Expanding the cycling movement

The bike movement, which was accustomed to being a little movement, hasn’t necessarily figured out how to be a part of the broader landscape of social change.  –“Bike Advocacy’s Blind Spot

Southwest Bike Initiative is about increasing and expanding the positive impacts walking, cycling, and great transit add to our lives.  To do that, we have to open up the dialogue and see how sustainable transportation benefits and fits into the fabric of our whole communities.  To grow the relevancy of cycling in particular, we have to build a coherent, united bike movement first.  That’s why the new partnership between USA Cycling and the League of American Bicyclists is exciting.

USA Cycling is the national governing body for the sport of cycling in the United States, and the League of American Bicyclists is a nationwide bicycling advocacy organization.  By formally uniting efforts, they are recognizing how integral all the different aspects of cycling engagement contribute to growing the movement.  Cycling is a holistic activity that brings together so many elements of what is important to upbuilding human lives and communities.  But so often we separate out cycling into categories such as “transportation” and “recreation” even though that is not really how it works in our daily lives.  In reality we know cycling is both transportation and recreation, and often simultaneously. Think of cars, for instance, which are driven for commutes and recreational purposes.  Cycling works the same way.  And just like cars, bicycles are also about design, art, expression, desire, in addition to being very useful mobility technologies!

And that is where I think we are going with the cycling movement.  It reaches way beyond cycling! It is about seeing every form of human movement as integral in our transportation systems, and understanding transportation’s impact on our lives together.  The larger question is how we adapt our mobility technologies to meet our needs without imposing undue costs on ourselves or others.  Bicycles show us how to use mobility technology as a technology of contact that deepens our engagement with health, our surroundings, the well-being of the whole environment.

In this way cycling is a primer on how to behave in the travel environment.  Bicycles lend themselves to teaching us how to travel respectfully in the context of everything else we need in the places we live, work and play.  Cycling activates our senses.  We tune in.  It connects us.  Cycling teaches us how to manage vehicles in balance with our vulnerable human selves, our animality, our emotionality, so that we feel connected with our surroundings, and our own inherent mobility powers. Learning to drive bicycle vehicles teaches us how to use all kinds of transportation, including motor vehicles, in a lower-impact, kinder and more sensible fashion.  Cycling helps us learn travel skills with respect for ourselves and others.  Sharing the road is about coordinated movement.  The skills we learn through cycling can be applied everywhere.

Uniting the cycling movement is a beginning for uniting citizens in the public realm which serves as our transportation environment.  This is where we begin to see we are really no different, and learn how to better interact with each other.  It is not about one particular use or only one way of moving, rather it is about people being free and learning how to live with dignity, so we feel like we are not just moving through, but are here to stay.  It’s about belonging and feeling good about our lives and the prospects for our children’s future.  The cycling movement is leading the way.

The cruiser criterium at the Iron Horse Bicycling Classic was spectacular

References and resources:
USA Cycling and the Bike League join forces:  https://www.bikeleague.org/content/usa-cycling-and-league-announce-partnership

The opening quote is from an article in City Lab that asks good questions about how the bike movement can include more people and address social inequalities.  https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/07/is-bike-infrastructure-enough/565271/

Lots to think about regarding how cycling knowledge, skills, and practicing a more sustainable transportation culture can be building blocks for reaching UN’s Sustainable Development Goals:

From my personal blog, here’s an attempt at discussing movement as a metaphor for change, and weaving together a more sustainable world:  https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/14/cycling-and-walking-to-get-our-bearings/

Creating a national bicycling policy

Here is my superstition: When you focus on creating more good things, you get more good things;  When you focus on solving problems, you get more problems.  —Jing Zhang, May ITE Journal, “member to member”

As we develop a national bicycle policy promoting the most sustainable form of transportation imaginable, we’ll do well listening to experienced cyclists and educators.  It is tempting to fit new knowledge around what we think we already know.   With cycling it helps to see things directly from the cycling perspective, and this changes our outlook.

References and Resources:
The video is from CyclingSavvy, founders of the American Bicycling Education Association (ABEA).  Subscribe for free to their newsletter for “empowerment for unlimited travel”.  https://cyclingsavvy.org/cycling-law/
Here is a guide for improving the conditions for walking and cycling, published and recently updated by transportation leaders from our government and private sector:  https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/ped_bike/ped_focus/docs/fhwasa17050.pdf
For more specific measures to improve mobility safety, see https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/provencountermeasures/
Traffic safety involves complex causality, but speed is a primary factor.  This study by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) includes recommendations for planners, engineers and various government agencies.  https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety-studies/Pages/SS1701.aspx
May’s ITE (Institute of Transportation Engineers) Journal is dedicated to “Making Active Transportation Safe” http://www.nxtbook.com/ygsreprints/ITE/G93877_ITE_May2018/

