Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What I Learned

... at the Garden City Council Meeting, where "Open Greenbelt" was on the docket.

(This is about an ongoing controversy surrounding a shared bike/pedestrian path. A very "local" issue. If you're not interested... sorry. But it's my duty as a tireless advocate for downtrodden cyclists EVERYWHERE. Especially in my back yard.)

As far as I know, it's the first time I've been in the same room with Gary (Segers), who did a presentation on behalf of the citizens who want continued bicycle access to the Riverside Village BIKE PATH. (I'm using terminology from the 1980 agreement between the State of Idaho and the developers.)

The first thing I learned is - Gary is awesome! I'm happy to be in his corner. He was amazingly well-prepared. His delivery was calm and rational and on-point. (And I totally disagree with an older gentleman who testified against bicycles, and suggested that Gary expressed poor judgment. Not one thing he said sounded unreasonable or lacking in judgment, at least to this observer.)

I learned that cyclists are perceived as disruptive, at least on bike-pedestrian -type paths.

One fella said it was unfair to characterize all cyclists in that manner. And he's right - but so are the other people.

We cyclists tend to be our own worst enemies - at least some of us. Some of us don't seem to realize that we are "ambassadors" for cycling, whether we like it or not. We can make either a good impression or a bad impression. (We all tend to stereotype; for example, I tend to stereotype all pickup-truck drivers in a certain way, based on the behavior of a few of them.)

The "shirts" (cyclists who wear colorful lycra "team" shirts, ride road bikes, and go "30mph" on the Greenbelt) are few in number, but make a big impression. One person after another - mostly residents of Riverside Village - stood to testify about the poor behavior of that type of cyclist.


If it weren't for them (you), riding up behind pedestrians and zipping by without any advance warning, swerving around people, hammering around corners with poor sight distance, and all that other stuff you do that irritates other pathway users, there would likely not even be an effort to keep ALL bike riders off that stretch of bike path!

(REAL competitive cyclists are out on the roads, anyway. The Greenbelt - at least in the congested areas - is NOT a suitable environment for "training rides." The "shirts" who are causing the problems on the Greenbelt are a bunch of weenies, posers, wankers, etc.)

But on the other hand... one person testified about how her communing-with-nature is totally ruined by cyclists coming up behind her and saying, "On your left."

"Jiminy!" (As Senator Larry Craig would say.) What do you want?

And there are plenty of zombies (read Danielo's enlightened essay about Zombies HERE) who aren't paying enough attention to their surroundings. There are also a LOT of people on the Greenbelt - perhaps a majority these days - who walk along with their earplugs jammed in. Is it any wonder that these folks get startled by a bicyclist who comes up from behind? GET A CLUE, PEOPLE!

A non-motorized mixed-use path is problematic. You'll have pedestrians going 2 (or zero) MPH. You'll have cyclists going 10 or 15 MPH. (30 is inappropriate... and impossible for 99% of bike riders, by the way.) You'll have roller bladers going somewhere in between. It takes a bit of cooperation, and a lot of paying-attention, but they can all mesh nicely - almost like ballet - if everybody is paying attention and respecting other pathway users. (Your "communing with nature" is wonderful. But it must not cause you to become an obstacle to other pathway users, in Riverside Village or ANY PLACE along the Greenbelt! Step off the path, and life will be much easier for everybody!)

I learned that the Riverside Village people tend to think of the bike path as their "nature trail."

Most of them described the serenity they enjoy in their back yards, and on the trail. (In stark contrast with the sense of terror and anarchy they feel, when you put bikers in the mix.)

Several told of how they informally polled other pathway users, and were pleasantly surprised to discover that many people travel long distances to enjoy the unique beauty and serenity of the Riverside Village path. But I got the distinct impression that they see themselves as benevolent land barons, willingly sharing THEIR treasure with outsiders who pass the inspection.

One lady - the one who serves "afternoon wine" to anonymous passers-by - even called it "our nature trail."

I'm confident if you polled people along ANY stretch of the Greenbelt, you'd discover that they come from far and wide.

I learned that Garden City is widely viewed as the obstacle to a continuous, uninterrupted Greenbelt.

