Category Archives: planning

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

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.

Vitamin N for Resiliency

“And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.” –Hart Crane, To Brooklyn Bridge

One of the nice things about nature is it does not judge, it just is.  It’s always accepting.  No wonder I’ve heard so many friends share their experiences retreating into beloved landscapes.   When we immerse ourselves in a rich landscape and leave behind our tightly spun agendas, we are easily rejuvenated with a tranquil sense of unity, enfolded by the land.  It gets in our blood.

fiery-sunset-last-pic

For Veterans Day Mai and I traveled to the Bosque del Apache.  I cycled the first 60 miles where the high plains meet the Manzano mountains on NM 337 (aka South 14) and NM 55.  We met in Mountainair then hiked around Gran Quivara, a pueblo and Spanish ruin, before heading onward to see the Cranes and all wildlife at the Bosque.  It was a long, slow, inkening twilight.

bosque-blues

we-are-not-alone

bosque-slow-sunset

You can make out a few birds in these photos, but my cell phone camera is no match for the vivacious display of avian life there.  Other visitors, however, had ample equipment to capture the show.  There used to be Whooping Cranes, I’m told, at Bosque, but mostly Sandhills now.

lights-down-cameras-up-action

muddy-shore

All the divisions in my mind, different disciplines, schools of thought, melted away with the press of the fiery Southwestern sun, raying across the abyss.  One web of life on this clear blue planet, on the shores of an infinite unknown.  This humble sense of belonging is comfort.

shoulder

bright-waters-glow

bosque-inkening

When ecologists and planners unite, we come closer to making a human universe appropriate and fitting to the greater ecosystems we depend on.  There’s a conference in May blending transportation planning and design with ecological perspectives.  The promo video linked below includes awesome footage of wildlife crossings.  Also check out Wouldn’t it be better if planners and ecologists talked to each more? from the Nature of Cities series.  By some estimates 60% of our cities have yet to be built.  It is probably a good idea from all perspectives–strategic investment, risk management, business forecasting, basic livability–to work with the ecosystem inheritance and mimic the functions to create a greater symbiosis with our works and nature.  Then our cities may sustain longer as living places, as we dream deeper into nature.

Resources:
Check out the EcoTransportation conference here:
http://www.icoet.net/ICOET_2017/abstracts.asp
You can subscribe to the Nature of Cities for free.  http://www.thenatureofcities.com/
Richard Louv, John Jarvis, and Robert Zarr discuss the importance of kids In nature on the Diane Rehm Show .  Louv coined “Vitamin N”.  “Kids love to explore.”  Dr. Zarr says nature heals.
check out The Every Kid in a Park initiative by NPS, connecting youth with nature.

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.

Pedaler in Chief

“Bicycles will save the world.”  –Susan Handy, UC Davis Environmental Science & Policy

How poignant this Rush song is today.  It was written in 1985 when greed was being institutionalized in America.  I grew up a confused child in a troubled world.

After high school I worked as a roofer.  I started college.  At 21, I drove an 18 wheeler around America the beautiful, and epic Canada too.  But it was the bicycle–rediscovered at the age of 22 when I realized the car could not save me and was too expensive for me to operate anymore–that changed me.  It was a tool that helped me learn Emerson’s Self-Reliance from the inside by living it.  It’s not easy, and I don’t know where this journey is taking me, but it is a fun ride.

mais-scene

What if our next President charged the country with cycling more?  Make a difference, bike more.  We don’t need everyone to ride, we simply need to support people that are out there cycling right now and encourage people that will.  Especially our youth, and young at heart.

If you’re feeling cynical during this election cycle I recommend cycling more.  It builds us up and connects us to the greater world.  I would also recommend voting.  We have to make our effort and let go of factors beyond our control.  We can only dictate our own effort.  And it works.

2012 was a pivotal moment on my cycling journey when Joe Shannon, Flagstaff Cycling’s Pedaler in Chief, gave me an opportunity to race again, build a team and smooth out my pedal stroke.  We keep growing the movement and spreading the word.  What if the next President of the U.S.A. embraced this new title, Pedaler in Chief, and built a team with all Americans and World Leaders?   Who knows, maybe big money can help more too.  Let’s ask.

References–
Check out Dr. Handy’s research here:  http://www.des.ucdavis.edu/faculty/handy/
Joe’s team is linked here–
https://flagstaffcycling.squarespace.com/
Cycling joins together disciplines:  UC Davis’s Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior

Points of Light

mai-walking

Mai and I made our annual pilgrimage to the towering trees at Aspen Vista above Santa Fe.  The cyclical chemistry of life comes to the forefront as leaves drop down, their fiery glory fading to a golden luminescence.  A sense of renewal drifts in the air as petals fold slowly into the soil.

santa-fe-aspens

santa-fe-colors

A cross section of the community walked the trail, beholding this symphony of color.  Envoys of beauty, these aspen groves, at once crooked and upright.  Imagine them at night like hands and spindly fingers reaching up from the earth towards the night sky’s starry points of light sprent across the universe.  A map seen by cultures everywhere continuous from ancient times.

santa-fe-forever

santa-fe-light

santa-fe-veil-of-light

Walking in aspen forests during Fall is special, but we don’t have to save walking for seasonal occasions.  Practical and social walking integrates exercise into our everyday routines so we get that essential, natural movement that renews our bodies and nourishes our spirits.

santa-fe-see-through-colors

santa-fe-menagerie

Walking strengthens us.  America Walks recognizes this and is elevating the respect we have for walking in our communities.  Walking tends to be hard where we need it the most, in cities.  America Walks designs health-promoting environments attuned to human sensitivities.

santa-fe-break-down

santa-fe-tree-family

Walking, cycling and nature are pillars of an American renaissance.  They are key to understanding the land, urban environs and our common heritage.  Everything is inextricably interconnected.  America Walks is our organization of the month for October, 2016.

“The pedestrian is a social being: he is also a transportation unit, and a marvelously complex and efficient one…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 (1988)

Inspiration for Planning

“It is finally, I suppose, a question of which force proves the stronger: the demand for an efficient and expensive highway system designed primarily to serve the working economy of the country, or a new and happy concept of leisure with its own economic structure, its own art forms, and its own claim on a share of the highway. At present we are indifferent to this promise for our culture, and to the extinction which threatens it; is it not time that we included this new part of America in our concern?  It is true that we can no longer enter our towns and cities on avenues leading among meadows and lawns and trees, and that we often enter them instead through roadside slums.  But we can, if we choose, transform these approaches into avenues of gaiety and brilliance, as beautiful as any in the world; and it is not yet too late.”

–J.B. Jackson, Other-Directed Houses, writing from Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1956

atm-aster-city

biopark-glory

Resources–
The quote is from an essay in this work.  Landscape in Sight:  Looking at America
Another encouraging book edited by D.W. Meinig.  The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes
Thanks to University of Nevada, Reno, Geography for introducing me to these works.

The photos are from my cell phone as usual.  First photo is from a ride around the Sandia mountains, and the second from a walk through the ABQ Biopark.  Arigato.