Hey, Kohl’s – how about a bike rack?

unnamedRode my new Trek Allant to the local Kohl’s store this morning. I ended up parking and locking it inside the vestibule, as there are no bike racks and not even any signs near the entrance to park my bike safely. Of course they have cigarette disposal units near each entrance for the unhealthy set, and they kept broadcasting how green and environmentally conscious they are on their intercom system, but not a single bike rack to be found. Only acres of asphalt and concrete.

I have been trying to persuade the store to add bike racks ever since it opened approximately 8-10 years ago.  I have spoken to staff, written emails, and left customer comment cards – so far without any success. This despite the documented evidence showing bicycling is good for business.

So here’s my new tactic – broadcasting how much I spent in their store as a bike riding customer in hopes to shame them into action. So Kohl’s – I spent $140.00 at your store this morning – do you think you could afford a bike rack or two now?

How about insurance incentives for bicycling?

Source: usastreetsblog.org

Source: usastreetsblog.org

Among my many ponderings about cycling and bike commuting, one topic that bugs me on a semi-annual basis is why I am not eligible to get a lower auto insurance rate for commuting to/from work so often by bicycle? In calendar year 2013, I bike commuted 73 times to work or 33% of the time, while in 2012 my bike commutes accounted for 40% (or 87) of my work commutes. Given the greatly reduced time, mileage, and wear/tear on the car as a result of bicycling to and from work, why don’t I qualify for some sort of discount from my auto insurer? Yes, I have asked them in the past.

The same holds true for health insurance. Shouldn’t those of us who practice a healthier lifestyle be rewarded with lower rates or some sort of discount? It would be one thing to only ride now and then to work, but when it equates to 20 percent or more of your total commutes, there should be an “x” factor built into the actuarial tables which rewards those who cycle to and fro. Granted, some type of substantive proof would be necessary, but a notarized document from an employer could suffice. The HR Department where I work certainly is aware of my bike commuting.

It seems to me, if there were a 5% or 10% discount on auto insurance rates for being a consistent bike commuter, overall ridership and safety produced from the corresponding increase in cyclists would be beneficial to all. Growth in ridership would also contribute to improved health and fitness in the community, which should drive down health care expenditures, which should (in a perfect world) lead to lower health insurance rates.

There may be some examples of discounts already being offered here and there around the country, but it is hardly universal and certainly is not marketed extensively like good driver, good student, multi-policy, and other available discounts. To me, it is long past time for the insurance industry to shift gears and start pedaling some innovative and new ideas for those of us in the cycling community. If it does not embrace such an approach, then perhaps state regulators should consider requiring such an option be made available.

Are they insane?

Source: freep.com

Source: freep.com

Who in their right mind would “plan” to store radioactive nuclear waste within one mile of 20% of the world’s freshwater supply? Apparently, there are some people in Canada who think that’s a sane notion.

This storage facility would be situated across Lake Huron from Detroit’s freshwater intake location and upstream from Toledo, Cleveland, Erie, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Hamilton, Toronto, Oshawa, Kingston, Montreal, and Quebec City. Even the most minuscule error could taint the drinking water for all these urban centers for decades.  Doesn’t anyone recall what happened earlier this year in Charleston, West Virginia when a non-radioactive chemical pollutant that got into that city’s water supply?

Source: mnn.com

Source: mnn.com

This has to be the stupidest idea ever put forth since the dawn of time. Given the geographic enormity of Canada, why doe this have to be located in such a vulnerable location.

One would hope the regulatory bodies in Canada would toss the idea aside as ludicrous, but in today’s money-centric world, who the hell knows? If you are opposed to this insane plan, please speak up and quickly! Here are some pertinent organizations:

 

 

 

Eleven planning lessons from Boston/Cambridge

Dowtown Boston

Downtown Boston from Cambridge

I had the opportunity to visit Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts in mid-March. Here is a list of eleven planning-related lessons I took away from visiting these two dynamic cities.

  • Preserve, protect and celebrate your community’s history.
  • A varied blend of historic structures and new edifices is visually intoxicating.
  • Savor and build upon the benefits derived from being home to institutions of higher education.
  • Cultural diversity and inclusiveness makes a community much more vibrant.
  • Accessible mass transit and bike sharing systems are wonderful things.
  • Denser urban development can be softened by rich and varied public spaces.
  • The removal of an ugly freeway can reawaken once forlorn areas.
  • The heart of the city can be a great place to raise a family.
  • Pedestrians, bicyclists, transit, and cars can successfully and safely coexist.
  • A thriving city requires thriving neighborhoods – you cannot have one without the other.
  • A compact and walkable urban core is far more preferable to a sprawling mess.