Gary Segers pointed out that on the BSU website (click HERE to link), it states, "The political history of Garden City's Plantation and Riverside Village developments have for over a decade prevented the completion of the Greenbelt and the public's access to the river."

Residents, and Garden City officials, seem to take a certain "pride" in being the wrench-in-the-cogs. They like their path "just the way it is." The seem to not share the vision of the rest of the community, of the Greenbelt as extending on both sides of the river, continuous from Lucky Peak Dam past Eagle Island. (It would be easily feasible to bike-ride from one end to the other; only serious athletes - like Councilman Souza - could do it on foot. Grin)

(To be fair... there are a couple other stretches, outside of Garden City, that will likely never be open to bicycle traffic for much the same reason. Bikes and adorable woodland creatures don't mix. Our furry friends thrive among pedestrians, dogs, houses, back yards, lawnmowers, barbecue parties... but cannot tolerate bicycles.)

I learned that some people see the Greenbelt as a RECREATIONAL facility, but dismiss it as a TRANSPORTATION facility.

And, I s'pose if you only use it for recreational purposes, such a viewpoint is understandable. (Especially if the only way you ever get to work, or anyplace else, is in your single-occupant vehicle.)

I know better.

I love recreating on the Greenbelt. But almost every workday, I ride a short stretch of it on my commute. And I know I'm not alone. Go out there on a day when snow has fallen the night before. The Greenbelt will be covered with bike tracks in the snow; you can't convince me that those folks (who passed sometime between the 10pm snowstorm and 7:30 the next morning) are out enjoying a lovely recreational pastime.

A guy testified who said he rides in from Eagle to Boise every day, on his bicycle. And the Riverside Village closure puts him out on State Street. I'm a hard-core transportation cyclist (or so I believe), and am comfortable in almost any traffic situation. But I'd choose to avoid State Street at 7:30am, if another choice were available.

I learned that there have never been very many bicyclists along the Riverside Village path.

Several people stood and testified that since there aren't many bike riders along their path, not many people would be impacted by it being closed to bikes.

An alternative viewpoint is - since there aren't very many bike riders along the path, why is it so critical that the path be blocked to them?

I didn't learn - but I had it reinforced - that the Greenbelt is a regional resource, not a local resource.

A man - a Garden City resident - stood up with his young daughter and explained that they like to ride their bikes along the Greenbelt to get to Boise's parks. (Since Garden City is pretty short on parks.) His daughter testified that she doesn't like to ride where she'll have to deal with cars.

Just as Boise's parks are open and free to people from all around the region, and even beyond, the Greenbelt is intended to benefit everybody.

While the Greenbelt passes through multiple jurisdictions, in concept it is a "continuous mixed-use path on both sides of the river." (I don't have the official "mission statement" at hand, but that's the jist.) If those jurisdictions start restricting what the Greenbelt is, we lose. What if Ada County decided that ONLY bicycles should be allowed from Diversion Dam to Discovery State Park? What if the City of Boise decided to make the stretch behind Boise State University "Roller Blade Only"?

What I didn't learn - how Garden City and Riverside Village can in good conscience ignore the agreement they made - and signed - with the State of Idaho, in no uncertain terms, that they would develop and maintain a BICYCLE PATH, right where the "no bicycles" signs are currently posted.

(One person stood up and said that the word "bicycle" was deliberately excluded from the final deed, transferring the property to Garden City. I'm anxiously trying to find out if that's the case - if, at the last minute, somebody from the State of Idaho ultimately agreed with the other parties that bikes weren't such a good idea after all.)

To be continued...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Not Welcome Here

There's trouble - right here in River City.

Actually Garden City.

Since last summer, there's been an ongoing turf war, pitting river-front homeowners against bike riders, for access to a stretch of bike path running along the river bank.

If you're not up to speed, here's a brief history.

Around 1980, a development called "Riverside Village" went in, just north of the Boise River. Based on what I've seen, it was developed by Idaho Forest Industries and Evans Brothers Construction. A fella named John Evans was the project manager.

