Today is hot in Western New York…there’s no two ways around it. Close to 90F / 32C and very humid. The weather forecast is for much of the same for the next week. I had off work today–which is unusual for a Saturday–and for that I am thankful. The last thing I want to do is face a stove on a day like this…but I’ll get plenty of chances to do just that in the coming weeks. At any rate, I’ve made the personal commitment not to complain about the heat (which I and many tend to do) because the opposite of this is the dead of winter. I love the winter but the heat and humidity is much easier to deal with in my opinion, especially as I get older. Click here to see some posts on winter. It seems so far away when I look at those pictures but at the same time very recent…I can still feel the bite of the wind on my face as I pedal into it (opposed to the sweat on my back this time of year). The post that I really found interesting, and a juxtapostion to today’s weather, was this one…-8f / -22C (yikes, that’s harsh). I had yard work to do today; I chose not to. I had planned a long-ish ride to do errands; I didn’t. Instead I stayed around the house most of the day with fans on…read some, and then finished an article. This evening when the sun was low I went for a walk, snapped a few photos (and stopped in an air conditioned bar for a glass of wine) mainly to enjoy such a beautiful and somewhat thick summer’s evening. I hope to remember this evening this coming January when the temperatures dip into the negative.
I was walking down the street the other day and saw this lone wheel sitting at the edge of the pavement, and as I often do I had my camera with me so I snapped a shot. I wonder two things: What was it doing there and why did nobody pick it up. At any rate, I thought it looked interesting enough to share (it’s the little things that you see and notice when on foot that make it worthwhile…I think).
This post is in response to a couple things….one is something that (nearly) happened to me, and the other is a website I came across. But first a bit about my bikes.
While I have six bikes I generally only ride three (the three pictured), but all are painted black. I’m thinking about paring my fleet down to just three…selling four to purchase a new winter commuter, but keeping two, the folder and the cargo bike. To be honest I’m not sure why all my bikes are painted black (thought it would be a good hook in the title), but I will say I like how they look. If they didn’t come painted black I usually paint them after a while. The only bike I did not paint black was my v1 Mundo because I new I would eventually sell it to purchase the v3 (which I ordered in matte black). I like the retro look of a black bike, but I sometimes tell people it is in response to this famous quote by Henry Ford:
Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.
Anyhow, this brings me to the thing that nearly happened to me as I rode my usual short commute to work yesterday morning. This single sentence which I wrote on Facebook sums it up:
Joe nearly got sideswiped (riding his bike) by a very wide man in a very wide vehicle on a really narrow road.
I had just crossed the intersection of Allen and Delaware and was looking at the price of gas at the petrol station (ironic, right?). I was surprised that it was still only $4.09/gal because other areas of the city it is higher. And as I’m doing this I see a man pulling out of the driveway of the station…he had that “I’m stressed out and already late-for-work” look on his face. I had the right-of-way; he was pulling out of the driveway and I was on the street going straight ahead. I did as I often do in this instance…make eye contact to make sure that the driver sees me. And yes, he was a rather “wide” man, sort of poured into his big cushy seat; he was driving a big wide SUV. On a little side-note, Allen Street, which is one of my favorite streets in the city in which I live, is also a very narrow street. It is, in fact, not uncommon for two oncoming cars to come to a standstill until one allows the other to pass…because of its narrowness it is easy to keep pace with the cars while riding a bike. But back to the story. So after making eye contact with Mr. Wide I figure it is safe to keep pedaling…umm, think again. I’m only about 10 feet before him and he looks in both directions (for cars no doubt, not cyclists) then hits the gas pedal and goes for it. I, in turn, had no choice but to swerve and hit the brakes. The only other person who witnessed it (I believe) was another motorist getting into a nearby vehicle. He gave me a look of sympathy and simply shook his head.
As the regular readers of this blog are well-aware, I am not car-free but car-lite…I make no bones about it. And while I often write pro-bicycling posts, I try not to be too negative on people who drive because not only do I believe that is their personal business but it would also be hypocritical because I still own a gas-powered vehicle. In addition, I generally try not to be cynical or sarcastic on this blog because I feel like we are bombarded by negativity on a daily basis. All these things said, I cannot help myself but post this next statement about the man that nearly plowed me down…I can’t help but wonder if he didn’t walk or ride a bike every so often, instead of sit in the big cushy seat of his really wide vehicle, he himself may not be as wide as he was. My apologies if any find this last comment offensive, I don’t mean it to be; the situation was just very frustrating.