The poetry of a spring bike commute

Spring Morning Commute

By Rick Brown

 

Wheels spin round and round

Traversing the paved terrain

They roll in cadent unison

Along the paved bike lane

 

Fresh air breezes past me

As fragrances abound

Spring charms once dulled senses

As my wheels spin round and round

 

Songbirds serenade me

With their musical delights

A cavalcade of sweet tunes

To start the day off right

 

One pedal before the next

While shifting gears in time

In constant, subtle harmony

A soothing, recurrent rhyme

 

Away from the congestion

Through canopies of bliss

My wheels roll ever onward

Cloaked in the morning mist

 

Freed from harried schedules

As the wheels spin on and on

To enjoy keepsake moments

Amid the day-breaking dawn.

2014

The cycles of one’s life

Source: schwinncruisers.com/bikes/stingray/

Source: schwinncruisers.com/bikes/stingray/

The Golden Days

I will always remember when I got my three-speed, sky-blue Schwinn Sting-ray bicycle with its white, banana-shaped seat and removable plexiglas windshield for Christmas. I thought I was the coolest kid in the neighborhood riding that three-speed bike around. It wasn’t nearly as quick as the ten-speeds the older kids had, but it was seriously cool, stylish, and all mine.

Source:

Source: bikerodnkustom5.homestead.com

Many avid cyclists develop a deep fondness for our rides, perhaps even some name their bicycles. For me, a name never seemed appropriate, but they were my trusted steed all the same.

Sadly, I really cannot recall details about the tricycles and training bicycles I rode prior to the Sting-ray, other than at least one of them was red. The Sting-ray on the other hand was my pride and joy from about age 8 until I was a teenager.

At that point, I had grown too much for it to be a comfortable ride and I was getting tired of not winning the neighborhood bike races we held (and I organized) each May to coincide with the Indy 500. As kids growing up in Indianapolis, that’s what you did each May in the 1960s and 1970s – live,  eat, drink, and breath the Indy 500. Perhaps my family more so since my grandparents owned a trailer rental lot on Main Street in Speedway, Indiana.

Source:

Source: icollector.com

So, as a teenager, I was given a sporty, sierra brown Schwinn ten-speed street bike. It was a terrific bike, but I never grew as close to it as the Sting-ray. I still rue the fact that we gave away my Sting-ray, but the brown ten speed did make me more competitive in the bike races, though I do not recall ever winning in the awesome race we used to hold around the loop of Delaware Trails North or amid the cul-de-sacs of Somerset. Didn’t really matter, as we had great fun.

The Dark Days

As I began driving at age 16, the use of my brown ten-speed waned more and more. In fact, I didn’t even take it to college or later to grad school. I guess I became an arrogant car culture adherent who thought cycling was passe’. I rode every now and again, but for a good 16 years, cycling was largely off my radar screen. I regret that fact very much, as well as the lost riding opportunities.

Golden Days Return

As my sons grew and rode their bikes, my desire to ride more often also increased. Upon moving to Michigan in 1992, my love affair with the bicycle quickly returned. We lived on a mile-long dusty dirt road near Saline, which was perfect for riding back and forth, as well as through the adjoining subdivisions. As a result, I bought a black, Raleigh 21-speed bike that was a cross between a hybrid and a mountain bike, perfectly suited for the gravelly road conditions. I was back in cycling heaven (for some reason I cannot find a photo of this bike online).

The only problem with our location was, there was no safe way to ride into town without risking life and limb, especially if the kids wanted to join me. None of the nearby paved roads had any kind of shoulder, nor were there sidewalks and/or pathways. This was the first time that cycling advocacy became an important consideration. It seemed downright silly that children had no safe way ride to their schools, or parks, or playgrounds. Communities should not develop in such a manner where it is always necessary to drive a stupid car! It’s not healthy, not smart, not cost-effective, not environmentally sound, and not efficient.

As a result, when we moved to Greater Lansing, one of the principal criteria used was to find a home/neighborhood with access to bike paths and trails. Thankfully, the home we bought was in a subdivision abutting the community’s bicycle-pedestrian pathway system and 20-25 minute ride to/from work.

In the 2000s I started developing some minor numbness in the palms of my hands from the forward leaning riding position on my Raleigh. As more and more of my riding was now commuting to/from work,I decided to replace the Raleigh with a blue and silver (Detroit Lions’ colors) Diamondback Wildwood model that allowed me to sit up straighter. In the meantime my oldest son used the Raleigh while in college in Ann Arbor. After 20 years of use by our family, the Raleigh was sorely in need of major repairs and was sold to a fellow graduate student when his family moved to Massachusetts.

