Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Role Models

It's really no wonder that as soon as kids turn 15 or 16, and take driver training and get licensed, they immediately abandon any other form of transportation. After all, in almost every case, that's how Mom and Dad, and 'most every other adult they know, get around. It's the grownup thing to do.

My formative years weren't a lot different from that.

Mom was pretty much exclusively car… beginning with her '52 Chevy, followed by a parade of station wagons as the family grew.

Dad didn't fit the mold exactly. 3 or 4 days a week, he drove to the office in his Rambler. BUT… we lived (deliberately) within walking or bike-riding distance from his office, and he'd occasionally propel himself. It wasn't unusual for Mom to be driving us someplace, and we'd see Dad walking along his route, reading a book. The guy loved to read! He also had a Schwinn "ten speed" that he'd ride somewhat regularly… although not enough to wear out the tires. (Until I was much older, I didn't know you could wear out a set of bike tires… I assumed they just rotted and the rubber got crumbly, before they could wear out.)

We'd all go on family bike rides, and I liked riding to school… but bicycles weren't generally seen as a serious form of transportation at my house. (Just like every other house.)

I attended Roosevelt School, here in Boise.

Right across the street was Roosevelt Market. That's where I hung out with my friends. If we had a dime, we'd get a can of soda pop, or a Milky Way bar. (Actually you could get a Milky Way and a Hershey bar, for a dime.)

Wesley also hung out at Roosevelt Market. And perhaps he had more influence on me than I realized, at the time.

Wesley seemed really old! (Of course, to a third-grader, somebody who's 20 seems really old.) He smoked a pipe, and had a wrinkled face, and always a few days' growth of beard. He was actually friendly enough… but his appearance made him somewhat intimidating to us kids. He'd hang out front of Roosevelt Market, just steps away from us… leaning against the wall, smoking his pipe and drinking beer out of a quart bottle.

Wesley rode a bicycle. Exclusively. It was an awesome bike! It was a big ol' heavy "cruiser" type bike, with fat tires… and it was covered with baskets, reflectors, lights, horns and bells, fluttering flags, etc. (The guy was years ahead of Pee-Wee Herman!)

You'd see him all over the east end of Boise, rolling along on that distinctive bicycle, puffing his pipe as he went. He didn't go fast… but I bet he put thousands of miles on that bike!

Wesley lived a simple life. Besides riding his bike, he did lawn jobs in the summer. Since he lived with his brother, mostly he needed money for bike tires, beer and Prince Albert.

There was another guy who would stop by Roosevelt Market on his bike. I'd see him regularly. His bike was an "English 3-speed," with a rack on the back. His face always had a smile on it. And he had a normal job – he worked at Holsinger Music downtown. (I knew, because I'd see him when Mom took me down there for my weekly trumpet lesson.)

Both Wesley and the other guy (I wish I knew his name) made an impression on me. They obviously used bikes-as-transportation… but because of that, both seemed rather eccentric.

I spent 2 years in Uruguay as a missionary, most of that time with no car available. And learned that I, too, could get around on foot, or bike, or city bus.

I came home and got a job. And a couple lady friends had an influence on me.

Toni Roberts didn't ride all the time, but she rode several times a week. And I'd talk to her about it… I was impressed. (At the time, I lived literally across the parking lot from the office I worked at, so transportation wasn't an issue. I've always followed Dad's example of living close to where I spend most of my not-at-home time. It just makes sense.)

It was Betty Vickrey who truly changed my life. She and I worked at City Hall together. She was probably 7-10 years older than me… but you never would have guessed. She was so full of vitality and energy. She was a dedicated bicycle commuter… she had a car (or so she said), but it rarely came out of the garage. And would she EVER sing the praises of her bicycle transportation?!! (She had a sweet European road bike… that was pretty impressive, too.) It was a long, and not-particularly-bike-friendly commute… she lived off South Cole Road, near the Intermountain Gas building. Probably 7 miles each way, on busy roads.