The next thing that got me thinking about writing this post was a website I stumbled across, Austin on Two Wheels. At their site they have a triangle that mimics the USDA Food Pyramid, only theirs relates to transportation and they call it The Low Car Diet. This made perfect sense to me even though it didn’t relate to me exactly. On theirs, for instance, they have listed car pooling and car sharing; two things that I do not do. Thus my low car diet would look more like the triangle below. I mostly bicycle to get around, seconded by walking, but still use my car once a week or so (in the snowiest or coldest days of winter these categories may blur a little).
Not everyone can be car free, but everyone (or at least most) can use other means of transportation sometimes. Another thing that I can’t help but wonder about Mr. Wide is that if he were walking or on a bike he may not have looked so stressed. My job, like many, is stressful. And the ride or walk to work in the morning is often the best part–it helps clear my head and get me centered for the day–the only thing better is the ride or walk home.
In the same way that a person who is fervently religious wants to convert you because they want you to have what they have…to share their joy. This is how I feel about getting around on bikes and foot…I want to share the joy I get from it. Our society is so dependent on cars that for most the thought of hopping on a bike doesn’t even enter their minds, not even for a short distance. It’s easy, anyone can do it. My hope is that more will.
I walked today because it was so incredibly windy (something like 60mph/96kph wind gusts). Actually I did ride this morning for a bit on my folder but it was difficult…thought it might be fun to put a sail on it. Anyhow, as always, in the same way that you get to notice more things when you are riding a bike than when driving in a car it is even more magnified when you walk. I past these two bits of sidewalk graffiti only about a block apart and thought they were interesting enough to post. There could be many interpretations of these, I suppose…I’d be curious to what you think.
…and am grateful I am able to.
There are many times when I walk and find it the most pleasant way to get around (when I have the time). You can see things that you otherwise wouldn’t…and sometimes I find it a form of meditation-in-motion. It’s also, in my opinion, the most organic form of transport. It is, without doubt, one of the best exercises a person can do (and it doesn’t cost a penny)…some people even spend their lives doing it, as a personal mission (click here to read about the Peace Pilgrim).
I like walking; I always have. This may seem like an obvious statement because it’s something we have to do on a daily basis, but it’s not. Let me qualify this by saying I’d rather, if distance permits, walk than ride in a car. Sometimes I’d even rather walk than ride my bike. Now I know some of my bike riding readers are thinking, “hey…whoa Joe…you’d rather walk than ride a bike?” Well, yes, sometimes I do, but not always…what, after all, is a more organic form of transportation than putting one foot in front of the other?
For the sake of sounding hokey I’ll even go so far as to say walking, to me, can be a form of meditation in motion. When I walk my mind can wander or stay as focused as I like. Tonight was a perfect example of this. It had been raining all day and other than my short 3/4 mile bike-commute to work I had not been outside at all. Then this evening, as if someone had shut off a faucet, the rain came to an abrupt stop. So I went out for an evening walk.
I walk distances less than I used to these days, because of time restraints and the pains in my feet that middle age provides. But when I walk I am, as I was tonight, often grateful. For these minor pains that I have are a reminder that not everyone has the luxury of walking, and that I am truly fortunate to be able to do so. This hit home a few years ago when I had severe back problems and for a while was not able to walk normally or if at all…I thought at the time I’d never ride a bike again (you can read more about this at an earlier post titled, The Plank of Gratefulness).
I’ve often said, and still stand by these words, that a person sees so much more when riding a bike compared to in a car. Well when you walk things are slowed down to the tenth degree. I tend to notice trees and houses and people that I may not have if on a bike and concentrating on traffic (in a car these things wouldn’t even exist to me).
It goes without saying that walking is an excellent exercise for your physical health (click here and here) but many don’t realize that it also offers many benefits for your mental, spiritual, and psychological health (click here and here). Sometimes, when I’m feeling a little melancholy or sluggish a walk really changes things…it did tonight.