Source: bikereviews.com

Source: bikereviews.com

Eventually, as bike commuting became my passion, I added a headlight, storage rack on the back of the bike, as well as a pair of matching saddle bags to transport a change of clothes (when necessary), lunch, my notebook computer, etc. As I developed some back-related problems, the seating, weight, and wider tires of the Diamondback were not working for me.

Source: citizenbike.com

Source: citizenbike.com

After much research, in the fall of 2012 I purchased a dark-gray six-speed Citizen Miami folding bike online. I love this bike and have ridden it religiously for the past 18+ months (weather permitting), particularly for work and church commutes, but also for recreational distances as long as ten miles. It is light weight, easy to fold, easy to adjust, fun, and great in nearly all-weather conditions. The only downside trying to keep up with road bikes and hybrids on longer-distance rides and seat comfort after the ten-mile threshold.

Source: bicyclehabitat.com

Source: bicyclehabitat.com

Behold. Above is an image of the newest member of my riding stable – a 21-speed Trek Allant utilitarian bicycle. My plan is for it to fill my needs for longer distances while also maintaining my comfort level. I am looking forward to many years of riding fun on my new Allant.

An old friend

One other bicycle must be mentioned in this post. When my mother remarried in the mid 1990s, we presented the newlyweds with a 1970s yellow, five-speed Schwinn Twinn tandem bicycle. This bike has been kept at our family lake cottage for the past few years and every trip there requires a fun-filled ride on this vintage treasure. The tandem is the perfect bike for a lake cottage, as it can be ridden alone or Kathy and I can ride it together. It is also much easier to have it stabled there than to bring multiple bikes with us on the back of the car, though most of them have made at least one trip to the lake.

Source: ilikethebike.com

Source: ilikethebike.com

Conclusion

To this avid cyclist, my bikes have always meant more to me than my automobiles. There is something freeing about riding a bike that cannot be felt in a car. Perhaps it’s the fresh air without the accompanying road noise or exhaust fumes. Perhaps it’s the ability to ride off the beaten path. Perhaps its the health and fitness benefits. Perhaps it’s the numerous environmental benefits. Or, perhaps it is the ability to relive and revive your inner child. My guess is that it is some of all the above, but especially the youthful joy of riding a bicycle that leads the way.

 

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

Your live in a tax haven when…

Source: ltjj.org

Source: ltjj.org

Late March/early April here in the States seemed like the perfect time of the year for this satirical post. Enjoy!

  • There are nonstop flights to Switzerland, Grand Cayman, Luxembourg, and Monaco, but no place else.
  • More Wall Street brokerage firms have offices there than on Wall Street itself.
  • Gordon Gekko is mayor.
  • There are statues honoring Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley.
  • Streets are paved with gold and silver bullion.
  • There is no need for accountants or tax lawyers.
  • 1040 is just a number.
  • Gangsters are replaced by banksters.
  • The whole darn place is duty-free.
  • There are more private jets and yachts per capita than anywhere else in the world.
  • Monopoly is the favorite board game.
  • Polo is more than a brand name.
  • Money bags exceed grocery bags.
  • The power plant is fueled with cash for there really is “money to burn.”
  • Pinkerton, Brinks, and Garda sell armored cars for personal use.
  • The high school team’s logo is the $.
  • Nobody ever needs deductions.
  • All cats are fat.
  • Money really does grow on trees.

A most practical bicycle invention

Source: trampe.no/

Source: trampe.no/

This is what I call a most practical invention – the world’s first bicycle lift for climbing steep hills. While many of us bicyclists like to think we are physically fit, even the best of us has difficulties climbing steep terrain, especially when you cannot get momentum going ahead of time. Leave it to the Norwegians to come up with a practical solution. The Trampe Bicycle Lift (or CycloCable) helps cyclists reach the top of 130 meter/428 foot high Brubakken Hill in the city of Trondheim.

Source: lkv.no

Source: lkv.no

Below is an interesting video about the lift that originally opened in 1993 and was updated with a more advanced technology in 2013 followed by some photos. Kudos to the City of Trondheim, Norway and its amazing bicycle lift. Hopefully, a few other cities around the globe will latch onto this gem of an idea – just here in the United States a bike lift would come in handy in hilly cities like San Francisco, Duluth, Pittsburgh, Roanoke, Chattanooga, and Asheville. It is certainly one of those inventions where we all say to ourselves, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Source: trampe.no/

Source: trampe.no/

Source: exviking.net

Source: exviking.net

 

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.]