The homeowners along the riverfront lots have tried to maintain limited access to the trail that runs along the river, behind their houses. Limited meaning "no bikes." Any objective observer would agree that the trail is part of the Boise River Greenbelt - a bike/pedestrian path that's envisioned to stretch from Lucky Peak Dam, east of Boise, to Eagle, west of Boise.

However, unlike most of the Greenbelt, that short stretch of trail has never been paved. The homeowners even went so far as to put up some "No Bicycles" signs, which weren't always observed to their liking. So last summer, Garden City (headed by a fella named Mayor John Evans) made it a misdemeanor to ride a bike where it's posted "No Bicycles."

It should also be noted that the detour for that section is Highway 44 - a 55-mph, 5-lane highway. Kinda makes the whole path inaccessible for casual cyclists and kids on bikes... no?

I'm happy to report - the bike riders aren't giving up without a fight.

A fella named Gary Segers and a group called Idaho Citizens for an Open Greenbelt - COG (website HERE) have done their homework, and discovered some interesting things.

When Riverside Village was developed in 1980, the Idaho Department of Lands had control of the land along the river bank. In exchange for the parcel of land, "the DEVELOPER agrees that in connection with the construction of the project known as Riverside Village... they shall construct certain improvements on the state land consisting generally of a bike path, lakes, pedestrian bridges..." (That's from the official recorded document, which can be seen on the COG's website.)

What's so hard to understand? A bike path is a path that bikes can be ridden on, no? Can't we ALL agree on that?

Garden City will revisit the issue in a meeting TONIGHT (Monday, 2/25, 7pm) at City Hall.

Are they going to right the wrong?

I'm speculating they won't do it willingly.

Consider... in a quasi-official "Garden City News" emailing, Riverside Village resdent Donna Brown (of 4780 River Cove) writes this, in announcing the 2/25 meeting:

"... the bikers are back simply demanding the use of the Nature Trail, ignoring wildlife and the safety and rights of the pedestrians who are asking for only one mile of safe haven from bicyclists. This is not even taking into account the obvious structural and financial impossibilities of Garden City to prepare and maintain the path for the unwanted bikes."

I can't help but wonder when I read that:
- Why are bicyclists viewed as so much more destructive to the "nature trail's" Waldenesque serenity, than hoardes of walkers, joggers, family pets, backyard parties, lawn mowers, etc.?
- Aren't the "structural and financial impossibilities" a problem faced by Riverside Village, and not Garden City?

If bicyclists are compromising the "safety and rights" of pedestrians, shame on them! That is wrong, and should be corrected. However, banning them from a state-mandated bike path doesn't seem the answer. They don't punish speeders or DUI offenders by closing the road.

So - do I have a dog in the fight?

My interest is... it bothers me to see a "no bikes" sign ANYWHERE, if other traffic is allowed. It's almost always a sign of misunderstanding. It's bothersome to think that a 20-mile stretch of path can be disrupted for a one-mile stretch, at the whim of a neighborhood. (There are plenty of neighborhoods with greenbelt in the back yard. And from my casual observation, the cyclists are no more disruptive than any other traffic. Bike riders are generally also homeowners, taxpayers, citizens, pedestrians.) I've never ridden or walked on that stretch of Greenbelt. But if it's reopened to bicyclists, I will, just because I can. (I pledge not to endanger other pathway users, or bother our little furry and feathery friends.)

I hope to attend the meeting tonight. Mostly I'm curious for an explanation of what "bike path" means to the officials of Garden City... and to find out if Mayor Evans sees himself as mayor of the entire town, or just Riverside Village.

(Previous commentary HERE, HERE and HERE.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bicycle Drivetrain

Winter is hard on my drivetrain. (You're all familiar, I'm sure. In the world of bicycles, the drivetrain consists of a series of cogged wheels at the pedal end, and the rear wheel end, and a chain that connects them. Elegant simplicity!)

For one thing, I'm not very faithful about cleaning and lubing my chain. Especially the cleaning part.

For another thing, water, and dirt, sand, grit, etc., are not friendly to moving metal mechanisms.

Combine all those bad elements, and I have to replace my chain, and my rear "cassette," about once a year. (Some would argue that it should be done more often... but my motto is, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Realizing that I run the risk of ending up with it "broke" someplace a long walk from help. So far I've been lucky in that regard.)