It was 1984. I was pretty tired of arguing with my wife over whether I could take our (one) car to work, looking for a parking spot, pumping gas, etc. I bought a mountain bike… that was back before anybody knew whether they'd catch on or not. And beginning in early '85, I strapped on my brain bucket and rode. I became an eccentric.

Betty was right! I've never gone back – never will. "You can have my bike when you pry the handlebars out of my cold, dead fingers." (Hahahaha)

My oldest daughter was 3 years old. My youngest daughter was born 6 years later. I hope I've been a bike-riding role model… to possibly counter the perception they get everywhere else… that driving cars is the grownup thing to do. It doesn't have to be that way. (I'm happy to say my oldest daughter got a new job a few weeks back… and she's been quite a faithful bike commuter. If she can go for a month or two, she may catch the vision herself… and have extra dollars in her savings account to boot!)

It's been 45 years or so since I first noticed Wesley on his basket-and-reflector-laden cruiser bike. He upgraded to an "English 3-speed" a few years later… and installed the baskets and reflectors on it. I still see him occasionally… smoking his pipe and riding slowly, nowadays on a basket-and-reflector-equipped mountain bike. He's a hero of mine. (And apparently he wasn't as old as he seemed, back in the early 60s.) And the Holsinger-music bike guy, too. Now I know why he was always smiling.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Night of 1000 Posers

[Note... this isn't specifically related to bicycle transportation, but it is related to the environment and transportation. And since I'm the Bike Nazi, I'll go ahead and post it.]

Another Oscar Awards gathering has come and gone. You know… that's where the people who make their living pretending to be what they're really not, gather and give awards to those who are best at pretending to be what they're really not.

This year – perhaps because the Prince of Green was in the house – "green" was one of the underlying themes. Yep – our idols of Tinseltown are courageously standing up for Mother Earth, and showing the rest us how to stop the dreaded Global Warming.

Here's from a pro-environmental website, defining how the Hollywood people are getting involved, this year more than ever: "… they will be stepping out of hybrid cars rather than limousines, and sipping 'exclusively organic and sustainable wine, beer and cocktails' to the accompaniment of the music of the Los Angeles band Maroon 5."

Isn't it wonderful?!! If only everybody could do what Leo DiCaprio and Algore are doing, I'm sure the global temperature trends would change overnight!

They honored Prince Algore by giving him the "Best Documentary" award for his movie about An Inconvenient Truth.

I've gotta say – Algore is a funny guy! I didn't watch much of the Oscar broadcast, but I saw that part where he pretended to get ready to make his important announcement (the much-anticipated declaration of candidacy), and then the orchestra played him off the stage. That was pretty funny.

During that same segment, Mr. DiCaprio (I believe) announced that 2007 was the first "officially Green" Oscar broadcast. Then he went into a rather cryptic explanation of what that meant. It seemed a little "psychobabble" to my untrained ears, but it was similar to what's posted on the "Go Green" website: "... the entire production team endeavored to select supplies and services with a sensitivity toward reducing the threats we face from global warming, species extinction, deforestation, toxic waste, and hazardous chemicals in our water and food."

"Sensitivity toward?" Did the Green thing result in fewer watts of energy consumed? Or fewer gallons of gas burned? They all seemed mighty pleased with their efforts. I want some numbers! Maybe they went from 50 hair dryers in the dressing room, to 45.

This is interesting – in a related story, heartthrob George Clooney is one of 330 Movers and Shakers on the waiting list for the electric Tesla Roadster. Now there's an example we can all follow, huh? At least all of us who have $90,000 for a 2-seat convertible. (The electric-car people crack me up. They pretend – or maybe actually believe – that since the car is electric, it eliminates the burning of fossil fuel. Somebody needs to explain to them that you have to plug it in to charge it up… and that electricity doesn't just magically come out of that electrical outlet. Someplace, that electricity is being generated. But, I s'pose that's a pretty deep concept to be explaining to Cameron Diaz, or Paris Hilton.)

