Category Archives: sustainable development

Waterworks in Albuquerque

If I had sought counseling, I might have become a more mature, emotionally well-adjusted human being.  But I preferred becoming a writer.  —Viet Thanh Nguyen, “Don’t Call Me a Genius”, New York Times, April 14, 2018

I read a Robert Frost poem this morning, and it reminded me of my bicycle rides in Albuquerque.  The North Diversion Channel multi-use trail is a main cycling connection across town.  It runs along a big concrete ditch that’s been engineered to control the water shed from the Sandia Mountains.   Sometimes I close my eyes and try to imagine what this landscape looked like before we built up this city.  Water, which is often used by poets as a metaphor for memory and justice, is a primary shaping force in the landscape.  Water has a voice.

The situation, now and in the past, is that the minority and marginalized communities of this or any other country are often not voiceless.  They’re simply not heard.  –Viet Thanh Nguyen, NYTimes

On Saturday’s ride I made a point to stop by the Mill Pond Refuge at the Sawmill Community Land Trust.  Keshet, a local dance company, performed a water dance there at 2pm.  It was part of the 3rd biannual National Water Dance, where communities renew their connections to the life giving world of water.  In the arid Southwest, during this drought, it was especially poignant.  The Sawmill location represents our community’s changing relationship with water.  Below is the poem from Robert Frost, and then a few photos from the Water Dance that I saw Saturday.

A Brook in the City, by Robert Frost

The farmhouse lingers, though averse to square
With the new city street it has to wear
A number in.  But what about the brook
That held the house as in an elbow-crook?
I ask as one who knew the brook, its strength
And impulse, having dipped a finger length
And made it leap my knuckle, having tossed
A flower to try its currents where they crossed.
The meadow grass could be cemented down
From growing under pavements of a town;
The apple trees be sent to hearthstone flame.
Is water wood to serve a brook the same?
How else dispose of an immortal force
No longer needed? Staunch it at its source
With cinder loads dumped down? The brook was thrown
Deep in a sewer dungeon under stone
In fetid darkness still to live and run–
And all for nothing it had ever done,
Except forget to go in fear perhaps.
No one would know except for ancient maps
That such a brook ran water.  But I wonder
If from its being kept forever under,
The thoughts may not have risen that so keep
This new-built city from both work and sleep.
–1923

References:

http://keshetarts.org  “Founded in 1996, Keshet is an Albuquerque-based nonprofit which exists to inspire and unite community by fostering unlimited possibilities through dance, mentorship and a creative space for the arts. Uniting the arts, the artist and the audience, Keshet invites you to engage, experience and be inspired through bold explorations of movement and celebrations of community.”

Keshet’s Water Dance:  http://keshetarts.org/join-national-water-dance-2018_dancing-for-water-in-nm/

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Cycling and walking to get our bearings

Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.  Connection is health.  And what our society does its best to disguise from us is how ordinary, how commonly attainable, health is.  We lose our health–and create profitable diseases and dependences–by failing to see the direct connections between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving.  –Wendell Berry, “The Unsettling of America:  Culture and Agriculture”, 1977, Sierra Club Books

If I can bicycle there, then I can live there.  This was the mantra I came up with after my visit to Japan last year.  It was my sixth time in Japan, but the first time I bicycled.  What a difference it makes!  I felt at home on my bicycle.  Cycling has been an essential way for me to get my bearings in places since I took it up in earnest over twenty years ago.  But feeling at home in Japan was different since it had felt so foreign.  Cycling is an activity that creates connections.

Wes Jackson of the Land Institute said Wendell Berry’s book on culture and agriculture “launched the modern movement for sustainable agriculture”.  The cycling and walking movements today are doing the same thing for sustainable transportation.  There is tremendous enthusiasm in the cycling and walking communities.  We need to support that by setting up our cities and villages, and the roads connecting them together, to encourage walking and cycling.  This is what I call structural encouragement.

Structural encouragement means that we design for those travel modes.  It would naturally occur to people that we are not only welcome to bicycle and walk, but it is part of the shared experience of living in the places we make our homes.  The infrastructure we design connects people to our own capacity and powers for creating movement.  It makes a woven world.

Human movement is the most fundamental form of human action.  That is why we call “movements”–such as civil rights, women’s marches, conservation efforts–movements.  When we march together, it symbolized the power of collective community action.  We let our legs do the talking.  It is the language that preceded language.  An invisible thread connecting us.

