After revisiting winter as a metaphor with my last post, I’m feeling a bit poetic. My first attempt at poetry (in this blog — I wrote plenty of sappy rhymes in my school days) was a tribute to nature titled Poem: Word to Your Mother (Earth). The second one was called Verisimilitude: Leap Day Twenty Twenty Poem; it dealt with a day in the life and went a little into politics including the environment. In case you missed them, or have forgotten, enjoy. As for today’s words, they’re about the longest period of subfreezing weather in Texas for a long time and the third heaviest snowstorm ever, resulting in power outages and water line breaks for millions across the state and many here in Austin. In fact, there’s an Austin water crew digging up the street to fix a leak as I write. This poem is also about life, politics and nature; I’m beginning to see a theme.
What does nature and political poetry have to do with pedaling a bike? As always, I think the best weapon against climate change is the bicycle. It was warm enough today I went out for a 10-mile ride. If it’s cold where you are but you’re brave and layered up enough, be safe out there. Or if you have one, get on your stationery bike or put your bike on a home trainer like I did the last few days. And if you’re amongst the hoi polloi, well, I doubt you’re reading this dude’s blog, but if so, have fun on your Peloton. We don’t judge. But before your pedaling, or after, here’s my poem. I don’t claim to be a good poet, but it’s like art: I don’t know much about it, but I know what I like. Hey, I’m no Ralph Waldo Emersonor Mary Oliver. I hope you like it.
Someone asked me this, and I think it’s a good question. I don’t think about it much, and the answer(s) aren’t necessarily earth-shattering. But I may as well give it a shot. I also want to try to write 500 words in 30 minutes again, so this will probably be a list article. I’m allowed a listicle once in a while, especially in winter, right? Yes. Read on, won’t you please?
Sixteen years ago, on January 25, 2005, the car I was driving was hit by a truck and was damaged beyond reasonable repair. In the ensuing years, I made do with taking the bus, walking, and bicycling. In fact, I had lived without a car on and off for many years. A whole decade passed before I got serious about cycling; in January of 2015, I began riding longer distances, charity rides, and the like. A year later I had a smart phone, Strava, and a better bicycle. That journey led me to travel the equivalent of around the equator, plus another 1,790 miles as of today (26,691 total). Normally in the space you would find a blog post about my 16th year being car-free, or at least car-light (because I borrowed them). For two reasons, you won’t read that post.
I just heard that September in Central Texas was HOTTER than July. That’s nuts. You know what else is nuts? A Dude Abikes not riding his bike most every day, and in fact, hardly at all. But because I’m working my tuchus off so I don’t have the time or energy to bike, the silver lining is that I’m avoiding having to bike in the ongoing heat wave. However, the downside of not biking is weight gain, feeling blah, and as if I’m cheating — which I am. Because, work.
Meanwhile, Greta Thunberg, the 16-year old Swede who has become the face of the climate change movement was in the US for a speech and the climate strike. I haven’t read much but what I have is impressive. And by the way, I know one thing that can help: ride your damn bikes, everybody! Of course you could say it’s hypocritical of me driving a car for work for eight weeks, and you’d be right. But I’ve done plenty of miles (20,000 and counting) and will do plenty more soon enough.
Today was Bike to Work Day in Austin as in many cities worldwide. I didn’t make to any of the morning fueling stations or the gathering and speechifying at City Hall. My excuse? I don’t have a job. Well, aside from the job of being A Dude Abikes, and lemme tell ya’, it ain’t easy bein’ me. Or green. Or green me. But I do work my ass off every day, actually, I’m just not getting paid for it! I’m either researching, writing and editing this blog or my book, walking, and doing yoga… every damn day for over 16 months now (the yoga goes back over 64 months). Then there’s biking almost every single day — about 100 miles per week (sometimes less and slower lately with knee pain, but I’m still doing it). Plus I’m looking for work and housing, not to mention volunteering for Bike Austin. I did make it to the after-party like last year, so here’s my recap.
Official Earth Day is later this month, but in Austin, Texas the 2019 edition is celebrated April 13. The promotional materials encourage people to not drive (even a Prius?), but rather to, scoot, walk, take public transit, carpool if they must take a car, and of course, bike. They even have a bike valet area. A Dude went last year and enjoyed hanging with other ecologically-minded folks. Because whether you bike 10 miles a week or 100, you’re doing something to save the planet. Every bicyclist is an environmentalist. You know what they say, Love Your Mother (Earth)! (Or else!)
Biking Definitely Reduces Your Carbon Footprint
I definitely identify as a tree-hugging, air-breathing, water- drinking, carbon-based life form. But after 14 Years Not a Slave to Cars, I don’t think about it much. So I got to wondering, how much have I reduced my carbon footprint? Probably quite a bit.
One general calculation comes from the European Cyclist Federation in Brussels, Belgium. They claim that for each passenger who travels a kilometer in a car, they are producing 271 grams of CO2. A cyclist uses 21 grams. Add that up, and especially given that cars go alot faster and farther than bikes, it is substantial. That’s significant, but only one measurement.
But is that all there is to the story? No, but in a short blog I can’t delve into all the science. Here’s a great link from People for Bikes, citing numerous statistics on the subject, if you want to geek out on more studies. A number of the stats imagine what would happen if commuters increased their trips by bike and the savings that would accrue, assuming the commuter was previously driving their car. It’s pretty much a no-brainer. Biking is better for the planet. But so what? There’s a lot more to getting people’s butts out of their cars and onto bikes than telling people it’s good for the environment, or even healthy them.