This site/campaign has been all over Facebook this past week. It is overtly suggested towards people in the U.S., the biggest gas guzzlers on the planet, but I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt if others took this pledge as well…we may live in separate countries–and indeed have distinct languages and cultures–but we are all connected and part of the same human race.
I recently played the “car passenger game” while riding my bike, meaning I looked at cars as they passed to see how many had more than the driver in them. I only rode about a mile or so, and it was during rush hour so there were a lot of cars, but I kid-you-not that during the entire mile of pedaling I only saw 3 or 4 cars with more than the driver in them…one person each in those enormous metal shells. If everyone feels the need to be propelled (alone) by a gas-fed vehicle maybe we should all ride Vespas…it would be more efficient and way more fun on a hot summer’s day.
Anyhow, I also have to mention (confess) something during this blog post. Here I am babbling on about a Weekend Without Oil and I actually drove my truck today (alone; the only person in it)…only 4 times in the last 6 weeks, but felt like I had to mention this as I sat on my high horse talking about Vespas and bikes.
To take the pledge, click here. What I find interesting is that the items/actions they suggest (the criteria for the pledge) are not that difficult, sort of common sense in many respects…and if you are a regular reader of this blog something tells me that this will not be that difficult of a pledge to take. Maybe we should collectively take this pledge once a month…just imagine.
I’ve really been feeling lately how it is truly up to us (the people alive on this planet right now) to do something, however big or small…even the smallest steps will make a difference. This is our legacy…this is what we are leaving for our future generations. To put it a different way, imagine what it would be like if we knew that our grandparents or great grandparents knew back then what we know now–that our actions can have a direct impact on the planet and generations to come–and they did nothing about it. I personally do not want to be that ancestor. I hope that everyone reading this takes the pledge (or as much of it as they are able), we need it more than ever.
I love this cartoon…it goes against everything American society says is the image of success and happiness. I originally came across it in a magazine more than 10 years ago, and have it hanging in a small frame in my kitchen. I was prompted to re-post it after reading this article on the Treehugger website. It was linked to this article at Slate’s website citing how Hollywood moguls equate not having a car to being a loser. Well, I’m sorry Mr. Hollywood big shots (and I consciously use the masculine address), but not having a car does not make a person a loser. As stated in many previous posts I am not car-free, but I am car-lite, and I really feel the people who can afford a car but choose not to are real heroes in the times in which we live…I hope to eventually have the courage to go entirely car free. I can’t tell you how how often I get weird vibes from people when I state that I choose not to drive when I can…it’s not always a direct inquiry as to why (but sometimes it is…to which I’ll often reply, “because I like to walk or ride my bike instead”), but sometimes it’s just a little sideways comment. And at times I’ll even begin to question myself, why at nearly 50 am I riding a bike. Then I get on one and remember why I do it. On my way home tonight I was taking a short-cut through a parking lot (ironic, right?) and it was on a slight incline. Ahead of me was another cyclist. I was on my Mundo and going slightly faster than them and when I approached I could see that it was a women on a Dahon folder. As I passed her I said good evening and asked how she liked her bike, that I had a similar one at home. She told me she was recovering from surgery and hadn’t been able to get on a bike for more than a month…and that it felt so good to ride again, “I told my family I was going around the block and I’ve been out more than an hour…I feel like a dog with it’s head out the car window,” (nice analogy, I thought, and more irony)..
I’ve also posted the below video before, but it’s one of my favorites so I thought I’d post it again. If you’d like additional reinforcement towards a car-lite or car-free life click here (pdf file), here, here, or here. So, au contraire, Mr. Hollywood, when I choose to not use my car I am far from a loser…I’m free, and I’m a winner.
I just read at the site of The League of American Cyclists that the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill stating that April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month…an excellent move, no doubt. According to the website of CBS News, more than 6000 people were killed in 2009 by distracted drivers. Click here to read about National Distracted Driver Month; click here to watch a short clip of the announcement.
The following is cut-and-paste from Transportation For America website.
In the last 15 years, 76,000 Americans have been killed while walking or crossing a street – too many of our roads are built for cars only.
