Category Archives: multimodal outlook

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

Advertisements

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 are 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.

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:

Declaration of Interdependence, or, A Beautiful Arrangement

“…the way of the road was the rule for all upon it.”  –Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing
“…cities with a high bicycling rate among the population generally show a much lower risk of fatal crashes for all road users…”  —Marshall & Garrick, Environmental Practice 13:16–27 (2011)

Americans spend so much time on the road we deserve to feel at home there.  Safety for road users is one of the most important indicators for our pursuits of the American dream.  Whether we are driving truck, pedaling a bicycle, pushing a baby stroller, or rolling a wheelchair, sharing our streets is an elemental part of what makes America good.  Streets are a celebration of our public life, and what we see and do there, whether we feel safe and included, speaks to us.

crest-switchback-on-the-edge

We are witnessing an ongoing tragedy on our roads.   Every month on America’s roads we lose more lives than we did in 9/11.  Most of them are persons traveling in automobiles.  None of us are invulnerable.  “We know all this and act as if we don’t” (Tom Vanderbilt, Traffic, p. 275).  The illusion of invulnerability walls off our sensitivities.  If we pay attention to the human vulnerabilities in all of us, we realize something like a Declaration of Interdependence aptly describes the nature of public safety on our roads.  The streets won’t feel safe for any of us until they are functioning safely for all users.   Recognizing this interdependence is key.

placitas-horse-gang

Every human being deserves a safe home, a safe workplace, safe schools, a safe neighborhood and a safe road to travel on in between. Every road is like a bridge from one part of our life to another.  And sometimes the simple act of being on the move is the absolute best place to be in a given moment, feeling wonderfully free.  Safe roads are an essential part of freedom, and we’ll do well securing more mobility freedom for our children, grandchildren, and on down the road toward the infinite horizon for the multitude of generations to come.  Exercising a more responsible freedom on the road helps us reach towards a better vision of the world where people are protected, and expands opportunities to pursue our interests and live our dreams.

placitas-friend-good-friend

From Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan’s song Masters of War

You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world

We as a people can address actions that instill fear to travel with children on our public roads.  Speak kindly with caring thought and sincerity.  We deserve to be safe.  “This land was made for you and me.”  (Woody Guthrie, This Land is Your Land) .  Begin with peace here.  We are worthy.

Old Town Farm's fresh, local flowers make for a beautiful arrangement by Sansai Studios

Old Town Farm’s fresh, local flowers make for a beautiful arrangement by Sansai Studios

Resources:
Check out my blog post “The Quiet Catastrophe” on Edward Hume’s book Door to Door.
In Learning from Trails I look at our expectations for cooperative use of shared public spaces.
In Ride 2 Recovery I explore roads as a place for healing, particularly for wounded warriors.

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

Change Leadership in Comprehensive Planning

I attended the transportation focus group last Friday, which is part of the Comprehensive Plan update process.  The community conversation is happening at a pretty high level.  But to create the kind of changes we need, the work has just begun.  A few quotes came to mind.

“The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”— Albert Einstein

Sunset April 14 at Grant Park

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”  — Mark Twain

Seven story pagoda

‘Learn all you can about where you are.  Make common cause with place.  Resolve to work with it for a long time…to make a living is to have enough.’ –Wendell Berry interviewed by Bill Moyers

Albuquerque nights

The photos are from recent sunsets in Albuquerque from Grant Park, right near where I live.  Here’s the Wendell Berry interview with Bill Moyers.  Wendell’s an innovative thinker about people and place, and wrote a book on sustainable agriculture, the Unsettling of America.