Always leave enough time in your life to do something that makes you happy, satisfied, even joyous.  That has more of an effect on economic well-being than any other single factor.  —Paul Hawken quoted in “The Artist’s Way”, by Julia Cameron

Catching the spirit of the Iron Horse

“the biking circle and community is great”.  –Howard Grotts, 2018 Iron Horse Men’s Champion

Durango, Colorado is a beautiful Western town.  This year’s 47th Annual Iron Horse Bicycle Classic celebrated Durango’s cycling heritage, and expanded the fun by weaving in new cycling events including BMX for the second straight year.  The atmosphere around cycling brings out such joy in people and the character of this place in an extraordinary way.  Cycling is a technology of contact, connection.  It’s simply amazing.  The Iron Horse is so fun it’s a pity it only happens once per year.

At the Iron Horse everyone gets involved somehow.  Like many people in attendance, over the weekend I was both participant and spectator.  On Saturday I raced the classic road cycling event from Durnago to Silverton, and on Sunday I watched the BMX action up close on main street and cheered the mountain bike racers as they passed through town and the Steamworks Brewery.  The festivities excel at community engagement so well the Iron Horse is in a league of its own, much like the San Juan mountains are perhaps the most spectacular range in the lower forty-eight.  It’s an event that matches the landscape!

There’s such a diversity of events there is something for everyone.  The road ride on Saturday is the most accessible event, and it’s on one of the most beautiful courses in the county.  There are races for women and men in all different age groups and categories.  The most popular road ride is the Citizen’s Tour to Silverton.  But don’t be fooled, even though the tour is not an official race, many of the participants are trying to set a personal best or even beat the Iron Horse train that departs downtown Durango at 7:15a.m. and steams up the canyons to Silverton.  I bumped into my friend Rose from Albuquerque on Sunday in Durango, and she did the Quarter Horse ride, which is a shorter road ride with less climbing that goes to Purgatory ski area halfway between Durango and Silverton.  Over the weekend, there is the La Strada La Plata Gravel Ride, MTB (mountain bike) race, BMX, Cruiser Criterium, Kids Race, bike parade and things beyond cycling–a running event, a triathlon, a Veterans Memorial Ceremony, and lots of vendors with art, food, and cycling offerings.  It’s incredibly fun.

I had a pretty good race by my standards.  I was sitting eight overall on the road as we headed over the final pass, Molas, for the final descent into the old mining town of Silverton.  Cycling legend Ned Overend was just a few minutes in front of me, and I basically had a front row seat to see him and other stars in racing action.  What a learning experience!  As I flew cautiously down the steep grade, two riders caught and passed me, and out sprinted me in the slightly uphill drag down Silverton’s main street to the finish line.  One of the riders I knew well, Ben Sontag, a mountain bike pro for Cliff Bar.  The other I wasn’t so sure of, but man can he race and is he fast!  As soon as we crossed the line conversations began, and I met the other rider, Todd Wells, three time winner of the Leadville 100 and USA Olympian.  He just retired and said this event kept him motivated to stay in shape.  I ended up in 10th place, but hey, when Todd Wells is just in front of you, is that so bad?  I was a happy finisher, like everyone!

Over the weekend, visitors soak up the local Colorado vibes and learn more about the many things we can do with bicycles.  And residents get to pinch themselves and be reminded how lucky they are to live in such a special community.  When people come together around bicycles more great things happen.  The cool thing about Durango is that having Olympians and cycling champions living next door is not really remarkable, it is just normal.  They represent the possibilities of human expressions through the bike life.  The event itself normalizes cycling.  The bike is the way to get around town.  The mainstream planning community is starting to respond to that.

I think it’s time we start referring to active transportation modes for what they are, our most basic and primary modes.  –Michael P. Sanderson, Professional Engineer (P.E.), “Leading the way to make active transportation safe, while improving health”, ITE Journal May 2018

I’ve grown up in a world where bicycling is seen as alternative or unconventional.  Planners and engineers today are working to make walking and cycling flow more naturally, like a mountain stream.  Every street in front of every house is a bike route.  Our street system connects us to where we want to go, our schools, work places, our friends’ houses, recreational assets, our business districts, health facilities.  Making the street system accessible and welcoming bicycles is key for healthier and sustainable lifeways.  The Colorado Department of Transportation has made big strides, putting bike lanes in on the main route through town, Highway 550.  This is where the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic begins, right in front of Durango High School.  They are trying to making it convenient for people to ride a bicycle everywhere we need to go.  It’s not perfect, though.  Vallecitos Road has a typical sign as you leave town that says “bike route ends” and the wide shoulder tapers down, but that doesn’t mean people stop bicycling there.  People that live in the country want to ride their bikes to town, too, and certainly town residents love to ride their bikes to the countryside.  When we change our paradigm and view cycling as conventional, we expect bicycles everywhere.  And at the Iron Horse it is like leaping into the future.  Softly, gently, joyfully…cycling dreams will come.

