Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Innocent victims

Ten days or so ago, the nation recoiled in horror.  A monster/madman rained terror down on country music fans in Las Vegas, murdering 58 innocent people and injuring hundreds in a matter of minutes.  Before the victims had even been accounted for, there were impassioned demands for action!

We need new laws!  Implements of death and destruction - in this case guns - MUST be kept away from criminals and incompetents, and maybe everybody!  What kind of irresponsible people could possibly be against further action to prevent such incidents?!!

Mostly I think we feel helpless.  As of this writing, the motive of the killer is still a mystery.  And when there's not a discernible motive or some sort of attention-getting activity prior to the mayhem... how do you prevent it?  Are we all going to go through metal detectors and intense scrutiny now, when we check into a hotel?  Is that a price we're willing to pay, to mitigate the one-in-ten-million madman?

But - at the same time - every week, we seem mostly willing to look the other way when more people are victimized by distracted drivers.

In 2015, according to the NHTSA, 3477 people were killed in fatal distracted-driving mishaps.  That's about 67 per week - almost 10 every day.  Furthermore, it's estimated that 391,000 people were injured by distracted drivers (about 7500 per week - more than 1000 per day).

WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE?!!?

Many of the perps were distracted by their so-called "smart phones."  I believe you see more people driving nowadays with phone in hand, than those who have both hands on the wheel.  Remember?  The way you learned in driver-ed?

But apparently that's not enough.  The auto industry is attracting buyers with shiny-bright touch-sensitive console-mounted "infotainment systems" in new cars!  You've seen 'em in the commercials - they give you directions... tell you which track is playing on the 18 650-watt speaker system... control the climate... maybe even let you watch a movie or hilarious YouTube cat videos.

What could go wrong?

Apparently, a lot.  University of Utah researchers studied the infotainment in 2017 automobiles, and concluded that "most... distract drivers too long to be safely operated while the vehicles are in motion."  Programming your navigation takes about 40 seconds to complete, for example.  Yet, "the risk of a crash doubles when a driver takes his or her eyes off the road for two seconds."  Story HERE.

Far, far more innocents are killed by distracted drivers, than by crazed killers with bump-stock-equipped semi-automatic assault rifles.  Both are tragic, and are blights on our society... but honestly, which is the more serious and pervasive problem?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

20 years of car-free commuting


In 1986, I started riding a bike to and from my job. By 1997, I’d been mostly commuting to work by bicycle for 11 years.  But then I got a shiny new Harley-Davidson motorcycle.  (Purchased with money saved by bicycling.)  It was a compelling mode of transportation, and I started riding it to the office, once or twice a week.  Now and then, I still drove the family car, as well.  Just for kicks, that year I decided to keep running track of my transportation choices.

As our family started planning for another school year, once again as always I encouraged my kids to ride their bikes.  (Our schools are less than a mile away, over terrain as flat as plywood.)  They would probably say I’m too enthusiastic about preaching the Gospel of Bike Transportation.

There was much opposition, from kids and their mom.  “We’ll get all sweaty!”  “We’ll look like nerds!”  “We’ll have helmet hair!”  Mom, of course, was sure they’d be abducted en route, or get flattened by a runaway dump truck.  She also said, somewhat accusingly, “You don’t ride a bike everywhere.”  Pretty lame argument… but the gauntlet had been thrown down.  I decided I’d show her!

The last time I drove a car to work, was sometime in September 1997 – 20 years ago this month.  (I keep track month-by-month, so I don’t know the exact day.)

Ever since then, it’s been the bicycle to and from work, on all but a handful of days each year.  Whether it’s 105, or 5 below zero, or anywhere in between.  If it’s snowy, I try to stick to the lesser-traveled side roads.  If it’s treacherously slippery, I’ve been known to trudge to the nearest bus stop and take public transportation… but almost always with the bike on the front rack, in the hopes I’ll be able to ride home in the afternoon.

Gas and insurance expenses?  Nope.  Repair expenses?  Minimal.

Traffic jams?  No problemo!

Parking?  Free – everywhere!

I’ve learned to live with nerdy helmet-hair, etc.

In addition, I get some “cardio” exercise every weekday.  (I’m lucky – my commute is about 3.5 miles each way.  Far enough to get a little “burn,” but short enough that I can commute in my work attire.)  My work commute is often my favorite part of the day.  I would never voluntarily go back to a car.  (Although I might re-think that, if somebody wants to offer me free use of a Porsche Carrera, or something similar.)

