Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Nation of Fatties

There's a new report out - obesity rates are up in 31 states.


Q: What causes weight-gain?

A: Consuming more calories than you burn.

Let's consider what's happened in this country, in the space of a generation or two.

We continue to become more mechanized and automated. Many jobs that traditionally required manual labor have been phased out.

That's a double-edged sword. There aren't as many occupational injuries nowadays. But pushing a button burns far fewer calories than hoisting something heavy.

Meanwhile, we seem to have an obsession with minimizing every form of physical activity.

According to the ABC News story, 22 percent of Americans didn't engage in any physical activity in the last month. For the few who do get exercise... it's a form of recreation.

Gallagher - the watermelon sledge-o-matic guy - once observed, "Only in America do people store their barbells in a garage that has an automatic opener."

Cars have power-everything... steering, brakes, window-winders. Even door-closers on some models. How lazy can you get???

Amazingly, even TV has been made more effortless in a generation! When I was a kid, if I wanted to watch Mighty Mouse instead of Huckleberry Hound, I had to get up and walk across the room to the TV, and klunk-klunk-klunk that channel-changer knob. (When I decribe that to my kids, they look at me with extreme skepticism. They think I'm making up the story, like the one about walking to school and it's uphill in both directions.)

When was the last time you saw a TV that didn't have a remote control, allowing you to sit in the La-Z-Boy and effortlessly change channels?

Of course, back in those days you had P.E. in school, too. I never cared much for it. But I always enjoyed tag, hide-and-seek, kick the can, dodgeball, four-square, etc. (We didn't have X-box and the internet, etc.)

Back in the day, the majority of kids got to school by walking, or riding bikes. Not any more! Every school day, there's a traffic jam as parents pick up and drop their little dumplings at the front door.

So... you come home from your sedentary day at school or the job in sweet, air-conditioned, motorized comfort. You grab a bag of Cheetos and a 56-ounce soft drink, and crash in front of the bigscreen until dinner time.

Golly! Why are we getting obese?

Like most everybody else, I tend to be "calorically challenged." Thank goodness for bicycling... I may not be lean and mean, but I can walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded. I can tie my own shoes. And it's unlikely I'll drop dead from a heart attack.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tour de Fat - coming to Boise

My bicycle-brother Danielo has made me aware that the Tour de Fat is coming to Boise this next Saturday, August 25. It looks to be fun, and a chance for the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance to replenish their treasury as a fund-raiser.

According to Danielo, who will be a Parade Marshal - WOW! - there will be a 1-hour ride/parade, followed by a 4-hour-or-so "recovery" gathering at Julia Davis Park, near the Rose Garden. That 4-hour recovery sounds a bit suspicious, eh? A person could do some serious recovery over a period of 4 hours.

Since I don't imbibe in the spirits - even the really awesome ones as produced by the Fat Tire people - I'm thinking about participating in the parade, but limiting my "recovery" ambitions.

I checked out the New Belgium website (linked from Danielo's blog) and something caught my eye.

They are trying to find a dedicated soul in each tour-stop who will sign over his car title (?) and pledge to go car-free. In return, the Fat Tire people will award the Chosen One a new fat-tire commuter bicycle, and a Bob trailer to pull behind it.

While that sounds noble, I want to ask... why is it an "all or nothing" deal? Why do some bike advocates, or environmentalist-leaners, feel like a motor vehicle has to be totally abandoned?

By contrast, I've always been a pragmatist, and have advocated using the most efficient vehicle for the job. If you're transporting yourself and a sack lunch or notebook to the office, or school, etc., I challenge you to find a more efficient vehicle than a bicycle. But if you're loading your family up for a trip to Redfish Lake, or San Francisco, the bike just ain't gonna cut it for most people. I take great comfort in having Mrs. Bikegal's minivan available for hauling 5 gallons of paint, or a big roll of hardware cloth, home from Lowe's every now and then. (Maybe I'm just not committed enough...)

I don't know for sure, but I'll bet you dollars to donuts that they still deliver Fat Tire to retail outlets in a truck... not in a Bob trailer!

I've got a sweet commuter bike and a Bob Trailer, so I won't nominate myself. But there are just some transportation duties that can't be accomplished with a bike... or public transportation.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Kicks and Kisses for ACHD

ACHD - Ada County Highway District. It's the multi-jurisdictional agency that plans and implements roadway additions, changes, and maintenance in the Boise area. And is constantly a hot topic of discussion among local roadway users. (Often to the point of "official" debating about whether the agency should be dissolved, and roadway duties returned to the various cities, and the county government.)

From my bicyclist viewpoint, I'm generally satisfied with the job ACHD does.

They seem genuinely interested in expanding and maintaining a bike-friendly infrastructure. As big projects are undertaken, they always include bike lanes and such, when appropriate.

But sometimes they come up with a real noodle-scratcher.

