If the movie “Wild” is half as good as the book…

Here’s the trailer for Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. The movie is the screen adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s marvelous book of the same name. Easily the best book of 2013, Wild should be amazing on film, particularly under the direction of Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyer’s Club). Cannot wait!

“The Gentleman From Finland” gets derailed

Source: goodreads.com

Source: goodreads.com

I really wanted to enjoy this book. The image of riding the Trans-Siberian Express across the width of the Soviet Union is a fascinating concept. Given how much I enjoyed Robert Goldstein’s more recent book, Riding with Reindeer, I figured this one would be loads of literary fun. It starts out that way, but in the last quarter of the book, it loses steam quickly and he gets caught up in too many dream sequences. It was almost like the author was not sure how to conclude the book, so he derailed the project instead. Don’t get me wrong, there are some quite enjoyable parts to The Gentleman From Finland, but in the end it falls flat leaving the reader wanting a more complete and descriptive travelogue and less tangential side tracks into the abstract.

Book review of “Pedaling Revolution”

en.wikipedia.org

en.wikipedia.org

I have just wrapped up reading the fine book, Pedaling Revolution, by author Jeff Mapes. The subtitle of How Cyclists are Changing American Cities best describes the premise of his book, as Mr. Mapes thoughtfully explores the promises and pitfalls cycling advocacy in America. As an avid cycling proponent myself, I can certainly relate to many of the issues he describes. Even though the book was published approximately five years ago, it is largely up to date on the state of affairs in cycling and presents an interesting history of cycling and the bike culture; cycling advocacy in Europe (Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and London); cycling advocacy efforts in the United States; as well as specific advocacy efforts in iconic cycling cities like Davis, Madison, Portland, New York City, Boulder, Eugene, and Chicago.

I greatly enjoyed reading Pedaling Revolution and it will certainly be an important part of my bicycling advocate library. Here are a few dandy quotes gleaned from the book for your enjoyment:

  • “…very little is said about the huge subsides received by motorists that far outweigh any freebies received by cyclists. The largest is free–or cheap—parking.” (page 19)
  • “For all the ire directed at urban cyclists, most people do have a fondness for bikes themselves.” (page 20)
  • “We were, it seems, the last generation of children who headed out into the neighborhood with no more guidance than to be home by dinner.” (page 31)
  • “…just as war is too important to be left to generals, so highways are too important to be left to highway engineers.” (page 48)
  • “…suburban sit-coms like ‘The Brady Bunch’ were replaced by shows like ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Friends,’ which celebrated city living.” (page 50)
  • “If you’re the kind of cyclist used to riding in American cities, it doesn’t take long for Amsterdam’s bike magic to wash over you. Here you feel like part of the majority, not an oddball.” ( page 63)
  • “Amsterdam had to be the quietest big city I’d ever visited.” ( page 76)
  • “Critical Mass is kind of an anarchical ride for all.” (page 104)
  • “One of the spiels I give is about slowing down. We think we have to cram our lives full, 24-7, but there’s something about giving yourself some extra time. I realized that nobody would think it remarkable if he went to a gym for forty-five minutes every morning and then rushed downtown in a car. Yet doing an eighteen-mile commute through suburbia is weird.” (page 113)
  • “Somehow, in Portland at least, bicyclists have become part of that great American melting pot.” (page 168)
  • “Sometimes we have to use cars, but that does not mean they have to dominate our lives. Instead it should be dominated by human interactions…” (page 179)
  • In America, we spend more on dental research than traffic safety research.” (page 208)

The last quote is quite shocking and should stand as a clear wake-up call that our priorities are bass ackwards.

  • “Unfortunately, walking to the far end of a shopping center is about as much exercise as too many people are getting in modern America, which seems to be on an extended “Super Size Me” experiment.” (page 229)
  • “She has decidely moved from the sedentary majority to the active minority.” (page 241)
  • “…sometimes I feel like the hardest part about using my bike to get around town is the comments I get from people who think I’m just plain weird for doing so.” (page 244)

Amen to that last quote, brother.

