Monday, November 28, 2011

Balancing what I like with what I don't

I still have no idea why I got involved in this, but I'm nearing the final throes of my first semester of law school. The New York Times keeps telling me I'm a moron for going to this kind of school and I tend to agree with them. At the onset, I had the feeling I'd be able to ride my bike more. I was wrong. There are laws about this and laws about that. So many of them. I'm really only interested in laws about mountain biking, so maybe I should have got an LLM in mountain biking law.

There were some 'cross races, in which I did poorly, because I'm getting fat and don't maintain bicycles.

But, the big news lately is that I finally I figured out how to get to King Philip's cave. Only took a boy of the Farmington Valley 22 years.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ghost Bikes for Survivors

Last week I received a powerful note from Linda, the surviving spouse of William Laramie, who was killed by a drunk driver on Burnside Avenue.  The loss is still fresh for Linda, who said that William had been "my partner in life, my reason for getting up each morning."  She hadn't been to see the crash site and was prompted to do so when a friend told her about the installation.  Linda was moved and thankful for the memorial, and glad that it doubled as a poignant reminder to drivers that the lives of others are in their hands.  Linda's note meant a lot to me, and literally brought me to tears.

As well as being a bicycle commuter William was an accomplished musician and music teacher.  Linda and her family are planning a benefit in his memory to support music education, and Linda has invited the bicycling community to additionally utilize the event to raise awareness that drunk driving kills, and is most dangerous for the road's vulnerable users.  We'll keep folks up to date on plans as we get them.

Linda visited the ghost bike memorial this morning, adorning the bike with flowers and a bow to "sparkle like angel dust."  Previously another unknown person had added flowers to the handlebars.  These additions add to the impact and make the memorial a living, dynamic message to passersby.  As Linda works through her grief she amplifies and personalizes the ghost bike.

Who would have thought that an afternoon of action could have such an impact on bicycle advocacy and hopeful survivors?  I want to thank all those that were able to help create and install these four simple memorials, and encourage others in Hartford and beyond to install their own ghost bike memorials.  Remembering our pedestrians lost to cars, 'Ghost Shoes' could serve a similar purpose, albeit the sign would need to be more prominent to be seen by passing drivers.

Deadly Burnside Avenue -

Ghost Riders -

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Ghost Riders

Motivated by the growing pile of dead cyclists on Burnside Avenue, a group of concerned bike commuters created and installed white ghost bikes at four locations.  Each location corresponded to the site of the cyclist death and included a sign with the date of the crash.  Three of the ghost bikes were placed on Burnside Avenue in East Hartford, a bustling multi-lane state highway, Route 44, that passes through a dense, largely hispanic neighborhood.  
The first bike installed across from Goodwin College must have touched a grieving acquaintance of the cyclist that had been killed two months ago in September by a drunk driver.  Within a day of being put up, the bike had flowers attached to the handlebars and a candle placed at its base.  The second and third bikes were put up across the street from each other, closer to the intersection of Main Street.  The most recent death (November 14th, 2011), just one week ago, had a shrine to the rider set up in a plastic bin.  Candles, flowers, and photos affixed to the phone pole memorialized the slain rider and showed that members of the community cared greatly about this lost life.  While installing the bike next to the shrine we discussed the tragedy of the death with the owner of the adjacent grocery, who had experienced first hand both cyclist deaths.  The fourth and final ghost bike was placed separately on Hebron Avenue in Glastonbury, near the Route 2 on ramp to Hartford.  In December of 2010, a cyclist was struck and killed at this location by a hit and run driver.  Fortunately the driver was found and charged.

While installing the ghost bikes on Burnside, we noticed how many cyclists were out even at 9PM late in November.  The economic situation of many residents of the neighborhood makes a bicycle a necessity, and not a decision.  Almost all the cyclists out that night were riding without lights and many were riding against traffic, dangerous bike salmon nearly invisible in the dark.  Three of the four cyclist deaths occurred at night.  As any experienced bicycle commuter knows, riding at night - use your lights (and lots of them).  Unfortunately there really isn't bicycle safety education that would have reached this segment of the cycling population, and a $20 light set may seem like a luxury when that is equal to 25% of the cost of your bike.  If you're living on the margin, $20 could mean the difference between going hungry or making the rent this month.

Aside from the physical symbol of the ghost bikes, I sent a letter to the CT DOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator (Kate Rattan) and Sandy Fry at CRCOG, the regional transportation planning organization.  I also cc'd the good folks at Bike Walk CT.  After pointing out the growing number of deaths on Burnside Avenue, I recommended a focused (and free) bicycle safety training or free light distribution in this neighborhood.  While I was living in Champaign-Urbana, IL a family of organizations put on a yearly "Light the Night" event that made great strides for cyclist safety at night.  Within days, the wheels were turning at CT DOT and CRCOG and I think something might actually come from this suggestion.  Phone calls are being made and proposals are being made.  It would be a fitting memorial to the lost lives to make this happen and use the momentum to prevent future crashes and improve bike safety culture in neighborhoods that are largely missed by bicycle advocacy.