I get the impression that the Hollywood people aren't really expected to do any more than "raise awareness." I found this quote from Debbie Levin, president of the Environmental Media Association (is that a paying job?) … she says, "People see celebrities as role models. We are showing that you can have just as elegant a lifestyle living green as you can without that consciousness." So, apparently "living green" is a state of mind, rather than actually doing something.

That's perfect for these people who pretend to be what they're not… and something I believe every American can do!

Friday, February 23, 2007

"Climate Change Principles"

The company I work for published a document with that title, in response to the debate over global warming. It was broken into 2 sections: "What we believe," and "What we're doing about climate change." In a nutshell, "they" believe there's enough evidence to lend credence to the notion, and "they" will take steps, wherever practical and economical, to minimize consumption of fossil fuels, conserve energy, etc.

I found that much of it was in agreement with my own personal beliefs, regarding global warming and such. But it also prompted me to put down on paper (or the LCD screen, as a substitute for paper?) my own "What I believe." So, here it is:

What I believe

1. The best science available indicates that global warming may be partially caused by the build-up of greenhouse gases, which in turn is partially caused by human activities.

2. If my science teachers were correct, the earth has always been either warming or cooling; it's silly to expect that to be any different just because we're taking real-time measurements.

3. Some scientists believe that man might have the power to stop climate change. I'm extremely skeptical, because:
a) See 2, above.
b) I don't see any evidence that we have the collective will to change our warm-living ways, because of the lifestyle and/or economic hardships that any meaningful change would cause. (Unless, of course, those changes are imposed upon us by government mandates with penalties.)
c) There is no definitive evidence that human activity is causing global warming, so it seems presumptuous to assume we can reverse global warming.

4. Whether or not human activity is responsible for global climate change, it does have environmental repercussions on a local level. An obvious example is the traffic gridlock, and frequent air-quality alerts, that we are experiencing right here in Boise as more and more vehicles (most occupied only by the driver) crowd onto our roadways.

5. Although there is no definitive way to prove or disprove the human contribution to global warming, it certainly wouldn't hurt for us to conduct our lives in an earth-friendly fashion, and try to minimize our "carbon footprints" (a little Algore-speak there…). I believe we have a responsibility to be good stewards for this beautiful planet we live on… but my belief stems as much from Sunday school and Boy Scouts, as it does from science class.

Marshmallow World

God sprinkled a light coating of powdered sugar on my world overnight... it was BEAUTIFUL this morning! Some days I wish my commute were 10 minutes longer...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Urban Bambi

I spotted her on the afternoon commute today (Feb. 21). A stone's throw from Kathryn Albertson Park, right near the "Garden Street Railroad Trestle."

Probably my 4th or 5th deer spotting over the winter season in that area*, including a couple times where there were several together. (I imagine if I were a bit more patient, I could stop and sit still, and spot 'em on pretty much any given afternoon.) They must wander down the river; it's really quite remarkable when you consider there's fairly dense human population for at least a couple miles in every direction.

Of course, the hordes of motorists going by a couple blocks away miss out on this kind of stuff. The only time THEY get close to Bambi on the commute is if they take one thru the windshield. But they have their cell phones and heaters, I s'pose.

*It's a regular occurrance to see herds of deer east of town, out in the Harris Ranch area. I've had a half-dozen run along next to me for several hundred yards as I ride... a religious experience! Of course, that will soon be only a fond memory, as they pave paradise and slap up the cracker-boxes.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Another NDE (Near-Death Experience)

[Actually it wasn't that close a call… but only because I've learned a survival trick over my years of bicycling – PAY ATTENTION!]

Today it was a BSU student, most likely. I was northbound on Lincoln Avenue in the afternoon, about a block from the Student Union. The guy comes out of a parking lot on the opposite side of the street, generally heading straight toward me (but driving as though he didn't see me at all – go figure). I pulled as far to the right as I could, and braked hard, to make room. (I cannot occupy the same space, at the same time, as a little silver econo-pod.)

So, he's driving along just barely in front of me, in the same direction, and at about the same speed.