A couple winters ago, I'm embarrassed to admit, I let my chain get so worn out that one of the side-plates (the link things that form the long part of the chain) was all the way worn through. So it was only connected on one side. (I hope I'm adequately describing the situation.) And - after I discovered it, I probably rode another 150 or 200 miles! (Being VERY aware, of course, that I couldn't be accelerating through an intersection with oncoming traffic, or some other situation where my life or safety depended on chain-integrity.)

My chain is starting to skip when I put the hammer down. It's worn out, and my most heavily-used rear cogs have been worn from jagged peaks down to foothills. If I can make it for another month, I'll be happy. By then, most of the sand will have been swept off the local roads (hopefully), and the rain might be tapering off.

The whole operation costs maybe $40. $15 for a chain, and $25 for a cassette. And an hour or so. And a willingness to get my fingers greasy. (That's always some nasty, dirty grease, that takes 2 or 3 days before it all washes off. I oughtta try some dishwashing gloves sometime.) I've got maybe $20 worth of semi-specialized tools that make the job much easier.

It amazes me that some cyclists (including cyclists who look like they should know better - at least, they are astride some sweet, expensive bikes) don't seem to understand that a chain needs some maintenance. Criminey! You can hear 'em squeakin' 2 blocks away! (Way back when, I wrote about it. "Johnny Oilcan." Click HERE to read.) Of course, the reality is, most of those department-store bikes are worn out about the same time as the chain is. So the whole thing goes to the landfill.

Bicycle Guru Sheldon Brown has written some great advice about maintaining that drivetrain. You can read his practical stuff HERE.


I doubt that's his real name.

He's the crosswalk attendant at a busy intersection near Jefferson School. He's an older gentleman, and obviously not from around here. Far as I know, "Good morning!" is the only phrase he knows in English. But he has a jolly smile, and we smile and say "Good morning!" to each other almost every weekday as I ride by. (Except for the days when school is out.)

Frequently Boris' wife is there with him, sitting in their car for warmth. She smiles and waves.

I've got other friends. I don't know their names.

There's the young couple who are out on early morning walks together, hand in hand. We smile and say hello. (As long as they can keep walking hand-in-hand, there's hope for their relationship.)

There's the guy who walks swiftly along the sidewalk, with a light-tan jacket and a blue beanie. He has a happy smile, and travels in the same direction as me. I don't know where he's headed. When it was really snowy, I'd slow down a bit so we could compare notes and strategies on surviving the slippery stuff.

There are some parents and kids, walking toward the school together, that I've come to recognize. (Lucky kids! Most kids get dropped off by car or bus these days.)

There used to be a nice lady who would be walking her dog, almost every morning. I haven't seen her for a few months... but now that the days are getting longer and warmer, I expect that she and other familiar faces will be back, one of these mornings.

Bicycling is WAY more sociable than driving a MSDC (Mobile Sensory Deprivation Chamber, AKA motor vehicle).

(If you choose to make it so. There are obviously cyclists who want no part of it. You can usually count on the snobs in their "George's" jerseys to not give you the time of day... it would waste their precious oxygen, or dislodge them from their lofty pedestals, take them out of "the zone," or something. But I digress.)

In fact, I'd say our total dependence on motor vehicles has, in many ways, turned us into a community of strangers. We drive straight home from wherever we've been, push the button to raise the garage door, drive in and park, and hole up in our IMMOBILE sensory deprivation chambers, until it's once again time to drive away.

A quick hello to Boris and the others always enriches my day, and I'm glad for that brief personal touch.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Beware the Zombies!

Fellow cycle enthusiast Danielo has posted some awesome advice on how to deal with mixed-use Path Zombies.

Click HERE for Danielo's inspired advice column.

(I'm sure ANYBODY who has ever ridden on a bike / pedestrian path on a halfway-nice day has encountered the Zombies. Could there be a better one-word description? It's only gotten worse since a good percentage of 'em plugged in their headphones, so now their hearing is as ineffective as their vision seems.)

Bike Socks

I want a pair of bike socks that have the Presidential Seal embroidered on 'em, like this guy.