(Photo snapped by granddaughter Mackenzie)

Monday, July 31, 2017

'17 isn't looking like a banner year

Unless something totally unexpected happens, 2017 will be the first year for me since 2002, in which I don't surpass 5000 bicycle miles for the calendar year.

I've lost a bit of velocity in the past 15 years... but not enthusiasm.  The problem this year is - too many days away from the bicycle.

In late May / early June, we spent 10 days in Providence, RI, with the daughter and son-in-law and grandbabies.  Time well spent... albeit 2000 miles away from my bicycle.

And just this past Saturday, I got back from 10 days on the motorcycle road.  Had a fantastic trip - rode to the Bay Area through Reno (Boise to Reno is to be tolerated, not enjoyed), and then took a leisurely putt up the west coast, from Santa Cruz CA to Ocean Park WA (just north of Astoria).  Then back home again.  Time well spent... albeit away from the bicycle.

And... in September we're traveling up to BC Canada on a family adventure.  Another 10 days or so away from the bike.

I've turned over 2500 miles for the year - but I should've hit that milestone at the end of June instead of the end of July, to maintain a 5000-mile yearly pace.

Oh well.

(I s'pose I could try for 1000-mile August and October totals.  Yeah - but that's not gonna happen any more.  Too many other irons in the fire.)

The current game plan is to be able to retire in the spring of 2019 - then maybe I can ride another 6000-mile year.  Work a longer weekly ride into the routine.  Yeah - that's the ticket.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Greenbelt choke point (congestion)

This is a message I sent to the Boise City Council, Parks Department, and Police.

I’m writing to express concern about the summertime “descent of humanity” that has hit the area near Quinn’s Pond, and Esther Simplot Park the past several years, and the resulting deterioration of Greenbelt transportation access.

The best word to describe it is ANARCHY.

There are herds of pedestrians who are meandering, bovine-like, IN THE TRANSPORTATION CORRIDORS, as if they were the only people on the planet.  There are people swinging paddleboards, paddles, etc. around like ninja-sticks, seemingly oblivious to other people on the pathways.  There are people who park their bikes, or flip them upside-down to do some mechanical work, right in the pathway.

I s’pose there are folks who arrive in their cars, and perhaps are unaware that for 12 months of the year (unless interrupted by occasional flooding) the Greenbelt is a transportation corridor for some of their fellow citizens.

Today (for example), I ventured thru.  (It’s nice that the closed stretches of Greenbelt are starting to open again!)  In the concrete “roundabout” circle adjacent to the little surfer-wave dam, two gals were laying on the concrete, working on their tans, as other pathway users milled all about them.

I was headed toward town, zig-zagging between the pedestrians and stander-arounders who don’t understand the concept of a transportation corridor or the “keep right” markings.  As I rode along, next to Quinn’s pond, there were a couple teenage kids directly in front of me, who were dodging back and forth like kickoff return specialists.  Puzzling.  Suddenly, one of them hollered “Look out!” – apparently for my benefit – and a football came crashing down directly in my path (!!), not 3 feet in front of me.  Surely there are better places for a football game, than on the Greenbelt!

I’ve voiced my concerns in the past… and I believe a couple of small signs have been put up, that say “Don’t block pathway,” or something like that.  Obviously the response is inadequate, because the problems persist… and get dangerous (in my opinion) on the really hot, crowded summer days.

So – what can be done?

Increased bike-cop patrols, and an education/enforcement campaign, might be somewhat effective.  But that solution seems pretty labor-intensive.

I’d suggest maybe painting the corridor (“Greenbelt” pathway) a solid bright color – yellow? – with big black letters, “TWO WAY TRAFFIC – PLEASE KEEP MOVING” or something to that effect.  (And occasional enforcement, to keep people honest.  I try to have faith in humanity… surely most of those people aren’t intentionally blocking the pathway… right?)