The entire community supports the Iron Horse, including the outstanding independent bookstore on Main Avenue, Mariah’s Bookshop

Credits and Further Reading:
Thanks to our team, sponsors and partners for getting us to the Iron Horse for the second straight year.  Go Team CSP-SBI!  https://bikeinitiative.org/sponsors-partners/
A special thanks to Sansai Studio for most of the great photos (the better ones!) in this post.
https://sansai.photoshelter.com/index
Visit the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic to sign up for 2019 and learn more about the history!
http://www.ironhorsebicycleclassic.com

What is sustainable transportation?

Once when I did a visioning session with some German engineering students, they had no trouble seeing sustainable farms, sustainable forestry, even sustainable chemistry… But none of these engineers could envision a sustainable transportation system, though some of them actually worked in designing solar vehicles. Finally they concluded that transportation is a cost, not a benefit, that it’s noisy, disrupting, energy- and time-consuming, and inherently unsatisfying, and that it would be best if everyone were already where they wanted to be, with whom they wanted to be. In a sustainable society, they concluded, travel would be almost unnecessary.  –Donella Meadows, Envisioning a Sustainable World

Changing our world begins with imaginative ideas.  A vision of where we are heading.  What does it mean to want sustainable transportation, and what would that world look like?  A scientist advised me that nothing in nature is sustainable.  We use things and matter changes form.  Since then I’ve thought of sustainability as more of a guidance system, a continuum.  Not a point of perfection that we’ll reach, but a standard we’ll measure by, an ideal to strive for, a prism to look through.  We want to work wisely with nature, not use it up.  We want to align our lives with nature, not work against it. Sustainability is a principle we infuse throughout our living processes.  When applied to transportation, sustainability steers our approach so it is more renewable, uses less finite materials, and is fitting with the whole context of nature, especially as indicated in the human form and measured by wellness and self-sufficiency.

The good news is nature equipped us with renewable transportation.  Sustainable transportation is human-powered mobility.  When we exercise it makes us stronger.  Since we were babies we longed to move our feet.  Walking and talking develop together.  They are simple yet profound.  Combine them and you have some of the most compelling expressions of human force, such as public marches, and lifestyles that show a commitment to “walking the talk”, metaphorically speaking.  It’s strange that we’ve designed transportation systems that alienate us from our native powers and make us reliant on more costly methods.   Just like no-till agriculture prevents unnecessary waste, human-powered transport meets most of our needs neatly and sufficiently.  And in fact, it seems almost like it is a requirement to live close to our nature, as our health and well-being suffers if we don’t.  It seems that tending to nature is a moral imperative.  We should plan and design for walking and cycling at every instance, so citizens can act on our positive inclinations whenever we can, especially for transportation needs at the local and community scale.  Transportation needs include commuting, recreation and exercise.  We need recreation and exercise!

In an essay called Living Lightly and Inconsistently on the Land from The Global Citizen newspaper column, Donella Meadows cautioned against “setting up us/them and right/wrong categories”.  We live in a culture and era where living lightly on the land is nearly impossible.  The key is keeping our life simple when we can, and growing in areas where there are no limits, such as developing our capacities to understand and appreciate the world, extending our network of relationships and growing our concept of family so it’s more inclusive, and increasing our compassion and care.  Walking and cycling are amazingly practical tools that help us to grow as people, accomplish our daily living objectives, while simultaneously activating curiosity, wonder, empathy and vision.  They actually shift our perspective, transform us.  Through better integration of the activities of walking and cycling in the way we design our cities and set up our living arrangements, by refining our transportation practices, we may even experience a taste of the world we envision, as if our picture of the ideal life we wish for could be granted today.  Try and we shall see.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:  “The central Unity is still more conspicuous in actions…An action is the perfection and publication of thought.  A right action seems to fill the eye, and to be related to all nature.  The wise man, in doing one thing, does all; or, in the one thing he does rightly, he sees the likeness of all which is done rightly.”  Sustainable transportation doesn’t mean we have to walk and cycle all the time, only that these choices should be primary, open, dignified, seen as useful, and be well-planned for, so that we may join freely with nature, while exercising our own good nature to make a better, longer lasting and more fulfilling world.  We can see it out there and move towards it.