Wheels of life

Skill, in the best sense, is the enactment or the acknowledgement or signature of responsibility to other lives; it is the practical understanding of value.  –Wendell Berry, “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture”

Cycling up the Sandia Crest in Fall 2018 above Albuquerque

Eating and moving are everyday acts that connect us to the source of life.   In Wendell Berry’s book “Culture and Agriculture” the author discusses the relationship between our use of technology in agriculture, and the impact that has on our responsibilities and skills.  I am impressed with the parallel’s between Berry’s observations on agriculture and the dynamics of human movement in the transportation world.

In the sixth chapter, the use of energy, Berry notices that introducing machines in agriculture complicates our relationship with the life-giving soil.  In particular machines bring more power and consequence, but do not impose restraints or moral limits on the exercise of their power.  So humans have to bring responsibility commensurate with these mechanical powers that increase our impact and consequences on the soil. To complicate things, machines speed up our work, “but as speed increases, care declines…We know that there is a limit to the capacity of attention and that the faster we go the less we see” (Berry p. 93).  So being responsible for our machine-aided work becomes even harder, and necessitates greater moral restraint on the part of humans.

Cranes flying in at Bosque del Apache, November 2018

Skill is the connection between life and tools, or life and machines.  —Berry, p. 91

Driving skills are based upon our knowledge of the machines we are operating, the driving environment, and the potential consequences on our own life and the life surrounding us.  When I went to commercial driving school at age 21 to learn how to drive 18-wheelers, I had an instructor named Jim.  He made a moral argument.  Jim had driven trucks over a million miles.  Jim said that as truck drivers, we are the most powerful on the road and therefore must be the most responsible.  He had a certain moral authority that stuck with me.  Five days a week for three months, Jim and a team of instructors trained me and my classmates on the skills we needed to be the most responsible users of public roads.  We learned how to manage our speed and adjust it so it was appropriate for circumstances.  We inspected our vehicles before every trip to ensure proper maintenance, and practiced turning, backing up, and negotiating in traffic to protect all human life around us.  The skills we developed had nothing to do with always going slow, rather knowing when to go slow for safety, which effectively makes the whole transportation system work so much better, and enacts our fundamental values.  Driver training for me was not only about mastering my control of my vehicle, but about mastering myself.

In the traffic safety field, there is an overwhelming body of evidence that suggests we need to increase driving skills to have a safer transportation world.  The National Transportation Safety Board noted in a recent report that although “Speeding—exceeding a speed limit or driving too fast for conditions—is one of the most common factors in motor vehicle crashes in the United States”, there is no national program to communicate the dangers of speeding like there is for other crash factors such as drinking and driving (NTSB SS1701).  Drivers need training to follow the basic speed law, which “requires drivers to operate at a speed that is reasonable and prudent, taking into account weather, road conditions, traffic, visibility, and other environmental conditions” (NTSB SS1701).  We can do a better job of educating and guiding the public on how to anticipate and take into account the dynamic conditions of the road, the most important being the presence of people.

A group ride in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico

A complimentary action we can take is encouraging citizens to engage in activities such as bicycling and walking.  Bicycling in particular is a kind of technology that deepens and enhances our engagement with our local communities and the greater world.  It is what Scott Slovic calls a “technology of contact”, one that enables us to “connect with the world and think more deeply about our relationship to the world” (p. 358 Literature).  I think in part cycling works so well to engage our senses because we are supplying our own biological energy.  Going so far on our own energy is one of the magical things about cycling, and makes it such a rewarding technology to use, not to mention, cycling is almost completely renewable.  Cycling reminds me of organic farming.  It allows biological energy to flow at a sustainable scale and it gives us exactly what we need to be well and productive.  It’s about quality more than quantity.  Cycling does justice to what it means to be human pursuing happiness.

In this age of technology, it is not a question of always abstaining, but a question of wise and respectful use.  It is a matter of education, public training, and living within our biological limits.  To me, this is a beautiful challenge, or what Rachel Carlson called “a shining opportunity”.  Carlson wrote: “Your generation must come to terms with the environment.  Your generation must face realities instead of taking refuge in ignorance and evasion of truth.  Yours is a grave and a sobering responsibility, but it is also a shining opportunity.  You go out into a world where mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and its mastery–not of nature, but of itself.  Therin lies our hope and our destiny.  ‘In today already walks tomorrow'”.