You might also take a look at the treatment they’ve recently put in across the river, at the Riverside Hotel.  They’ve done some landscaping improvements, patio expansion, etc. – and, they also have installed some fences along either side of the Greenbelt corridor, turning it into a “controlled access highway.”  There are openings every now and then, so people can enter or cross the pathway… but they aren’t able to just meander onto the pathway at any location they please.  It seems to be quite effective, even for the occasional slightly-intoxicated patron.  (It is WAY more relaxing to ride through on the south side of the river, at least this time of year.)  If similar fencing could be installed on the publicly-owned stretches where congestion becomes problematic, it would be fantastic!

Since I ride year ‘round (bicycle and motorcycle), I’ve come to realize that the key to survival is to be prepared to compensate for any stupid thing another roadway user might do.  It’s called defensive riding.  So, I’m often annoyed, but rarely placed in harm’s way myself… with the occasional exception of a football dropping out of the sky, etc.  However… a sizeable percentage of Greenbelt traffic is made up of more casual riders, pedestrians, roller-bladers, dog-walkers, etc. … who aren’t as expert at defensive techniques, and who may not realize how important it is to “share the pathway.”  I’m hoping “the authorities” can do more to be proactive about preventing conflicts, mishaps and injuries, and also educating the population.

Thanks for your attention.  Please let me know if there’s anything more I could or should do, to alleviate the problems I’ve mentioned.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Top-tier bicycle parking

One of the common excuses used by people who choose not to bike-commute to work is, "There's not a good place to park my bike."  That has NOT been a problem at my office, over the 22 years I've been working there.

My friend Thomas is an engineering/manufacturing genius.  His "day job" is keeping the big office building operating properly... but as a moonlighter, he's truly a Renaissance Man.  He has a passion for hot rods... his tastes lean toward American muscle cars, but I think he can make anything run.

Probably six years ago, the office was dealing with a sudden onslaught of bike riders - due to nice spring weather and expensive gas.  They did some shopping and discovered that there aren't a lot of sturdy multiple-bike racks out there.  Thomas and the management decided that manufacturing a rack would be the way to go.

I'm proud to say I was a "consultant" on the first one.  I explained to Thomas the pitfalls of commonly-occurring bike racks... we measured tire widths, etc.  He took the assembled information and built a sweet rack.

Since then, he's built three or four more.  Each one is a little more refined than the one before.

He's currently finishing one up, and he gave me a tour.  This one has one meaningful functional enhancement... he's added one slot for a "fat bike" tire.  And - this one is "personalized" for the building where it will reside.

There's no need to bolt these racks down... when they're empty, they probably weigh 500 pounds.  I told Thomas our great grandkids will still probably be using them.





Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bike commuting reduces cancer and heart disease

"Want to live longer? Reduce your risk of cancer? And heart disease? Then cycle to work, say scientists."

A five-year study of 250,000 UK commuters suggests that bicycling to work can reduce your risk of death by 41%, your risk of getting cancer by 46%, and your risk of developing heart disease by 45%.  The bike commuters averaged about 30 miles per week... but the further they rode, the more they reduced their risks.

Dr. Jason Gill, of the University of Glasgow: "This is really clear evidence that people who commute in an active way, particularly by cycling, were at lower risk."  (Walking also had positive results, but primarily for people who walked at least six miles per week.)

He also points out the benefit of bike-commuting, as compared with exercising just for the sake of exercising: "You need to get to work every day so if you built cycling into the day it essentially takes willpower out of the equation."

Clare Hyde from Cancer Research UK said: "This study helps to highlight the potential benefits of building activity into your everyday life. You don't need to join a gym or run the marathon. Anything that gets you a bit hot and out of breath - whether it's cycling all or part way to work or doing some housework - can help make a difference."

Of course, the naysayers will declare that cyclists run a higher risk of being involved in a life-altering collision, than a SOV driver or a bus passenger.  However, by riding in a common-sense fashion - legally, visibly, predictably and defensively - you can mitigate most of that risk.  And I prefer to deal with the threats that I can see and maybe do something about, than those I have little control over.

The BBC story can be read HERE.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Can't keep the wheels dry!

We've had unusually abundant precipitation this winter.  The mountains have lots of snowpack, and the water managers are releasing as much as they can, to make room for the snow that's still melting.  (Anybody who's lived in these parts for any length of time realizes that this is NOT unprecedented.  Some years are below average... others are above average.  But some of the newcomers who live in fancy McMansions in the river bottoms are probably a little nervous.)

There are sections of Greenbelt that are under water.  Par for the course.

Below are a few photos I've snapped over the last month or so.