Cycling and walking are not only a ways of moving forward, they are ways of living in place.  They allow us to tune in more to what is going on with our bodies, and the places we live in.  It is a way of paying attention.  Designing transportation systems that facilitate human powered transportation (clean, renewable, healthy, sustainable, fun human movement!) is a direct solution that creates benefits now, and future dividends.  It’s a transformative economic idea, one worth investing in.  Check out the nonprofit I founded to learn more how we can accomplish this change together and how you can help.  https://bikeinitiative.org

Man is made of the same atoms the world is, he shares the same impressions, predispositions, and destiny.  When his mind is illuminated, when his heart is kind, he throws himself joyfully into the sublime order, and does, with knowledge, what the stones do by structure.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Worship” from the “Conduct of Life”.

Blog posts on my Japan trip 2017:

https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/cycling-japan-lights-my-fire/
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/travels-in-japan/

Year of the Bird

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

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I awoke before dawn in our tent listening to the music of the birds.  Owls were hooting in the dark, and coyotes yipped and howled.  The cranes roosting in the playa waters were noisy most of night. I bundled up and opened the tent flap.  It was freezing outside.  Stars were shining across the sky and a faint band of white light was glowing on the eastern horizon.  I lit the stove and heated water.  I looked around.  The backbone of the milky way arched overhead, the dark shapes of the mountains skylighted by dawn.  I poured the water over the coffee, cradled the cup, and sipped.  It was a great day for birding at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in Arizona.

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Whitewater Draw is a playa and wetlands in the Sulphur Springs Valley.  It was purchased by Arizona in 1997 to provide habitat for the cranes and other wildlife.  The cranes like to rest in the shallow waters at night, protected from bobcats and coyotes.  They fly out every morning to feed in the fields on bits of grain and corn that were left over from harvest season.

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Whitewater Draw has camping, which makes it easy to be out at the edges of the day when the birds are flying in and out.  Every morning and evening we walked on the pathways and decks with views of the playa.  At nighttime the stars reflected in the calm waters.  We met some great people.  One retired couple joked they had run away from their home in Alabama, and were taking their sweet time exploring the Southwest U.S.  Their plan was to not have a plan, just explore.  Another couple was younger and were taking a year off to travel.  Conversation flowed cheerily as we watched the birds glide, overlooking the watery playa and expansive valley and mountains beyond.  The small crowd of people Whitewater attracts is friendly and easy going.  Everyone was attuned to the language of the landscape, the beauty of the surroundings.

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I came home with questions to research.  I was excited to learn that 2018 is being celebrated as “the year of the bird” by the National Audubon Society, National Geographic, BirdLife International, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  It’s the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has played a critical role in conservation of biodiversity.  The Sulphur Springs Valley is a good example of balancing human activities such as agriculture and conservation, and ecological stewardship, partnerships made to last.  It was good to see these birds considered, admired, and cared for.  I certainly learned a lot from them while I was there.

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If you take care of birds, you take care of most of the environmental problems in the world.  –Thomas Lovejoy, Biologist and Godfather of Biodiversity

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Resources and Credits (and cycling info.):
Thank you Mai at Sansai Studio for these wonderful photographs!  You can check out more of Mai’s work at her Instagram site:  https://sansai.photoshelter.com/instagram

The Whitewater Draw live, streaming crane cam!  https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/viewing/webcamlist/sandhillcrane/cranecam/

The Year of the Bird website:  https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/year-of-the-bird/

We brought our bicycles with us.  What a way to experience the landscape! I plan on blogging about the riding there, but for now, here are maps, data, and pics from those rides, via Strava.
https://www.strava.com/activities/1353895700
https://www.strava.com/activities/1352328961

The beautiful necessity of cycling

…human inventions are magical in that they give life to what heretofore had no existence. Our good working ideas have the capacity to direct our lives in a manner indistinguishable from any other reality.  —Cormac McCarthy, “Cormac McCarthy Returns to the Kekulé Problem” in Nautilus

The invention of cycling is a remarkable achievement.  Along with walking, cycling epitomizes sustainable transportation.  Human beings are designed to move under our own power. Walking is the most basic transportation.  A bicycle is the most basic vehicle.  By designing our cities and streets around the concept of serving walking and cycling well, we improve all types of human mobility. It is the long-term solution to our current transportation challenges.