Note:  Speaking of momentum, Bike Walk CT is having their Annual Dinner on December 13th out at CCSU in New Britain.  I'll be taking this opportunity to talk more with stakeholders about "Light the Night" and keep this moving forward. Hope to see others there.  Please help spread the word.  If you're on Facebook, here's the link to the event where you can help by inviting your multitudinous friends. Read more!

Friday, November 18, 2011

I was wrong

A year and a half ago or so, a nice person from the Windsor town hall contacted me about a bike path running from the Bissel bridge south to the Hartford line. I wasn't super excited about the idea because it involved paving some woods. Well, they have done much of the work on the path (minus the paving) and it's actually quite nice. It meanders next to the Connecticut River and has an exciting river crossing (of the Meadow Brook, not the Connecticut River). While I'll still hope the leave it as rolled gravel, I think it'll be a nice path.

Low bridge branch at Elizabeth Park survived! 

Also, the City of Hartford made a new path, too, that I hope stays unpaved. While it strangely seems to run next to a path that already exists near the Walmart and the Park River, this new one is better and longer. I guess the first one was practice. It's still unpaved and I approve of it. The mower deck has disappeared, so Salem can't have it.

Further, I went to the Reservoir today and magically the trails are mostly cleared. I thought I'd never be able to mountain bike again, but I was wrong. I don't know how someone rode with a chainsaw, but I thank them for it. Read more!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Deadly Burnside Avenue - East Hartford

There have been three bicycle commuter deaths on Burnside Avenue.  This is especially scary as I occasionally ride Burnside.  After the November crash, I had friends that had seen the news contacting me to make sure it wasn't me.

  • May 2010 - Manuel Herrera, 52 years old, was struck and killed while riding his bicycle.  Crash occurred a 11PM.  Article states that Herrera turned into the path of an oncoming vehicle.  Didn't look like any charges were filed against the driver.
  • September 2011 - Local drunk, Paul Bato, with multiple previous DUI's kills 56 year old William Laramie of East Hartford.  Crash occurred at 5:21PM.  Bato charged with vehicular manslaughter.  
  • November 2011 - Cyclist, 40 year old Daniel Shultz, riding the wrong way taken is out by a Ford Expedition.  Crash occurred just before 6:30PM. 
Two of the crashes occurred at night, reminding us to be visible as hell out there.  Can't have too many lights and reflectors.  You are trying to get the attention of a driver that is probably on the phone or otherwise dangerously inattentive to the task of piloting a muli-ton missile.

One of the cyclists was riding the wrong way against traffic, at night.  All of us know that's a bad practice, but it's still a damn shame that he lost his life.  Vehicular cycling is clearly the best way to go.  Be visible, and take the lane when it makes sense.

The only one of the three that didn't include a bad or risky practice was the drunk that killed William Laramie.  Not much you can do about that situation.  Luckily that asshole is going away for a long time, but should have had his license revoked long before that.  If you're leaving the bar or a party and you see someone getting into their car to drive home drunk, let them know they're a douche bag.

Anyone who has ridden Burnside Avenue knows that it is a dangerous stretch with two lanes each way, when there really should just be one.  The road would benefit significantly from a road diet and bike lanes or at the very least a very wide parking / berm lane with one lane of traffic in each direction.  Unfortunately I don't see that happening any time soon.  I rode a short bit of Burnside tonight on my way home, and although recently repaved there was no hint of a road diet or traffic calming.

Stay safe kiddos.  Remember the car always wins. Read more!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Beautiful Day for the CT Bike Walk Summit

The summit was held in beautiful Kroon Hall on the Yale campus with a soaring conference space and huge windows, which had neat automatic shades. The attendees enjoyed comfortable seats and excellent sound. Before the conference began I snagged a replacement re-usable REI bag for the one I got last year, which has about worn out. This is the 2nd Annual statewide summit put on by Bike Walk CT, and despite the publicity issues associated with a week of power outages the conference was almost booked to capacity. Hopefully I played a small part in the level of attendance with some website and Facebook work.

Special thanks to Charlie B for the carpool down to New Haven, and props to Carl, a fellow P&W bike commuter, for riding 30 miles, in the dark, from Marlborough to catch a West Hartford carpool. On my way over to Charlie’s I passed another carload of Summiters (Kevin, Georgette, Mike G, and Chris B) on Park Street headed out. I really didn’t expect to see anyone I knew at 7AM on Park Street. With his trademark dayglo yellow, Kevin Sullivan was even visible behind the wheel. Carl and I will be riding back north after the summit, and it looks to be excellent weather.

Nice to see a mixed age crowd at the summit, with many showing up on bike or foot from the New Haven environs. Having Yale, New Haven definitely sees more bike commuting energy.  