But thousands of people are stepping up to make biking and walking safe. Rep. Earl Blumenauer introduced a piece of legislation that could set aside $2 billion for grants to fund safe networks for biking and walking in communities all across the country. And Secretary Ray LaHood just joined the fight by issuing a directive that makes safe walking and biking a priority for the U.S. Department of Transportation!
Help us keep the pressure on! Urge your representative to co-sponsor the Active Community Transportation Act. Sign the letter below (follow the link below) and we’ll deliver your message to Capitol Hill…
Click here to sign the letter.
Most times I don’t even think about it, but other times I do…tonight was one of those times. As I was riding home (a bit slower than usual) I was enjoying the cool autumn air on my face and it occurred to me how easy it is (in most cases) to go without a car for days and sometimes weeks. I personally travel within a very small geographic area on a daily basis…this is a conscious act because over the years I have molded my life to be this way (I have actually turned down employment simply because it was more than five miles from my house). Now I’m not saying that everyone is able to do this…or that everyone would want to do this, but it is easy.
Living and working in an urban environment means that I have many options within a short distance, and as aforementioned, in the same way a body builder may sculpt their body, I have sculpted my life so everything is relatively close…all of my basic needs (home, work, church, health club, stores) are within a two or three mile radius, and all are easily reachable by bike or walking. Anyhow, this is how I got around today…the mileages are estimates.
Rode the folder to work (1 mile)
Left work; rode to the bank (1.25 miles)
Rode home (1.25 miles)
Switched bikes, hopped on the Yuba and rode to the health club (1.5 miles)
Rode home (1.5 miles)
Loaded the Yuba with four crates for shopping, but stopped for pizza and wine first (1.5 miles)
Dropped off a dvd at Blockbuster (1.25 miles)
Rode to the local co-op for groceries (.25 miles)
Went down the street a bit for dog food (.25 miles)
Rode home (2.5 miles)
All-in-all it was only a little over 10 miles of riding, done in short spurts…but I enjoyed each ride, whereas I doubt I would have in a car. Riding a bike and walking as modes of transportation are easier than one may think…no need to mention the benefits, health and otherwise…they’re bi-products and are obvious enough.
But one last thing before I get off my little soap box. You may be thinking something like: well, he can do that because he has that big fancy cargo bike…I can’t afford one of those. Let me put it into perspective: this week I need to have a new exhaust system put on my vehicle, the same vehicle which I rarely use (I never said I was car-free, just car-lite…really lite). The exhaust system will cost almost as much as what I paid for the Yuba, so would 3 or 4 car payments, or a few months of pay-parking at work…you get the picture.
Then again, if you’re reading this blog I’m most likely preaching to the choir.
Sometimes I think walking is even better than biking (please don’t be mad at me, fellow bikers)…I just mean that it is so meditative and you can take so much in (biking, though, is still more practical, I think…with it’s speed and ability to carry stuff).
I live in the historic Allentown neighborhood of Buffalo…it’s a small neighborhood and very walkable and bike-able (is that a word?)…Allentown scores a 97 out of 100 on walkscore (compared to a mere 83 out of 100 for the ever-trendy Elmwood Village). Anyhow, what I like most about the neighborhood is it’s funkiness…and the things and people that you see and meet while walking or biking…things you’d most likely never notice while gripping a steering wheel with one hand and a cell phone with the other.
The other day, for example, there was an enormous stuffed panda bear leaning against the brick wall of an apartment building…it was obviously slated for the garbage truck (wish I’d had my camera)…it was beautiful, sitting there in all it’s scruffy fluffiness with a brick backdrop. Here’s another example: three golf bags at the curb. What’s the deal, I wonder? It wasn’t garbage day…just three abandoned golf bags sitting at the curb. I’m not sure what it is, but something about seeing them there just made me smile…and laugh a little (it still does). And you’d definitely miss this if you were driving a car.
Sometimes I find a walk is better than a bike ride. If you can see more on a bike than in a car you can see even more when you’re using just your feet. Anyhow, I went for a meditative Sunday walk this morning, and one of the things that I love to do when I walk is to look at architecture…I never tire of it. Buffalo is a shrinking city, yes, and a city smack dab in the middle of the rust belt, but it is a city that always has (and continues to have) a rich arts and cultural heritage…and one of my favorite things is the architecture (to visit the Buffalo Architecture website click here). I love walking around like a tourist in my own city and being in awe of it’s beauty…I went on such a walk this morning and thought I’d share some of what I saw. To see detail, click on any image for a much larger view.