A Fall walk in the Manzano Mountains

Resources:

Wendell Berry wrote “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture” in 1977 and still enacts his values on his small Kentucky farm

Scott Slovic’s Literature chapter appears in the “Routledge Handbook of Religion and Ecology

NTSB SS1701 is a landmark safety study.  Produced by the National Transportation Safety Board, the working title is “Reducing Speeding-Related Crashes Involving Passenger Vehicles

The Rachel Carlson quote is from her 1962 address to Scripps Institute.  She was influenced by Albert Schweitzer’s “reverence for life” philosophy.  The address is called “On Man and the Stream of Time and appears in the book”Literature and the Environment: A Reader on Nature and Culture

Racing “The Crippler” in Colorado Springs

This ride report by Team CSP-SBI cycling ambassador Dave Theobald

After participating in a number of organized gravel rides this summer, I decided, on a lark, to race while the weather was still warm (September 30th). The event I chose was “The Crippler” — 67 miles from Canon City to Cripple Creek and back on gravel and 4WD roads. Arriving literally a minute before the start, I found myself uncomfortably at the center-front of the starting line. My immediate race strategy thus became how to sneakily progress (backwards) to the middle of the pack. I found my legs and rhythm and gratefully the top of the climb. After a fast descent with blind corners and big trucks, l finished fast and happy! Somehow, I officially have two results. I prefer my first result: 10th place, but am terrifically satisfied with my second: 20th place.

Dave Theobald is a Senior Scientist at Conservation Science Partners.  Learn more about his work:  https://www.csp-inc.org/about-us/core-science-staff/theobald-dave/

More on “The Crippler”:  https://www.myjourneyracing.com/the-crippler-2018.html

Grinduro 2018

This ride report by Team CSP-SBI cycling ambassador Kurt Sable

So what is Grinduro? A bike race? A century? Mountain bike? Gravel grinder? Road Bike? It is all of these things plus bacon and whiskey at the rest stops and Big Foot sightings along the way, and a load of fun on two wheels. Lots of focus on your ‘ride to party ratio’.

I just participated in one of the two Grinduros in the world in my rural hometown of Quincy, California on the last Saturday of September, (the other one is in Scotland in July). It was quite amusing to hear exclamations from other cyclists as horses and deer ran along the road while we were rolling out. Many of the 1,000 or so riders come from more populated areas and I felt proud that folks were amazed at the natural environs. Not to mention, I work as a hydrologist for the Plumas National Forest and we were riding in my “office” for most of the ride.

I wore my awesome CSP/Southwest Bike Initiative kit to represent during the event and got to chat with people while grinding up a 15-mile, 3,500 ft. climb at the start.

How could I chat? This is part of the brilliance of Grinduro. Like mountain bike enduros, only segments of the ride are timed; between timed sections I could just ride and take in the pure mountain air and views at whatever pace I wanted. In mountain bike enduros the timed segments are usually the downhills. What is unique about Grinduro is that the timed segments are incredibly varied: a 1.1-mile uphill gravel road climb, a 6-mile fast descent on a gravel and dirt road, a 6-mile rolling paved time trial, and, last but not least, a 3.5-mile single track decent. All of these timed segments are peppered along a 62-mile route of mixed surfaces (dirt trails, gravel roads, paved roads) with 7,700 of total climbing. The big climbs are on dirt and gravel and quite steep in places.

Instant and common topics of conversation include: What bike? Should you use a mountain bike, a road bike, or is this event a good excuse to get a new gravel bike? What tires? How much tire pressure? And after the ride, how much dirt is on and in one’s body, and how many flats did you get? And, did you get a flat during a timed section? We definitely could have used some rain before the event – there was a lot of loose dirt and dust.

There has been a ton of great media put out there about the event. These folks provide a flashy and witty take:

https://grinduro.com/

https://www.velonews.com/2018/09/gallery/up-next-grinduro_479403

Stepping back from Grinduro, I wanted to mention the role events like these have on small rural towns.

The event is organized by Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS), a non-profit organization based in the Northern Sierra. They have been brilliant at partnering with the Forest Service, local counties, local schools, and the State Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Commission to authorize projects and get money to build and maintain sustainable trails. They are mostly a mountain bike group, but they embrace all trail users. They organize events, run trail shuttles, have a bike shop in another rural town, Downieville, CA, and organize many trail events that attract volunteers from the pool of local and out of town trail users.

