Saturday, January 26, 2013

Politics of Cycling in Seattle

Over the past decade the city of Seattle has done a lot to encourage cycling throughout the city. Even within the last few months the city has painted a new bike lane on my normal route home. With this shift has come some debate about how the roads should be used in the city. I have recently been reading a couple of articles about the state of bike infrastructure in the city. Or, more specifically, the politics surrounding it.

The first is an article from the Seattle Times about the Cascade Bicycle Club and their efforts to promote safer places for cyclists to ride. I have never been a member, but I do find myself more politically aligned with them than I do these guys. I thought the most intersting part was a quote from mayor Mike McGinn.
"Whether or not you like bicyclists, they're out there biking and they deserve to be safe."
For me that really comes to the core of the issue. This is not an issues of cars vs. bikes. Cars are not being overlooked in favor of bikes. It is just a understanding of the new reality. People are going to be riding their bikes on city streets, period. Adding bike friendly routes not only improves safety for cyclists, it adds a place for people to ride without slowing down cars.

I think the second piece from the stranger covers that pretty well. It sources a new study to say that bicycle improvements are generally supported by the people of Seattle. It is good to see that a majority of the citizens have a favorable opinion of cyclists. It is just a guess, but I think that most people who live in the city come to realize that having safe ways for bikes and cars to use the same roads isn't just part of being a modern, thriving metropolis, but actually improves traffic congestion.

I think the one problem with the study is that it only covered people in Seattle. I would like to see what the opinion of people from outside the city would be. I know that most drivers will understand and be supportive of cyclists.  I would also have no doubt that a large number of CBC members come from outlying communities. However I do think that people who commute mostly by freeway never get to see the advantages that cycling provides. The benefits just aren't that obvious to people who only come to the city for work. You never see the cars that aren't on the road, just the part of the road that has been converted to bike use. If you only drive in the city during rush hour, you never see the people riding out for lunch, or getting groceries in the evening. For the freeway crowd, I imagine it can also be easy to see bike improvements as money that could be better spent on problems of highway traffic congestion. Never mind that they come from completely different budgets (city vs. state/federal). This also forgets the fact that adding lanes to freeways costs billions, while restriping a road will cost thousands.

In the end, I am excited to see Seattle doing what it can to make biking easier in the city. I am also encouraged that my fellow city dwellers are with me, even if they don't bike. I would still like to see the opinion of people who commute into the city for work. Then again, unless you live here I am not sure you have anything to complain about.


Monday, January 21, 2013

What is that smell?

One thing people miss out on when commuting by car is the smell. In a car, when there is an odor in the air, it is generally something bad. Something like burning oil, melting belts, or even skunks.

Riding your bike isn't always much better. Riding over the Spokane Street Bridge across the Duwamish I often get a whiff of something that smells like molding pork fat. I also get my fair share of diesel fumes and car exhaust.

On a good day though my olfactory sense is given a wonderful reward. Sometimes by and actual old factory. A smell of cooking steel often emanates from the Nucor Steel plant. Some mornings Harbor Island has a pleasant molasses smell. The old Hostess plant would also smell amazing right around 2:00 AM.

This is one of the things people miss when they drive. Cars have a way of separating people, both physically and mentally, from the world in which they live. It is something that diminishes the community as a whole. So if you get a chance when you are out in the city, take the opportunity to give it a whiff.


Know your laws!

Th League of American Bicyclists has put together an interactive map of the the laws for each state. Check it out. I found it very enlightening.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Lance... again...

I thought that I should say something about Lance Armstrong's admission to the world's worst kept secret. There just isn't any more I have to say about it though. What the man has to say isn't shocking and it is as boring as watching him race.

On a similar note, I am finding George Carlin is often ahead of me in putting how I feel into words.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Alaskan Cyclists

A couple of weeks back my brother in law came out on a Thursday night ride. The weather that night was some of the worst I have been out on. The rain was coming down and it was just warm enough to keep it from snowing. I appologized to my brother in law for it being so lame. He told me the weather is what it is. You just deal with it and move on with your life. Part of this attitude might come from the fact that he lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. When he wants to ride in the winter he knows it will be cold. That doesn't keep him inside.

I came across this article today about other hearty souls crossing that state on bicycles early in the last century. It is an impressive, and for me, a little known history of that state. I will admit to being a bit incredulous about the practicality of these machines. Still, I am continually impressed by the ability of people to endure and triumph.

The more I read, the more I realize that cycling is not a new fad. People have gone farther and faster on a bike long before I would have expected. Their stories are worth a little bit of reading into.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Burnination 2013

Last week was the annual Point 83 christmas tree burn. Unlike the previous week the weather was great. Cold, but not raining. I love to see all the people hauling what has to be one of the most inconvenient items on a bicycle. One person with a christmas tree on their bike is a sight to see. A whole group of them, that is just down right jaw-dropping. I wish I was that badass, but no.

I counted 74 people leaving Westlake and I know more joined up along the way. We stopped at Peddler Brewing to pick up more trees stashed there. By the time time the group arrived at Golden Gardens I think we had over 100 people.

The bonfire was amazing as usual. Also it tended to dwarf the tiny firepit. Even in my usual attire I wasn't cool. What a fun night.


Monday, January 14, 2013

James May, glad to have you with us

I read this article by James May recently. He is one of the guys form Top Gear. In other words someone who you would expect to hear more about cars than bicycles. Contrary to that opinion he is actually an avid cyclist. I doubt you are going to see him in spandex out doing intervals. He seems more the tweed jacket and flat cap type of rider. Someone who is out for a constitutional or popping down to the shop. Basically like most people on a bicycle.

There were two points in the article that I really liked. The first is about the freedom of cycling. That people all over the world do it. How riding a bike affect our lives in good ways. He also mentions that it should be free, both in a monetary (tax) sense, but also in the sense that there really shouldn't be any laws about it. We don't regulate walking, why would we regulate cycling?

The second point is that he calls cyclists "miserabilists". Sadly I have to agree with this. I see so many cyclists ridding with grim faces. I will admit that when it is 35 degrees and raining, the ride may not be that enjoyable. Hitting a stiff headwind isn't loads of fun. Aside from that it seems there are those who ride not for fun but because of a bizarre fixation on "training". I don't get it. If you aren't having fun you shouldn't be doing it.

I have my own issues here. I often push myself to go faster than I acutally need to. Not every ride is that all that fun. I try to enjoy what I can though. I know that even on the worst days it was my choice to ride and I feel good about it. So when I see another hearty soul out braving the weather on a bike, I can't help but smile.