Privilege and rights in our communities and on our roads

A couple of weeks ago, I finally got around to reading Jeremy Dowsett’s post, “What My Bike has Taught Me about White Privilege.”  I’d been seeing links to the post on FB for a week or two, and I resisted clicking.  I had a pretty good idea what his argument would be, and, while I thought he had a point, I also thought the argument was a bit of a stretch.

When I finally got around to reading it, I found a thoughtful, well-written piece.  I particularly enjoyed the way Dowsett looked at the idea of white privilege (emphasis mine):

But privilege talk is not intended to make a moral assessment or a moral claim about the privileged at all. It is about systemic imbalance. It is about injustices that have arisen because of the history of racism that birthed the way things are now. It’s not saying, “You’re a bad person because you’re white.” It’s saying, “The system is skewed in ways that you maybe haven’t realized or had to think about precisely because it’s skewed in YOUR favor.”

As a bicyclist, Dorsett explores this imbalance from a number of angles: access; road conditions; the often unintentional, but potentially quite damaging behavior of “privileged” motorists; and unjust laws.  In the interest of not recapping his entire post here, I’ll let you read it for yourself.

This is not the first time I’ve read or heard bicyclists’ rights being compared to civil rights.  I get the analogy.  Bicyclists are often treated as second class citizens.  Even motorists who don’t have bad intentions don’t really get it, and often behave in ways that endanger us.  (I don’t agree with everything he says — while I share some of his experience, and frustrations, my experience on the bicycle, the story I tell, is often different because of the way I ride.)

Part of where this argument/analogy breaks down for me is that skin color is not something you choose.  It’s something you’re born with.  And everyday, people in this country, people in my city, are treated differently because their skin is darker than mine.

On the other hand, most people who ride bikes are choosing to do so.  Even if you eliminate the recreational riders from that equation, and just look at people who are using bicycles for transportation, for most of them, most of the time, it is still a choice.  They can afford to own and operate a motor vehicle (though the cost of this is not negligible).  For whatever reasons (health, money savings, environmental reasons, etc.), they are choosing to ride a bike.

And it’s not okay to be discriminated against, harassed, or endangered for your transportation choices, but it is also not the same as facing those same challenges and built-in biases because of a physical characteristic you can’t control.  (Also, for bicyclists, these experiences happen when they are on the bicycle; people of color can’t just “get off the bicycle.”)

But what about the people who don’t have much choice about being on a bike?  What about people like Cherokee Schill, a single mother who rides her bike to work every day?  A woman who was first dragged to court, and has now been arrested, because she is using her bike to get to work and support her family?  A person who’s riding her bike so she can save her money for groceries and housing rather than gas and car maintenance?

Schill, 41, said if there were an easier way to get to work, she would take it. Her [car] is not dependable. To be able to afford housing and food for herself and two teenagers, the divorced mother said commuting by bike keeps her household afloat.

“I’m not putting myself here because I think it’s fun or exciting,” Schill said of the commute. “I’m here because I’ve got two kids to feed and a roof to put over their head. … I’ve got to pay rent, pay bills and buy groceries.”

The only route between Ms. Schill’s home and her workplace is a U.S. highway (the article I linked to above makes it clear that she explored other options for getting to work; none of them get her to work in time for her 6am shift).  This is not an interstate, with posted minimum speeds.  The shoulders on the highway are filled with debris (as are most shoulders), not to mention rife with turning conflicts that make “far to the right” a very dangerous place to be.  So Ms. Schill rides in the right traffic lane and practices defensive bicycle driving.

This is a 4-lane road, so when Ms. Schill is operating her bicycle in the right lane, motorists can freely change lanes to pass her in the left lane.  It is that simple.  Might they have to take their foot off the gas pedal and slow down a bit when they approach her?  Yes, just as you would for any slower moving vehicle.  The “delay” this would cause any single person is minimal.

The county prosecutor and law enforcement have chosen to challenge Ms. Schill’s right to operate her bicycle on this road.  Through all the citations and press, Ms. Schill had continued riding, continued going to work and supporting her family, despite harassment from [a select few] motorists and local law enforcement.  Instead of focusing on the people who were threatening and harassing Ms. Schill, with their vehicles, they chose to focus on the “danger” she posed to motorists.  To focus on how she doesn’t belong on that road, because she is slower and smaller.