Two less cars!

0419141724aOne of my favorite bicycle advocacy catch phrases is “One less car!” In celebration of this worthy and sustainable effort, Kathy and I spent yesterday (Saturday) accomplishing all our errands on our bicycles. Between us, we totaled more than 27 miles of travel on our bicycles, riding to places like the florist, Kohl’s, the bank, my apartment, her house, Douglas J, the Trek store, and other businesses in the area.

Source: pioneerpress.com

Source: pioneerpress.com

All in all, it was a very rewarding experience that we intend to duplicate over and over again, thus removing our two cars from the local roadways on those days where we ride about town instead of driving. Combined with our regular bike commuting to/from work, we are hoping to eventually limit our car usage solely to longer trips, inclement weather (particularly in winter) or travel-related purposes.

Source: zazzle.com

Source: zazzle.com

Considering 50 percent of all trips are three miles or less in length, just imagine the positive impacts that could occur if each and every one of us dedicated just one day per week or one day per month to run all our errands by bicycle…or by transit…or by foot. Such an act would lower our individual and collective carbon footprint, improve our health, reduce congestion, demonstrate sustainability to others, and serve as a positive reminder that not all transportation must be done by the almighty automobile. Will you join us?

PROVOking the birth of bike sharing

Source: recoat.blogspot.com

Source: recoat.blogspot.com

Near the conclusion of his outstanding book, entitled In the City of Bikes; The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist, author Pete Jordan reveals an unknown [at least to me], yet significant part of bicycling history – the birth of the bike sharing movement. Referred to as the White Bicycles Plan and fostered/advocated by the spirited anarchist group PROVO, Amsterdam’s bike sharing program began as an act of civil disobedience against recently adopted policies which favored more cars on the city’s narrow streets.

PROVO’s goal was to place free and unlocked bicycles at various points across the center city so that anyone who wished to use one could. Initially, each bike would be donated and then painted white for visibility – painting them white also could be interpreted as a way to promote a people-powered product that is completely and humorously contrarian to the traditional black bicycle utilized throughout the Netherlands. Later, PROVO advocated that Amsterdam provide the necessary bikes, free of charge out of the city budget.

Source: quod.lib.umich.edu/s/sclnethic/x-sce00115/sce00115.tif

Source: quod.lib.umich.edu/s/sclnethic/x-sce00115/sce00115.tif

If the city’s police force had simply allowed the initial PROVO protests to take place unencumbered, the bike sharing movement may have germinated elsewhere, but they didn’t. As a result, history was made in Amsterdam. Here’s a brief chronology of the events as presented in Mr. Jordan’s book:

  • Tuesday, July 27, 1965 – Two members of PROVO are arrested while posting flyers promoting the following day’s event on a wall. (page 296)
  • Wednesday, July 28, 1965 – The White Bicycles Plan is announced by artist Robert Jasper Grootveld to approximately two-dozen people gathered to watch as they painted three old bikes white. All three bikes were confiscated by the police after being set out for public use by PROVO. (pages 300-302)
  • Saturday, July 31, 1965 – Several hundred people gather at the Amsterdam’s Het Lieverdje (the Amsterdam Rascal) statue in Spui Square to witness the whitewashing of another bicycle. Amsterdam Police responded by batoning PROVO member Roel van Duijin. (page 303)
Source: en.wikipedia.org