At the next intersection, he turns right… into my path, once again. No signal or advance warning.

I braked hard, again, and swerved to the left to avoid him. I also hollered. (I don't have a horn, or one of those little dingie greenbelt bells – my voice is my substitute.) A pedestrian a couple blocks up the street heard me and turned around… but the driver of the econo-pod didn't seem to even notice. And then I realized why… he was "iPod-enabled." He had abandoned his ability to hear his surroundings, for the superior experience of listening to his boom-de-boom iTunes with the earplugs.

Is bicycling dangerous? If you're not paying attention – YES. I regularly compensate for the mistakes of apparent-idiots behind the wheel, as well as those who impair themselves with cell phones, headphones, yammering car-mates, etc.

(You may recall – there's no IQ test to get a driver's license, and the knowledge-and-ability tests are such that pretty much everybody can pass 'em. I believe it's still difficult for a blind person to get a driver's license... but sometimes I wonder. So that's the demographic of the people I share the road with… I better be prepared for what they bring.)

The return of $3 gas

You might want to start saving your pennies and dimes now, so you'll have gas money this summer.

HERE is a link to an article from the Detroit News - "Gas costs back on road to $3."

I would be surprised if gas wasn't AT LEAST as expensive next summer, as it was last summer.
- World demand continues to rise (particularly in India and China, where prosperous times are causing millions to switch from bicycles and public transportation to western-style single-occupant vehicles. As if that's an integral part of success and prosperity.)
- There is no additional refining capacity, at least in the USA.
- People seem totally willing to pay $3. If I owned a gas station and my customers would line up to pay $3, I'd be stupid to sell for $2, no?

(Cyclists have the luxury of looking at gas prices a little differently. If it weren't for my family's appetite for fossil fuels, the gas price would only be a matter of mild curiosity for me, 350 or so days per year. Oh - as the price goes up, I s'pose the cost of getting my bike tires and tubes to Boise could go up a bit...)


There are seemingly a hundred different kinds of license plates here in Idaho, besides the standard red, white, and blue. You've got yer Elk plates, and your Bluebird plates, and your Lewis & Clark plates, and your Capitol plates. You pay a little extra, and the money goes to a special cause.

I'm a little confused by the one with the kids on it. Especially because it says "America's Promise." What cause is it promoting?

I'm further confused because the kids are pulling a wagon.

One reasonable guess … it says, "I'm helping burn up our finite fossil-fuel supply, so I'm kicking some money into the Wagon Fund… and I'm DOING IT FOR THE CHILDREN!" This seems particularly valid when I see some lady driving alone in a big ol' shiny white Suburban, almost every morning, and she's got the kiddie plates.

If you want to strengthen "America's Promise" for the kids… why not park that Suburban, and preserve a little gas for your kids?

Friday, February 16, 2007


Book Review.
(Book by Chris Balish, Ten Speed Press, ISBN 1-58808-757-4)

"Your car is no longer a chariot of freedom; it's a money-sucking horse that gets you to the office."
- Men's Health Magazine

Chris Balish has put together an interesting book. It is aimed at those who are frustrated with the expense and stress of car ownership and operation, and whose minds might be opened to alternatives. (Sadly, it seems like the vast majority of American citizens willingly enter into total dependence on motor vehicles, from the day they get a driver's license, but it doesn't have to be that way.)

Frankly, it would be difficult to not have a car readily available, for hauling heavy loads or for long trips. But car use could certainly be cut way back in many cases.

Balish's book is actually divided into two segments.

First he makes the argument about the high price that is paid for car ownership. He does it with numbers – you can fill out an expense sheet to figure out the real dollars-and-cents cost.

The American Automobile Association – hardly an anti-car organization – says the average American spends $8410 per year to own a vehicle (as of 2004; consider that gas was $1.83 in 2004.). The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2003) says the same person spends 18 cents of every dollar earned on "the purchase, operation, and maintenance of automobiles." (How sad! You have a job, so you can pay for your car, so you can get to your job!)