After reading about Ms. Schill’s conviction last week, and her arrest yesterday, the parallels between the different struggles for rights ring more true than ever.  I will not claim they are identical (nor does Mr. Dowsett, as explained in his follow-up post).  But the similarities, and possible implications, are frightening.


To learn more, and show your support for Cherokee Schill (and the rights of all bicyclists), check out the “I Support Cherokee Shill” page on FB, as well as the fundraising effort to cover Ms. Schill’s legal costs (she is planning to appeal the initial court ruling against her).




Posted in Biking | Tagged , | 10 Comments

PA school — Full steam ahead?

I started this post last week with a working title of “PA school — An unreachable goal?”

I spent five months considering options, including getting a med tech or CNA certificate, and hunting for jobs (ideally ones that I could get without any additional education) that would give me more “patient care experience” for my physician assistant school application.  Five months with very few jobs to apply for, and zero interest in the few applications I did submit.

I was feeling like this whole PA school thing might never happen, when I looked at my work history and decided that, technically, I have [barely] enough hours to go ahead and apply now (for a fall 2015 start date).

Of course, it would have been much better to come to this conclusion in June, at the beginning of the application cycle, than in mid-September, just several weeks from the application deadline.  Better in terms of time, and better in terms of my odds of acceptance (the school I’m looking at considers applicants on a rolling basis — at this point, some of the spots for next fall’s cohort are probably already taken, so by applying late[r], I’m competing against a bigger pool for a smaller number of seats).  Sigh.

I went ahead and started completing the online application, which is ridiculous.  You have to enter, one at a time, each and every college level class you’ve ever taken: course title, course prefix and number, grade received, credit hours . . . talk about painstaking!  (I made it through undergrad, and I’m waiting on my grad school transcript to tackle those classes.)  This is in addition to sending them your official transcripts, which, of course, obtain all the info they’re making you enter.

With the exception of medical terminology, I have all the academic prerequisites (though some of them are a bit dated).  My overall GPA will be quite high, and my science GPA will be decent.

The fact that I have a degree in public health, and 7+ years experience in the field, should work in my favor.

Still, while my patient care hours meet the minimum requirement, they’re nothing impressive.  More clinical/patient care experience would be a plus, but it’s not clear that that is going to happen, certainly not quickly or easily.

The idea of applying now, and starting next fall (2015), as opposed to applying in the summer of 2015 and waiting until the fall of 2016 to start (two whole years away), is appealing (and frightening).  I feel like I’m just cooling my heals otherwise and giving myself too much time to second-guess and question this whole crazy plan (you know, juggling an intense 27-months of full-time school and studying with having a family,  going into debt for the privilege, watching school bills eat up all the money we’ve saved to buy a house, questioning why the heck I have to do this, and whether “this” is the right/best option — should I be seriously considering opening a bike shop instead?).

I was all set to go for it, full speed ahead, and then I considered the application fee.  Two hundred twenty-five dollars.  Not that much money, but I’m not a gambler, and that’s what it feels like I’d be doing if I go for this now, instead of waiting for the next application cycle.

The thing is, I’m not sure I’d be anywhere different in nine months, experience-wise, but I would at least have the advantage of applying really early, and being in that first pool of applicants they consider.  I feel like I may need that advantage.

So, cards on the table, or bide my time???  What would you do?

Posted in My Life | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Portland bike infrastructure: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Well, it’s been a month since our Portland trip, so I guess it’s about time I got around to writing this post.  As I mentioned in this post, we spent a good bit of time on bikes while we were there, averaging about ten miles a day, all around the town.

Similar to our last visit, the Portland Citywide Bike Map was our best friend.*


Our well-loved map

The bike map was useful for telling us where to ride, and, just as importantly, where NOT to ride (i.e., we planned our routes to avoid streets with bike lanes).

The Good
The green routes in the above photo indicate bike boulevards (AKA neighborhood greenways), defined here as:

. . . residential streets with low volumes of auto traffic and low speeds where bicycle and pedestrians are given priority.

So, how do they achieve “low volumes of auto traffic” and give priority to people on bicycles?


Sharrow and “Bumps” ahead sign

These routes are marked with well-placed sharrows (above) and low, broad speed bumps (below — also, mini horses :) ).