I was also excited to see a goodly number of females in attendance. Aside from the recreational interest of a freshly divorced male, I see the future of cycling as a movement turning on the involvement of women. Women will drive the movement. Without even trying, one powerful female cyclist will lure a gaggle of men to give it a shot. Mothers will teach children to ride and will play a key role in the Safe Routes to School movement. Instead of male only weekend jaunts, often a cause of friction, riding couples have the opportunity to turn that into a shared experience. The posturing, race oriented, male centric, competitive bike culture will be rounded out into a healthier whole that welcomes all to sustainable transportation. There are so many reasons that bike advocacy should focus on getting more women on bikes. “Fat bottomed girls, get on your bikes and ride.”

Would have liked to see some more ethnic and economic diversity at the event, but most of the attendees looked like me. I often wonder how to reach out to a more diverse crowd on sustainable transportation. Chris Brown asked a related question during the Q&A session on the breakout session on the economic impact of biking and walking. He pointed out that one of the biggest economic carrots is that biking and walking provide stabilization for the segment of population living in poverty or at the margin. The panel members fumbled the criticism / question a bit. Perhaps Chris and I could set up a panel next year that discusses diversity in bicycle advocacy or evaluates the impacts of biking and walking on low income populations.

Way back in 2006, I was in a meeting of the Central CT Bike Alliance, now Bike Walk CT, meeting with Dave Snyder from what was the Thunderhead Alliance, now the Alliance for Biking and Walking. Dave had a very succinct theory related to the bike advocacy demographic and how that related to fundraising. Paraphrased below:

Your typical bike advocate is white and economically secure. They started riding recreationally or as a bike commuter and have some experiences on the road where they felt threatened or disrespected, which really bothers them. As a privileged class this person hadn’t previously experienced this type of adversity. They have some time and money, and realize that cycling aside from being great for them is also great for the environment and their community. Righteous anger kicks in and they create or join a bicycle advocacy organization.

This is the reason that even with embarrassingly small bike mode share (< 1% national average), bicycle advocacy groups are more well funded, organized, and influential than one might expect. The drawback is that bicycle advocacy is dominated by a relatively homogenous crowd. Anyone who has lived in, worked in, or passed through a diverse neighborhood knows that there is often a bigger biking / walking mode share than your typical suburban neighborhood. Unfortunately these riders typically aren’t represented. Many of these riders see cycling or walking through the lens of necessity, and not self righteous advocacy. Additionally there may be economic and cultural issues that lead these riders to focus their valuable time elsewhere.

The ride back to East Hartford was particularly nice. A tailwind made the panniers seem lighter. I passed through Northford and Durham and managed to stay on small side roads until I got to Middletown. The photograph is at the top of Whirlwind Hill, which is just Southeast of Durham.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Vote some more

Mahoney for dog catcher: that way to the future!

It seems like there's an election every couple of months in Hartford. I think that's because there is an election every couple of months. Next year, there are even more: town committee, presidential preference, primary and general. Damn! That's a lot of elections. So many "I voted today" (or "he votado hoy") stickers to collect.

Anyway, in the vast majority of Connecticut, the municipal election is tomorrow. The municipal election is arguably the most important because you interact with your city or town most frequently. Also, your vote in a municipal election (state rep & senate, too) is the most powerful. For example, it'll make up like 1/3% of the margin in a victory instead of .000001%. That's a lot of made up orders of magnitude. Besides, mountain biking has ceased to exist in Connecticut, so what else are you going to spend your Tuesday doing? Polls are open 6am to 8pm Read more!

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Beautiful Fall, until the Trees Followed their Leaves

No pictures of fallen trees here.  These are all pre-snowmageddon. 

I prefer to remember the stellar fall rides, including a chilly overnighter with Valerie around Barkhamsted Reservoir.  Valerie is a super fan of gravel roads, but I broadened her palette with some touring on trail.  Valerie was visiting from the Illinois flatlands, so it was imperative that we hit every hill in NW CT, especially steep gravelly ones.

Also went on some spectacular hikes, which is like biking except slower.  Purist riders should try it some time.  Valerie is a botanist, so she was helping me figure out which berries I could eat.  One edible berry I don't recommend is the highbush cranberry.  It tastes awful raw and when you boil it down to make jam it makes the house stink like zombie feet.  The jam (even full of sugar) is almost as bad as the raw berries.

In other news I've started riding on odd stuff while towing a trailer.  Like over a mattress or down the stairs by Founders Bridge.

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Bogus theory

I had this idea that limbs in the woods not would fall down as much as the trees and limbs in yards and along roadways. In the woods, they'd be able to lean against each other and do some kind of tree mutual aid. That's not the case. The woods are a mess and it's going to be a long time before any trails are passable on a bicycle. It's depressing and I guess I should sell my mountain bikes. Also, no eel on Sunday. Maybe we can go for a road ride. Or, canoeing.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Eel problems

As you are no doubt aware, there was storm that knocked down every tree in Connecticut. For that reason, it may be very difficult to undertake an offroad ride like The Eel on Sunday. Stopping to carry bikes over trees every seven feet might suck. I'm going to do some reconnaissance tomorrow (by going for a bike ride) and post my intentions here tomorrow evening. 

Friday started ok. 

Then my bike got blurry.

Then the power went out everywhere except for my house.

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