Het Lieverdje (the Amsterdam Rascal) statue – Source: en.wikipedia.org

  • Saturday, August 7, 1965 – 200 people again gather in Spui Square, as bikes were painted white and white paint was dumped over the head of the Het Lieverdje statue. Police confiscate one of the white bikes and during the ensuing raucous, seven people are arrested.(pages 303-304)
  • Saturday, August 14, 1965 – more than 2,000 people look on as police forcibly stop members of PROVO from laying flowers at the feet of the Het Lieverdje statue. (pages 304-305)
  • Tuesday, August 17, 1965 - Luud Schimmelpennick‘s “White Bicycles” manifesto is released in PROVO magazine. (page 306)
  • May-June 1966 – PROVO member Duco van Weerlee publishes a book entitled, What Provos Want. The number one item was adoption of the White Bicycles Plan, “for the communal possession of all Amsterdammers who want the tin-canned status symbol [cars] out of the city center.” (page 308)
  • June 1966 – PROVO member Bernhard de Vries elected to Amsterdam City Council, taking the seat previously held by the “pro-car” party. (page 308)
  • March 1967 – Duc van Weerlee replaced on Council by fellow PROVO member Luud Schimmelpennink. (page 310)
  • October 4, 1967 – The White Bicycle Plan presented to Amsterdam City Council by Luud Schimmelpinnink. It called for three actions:

“Banning cars from the city center;”

“Increasing the frequency of public transit;”

“The purchase and maintenance of 2,000 white-painted bicycles of a distinct model that will be made available for general usage in the city center…, particularly as supplementary transport for users of tram, bus, taxi, and train.” (pages 311-312)

While the White Bicycle Plan was never adopted, the actions of PROVO successfully planted the seed of an idea that germinated and fully blossoms today – bike sharing. Myths about the success and/or reach of the White Bicycles Plan grew in subsequent years following its defeat at Amsterdam City Council. Even though it never was formally implemented beyond the initial protest efforts of 1965, the urban legend about the success of the plan continued.

Source: wanderlustandlipstick.com

Source: wanderlustandlipstick.com

Despite the defeat of the White Bicycles Plan in 1967, its influence on cycling history continued to grow. Its impact expanded exponentially in 1994 when cycling advocates Tom O’Keefe and Joe Keating initiated the Yellow Bike Project in Portland, Oregon based on the principles of the White Bicycles Plan. They learned of the plan from watching a brief scene in the movie Sex, Drugs, and Democracy. Similar bike sharing programs sprang up in other North American cities based on the Portland model.

Source: imdb.com

Source: imdb.com

The anarchist group’s name, PROVO, is short for the term “provoke.” And whether or not you agree with their beliefs and/or methodology, PROVO must be credited with giving birth to the concept of bike sharing, which has spread to cities worldwide. Granted, most modern bike share programs are not free, as PROVO advocated for, but they have become an integral part of the urban cycling infrastructure. In 2014, it may not take acts of civil disobedience to get bike sharing established in one’s community, but it was those initial actions in 1965 that have allowed the rest of us to reap the benefits today. For that alone, we all should be thankful.

In many ways, “PROVO-esque” campaigns continue to take place in communities around the world.

  • If you have ever participated in a Ride of Silence, you are solemnly provoking action towards safer streets for bicyclists.
  • If you have ever been part of a Critical Mass cycling event, that is a method of provoking change.
  • If you have ever placed a ghost bike at the scene of a rider’s death, laid flowers there, or paused to reflect at one, you are provoking change.
  • If you have ever advocated to local, state, or federal legislators for bicycling projects, safety improvements, and/or infrastructure improvements, you are seeking to provoke action on the part of elected officials.
Source: thinkgree.typepad.com

Source: thinkgree.typepad.com

Granted, you may never feel the painful sting of a police baton or participate in whitewashing a bike or statue, but that doesn’t mean your impact on society isn’t being felt. Sometimes, accomplishing big improvements in cycling advocacy first require us to undertake a wobbly ride with training wheels. Thanks to our predecessors at PROVO, bike sharing has graduated from its symbolic training wheels to toddling tricycles to mature urban utilitarian bicycles. I for one, greatly appreciate and salute their efforts to effect change for social equity, for social justice, and for the overall social good.