Traffic calming bumps

These speed bumps aren’t a big deal at bicycle speeds, but they do get motorists’ attention.  My friend drove down from Seattle to visit us in Portland, and while driving her car on some of these streets, she mentioned that the bumps were annoying.  I responded with, “That’s the point.” Yes, motorists can use these streets, but the frequent bumps make them less attractive, thus encouraging motorists to do most of their travel on arterial roads (the bumps also encourage travel at slower speeds — they weren’t too bad if you hit them at ≤20mph).**


Awwwwe, a baby traffic circle

Another design feature is intentionally minimizing stop signs, which are a bigger bother to pedal-powered travelers than to motorists.  Instead of four way stops at every. single. intersection (ahem, StL, I’m looking at you), most intersections along these routes used 2-way stops at the cross streets, allowing traffic on the bike boulevards to flow smoothly.  Some intersections used a “mini traffic circle” (for lack of a more official term), pictured above, in conjunction with the 2-way stops, for traffic calming.

So, the bike boulevards in general get a thumbs up.  Throughout our stay, we sought out these routes, combining them as needed with “regular” streets (i.e., streets with no bike infrastructure).

The Bad
The bike boulevards did have some design quirks.  If you look at the map pictured at the top of this post, you’ll see that you often have to do some little “jogs” to stay with the green routes.  Sometimes these were marked well, sometimes not.  If you lived in Portland and rode these routes every day, it wouldn’t be a big deal.  As visitors, it was a bit confusing and frustrating at times.


Say what?

So here we were, traveling eastbound on a two-way street, and we cross an intersection, and all the sudden, we’re moving against the flow of traffic on a one-way [westbound] street, per the paint’s instructions!  Granted, this took place on a small, residential street, and the one-way bit only lasted for a short block, but still, talk about breaking the rules of movement!  (The sign says, “Do Not Enter | Except Bicycles.”)


Same place as above, with a car approaching. This might belong in “The Ugly.”

I understand this is another technique for reducing/discouraging non-local motor vehicle traffic, but in addition to being dangerous in this location, it potentially encourages wrong-way riding on OTHER streets.

If they really want to do this, I would suggest at least eliminating parking on the right side of the street, to create more space for movement, as well as adding some sharrows to make people more alert to the anomaly.

In some places where this occurred, the offense wasn’t quite as egregious, as the street immediately reverted to two-way traffic,  and, you know, actually had enough space to operate a bicycle.


Do Not Enter | Except Bicycles

Of course, the intersection above commits the additional offense of having “bike boxes,” that special green paint that encourages queue jumping by bicyclists.  “Here, please ride up along the right side of potentially right-turning motor vehicles instead of just waiting your turn like everybody else.”

Here is another intersection feature along some of the bike boulevards: “Right Turn Only | Except Bicycles.”


Median to prevent thru motor vehicle traffic.

These medians, with cut-outs for bicycle pass-throughs, were usually found where the bike boulevards intersected with a larger street.  Again, this discourages motorists from using these routes for long distances, as they are only thru-routes if you’re on a bike.


Median cut-outs for cyclists

This is perhaps a decent idea, but, as implemented, the cut-outs are clearly designed for edge-riding cyclists.  This design becomes particularly problematic if the cyclist wishes to make a left turn at one of these intersections, as you first have to cut right, then back left to make the turn.  Not impossible, but it does require extra communication to make your intentions clear to both motorists and fellow cyclists.

The Ugly
For the most part, we used the bike route map to successfully avoid “the ugly.”  We did find ourselves on a couple of short stretches of roads with bike lanes.  These were invariably door zone bike lanes, that sandwiched you nicely between parked cars to the right and moving motor vehicles on the left.  No thanks!

However, in Oregon, you don’t really have the choice to NOT ride in these lanes, given the state-wide mandatory bike lane law.  Granted, those laws have exceptions which would basically invalidate over 90% of travel in the bike lanes, but I didn’t want to take chances with a police officer not knowing/understanding those exceptions, especially when “everyone else was doing it (i.e., riding in the bike lane like good little sheeples).”

I should note that, on this trip, we were always pulling a trailer (or riding a box bike like the Bullitt) which should be a valid excuse for not ever using a bike lane — these things are just too wide for bike lanes, period!

I don’t have any photos of Portland’s bike lanes, since we avoided them so successfully, but for a deeper look, check out Andy’s excellent series on the topic of Portland bike lanes at Carbon Trace: Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3.