An obvious example would be their striping and marking of "turn-only" vehicle lanes, so they cross bicycle lanes. (I've commented before on the worst one I'm aware of - click HERE to review, and see a photo.) This is not an isolated situation; there are several that I ride through regularly. (I'm always paying attention and am aware of the pitfalls; I worry that a less-experienced cyclist might fare much worse if not paying close attention.)

Also, they installed a marvelous bike-pedestrian pathway that parallels Federal Way for miles and miles. It's smooth. It has an awesome view in many places. BUT - since it's two-way, and runs alongside a two-way roadway with multiple intersections, curb cuts, etc., it's an accident-magnet for cyclists and/or motorists who aren't paying attention. (I ride in the traffic lane to avoid unexpected conflicts; it obviously wasn't designed by a transportation cyclist.)

Other gripes that EVERYBODY gripes about (with good reason, IMO):

Some of their projects make no sense at all. I recently rode Gary Lane... it's an arterial road that is one of my regulars. They've roto-milled it up, for new pavement. What was wrong with the old pavement??? Gary Lane was one of the really nice, smooth roads, with nice bike lanes! I bet it's a half-million dollars or more for the current project... and why?

Some of their projects are ill-timed. For example, they recently chip-sealed Amity, between Maple Grove and Cloverdale. (Chip-sealing is another topic of debate. It's the practice of laying down a thin layer of tar and gravel chips, to extend the life of roads for substantially less $ than an asphalt overlay.) Well... two weeks later, the warning signs are up that one of the utility companies is closing and tearing up Amity... just days after the chip-sealing project. Doesn't the right hand know what the left hand is doing?

They seem to tear up a road as they get started on a project, and put up their orange barrels, signs, etc. ... and then move on to another project for a few weeks, leaving the users of the torn-up road to suffer and grumble. Why can't they finish a project, and then move on to the next one?

Finally... they have a tendency to do projects on multiple roads simultaneously, creating situations where there are no detour opportunities. The area west of Boise has a grid of parallel arterial roads exactly 1 mile apart; this summer, ACHD has had 4 or 5 of those roads torn up simultaneously... meaning an 8 or 10 mile detour if you wanted to completely avoid their construction projects.

(I know... it's easy to sit in my armchair and quarterback. But it seems that no matter how expert they are at road construction projects, they leave a lot to be desired when it comes to scheduling. And... I understand that they are severely limited as to what they can do during the "cold" months, but still...)

(Click HERE to link to ACHD's website.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bike Crash Lawyers

There was an interesting article in the local daily paper on Sunday, about car-bike accidents, and attorneys who represent cyclists in those situations. It was written by Keith Ridler of the AP, who focused much of his attention on Boise (and other northwest cities).

(The local version was condensed; I found a better one at the Seattle paper's website - click HERE to link to the article.)

Interesting, and disturbing, tidbits from the article:

Mike Colbach, a Portland attorney, says, "It's almost never the cyclist's fault, and they tend to get pretty significantly injured. Wrist, arm, and unfortunately sometimes brain injuries from hitting their head."

The Idaho Transportation Department reported 333 bike-car collisions in 2006. (By comparison, Washington state has around 1250 each year. In 2006, 123 cyclists were unable to leave the scene under their own power, and six died.)

Boise attorney (and cyclist) Kurt Holzer describes one of the challenges he faces: "It's a car culture. There's this sense that the car didn't do anything wrong - it's the cyclist."

On the bright side, when a bike-accident case arrives in the courtroom, it's relatively easy to convince a jury that the cyclist is truly a vicim, and just wants to ride... he's not there trying to milk the legal system.


I've been in three car-bike accidents in 22 years, 117,000 miles of riding.

One was my fault. I got a ticket for failure-to-yield, and a minor laceration where my sunglasses gouged my eyebrow. No damage - as is typical - to the poor lady's car. My helmet saved me from debilitating injury... my head bounced off the pavement hard, but I hopped right back up. The paramedics came, but I declined to take a $500 ride to the hospital. I could have left on my own power, but for my ruint rear wheel. (I was riding again later that same afternoon.)

A lady in a Pontiac Firebird rear-ended me at an intersection. No injury. Ruined rear wheel. She blamed her screamin' car-seat baby for distracting her. I stayed until the cops arrived and issued her a citation; she paid for a new rear wheel.

An airhead high-school girl blew through a downtown stop sign and clipped my rear wheel. (What's with my rear wheels in accidents?) I was VERY lucky in this instance... if she'd been a half-second earlier, I would've almost certainly gone through her windshield. As it turned out, I was unscathed, but I was mad! She pleaded with me not to call the cops, and told me she'd take me and my bike anywhere I needed to go, and would go right then and get a new rear wheel for me. Against my better judgment, I didn't involve the police. She drove me to my office (where I'd been headed) and true to her word was back a half-hour later with a shiny new wheel from George's.