But it's not just the monetary expense. Balish provides this list of "What you won't miss about owning a car."
- Rising gas prices
- Sitting in traffic
- Looking for a parking spot
- Paying to park
- Mysterious engine noises
- Trying to find a reputable repair shop
- Waiting for your car to be fixed
- Parking-lot dings
- Flat tires
- Scraping a frozen windshield
- Waiting for winter warmup
- Tailgaters
- Waiting in line at the DMV
- Negotiating with car salesmen

And then there's the time.

The average American driver spends 443 hours behind the wheel each year. (According to the Surface Transportation Policy Project.) That's 11 40-hour work weeks… 1/5 of a work year!

And then there's the stress.

"Heavy traffic has been shown to produce a high degree of stress which could be a catalyst for stroke and heart attack. A stressful commute coupled with high blood pressure may be a dangerous combination for morning commuters."

Can you identify? That statement was made by Karol A. Watson, MD, PhD, director of the UCLA Center for Cholesterol and Hypertension Management. A study published in the Oct 2004 New England Journal of Medicine indicates that "sitting in traffic nearly triples the risk of suffering a heart attack a short time later."

In the second part of Balish's book, he discusses the alternatives to automobile transportation, in detail. He includes detailed points to consider for:
- Mass Transit
- Carpooling and Ridesharing
- Motorcycles and Scooters
- Bicycling
- Walking
- "Make your errands come to you."
- Car Sharing
- Rental Car Weekends

I'd suggest How to Live Well Without Owning a Car to anyone who might consider an alternative. (It's available at and most everywhere else that books can be had. You might check your local library, too.) Of course, you are free to send in that car payment and insurance payment, and then get an early start to beat the traffic. Good luck!

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Morning Commute

I paused on the footbridge at Ann Morrison Park to snap this sunrise, looking east toward Table Rock. As I was taking it, I could hear very faintly off in the distance the dull roar of the motoring commuters. And much nearer, the happy squawking of two Canada geese, wending their way upriver.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Save Gas - Don't Brake!!

I'm posting this hint for my car-driving friends.

Back when I was a punk teenager with a shiny new driver's license, I loved acceleration as much as the next guy. Maybe it's that sensation of power, as the G-forces push you back into the upholstery. Maybe it's testosterone. (But that seems unlikely – women seem to love the acceleration, too.)

The ultimate expression was if you could "spin rubber" and wear your (dad's) tires out faster than you would otherwise. (Looking back, it seems pretty stupid.)

Some people get over it. Others don't. When I'm bicycling and the light turns green, I'll frequently hear the "whoooooosh" as some old-enough-to-know-better clown punches the gas pedal, sucking the gas into his carburetor or fuel injector or whatever… and jack-rabbits to the next red light, where he slams on the brakes.

The sad part is – almost always, he's overtaken not only by the slower drivers, but also by the fat middle-age guy on his bicycle! How pathetic is that?!!

I know this 60-something woman who has a reputation. If you ride in her car – buckle up! When the light turns green, she punches it! And then she brakes – hard – waiting 'til the last minute, when she has to stop. (And she wonders why she has to replace her brake pads a couple times a year!)

A few years ago, I had a job driving a paratransit van for Boise Urban Stages.

If you drive paratransit, your passengers are frequently folks with serious disabilities, who live their lives in pain. I drove people with multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy. Quadriplegics who couldn't move from the neck down. People with spina bifida. An emergency maneuver – or even a sudden stop – can be very painful for them.

I was trained to drive paratransit by the best driver I've known, before or since.

Steve "Ski" Kurkowski – the Polish Hawaiian. (He looked Hawaiian; he grew up in Hawaii; his dad was Polish.) He was a driver in the Army for years – driving everything from huge transport trucks to M-1 Abrams tanks. When he retired, he took up paratransit driving.

"Ski" taught me how it's done.