Bike Infrastructure Has to Be Safe and Convenient
Today I met a bus driver who commutes to work by bicycle. He’s doing his part personally and professionally to reduce pollution. For him and others to do that on a regular basis, there have to be safe routes to get there, and those pathways need to be convenient. Even in Austin, as in many less fortunate cities, bike lanes are insufficient, unprotected, not connected, or just non-existent. And of course, two stripes of paint on the road won’t protect you from a shitty driver who’s distracted and runs into you. Some sort of barrier like plastic bollards, street turtles (aka city titties) or even curbs provide more safety.
That’s a larger, complicated, costly policy issue. Fortunately, we are starting to see the benefits of two bond elections that added millions of dollars to the coffers for bike lanes, sidewalks, and other traffic improvements. But once that money is all spent, there will still be vast room for improvement to finish the job. It will never be 100% safe to drive a car, ride a bike, or use a sidewalk in Austin. But one can work toward this by advocating individually and collectively.
But back to Earth Day being every day for bicyclists. Right now, the population of US workers who commutes is small. The more people who bike, the more other people will see it as a “normal” activity. A large part of getting bikes on butts is education. Currently, there is a huge gap between those who need that education — both new bike riders, especially kids, and car drivers and the reality, that it’s hard to connect educators with students. Especially given the question of funding and finding available insturctors.
However, according to the League of American Cyclists, which grants the League Cycling Instructor (LCI) designation, there may be more to those numbers. While big cities like the Bay Area and Seattle lost some riders, other cities like Philly and DC gained them. Explanations could include the rise of ride-sharing, weather, increased car traffic, the low cost of gas, and the lack of significant infrastructure improvements.
“It shows that while we have made investments over the last 20 years” in bicycle infrastructure, “we are still far from having safe and connected networks that make people feel safe biking to work,” said Ken McLeod, the League’s policy director.
When I became an LCI last year, I had hoped to find older students who wanted to get on their bikes but were afraid. So far, I have not pursued that as a side business. Nor have I been invited to help teach any classes. Part of that is on me for not marketing myself, but some of it is having the right connections to the institutions and funders that can provide grants and students. It’s my hope that this is something to which I can contribute. Because an educated cyclist is a confident, smart and safe cyclist who is going to be a model for others. And the more cyclists, the better. There is safety in numbers.
Aside from education, the other ingredient is agitation. I’ve done a good bit of that, being awarded Bike Austin‘s Advocacy Ambassador of the year in 2017. As that group rebuilds as an all-volunteer organization, events like Bike to Work Day (May 17, 2019), can help. But there are far more cyclists than members. Everyone who bikes needs to speak truth to power to get more protections for cyclists. Bike Texas is doing that at the state level; I was fortunate to attend their Cyclists in Suits Lobby Day.
But until a massive amount of bike riders learn the rules of the road — and follow them — and band together to be a political force for good, we are likely to remain targets, in the shadows, and an afterthought on the roads. So if you’re reading this here are some questions to mull over:
If you cycle, do you belong to your local bike group?
If not, why not?
If there isn’t one, can you start one?
And if you are not a cyclist, or don’t commute because you don’t feel confident or safe doing so, what would it take for you to be comfortable?
If you’re in Austin and want to learn more about getting educated and active, my email is on the About page.
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In what’s become an annual post, now for the fourth year in a row, I am obligated contractually (by Mother Earth) to inform you that I am still carless. Losing my car on January 25, 2005 was not my choice. Continuing to do without one has been. What does it all mean? Well, I mostly bike (4,554 miles in 2018, to be exact). I also walk to get around, though that’s more for exercise, 30′ a day. I have also used the bus, ridden in friends’ cars, and twice last year I borrowed cars for extended periods. So while I’m not 100% internal combustion engine-free, I still do not own a car. I don’t want a medal, but I do think it’s an important accomplishment worth blogging about. Thanks for reading.
Bikes Came Before Cars & Will Be Here After Them, Too
Today’s post is about a meeting I attended put on by the City of Austin Active Transportation Department. They were reporting back on improvements to two streets in East Austin. The headline for me was that adding bike lanes and reducing car lanes from four to three did not increase travel time. In fact, travel time was decreased, because traffic signals were synchronized and optimized. This was measured with Bluetooth technology so it is not subjective.
Still, naysayers and disbelievers will convince themselves or anything to reinforce their narrow paradigm that only cars deserve to be on the roads. To me that’s just illegal, wrong and backwards. Such is politics. It didn’t matter to me when I just tooled around for short periods. Now that I’ve been out there biking over 13,000 in three years, saving my life and the lives of other people on bikes is more important. Continue reading →
Today was to have been one of celebration. It’s been a baker’s dozen years since my 1991 Little Red Civic got smashed on Bee Caves Road by a guy in a truck. We “t-boned” because he pulled in front of me; his fault. I survived mostly ok, but the car didn’t. The rest is as they say, history. The first decade of my biking lifestyle was not recorded. I biked for utility and in the process got some exercise, but never very much. Continue reading →
Awesome news! After two years and 10,000 miles of bicycle-riding documented on Strava (and before that, many thousands more), your friendly neighborhood A Dude Abikes has been featured in a story mentioned on the front page and then appearing on D1 of the Lifestyles section. It is titled “Can a Regular Guy Pedal 10,000 Miles in Two Years? This Dude Did.” Read the full story in the Austin American-Statesman.
The article is alot longer than I expected, with photos too. Cool!