If I had it to do over, I'd call the cops. (She seemed totally freaked out - I hope she learned a lasting lesson, without getting a ticket.) People need to accept responsibility for their actions, and recognize how vulnerable cyclists are.

If I'm never in a car-bike accident again, that will be fine with me. I make a habit of "riding defensively." (A cyclist is a loser in such an accident, no matter who's at fault.) If I am - and I have to face the reality that it's a risk I'm willingly accepting - it's highly likely it will be the motorist's fault. And I will have absolutely no qualms about making sure the motorist pays for any damage to my bicycle and/or myself.

Friday, August 10, 2007

ACHD Bicycle Open House Recap

Yesterday afternoon was the ACHD Open House. Oddly it was held at the Covenant Presbyterian Church at 5 Mile and McMillan, rather than at ACHD headquarters. (The church may actually be near the population-center of the county, but it's rather distant from the Halls of Government. Perhaps by design.)

My route to the gathering (by bicycle, of course): Curtis Road to Fairview to Five Mile. On the way home I took Emerald instead of Fairview. I was wearing my Boise Bike Week t-shirt that says ONE LESS CAR in big letters on the back; I hope it put motorists to thinking.

Although I derive an awesome amount of personal satisfaction from passing long lines of queued-up motorists (which happened on all three of those streets at Rush Hour), I also feel a bit of empathy for them. Consider the east-west corridors. Chinden is undergoing a big project near Five Mile. Ustick is, of course, torn up for a couple miles. Fairview has a major project going on at the intersection of Maple Grove. Emerald is also down a few lanes at Maple Grove. What is ACHD's recommendation for people who are traveling from east to west? Does it seem like bad planning, to have so many corridors disrupted at once?

Regarding the actual Open House... it was well-done, but I didn't get a whole lot from it. (Maybe some did, who haven't been following the issues for years. Also, I wasn't surprised to see many familiar faces there, from among the local "bicycle activist" community. Including Gary Richardson, former ACHD Commissioner, who enthusiastically embraced the notion of "alternative transportation" during his time in office a few years back.) It seemed well-attended with interested citizens. ACHD had some interesting displays showing various road-design cross sections, etc. They had a "Pravda"-like slate, where you could pen your own ideas as to what would make our community more bike-friendly. They also had a map where you could mark your favorite and least-favorite roads, etc.

I scribbled some comments on the sheet they asked everybody to fill out.

My comments were consistent with what I always say about our town... with a few glaring exceptions, we've got a good infrastructure for bicycles, and it generally is getting better. I think ACHD has done a good job of including bike facilities where appropriate, as they've made improvements. Obviously there are some problem areas, where there's just not enough width to comfortably accommodate all classes of bicyclists, and no relief in sight. (I'm enough of a realist to understand that the taxpayers can't afford to widen Orchard Street by 12 feet for bike lanes, for example.)

Where we are lacking is in EDUCATION and ENFORCEMENT. There is no formal effort to educate cyclists - children or adults. In many cases, kids are learning bad cycling habits from mentors who don't know themselves. (Riding against traffic always comes to the forefront.) And there is precious little being done to remind motorists that cyclists have the same rights to use the road as do motorists. And the Law Enforcement Community looks at bicycles as toys rather than transportation. They declare openly that "bicycle violations aren't a priority." Unless an accident is involved, they seem happy to ignore cyclists. Vigorous enforcement of bicycle laws would go a long ways toward legitimizing bicycles as a valid mode of transportation.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

BC Bicycle Observations

When I was touring the Great Northwest (by motorcycle), I saw a lot of cyclists on the highways and byways. Particularly in British Columbia - in cities and in the country. Men and women and kids. Old and young. Fit and not-so-fit. Riding road bikes with enthusiasm... touring with loaded panniers and/or trailer... transporting themselves... some seemingly just riding along nonchalantly with no deadlines to keep and no particular place to go. (Ah, the life!)

In BC, part of the motivation might be gas prices. (From my observation, the average was probably $1.10 per liter. Since the current exchange rate is about 105%, that means gas in the $4/gallon range.)

Part of the motivation might be the bike-friendly infrastructure. I didn't see many marked/dedicated bike lanes, but it seemed like every road, urban or rural, had a "fog line" with ample bike-operation room. (They come in handy for me on my motorbike, too. I generally am trying to see everything there is to see while simultaneously operating my vehicle... so I'll frequently ride 5mph below the speed limit, and pull over to let faster traffic on by.)

Part (or perhaps most) of the motivation might be a culture that seems to fully embrace bicycles... both as recreation and legitimate transportation. Cyclists are seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem. (It's probably worth mentioning that bicycle helmets are mandatory in BC. I don't know if it's strictly enforced, but I'd say 95% of the riders I saw were wearing brain-buckets. The other 5% were mostly "old school" who maybe have a "grandfather" clause or something... I dunno.)

Yeah, those Canadians could learn a few things from us, allright. But I wish we had a little more of their open-mindedness about transportation.