Finally, this:


Bi-directional bike lane on one-way street

Where to begin?  On this street, what had been a two-direction road divided into two, separate one way chunks.  But that didn’t stop the Portland traffic engineers from installing a bi-directional bike lane.  What you see above, from left to right: a sidewalk, a north-bound bike lane, an against-traffic [south-bound] bike lane a buffer zone (the lane with the chevrons in it — UPDATE: I was incorrect in my original identification of this space; see comments for details), two north-bound travel lanes, and another sidewalk.  The presence of multiple rail tracks just south of this intersection adds to the general confusion.  There is a “Do Not Enter” sign, but we were confused as to whom that sign was addressed.

On our very first encounter with this intersection, Matthew accidentally ended up in one of the [regular] travel lanes, going the wrong direction.  I was still waiting at the stop sign, trying to figure out exactly what was going on and how best to respond, and I watched in horror as I realized his mistake — he was headed right toward a car in the same lane.  Fortunately, he was able to divert onto the sidewalk on the far side.  In the end, much as I avoid sidewalk riding, the sidewalk is also what I chose for this small stretch.

No Substitute for Quality Education
In the end, even “good” bike infrastructure, such as the bike boulevards, is no replacement for comprehensive bicycling education.  The majority of the bicyclists I saw riding on the bike boulevards in Portland were operating in either the door zone or the startle zone, despite the presence of properly placed sharrows directing them elsewhere.

At one point, while traveling along a bike boulevard, Matthew was almost the victim of a drive-out collision.  It was a two-way stop — so the motorist had a stop sign and we did not.  The motorist stopped at the stop sign, but was already on his way, with his front bumper out beyond the curb, when he saw Matthew and stopped again.  If Matthew had been practicing edge-behavior, rather than driver behavior, he quite possibly would have been hit (being away from the edge makes you more visible).

I’ll close with a couple of great quotes that I came across recently:

Merely believing and hoping that Protected Bike Lanes are safe is not good enough. We are not practicing a religion here, we are trying to keep people alive.  (source)

And, from a thread on the “Supporters of Full Lane Rights for Cyclists” FB page:

In other kinds of transportation facilities, we do not have the most inexperienced users decide out of fear which are the best designs.

*If you’re headed to Portland, you can order a bike map ahead of time here, or just visit most any bicycle shop once you arrive.
**Not sure of the full details, but a local (StL) traffic engineer told me those speed bumps (and/or the mini traffic circles, I don’t remember which) don’t work so well in places where snow plows are needed.
Posted in Biking | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

How I ride: Summer footwear

In the fall of 2010, after I enjoyed biking around Chattanooga in sandals, I relaxed my “only bike in closed-toe shoes” policy, and started biking in sandals.  Sturdy sandals with backstraps (my Birks and Tevas), but still, sandals.  It felt great in the summer, and it was convenient.  Sandals looked better with skirts or capri pants, and, if I was headed to a destination where I wanted to wear sandals, I didn’t have to worry about wearing tennis shoes, changing into sandals, and lugging my shoes around.

This practice lasted for about two years, then came to a screeching halt when Matthew had a bike crash (a solo fall, due to a structural failure in his bike) in the fall of 2012.  He was wearing his Teva sandals at the time, and, other than a few scrapes, his sole injury was a sprained big toe.  Sounds like a little thing, but it was a fairly bad sprain, and it turns out it’s rather difficult to walk when one of your toes is out of commission.

Since wearing closed-toe shoes almost certainly would have prevented this injury, I reluctantly reverted back to my former policy.  But I wasn’t satisfied — there had to be some middle ground, something closed-toe (and comfortable) that looked halfway decent with skirts and dresses.  I tried [close-toed] Keen sandals, but I didn’t like the way the foot bed felt with bare feet, and I wasn’t crazy about the appearance.

At the end of last summer, I purchased a pair of Mary Jane-style Crocs.  They were comfy and decently attractive, but after a few rides, I decided they weren’t quite what I was looking for.  They met the letter of my closed-toe policy, but with thin, very flexible soles, they didn’t feel terribly protective.

I wore them a few more times this summer, but the hunt continued.  (The purchase was not a total waste — I like walking in the Crocs.)

After researching and considering, I narrowed my selections to Keen and Chaco Mary Janes.  When I went to order various styles and sizes to try, I saw a third brand, Jambu, that looked interesting.


REI order

The Jambu’s from REI were cute, and also on sale for half off.