They look pretty lame with those lame-O shoes [George looks like his momma dressed him], but what awesome socks! I bet they're good for at least 2mph on the average speed!

(Does the White House have an online store, where a regular Joe like me can get stuff with the Presidential Seal on it? If Barack would declare, "Vote for me and every American will get a pair of Presidential Bike Socks," I'd sit right up and take notice!)

NOTE: PLEASE don't post any pro-Bush or anti-Bush rants as comments. There are PLENTY of places where that is welcomed, but not here. Thanks. (I like that he's an enthusiastic bike rider.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Do you iPod when riding?

Ah, the ubiquitous iPod. It's become a staple of youthful society. And why not? A jukebox-full of favorite tunes-on-demand, in a device the size of a pack of gum. And headphones/earbuds that can block out all that annoying ambient sound.

But... to iPod, or not to iPod, while bicycling? That is the question.

I sure see a lot of cyclists wearing 'em these days. On dedicated bike paths, and in heavy traffic.

The most famous (running) race in these parts is the Robie Creek Half-Marathon. People come from far and wide to particpate; signup for the 2008 edition begins right away. The organizers have really stirred up the ant-pile, by declaring that portable music devices are banned for safety and insurance reasons. (News-web article here.) Evidently the governing body for long-distance races, USA Track & Field, has imposed the rule. (Although a quick web investigation offers evidence that the rule is frequently not enforced.)

Besides the safety factor, somebody who commented on the Robie Creek article said that some runners' times improve by a factor of 6-10%, when they are in an MP3-induced techno groove. (If true... that amazes me. Competitive advantage? Is it safe to assume that "Rhythm Method" would be a better listening option than "Celine Dion," if you're competing?) (I'd probably give Dick Dale, or the Reverend Horton Heat, or The Ramones, a spin, for the winning soundtrack.)

I have an "iPod-like device." Actually, I have a couple. One holds 256mb onboard, uses SD-Card expansion, and AAA batteries for juice. It's tiny. The other has a 40GB hard drive, of which I've filled up about 28GB. I've got 8418 tracks loaded onto it, from 592 different albums. Everything from classical to punk. It's slightly larger than a classic iPod, but I can swap batteries, and I could probably listen for two weeks, 24/7, without listening to the same thing twice.

I rarely listen to MP3 music when I'm bicycling, for several reasons.

1. SAFETY Arriving safely at my destination is my responsibility. Over years of riding, I've come to depend on all my senses - including hearing - to keep me aware of potential hazards. On a regular basis, I have to adjust my trajectory or speed to avoid somebody who's suddenly in the wrong place. I don't want to voluntarily surrender my sense of hearing... when I'm bicycling, I frequently hear things before I see 'em.

2. SOUND QUALITY Rolling down the road is hardly a substitute for the sensory pleasure of listening to some good music on a good sound system, in a quiet living room. (That's why it amazes me when I see these kids who have obviously sunk thousands into their car stereo systems. WHY?) Furthermore, the compression that's inherent in the MP3 (and similar) encoding, leads to an inferior product. (Actually, it sounds OK "rolling down the road," not so much in that quiet living room. But just the same, I find it fatiguing after hours and hours.)

3. SILENCE IS UNDERRATED (This point may be related to #2.) There's a time and a place for everything. I love music - as much as anybody I know. I'm passionate about music. (If I had to choose between blindness and deafness, it would be an agonizingly difficult choice, for that reason alone.) But I also enjoy "silence." Silence is impossible in traffic. But riding along a less-traveled road, or a bike path... just the wind whistling by and the quiet whirr of the chain. It gives the ol' head-wheels a unique opportunity to spin freely. I do some of my best thinking when I'm bicycling along on a quiet road or path, self-contained in my head. (Paying attention, of course, for warning signs.)

Now and then, I'll listen to music while riding. But only in low-traffic areas. (And also bear in mind, I always ride with a rearview mirror, and I pay particularly close attention to it, when music is impairing my hearing ability.)

(My 40GB player is particularly nice on my multi-day motorcycle rides. NEVER in town or in situations where I'm concentrating on navigating. But when I'm riding down a 50-mile stretch of 2-lane, it can be refreshing and enjoyable, and can enhance the experience.)