This song by Rush, Subdivisions, reminds me of the world I grew up in.  It sometimes felt alien, partitioned, and anonymous spending so much time in automobiles.  A new degree of culture is emerging that commands our respect for the inalienable freedoms of human movement.  The culture that embraces an array of transportation opportunities dramatically improves our travel safety, and revs up our lives and economy.  Multimodal transportation–serving all travel modes–is the new helm.  This framework brings health, sustainability, and builds community.  It’s a saner world, one where we are not incessantly rushing, but spending time doing things that truly bring us joy, and listening more to what our bodies have to tell us.

An article in The Guardian today mentions “vehicles are now America’s biggest CO2 source”.  It discusses reducing emissions and improving efficiency, but not increasing walking and cycling.  It’s not an either/or proposition, it is about viewing walking and cycling as priorities, absolute necessities, basic public goods.  Without serving those choices, we are left with a conundrum.  We’ve learned structuring cities and streets around cars reduces choices.  Walking and cycling make healthier, happier people, and better places.  They’re good choices.  Everyone yearns for health, happiness and freedom.  Elevating the idea that streets are for people makes many transportation problems disappear, and creates a system that matches our human potential.

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We need to get more people experiencing cycling to open minds.  It is a key technology for sustainable development.  Cycling aligns with the beautiful necessity of our human nature.  We are an animal designed to move with our legs.  The bicycle unites that reality with an ingenious tool.  Cycling is magical, like having wings or discovering new superpowers.  It changes the way we experience and perceive the world. Cycling joins the power of wheeled locomotion with the sensitivities and keen pleasures of being human.  By designing our streets to serve walking and cycling first, we’ll give rise to a new form of built-environment that connects us through our activities and makes our spirits soar higher.  Once we obey the concept of designing cities for wellness, our culture can expand in new directions, giving our dreams real leg power.

Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu

明けましておめでとうございます

Happy New Year!

Front-country ethics, or, blue-collar cycling

Cycling definitely fits the mold of a blue collar job.  You start fresh and clean heading out of the house, and you come home covered in dirt, salt and sweat.  You have the weather that can turn on you at any time.—Kirsti Lay, Rally Cycling, quoted from the video at the end of this post

You are more hyperaware of your surroundings when you ride.  –Kelly Catlin, Rally Cycling

As a student of the bike, cycling always instructs me.  One of the joys of cycling is simply getting outside.  I’m stationary inside much of the day, so cycling gives me a chance to roam.

Since almost all of the riding I do is from home and work, I spend most of my cycling time in and around the city. The city is important to human living!  We hear a lot about backcountry ethics and caring for remote environments, but surely our city habitat is equally important.  We spend most of our time in cities, and this is where we learn how to interact with nature.

Cycling has many benefits for healthier cities.  Cycling makes for friendlier, more humane cities.  And it keeps us in touch with what is going on where we live.  Cycling is a way to create happy experiences in everyday life, and stay healthy, positive, and strong.  It helps individuals and communities build resiliency, and develop a caring relationship for the places we live in.

Cycling is good news, and Albuquerque and all Southwestern cities (all cities, everywhere) can increase cycling rates by investing in it.  Cycling makes us active daily participants in a healthy city.  When we cycle, we become connectors and reflectors of all the healthy aspects of our home environment, the greenery, the great food, traditional heritage, atmospherics, and social community.  Cycling exercises our civility muscles, and creates lifestyles and places that bring happiness.  Cycling is a tool that gives us the ability to work for true wealth.  A way to help us locate our better, authentic selves.

For more on the cycling outlook, check out the video from Rally Cycling, “Working Outside”–

References:
Visit Rally Cycling’s website:  https://rallycycling.com

Family cycling, an outdoor adventure

Visit Utah released this promotional video of a family touring the US Bicycle Route System across Utah.  Loving the concept of experiencing the Southwest in this way.  Cycling gets people that authentic experience we are craving, and is central for developing sustainable tourism.

Resources:
Read the companion article on Visit Utah:
https://www.visitutah.com/articles/utah-at-15-mph/

Find out more on the US Bicycle Route System from Adventure Cycling:
https://www.adventurecycling.org/routes-and-maps/us-bicycle-route-system/

Read about our 25 scenic byways in New Mexico:
https://www.newmexico.org/things-to-do/scenic-byways/

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!