Like many neighborhoods, the one in which I live was built before the invention of the automobile…many of the streets are narrow and crowded, and for that reason cars sometimes feel out of place (to me)…sometimes the streets simply are not wide enough. Anyhow, I was on my way to work this morning riding the Mundo…going about two miles an hour as usual (even though I was late for work). I had just passed this intersection when I heard a crunching sound followed by glass hitting the pavement. I turn to look and it was a van making a right turn, and it had turned too soon (or quickly) and tore the side view mirror off another van that was parked there. I slowed to a stop and watched (because I thought they were going to keep going). They did stop ( I think because they saw me watching them) and observed the damage. I heard them mutter a few expletives then head back to their vehicle; I assumed they were getting something to write a note on. I started pedaling again. Then to my amazement, as I looked back (they were a block behind me now), they got back in the van and took off. I really do think that driving, particularly in an urban setting, makes people a little crazy at times. I know that when I’m behind the wheel and I hit traffic light after traffic light I immediately become annoyed, and if someone cuts me off it makes the hair on the back of my neck bristle…but I never feel that way when I’m on one of my bikes (or walking). I’ll be the first to admit that I am far from car free, but I ride or walk as much as possible…and when I walk or ride it makes me feel good, not mad. I’m fully convinced that walking and riding bikes are good for a person’s psyche…not just their physical health but mental as well…when is the last time you witnessed bike rage.
This morning I woke feeling extremely stressed about various things. I know deep down everything always seems to work out OK, but when I’m stressed it’s as if I have blinders on and can’t see the beauty right in front of me. For that reason, when I went to the gym I chose to walk instead of ride one of my bikes. It was such a beautiful spring morning; I walked slowly and meditatively, being conscious of the natural beauty around me. Anyhow, I thought I’d share a little of what I saw. Some of these plants were wild; some were not. The last photo is from my front yard. One of my favorites is the next to last where it shows a bee with bright yellow pollen-laden legs. It’s amazing what a contemplative walk and a quick “power swim” can do. As I type these words my windows are open and I can here the birds in the background…I don’t believe I noticed them this morning. Click on any photo for a larger view.
“Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.”
Here’s a not-so-secret, secret: as much as I proclaim the many benefits of riding bikes and walking I still own a vehicle. It’s an old one (I’ll give you a hint…it’s older than my teenage son), but I still have one. And this winter I’ve been using it more than usual (is it the frigid winter or me just getting older…maybe it’s the combination of both). Anyhow, it has been so damn cold this winter that I haven’t felt like riding much. For short distances I’ve found walking much more pleasurable. Now here’s where I hop on my little soapbox: What’s the deal with people feeling it’s OK to block sidewalks with their vehicles. In an old city (relatively speaking) like Buffalo, there are many houses (most actually) in the inner city that were built without driveways, especially on the lower west side and Allentown. This city, like most, was built before the car…it was originally a pedestrian society. Over the years people put in pseudo driveways (parking pads) where their teeny front lawns used to be. And as is often the case, when a person parks on one of these pads they block the sidewalk.
Apparently I’m not the only person in this country (or world) that this bothers. Here‘s a manifesto on the subject by Michael Hartman, a German pedestrian and bicycle activist. One of the (many) things he describes is how to car walk, or to literally walk across cars that are blocking the sidewalk. He claims to have walked across thousands of vehicles, and on each one he leaves a little note stating the reasons he has walked across the vehicle (some vehicles still had people sitting in them). I first came across this in Katie Alvord’s excellent book, Divorce Your Car.
Anyhow (before I hop off my little soapbox), I’d just like to add that I don’t expect everyone to ride bikes and walk (wish, maybe, but not expect), this is, after all, the good ‘ol U.S. of A…everything in excess…whatever makes things more comfortable. I just wish driver’s would begin to take their fellow walkers and bikers into consideration, to consider them as equals.
OK, I’m finished…for now.