Painted white bike presented to John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the Amsterdam Hilton in 1969 - Source: jornwemmenhove.nl

Painted white bike presented to John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the Amsterdam Hilton in 1969 – Source: jornwemmenhove.nl

Why Americans drive and the Dutch bike

Source: csmonitor.com

Source: csmonitor.com

I am in midst of reading the illuminating and intriguing book entitled In The City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Bicyclist by author Pete Jordan. If you ever wanted to know the bicycling history of this great European city, Mr. Jordan’s exceptional book is a great place to do it.

Amid the myriad of fun and interesting cycling stories, Mr. Jordan includes a textbook analysis of the fourteen social, cultural, economic, historic, geographic, and demographic differences that led the United States to become a nation overrun with cars, while the Netherlands became Earth’s royal domain of bicycles. In the interest of brevity, the reasons are listed in the order presented in pages 100 through 113 the book, but the author’s detailed explanation for each is not included. Some are self-explanatory. If a reason can be summarized succinctly, it is provided. Otherwise, the list below gives you a reason to go buy it or check out the book from you library. I hope you find his identified differences in our two cultures as interesting as I did.

The difference in the price of a car.  [Mass production in the United States while the Netherlands imports nearly all motor vehicles.]

The difference in access to easy credit.

The difference in the price of gasoline. [Historically, the price of gas on average is three times higher in the Netherlands, partially due to a lack of home-grown resources.]

The difference in the availability of parking.

The difference in the need for a chauffeur.

The difference in the amount of physical space – and how that physical space is regarded.

The difference in how distances were regarded.

The difference in urban street widths.

The difference in the physical size of urban areas.

The difference in the pace of traffic (and of life).

The difference in the necessity of a car.

The difference in traffic safety.

The difference in perspectives on bike riding and car owning.

The difference between spendthrifts and cheapskates. [Being frugal is not the same as being cheap.]

The flaws of vehicular cycling (VC) theory

One of the first comments often heard from fellow cyclists when starting to bicycle commute was not to ride on the community’s bike pathway system because it is less safe than riding in street traffic. A whole litany of perceived dangers were cited, most commonly conflicts with vehicles entering/exiting driveways. Instead, riding amid street traffic was touted as the better and safer way to go. For those hardy souls with the skill level and nerves of steel, please feel free to ride all the busy collector roads and arterial streets that you would like to. As for the rest of us, forget about it!

Source: mitpress.mit.edu/books/city-cycling-0

mitpress.mit.edu/books/city-cycling-0

This week, while reading the book entitled City Cycling, the name of the theory that appears to have fostered the pent-up angst against bikeways was discovered. First espoused in 1992, vehicular cycling (VC) theory essentially adheres to the philosophy that:

Cyclists fare best when they act as, and are treated as, operators of vehicles.” (page 114)

While it is agreed that cyclists are operators of vehicles and should rightly be treated as so when riding on streets, the contention that they “fare best” when doing so is unsupportable. Furthermore, there is no way that everyone falls into this theory’s mold. It is simply a theory of convenience for those who prefer street cycling over other forms of bicycle riding. The frustrating part is vehicular cycling (VC) theory has largely overshadowed the utilitarian “European-style” cycling modes which promote inclusive, less stressful, and more logical non-motorized transportation network designs that most of us would prefer using as opposed to competing with motorists.

Here is a paraphrased summary of the inherent flaws of VC theory articulated in pages 114-17 of City Cycling:

“It ignores the massive evidence of the European experience.

It ignores the engineering solutions developed to improve intersection safety for cyclists.

It is preoccupied with a collision type called the ‘right hook,’ which occurs when a through-going cyclist conflicts with a right-turning motorist approaching from behind.

When first postulated it had no empirical support.

Until now [2012], only one credible American study at first glance appears to support the [VC] theory…However, this study considers only crashes at intersections (including driveway junctions) and therefore gives a distorted view of overall safety.

A 2011 study by Lusk, et al. showed that when between-junction crashes are accounted for along with crashes at intersections, the sidewalk bikeway’s crash risk was not statistically different from the risk of riding in the street.

When the risk of riding the same direction as traffic flow was considered, the risk of riding along bikeways/cycle tracks is half that of riding in the streets.”