Alas, the toe box was just a bit narrow (on the big-toe side).  You know, more of a “traditional” shoe shape, and less of a foot shape.


I put on the Keen Siennas, and they seriously felt like slippers.  I was nearly sold, but I was still awaiting a Zappos order with some other options.


When this order arrived, I tried on the Jambu shoes, knowing that they were likely already out, due to the toe box fit, and that was indeed the case.  The Keens in my Zappos order were VERY similar to the Siennas, despite being a different model.  Then there were the Chacos.


The Chacos had the same, immediately comfortable feeling that I’d loved in the Keen Mary Janes and similarly good toe box shape.IMG_5814

From left to right: Keen Sienna, Chaco Petaluma, and my Crocs.  The Chacos seemed wide not just in the toe box (where I wanted the room), but throughout the rest of the shoe (where I didn’t want the room), so the Keen Siennas won.

I wore them on the bike for the first time on Sunday.  The foot bed didn’t feel quite as great once my feet were sweaty, but it wasn’t bad, either.  They have a thick, firm sole, and the extra bit of rubber covering the toe, and the strap keeps them on securely.  Something about them (perhaps the open top?) makes these feel less protective than a tennis shoe, but I’m not sure I’m going to find anything better (that also fits the look I’m going for).

When it comes to bike apparel, I think it’s about finding a happy medium.  Could I be wearing more protective shoes?  Absolutely!  I could, for example, wear nothing but steel-toed boots when I ride my bike.  My feet would be really, really safe, but I would probably be pretty uncomfortable.  I also know plenty of people who enjoy biking in sandals (or dress shoes), but that’s just not me, at least not right now.



Posted in Biking | Tagged | 9 Comments

Stuffed peppers

One for my foodie readers (I know it’s been a lot of bike stuff lately, but that’s life!).  Anyhow, I was beginning to despair of ever having peppers, and then, voila!  Grocery bags full of gorgeous sweet peppers!

We also had a few large green bell peppers, which Matthew suggested stuffing.  I made these based on [a vegetarian adaptation of] his grandmother’s recipe.*

In the interest of not reinventing the wheel, the recipe here is adapted from the stuffed zucchini recipe I shared earlier this summer.  To make this recipe similar to Matthew’s grandmother’s recipe, simply use tomatoes for most of the veggies to make a nice amount of tomato sauce.  Thicken the sauce with a couple tablespoons of flour, which you mix in with the sauteing onions and other veg before adding the tomatoes. IMG_5805

Stuffed Peppers

Recipe by Melissa
Serves 4-6


4-6 large bell peppers, any color
1 onion
6 cloves garlic
1.5 c. uncooked grain (brown rice, quinoa, millet, farro)
1 c. cooked lentils or 1 8oz package of tempeh
4-8 c. vegetables of choice (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, kale or spinach, fennel)
fresh or dried herbs (thyme, oregano, parsley)
4-6 oz. cheese, cut into small cubes (I used Havarti and Gruyere)
olive oil and/or butter
salt and pepper


1. Prep the peppers: cut off the tops, and scoop out the seeds.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Parboil the squash for 1-2 minutes (it doesn’t take long with these guys), until slightly tender.  Drain well.

2. Prep the grain.  To up the flavor, add a bit of salt, plus some onion powder and a pinch of tumeric to this step.  If you want to conserve water and energy, use some of the already-heated water from step 1 to cook the grain.

3. Prep the veggies: You want everything fairly tender and ready to eat.  Chop everything into bite-sized pieces.  Sauté onions, then add other veggies to sauté.  I used a mix of butter and olive oil, plus about 1/2 t. of salt.  If you’re using tomatoes, you can just throw the chopped, uncooked tomatoes into the filling, or cook them down into more of a sauce.

4. Prep the tempeh, if using: I basically followed the method I use to prep tempeh for vegetarian reubens, except I crumbled it up first, instead of leaving it in a slab.

5. Combine it all: In one large pan or bowl (one of the ones that’s already dirty is fine, if it’s big enough), combine everything from steps 1-4.  Toss in any herbs.  Taste for overall salt and flavor level, and adjust as needed.

6. Stuff it and bake it: Preheat [toaster oven] to 400F.  Arrange peppers, open side up, in a baking pan (for four peppers, a bread pan worked well, and allowed me to use the toaster oven).  Sprinkle halves with salt.  Add the stuffing.  Bake for 15-20 minutes — long enough for cheese to get melty and flavors to meld a bit.

