas, mode shifts from motorized transport to active travel would not only improve health in active travelers, but also help to reduce air pollution exposures for the whole population.”

la-luz-light

In America with the Clean Air Act of 1970 and increasing fuel efficiency standards for motorized vehicles, we are improving the air quality in most of our cities.  This is an area where there is a great opportunity to lead, as a country and as individuals.  We can make better protections,  incentivize and make healthy choices.  Vote with your legs if you can.  Be a leader, cycle onward!

The most important political office is that of private citizen. –Louis Brandeis

If your stomach is sound, your lungs and feet in good order, you need no regal riches to make you happy. –Horace

Resources:

The Guardian’s article on cycling and air quality: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/feb/13/tipping-point-cities-exercise-more-harm-than-good

“Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?”  in Preventative Medicine
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743516000402

New York Times article on increasing efficiency and reducing pollution of large vehicles:

Happiness on a Bicycle

She put down in writing what was in her mind.  –Bob Dylan, “Not Dark Yet”

You’re always a kid on a bike.  –Heather Sellers, “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal”

white-sands-flow

My sister sent me a subscription to Sun Magazine for Christmas 2016.  The first issue contains Heather Sellers’ short story on her cycling life.  I am pretty amazed at how Sellers’ writing evokes perceptions and feelings one may experience while cycling.  If you want to read Sellers’ story directly, here is the link to Sun Magazine January 2017 Issue 493.  It’s an amazing story.  A story full of truth about what cycling can do.  As Barry Lopez wrote, “Story creates an atmosphere in which [truth] becomes discernible as a pattern” (Crossing Open Ground, 1989).  I fit my photos from White Sands this past September–when Mai and I walked the soft sand dunes at twilight watching the sunlight splash and play on the landscape–to this blog post.

white-sands-floating-castle

Albuquerque’s official visitors guide for 2016, published by the Convention and Visitors Bureau, has catchy slogans–change your perspective and find your essence.  New Mexico’s landscape and culture can do that for you, exponentially so if you experience it on a bike.  “On a bike the world seems made just for you”, says Sellers.  She goes on to say, “Somehow it was the landscape…that made me feel smarter.”  Cycling opens up our capacity for wonder again, and allows us to receive the information about place through our senses.  Cycling makes it easier to let the place we inhabit touch us, in a reciprocal, healthy, even healing way.  By opening up and giving ourselves up to the experience of place, we receive knowledge that is otherwise elusive.

white-sands-night-awakening

When we cycle we have a much more intimate view of our surroundings.  With a careful operator, the bicycle moves in a way that is relatively unobtrusive.  It just flows, “each moment unfurling into the next”, as Sellers puts it.   “The tires carry on a conversation with the road, and you are both a part of it and listening to it all at once”.  Cycling teaches us how to get along.

mai-walking-at-sunset

Sellers addresses the social dimension of cycling.  Group riding made her feel “like we were doing ballet on a roadway.”  She talks about the “exquisite timing” of group riding and how that makes her “more at ease with people on land”.  People on land?  Sellers uses a trope making cycling a metaphor for flying, evoking our ancient kinship with the animal kingdom.  We need to feel that sense of wonder and awe.  Cycling stokes our vital forces.  Wakes us up.  Connects us.

white-sands-dune-glow

As well as improving the way we get along with others, cycling makes us feel more like ourselves.  Sellers’ writes, “When I was on my bike, I could not only envision a happy, outgoing future self; I was her.”  That experience of being happy, present, and connected is powerful.

Resources:  Once again, here’s the link to Sellers’ article.  “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal.”