Thank heaven, not everyone is still buying into the VC theory. A number of American cities, such as Portland, New York City, Indianapolis, Cambridge, Davis, Minneapolis, and Washington, DC have seen the light from the European results. May many more do so and soon – hopefully bringing along county and state road agencies, perhaps even the ever-present foot-draggers at AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials). Cycling in general and utilitarian cyclists in particular, will be very thankful when they do.

America’s most/least literate cities

Source: newyorker.com

Source: newyorker.com

For the most part, I will let these lists speak for themselves.

Most literate cities in America:

  1. Washington, DC
  2. Seattle, Washington
  3. Minneapolis, Minnesota
  4. Atlanta, Georgia
  5. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Least literate cities (all news is not so sunny from the Sunbelt):

  1. Bakersfield, California
  2. Corpus Christi, Texas
  3. Stockton, California
  4. El Paso, Texas
  5. San Antonio, Texas

Source: business.time.com/2014/02/25/the-5-least-literate-cities-in-america/

“Odessa” – where dreams and nightmares collide

Source: charles-king.net/odessa-genius-a-death.html

Source: charles-king.net/odessa-genius-a-death.html

When I purchased the Kindle e-book Odessa, Genius and Death in a City of Dreams,  I was excited to learn more about the Russian and Ukrainian history pertaining to this famous seaport founded by Catherine the Great. Never did I ever imagine that the dramatic history contained in this fine book by Charles King would become a precursor and essential prerequisite to a better understanding of the tragic events of the past month. As the third largest city in present-day Ukraine, the history of Odessa is a microcosm of that nation’s story – a diverse and sometimes divisive blend of Ottoman, Russian, Greek, Italian, Cossack, Jewish, Orthodox, German, Slavic, Romanian, Soviet, and Ukrainian cultures all rolled into one.

A magnificent seaport city set aside the Black Sea, Odessa is a relatively young city by European standards, but those 220 years are packed with a series of major events that have defined this metropolis. Unfortunately, the unique mix of cultures that set Odessa apart from most of its counterparts in its first century of existence were decimated by a series of nightmarish acts (both internal and external) that have left the city as a hollow shell of its former glory.  Pogroms, epidemics, purges, forced relocation, ethnic cleansing, revolution, warfare, and revisionism have left untold scars upon this once urban beacon of hope, faith, diversity, reluctant acceptance, and economic prosperity.

As strife has yet again returned to the Ukraine, one can only hope and pray that Odessa and the nation as a whole will survive this latest ordeal without undue bloodshed and suffering. Hopefully, this city that once held so much promise as a multicultural beacon can someday return to its rightful position as a leading center of acceptance and shared prosperity. To do otherwise would be a pity and a great loss for humanity as a whole.

Here are selected quotes from this excellent book, some of which are strikingly similar to the ongoing situation there right now:

“Odessa has stood out as a mixed and rambunctious city, an island of difference between sea and steppe, yet a place continually threatened by its own mottled personality.

“From its founding in 1794 all the way to the present, Odessa has struggled to survive somewhere between success and suicide.”

“In the end, Odessa’s experience reveals the creative power as well as the everyday difficulty of being diverse.”

“Visitors don’t arrive in Odessa so much as stumble upon it.”

“But the sea [Black Sea] also offered two things that the Russians in particular desired: ports that were ice-free for most of the winter and potential access to the Mediterranean.”

“Both seaborne and overland commerce made Odessa the centerpiece of an expanding international network that tied the city more to its European counterparts than to the imperial metropolises of St. Petersburg and Moscow.”

“In relatively short order, Odessans became as status conscious as persons in other major cities.”

“A climate of social freedom was readily apparent. Public smoking, fashions that bordered on the scandalous, and public discussion of contentious issues from international affairs to taxes were relatively uncommon privileges in St. Petersburg and Moscow, but they were part of the normal street life in Odessa.”

“Odessa was founded by foreigners in Russian service, and that heritage reproduced itself generation after generation.”