*The original recipe uses ground beef in place of the cheese and tempeh.  My MIL’s veg adaptation uses all cheese.  This version lightens it up a bit by replacing some of the cheese with lentils or tempeh.  Matthew said it was good, but he still wants the cheesy version sometime.
Posted in Food, Garden, Recipes | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Tired tires

Last week, I concluded my “Crazy Days” post with, “. . . and I’m hoping that’s the end of the excitement for the week!”  Apparently I tempted fate just a bit too much with that statement, as Friday brought more “adventures.”

Car tires
After the flat brought our attention to the fact that the 8-year-old tires (with ~55k miles on them) on our car were no longer road worthy, we did our research, selecting both a new tire and a local place for installation.

On Thursday morning, I made the appointment for nine on Friday morning, planning to bring work and a book and just wait there (for about 90 minutes) while they worked on the car.  I arrived at nine, handed over the key, and headed to the waiting area.

About thirty minutes later, one of the front office guys came in and told me that the new tires were still on a truck on their way to the shop, but that they should arrive in about forty minutes.  Thinking I’d still be out of there by 11am, I opted to wait.

Around 10:30am, with a dead laptop battery and no power cord (I didn’t think I’d be there long enough to need it), I went in search of an update.  Still no tires.  With lunch looming, and no definite end time, I accepted a shuttle ride home, after they agreed to deliver my car to me [at home] when the work was complete (which they don’t usually do).

Three-thirty rolls around and still no car.  At this point, it made more sense for Matthew to bike to the tire place on his way home from work and grab the car rather then them delivering it.  I called the shop to relay this change in plans; to make sure that we would, in fact, be getting new tires before the day ended; and to see if there was anything they could do for the inconvenience.  I mean, why do you SCHEDULE someone for an appointment without having the parts?

On the phone, they offered to give me their “tire protection plan” ($30 value) for free, as well as knocking $20 off the cost of the alignment.  Not quite what I’d been hoping for, but better than nothing.

Sometime between that phone call and Matthew arriving to pick up the car, someone must have had a change of heart, because they also ended up essentially giving us one of the tires, including installation, for free ($120 value).  Now that’s good service!  (With a 90k mile lifespan, these tires will probably outlast our car.)

In the meantime . . .

Bike tires
With Baby Jake permanently out of commission, I’m reduced to 1.5 bikes — BUB (my back-up bike) and Big Blue, which I consider half a bike because Matthew and I share it.

BUB has been sitting in the basement, unridden, since the end of April, when I loaned out the IBert seat in anticipation of Big Blue’s arrival.  I’m not exactly sure when I’ll get around to deciding on and acquiring Baby Jake’s replacement, so on Friday, I pulled BUB out of the basement.

Matthew and I were planning to meet for a yoga class on Friday evening, so I aired up BUB’s tires, did a quick check of the bike, and headed out.

I was about a mile into the two mile trip, when I heard a funny sound from the rear of the bike.  I had a split second to prepare to pull over and see what was causing the noise, when, BOOM!  The rear tire had a complete blow-out (I’ve had flats before on my bike, but never a blow-out like this).

Fortunately, I was traveling slowly when it happened and I was able to maintain control of my bike (may have also helped that it was the rear tire, rather than the front).  Unfortunately, I was a mile away from my destination (and from home) with a spare tube but no air pump, and a heavy hybrid bike.  Oops.

I called Matthew for a rescue ride (in the end, it worked out well that the car tires took forever, otherwise he wouldn’t have had the car at this point), and continued walking, lugging the bike, in the direction I’d been riding.  After awhile, I gave up attempting to carry the bike and wheeled it along, knowing that I was risking damaging the tire, but not really caring.

When I pulled the wheel off the next day, the tire showed signs of dry rot (I didn’t think the tires were that old, but I guess I was wrong), so instead of just patching or replacing a tube, I set out to buy replacement tires.  (I’m still not sure exactly what caused the flat — no signs of anything that punctured the tire and tube, nor anything obviously wrong with the rim.)

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve dealt with a flat (you get them much less frequently when you avoid riding on the edge of the roadway, which is where you find most of the debris that causes flats), so it took me awhile to put on the new tubes and tires.  I was starting to think I should have just paid someone at the bike shop to do it, but it’s a relatively easy task and a useful skill to have.