An alternative to earplugs? I found an interesting bicycling doohickey. It's a speaker/amp, and iPod-holder, all built into a water-bottle-shaped device that fits in your bottle cage. Click here for more info. I doubt I'll get one - it may slightly enhance safety over the earplug option, but I can't imagine the sound quality is particularly compelling.

(illustration found at

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Some of you other local bike riders will have to give me your opinions. Perhaps we need to caucus.

I'm starting to think I've had enough of the wet, slippery white stuff for this winter. Maybe two more weeks, and then it'll be about right...?


We got another 2 or 3 inches last night... the main roadways were "solid snow floor," but it fell on a lot of frozen slush-piles and such, along the sides (just where bicyclists normally like to be). So, it was white-knuckle riding again this morning. Spoze to be another storm tonight. (Followed by 3 or 4 mild, warmer days... that will be NICE!)

Those poor folks out in Suburbia need a break. This morning the radio traffic-report guy said, "Pack a breakfast, pack a lunch, because it's a long commute today." Jon the radio guy added, "And be sure to go to the bathroom before you leave home." And Christina, the radio babe, cracked me up. She said, "That depends on where you're going." (Get it? Get it? I thought about the crazy astronaut lady.)

Actually, if all my riding were absent of motor vehicle intrusion, the snow days would be fantastic! There may not be a better way to improve one's bike-handling skills, than on a tricky, unpredictable course. (And the "powder cruising" - away from traffic, for example, through Ann Morrison Park - is sublime!) Winter on slippery days is really the only time I'm uncomfortable sharing the road with those 4000-pound MSDCs. (Mobile Sensory Deprivation Chambers)

I've been praying for an end to the drought. And my people have been doing the same. Let me know when we should back off just a little.

[NOTE: The photo was actually taken a week or so ago. Click on it, as always, for a bigger view.]

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


I went on my first "real" bike ride in probably 2 weeks today. (The pavement finally surfaced, after days and days of solid snow floor. Woo-hoo!) It felt so good to work up a little sweat, and pump some endorphins through my suffering brain.

I went on what we call the "Cow Loop," east of town. (Warm Springs / Eckert area... "Harris Ranch.") I saw several deer out in the pastures. And tried to relish the view; it won't be there for too much longer. That whole valley will soon be another sea of rooftops.

[Unless it all gets flooded this year, as has happened in the past. Of course, there are thousands of people in relatively-new McMansions, built during the "drought," who don't have sense enough to live outside the flood plain. If you build 'em, they will come. And except for those couple months in the springtime when they're flooded, it's awesome to live in a house right on the river, huh? But I digress.]

Heading back in, on Parkcenter Boulevard, I had a big ol' pickup truck right on my tail. Which is always distressing, especially when you consider there are three traffic lanes in each direction, and traffic wasn't particularly heavy. It was a Dodge. I could tell by the grille. And it was a diesel. I could tell by the big noise it was making. (Those Dodge diesels, in particular, generate a LOT of noise pollution.)

He got his break, and went on by. (What a STINK those diesels make! Gag!)

The license place was Idaho, and said


I believe that means he's a state senator, from District 30, which means he's Edgar J. Malepeai, democrat from Pocatello. I checked him out - he's on the Transportation Committee.

Other drivers of big ol' diesel trucks should appreciate the fact that one of "their own" is in the Hallowed Halls of state government. I'm sure he's trying to look out for the interests of diesel pickup truck drivers. They've got it ROUGH these days, what with expensive fuel, bad traffic, not many places to park, etc.

I hope he didn't rush back to his office to craft some legislation to get bikes off the streets, on account of my holding him up for a few seconds...

Oh, how I wish that a state senator would "reel me in" on his bicycle! (I'd be equally happy if a city bus went by, and a half-dozen legislators were hollerin' and waving out the window!)

(But, to their credit, I've got to hand it to the state government. Although they don't do much to promote alternative transportation, and I believe they've GOT to act - and act soon - on our local mass-transit-or-lack-thereof dilemma - Idaho's bicycle laws are uncommonly common-sense.)