Always look WAY up the road – as far as you can see – and anticipate the smoothest route. Look for bad pavement. Look for traffic backing up. Observe the next traffic signal – if you can time your progress so you get there while it's green, you can coast right through. Brake and accelerate very gradually and gently, rather than suddenly. With a bit of practice, you can come to an awesomely gentle stop, without that "jerk" at the end.

After a month of Ski's tutelage, I was a much better driver. (By the way, I LOVED that job! The passengers were fantastic; I became friends with many of them. I'd still be doing it, but I needed work that paid a little better… bus drivers are underappreciated.)

Motorcycle safety training reinforced the notion of "scanning" way up ahead – paying attention to anything that's moving, anticipating traffic-light changes, watching for bad pavement and other hazards – as a matter of survival.

Twenty-plus years of bicycling has also reinforced the lessons I learned from "Ski."

Any moron can accelerate in a car… just tromp the gas pedal. You could train an orangutan to do it.

It takes more work on a bike…it's muscle-power that provides acceleration.

As a transportation cyclist, I've learned to try to avoid braking wherever possible.


Braking is easy… but when you paid a price to get to the speed you are going, you hate to scrub off some of that speed (which you will have to pay the price to resume). It's way easier to maintain a steady speed, than to constantly be accelerating. So – I try to look way up the road. If I can hit every light when it's green, every now and then I can ride all the way to work, or home from work, without putting on the brakes even once. (So that's where I get my satisfaction nowadays, rather than the G-forces.)

I can guarantee that it's more economical to maintain a steady speed in any vehicle, regardless of the propulsion method, than to be constantly accelerating and decelerating. So – save gas – don't brake! (Try to hit the lights when they're green – not always easy. Take a straight route wherever possible, rather than zig-zagging intersections, which requires you to brake and accelerate, each time you change directions. Anticipate stops and watch for traffic patterns way up ahead.)

Or, just keep on driving like a stupid redneck or testosterone-charged teenager. After all, it's a free country.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Packing Pavement

One of the major threats to quality of life in my hometown - Boise, Idaho - is the ever-increasing volume of vehicle traffic, virtually all of it SOV (single-occupant vehicle).

Since I'm a dedicated transportation cyclist, I'm largely just an observer. But I DO have to breathe the junk all those SOVs are spewing out, be wary of Ricky Racers who are trying to get an advantage by swerving between lanes, jack-rabbeting to the next light, etc. Everybody is impacted in some way.

Way back in 1999, Jim Beamguard of the Tampa Tribune had a good notion. Why not show readers, in pictures, the cost of single-occupant-vehicle transportation, just in road congestion?

The following photos were the result, taken by Phil Sheffield.

Pretty self-explanatory. Hard to dispute.

In this photo, 40 people fill four lanes of downtown Tampa's Marion Street in their single-occupant automobiles. (Coincidentally, the transportation-of-choice for 90-plus percent of Treasure Valley residents.)
Packing Pavement 1

Then each trades the driver's seat for a chair.
Packing Pavement 2

Next they assume the pose of transit riders, clustering their seats in one bus-sized space.
Packing Pavement 3

Finally, they take their places in the urban landscape as pedestrians and cyclists.
Packing Pavement 4


Friday, February 2, 2007

January Report

I finished January with 403 miles, amassed on 31 days of riding. 22 work days; 22 rides to the office.

They say January 2007 was the second-driest on record (since 1949), which may have helped. However, I'm guessing it was also a colder-than-usual January, so what little snow we got early in the month never completely melted. Even though it hasn't snowed for a couple weeks, I'm still dodging ice-berms and snowy spots, wherever there is shade.

My bicycle currently has Continental "Top Touring" tires (no longer available) at both ends. They are awesome tires. Although not much wider than "skinny" tires, they really grip. Other than smooth sheets of ice - which are pretty much deadly in any vehicle - the goin' was pretty good all month.

The days are getting longer. At the first of the month, I was riding home in the dark at the end of the workday. Now, the sun is usually still in the sky - hanging low in the "yellow" sky - as I pull into the driveway. If I get a late start, I still have my 10-watt headlight standing by for duty.