In the process, I couldn’t help but notice that BUB is due for a tune-up, and likely replacement brake and derailleur cables.  I’ll probably continue to use her for short trips, but limit rides to small streets and distances of no more than a mile until those issues are resolved.  This will limit my two-wheeled mobility on days when Matthew has Big Blue, adding some extra incentive to decide on Baby Jake’s replacement sooner rather than later!

Posted in Biking | Tagged | 4 Comments

Apathy, incompetence, and inattention on our roads — Part 2

It’s clear we have a problem.  What’s the solution?  In a word, complicated.

Part of the problem, of course, is that over the last 50-60 years, we built a massively car-dependent country and culture, and that wasn’t an accident:

Through the effective lobbying of a special interest group, the Automobile Association, our public roads were hijacked to serve the needs of the few. As this special interest group lobbied on, public transportation was effectively swept out of main stream use. All public roads, including the very ones in front of our residences have been made to feel unsafe and to be unsafe for anyone who wished to use them without the use of an automobile.*

Except for people living in urban centers with transit, and the small mode share of cyclists and pedestrians, most people cannot conceive of getting anywhere without a car.  And many of those people are right — they are in a car-dependent situation (whether it’s driving a car themselves or being driven).  If you take the keys away from grandpa or your teenage daughter, you/they now have to find another way of getting from Point A to Point B:

The minute you hold people accountable for being competent drivers, the percent of the population that will be ineligible to drive a car will be too large to ignore.

We can ignore [those] who have fallen on hard times and can’t afford to drive. [They] are easy to marginalize. But when we eliminate the high risk populations (teen-to-mid-twenties who lack maturity for good judgment; the elderly who no longer have the cognitive ability or reflexes; and the recidivist, irresponsible [people] who seem to retain a valid license even after proving time and again they don’t deserve it), then we’re looking at a population too large to marginalize. We’re not willing to do it because we’d have to rethink our lifestyles.”

In a way, we’ve driven and engineered ourselves into a literal dead end here.


Are we willing to change?  Or do we just accept these lost lives — lives of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motor vehicle occupants — as [yet another] “cost” of our car culture?

Here’s one possible starting point:

If we had the political will to change one single thing that would cause a cascade of positive safety consequences (and probably policy consequences), it would be to increase the cost and rigor for obtaining a license and make it easier for the state to revoke a license from a recidivist offender.**

We can reform drivers’ education and licensing, both standardizing the process across all states (in Iowa, I completed a fairly decent drivers’ ed course to get my license in high school; across the border in Missouri, Matthew had no such requirements), and modeling it on rigorous programs in other countries — we don’t have to reinvent the wheel here.

At the same time, we need to continue the work that is being done to increase transportation options for those who would not have a drivers’ license in the new system (and those who have licenses but crave other options!) and [re]create communities and cities that are not car-dependent.  Fortunately, these changes have benefits that go far beyond making the roads safer: more vibrant communities and local economies, as well as the physical and mental health rewards of active transportation.

Let’s Make a Change!

  • Start at home.
    • Analyze your own driving habits.  Are distractions and/or bad habits endangering your life, those of your passengers, and everyone else you encounter on the road? It only takes a split second for a collision to occur. Reduced attention and reaction time costs lives. Pay attention!
    • Recognize bicyclists as fellow humans and equal road users.
    • Practice patience, whether it’s a slow motorist, a bus making frequent stops, a pedestrian crossing the street, or a woman biking to work. We all have places to go. If we’re aware and respectful, we will all get there.  Breathe.
    • Try an alternate way of getting from Point A to Point B (i.e., making a trip without your car), whether it’s walking, riding a bike, or using transit.
    • Are there people in your life who need to hang up the keys? Here are some good resources:
  • Support policies that call for stricter licensing requirements, better education, and stiffer penalties for offenders.
  • Support investments in public transportation and safe, well-engineered infrastructure improvements.

This is a complex problem.  Change will be neither fast nor easy, but it is possible.

*In addition to recent events, this post was inspired by a discussion in a Facebook group for female cyclists. All quotes here are from that discussion, used with permission.  Thanks, ladies!
** “But you have to have follow-through. A NHTSA page noted that 70% of California drivers with suspended licenses continued to drive. You either have to provide alternative transportation, or lock them up. We’re not willing to do either.”
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