“Odessa’s commercial success lay in its position at the intersection of flatlands and seascape, where the produce of the former could be sent to markets across the latter.”

“The tsar’s secret police began to see the multilingual and cosmopolitan city as a breeding ground for agitators, saboteurs, and terrorists – because in large part it was.”

“Odessa’s civilized core seemed to have withered and blown out to sea.”

“How could a city generally satisfied with its easy cosmopolitanism fall so speedily into communal chaos?

“After the revolution, however, Odessa seemed mainly a place of departure.”

“As a major cultural center, with long-standing times to Western forms of art and music, Odessa was an obvious target for labeling as a den of spies and wreckers.”

“In one of the least-known episodes of the Holocaust, at least 220,000 Jews were killed in or en route to string of ghettos and concentration camps established in portions of Soviet Ukraine and overseen by the Romanian state.”

“Odessa was one f the first four Soviet cities – along with Leningrad, Sevastopol, and Stalingrad – to be awarded the title of Gorod-Geroi, or “hero city.”

“But over the last two centuries, Odessa managed to produce a local culture woven from uneasiness, way of living that may hold lessons about the creative and destructive power of being in-between.”

More beneficial use of highway money

Source: livingstonpost.com

Source: livingstonpost.com

Late in 2013 a brand new interstate highway interchange opened along I-96 at Latson Road near Howell, Michigan. The cost of this single, basic  “diamond-shaped” interchange was $32 million dollars. While many people in suburban Livingston County are probably thrilled with a new exit on I-96, let’s think about the cost for a minute. Thirty-two million dollars? Hummm?

Having passed by that location innumerable times in the past 20 years I don’t ever recall a traffic jam along that six-lane wide stretch of interstate unless there was an accident or bad weather. More likely, paralleling Grand River Avenue is the problem, as a myriad of big boxes have blossomed along it over the years. Shame on all of us planners and the decision makes for allowing that to happen when we know better.

So, how is it decided to address sprawl and congestion on Grand River Avenue? The powers that be decided to read from the same old tired script of building more highway capacity. The problem with this scenario is it will only perpetuate more sprawl and congestion as the “mirage” of more capacity invites more usage and ultimately more sprawl and congestion. In other words, society keeps making the same damn mistake over and over again.

I am not trying to pick on the Latson Road interchange, as it just happens to be the newest addition to the region’s highway network. But the “so-called” experts at MDOT and elsewhere need a wake-up call and it pointed out that they are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by not pursuing more sustainable transportation options to address congestion issues. Perhaps, that’s the point – it is in the best interest of those organizations that are primarily road agencies to create the need for more roads. It’s creates long-term job security.

On the other hand, with $32 million, many medium-sized cities could construct their entire bicycle infrastructure network. My guess is that an impressive start-of-the-art network of paved off-road bike trails, added bike lanes, erected a bike bridge or two, plus added a bunch of pedestrian-friendly infrastructure serving most, if not all of the Howell area could have been built for that tidy sum. Given that more jobs per dollar are created from building new bicycle infrastructure than highway projects, there was a lost opportunity to put more money per capita back into the local economy. Lastly, add in the health and fitness benefits derived from an active transportation network and the Howell area could have also seen health insurance rates/costs decline for area businesses.

Road funding advocates will argue that they are the ones who pay for new highways and interchanges with their taxes. WRONG! Gas taxes and fees only cover 51 percent of the cost of road construction and maintenance. So you are starting off in a giant funding hole that will only get worse with time. Furthermore, since cyclists create less wear and tear on the road infrastructure (less usages and lighter vehicles), the average bicyclist actually contributes approximately $500 more per year to road care and maintenance in the taxes/fees they pay than the average automobile driver.

Instead, Howell has a brand-spanking new highway interchange that given 5 to 10 years tops will be drowning in cars  and a sea of fast food joints, motels, big box retail, and parking lots…lots of parking lots – and we only have ourselves to blame for the mess that we created.