They employee a trail crew, bike shop and other staff in our rural communities, and reportedly pay a good living wage.

https://sierratrails.org/

Quincy is primarily a timber town and still has an active lumber mill.  Like much of the rural west, the population has been declining and unemployment is relatively high. There are a lot of reasons for this, but since the trails and events have come to town, there has been increased activity in downtown. Newly opened businesses include a book store, an outdoor store/bike shop, a brewery, and a new café. You often see bikes on vehicles from out-of-town parked outside these businesses or in front of our awesome food co-op, Quincy Natural Foods.

The trails and biking are certainly providing a small but real boost to our local economy and it helps locals see another use of the surrounding forest that is not extractive.

I have seen local kids out riding on the trails starting to fall in love with biking and they want to be in Grinduro someday.

Some may say “be careful what you wish for” and that we will have an influx of wealthy folks driving up our real estate costs… but I say we are far from that for now. So come on up to Quincy and lets go for a ride, or be poised by your computer when the registration opens for Grinduro and come have some bacon during a very memorable fall ride in the Lost Sierra.

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/

Protecting people on our streets

…pedestrians are 2-3 times more likely to suffer a fatality when struck by an SUV or pickup truck than when struck by a passenger car…The higher risk of fatality associated with being struck by an SUV or pickup also applies to a vulnerable population — children.  In a study conducted by Columbia University, school-age children (5-19 years old) struck by light trucks were found to be twice as likely to die as those struck by passenger cars.  The risk was even greater for the younger set (ages 5-9); their fatality risk is four times greater from SUVs and pickup trucks than from passenger cars.  –Detroit Free Press, “Death on foot: America’s love of SUVs is killing pedestrians

Although the title of this story from the Detroit Free Press oversimplifies the cause of the rise in deaths of people who are killed while walking in America, the story is very substantive, probing the complex causality associated with traffic safety for pedestrians.  The type of vehicle we are driving is a factor, but so is street design, driver awareness, driver training, vehicle mass and speed, and traffic culture.  One factor the article doesn’t address is exposure.  We don’t know how much people are walking or cycling because we don’t measure it systematically, like we do cars.

The good news is there is a lot we can collectively do to make our roads safer.  New York City reduced pedestrian deaths nearly in half in four years with a combination of enforcement targeted at driver behavior, lowered speed limits and training for cab drivers. Other cities such as Seattle have implemented ‘road diets’, also known as ‘right sizing’, to calm traffic and improve conditions for people walking and biking.  NHTSA (the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration) is planning to overhaul its vehicle-safety rating system to include a new score for pedestrian safety.  There is global innovation happening around designing vehicles to protect the safety of people outside of them, including modifications of the vehicle shape and material composition, as well as implementing new technologies such as automatic braking.  Creating great transit systems can be one of the most effective strategies, so people don’t feel like they have to drive, especially higher risk driving populations like elderly and younger people.

This is a monumental opportunity to advance traffic safety and take on the challenge of making transportation greater.  Designing healthy places is crucial for supporting public health and wellness and economic productivity.  The best way to get exercise is by integrating it into our daily routine, and nature has designed human beings with the mobility powers for getting ourselves where we want to go.  Buildings are wonderful and often the focal point of some of our most talented designers and architects, but the places in between–that circulatory system of paths, trails and roads–is the architecture connecting our worlds together. Reversing the trend of dangerous roads means designing places that inspire us to use our own powers, and interact with a reverence for life, offering people the freedom to choose the healthiest means to get where we want to go.

We are facing a global crisis today […] because of how our ethical systems function.  Getting through the crises requires […] understanding those ethical systems and using that understanding to reform them.  –Donald Worster, “The Wealth of Nature”

Credits and Resources:

The graphics, leading quote and most of the data are from this article:  https://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/2018/06/28/suvs-killing-americas-pedestrians/646139002/

The Mid-Region Council of Governments of New Mexico (MRCOG) has been working on a Regional Transportation Safety Action Plan:  https://www.mrcog-nm.gov/transportation/technical-services/safety-analysis

The New Mexico Department of Transportation has adapted a Road Diet guide:
http://dot.state.nm.us/content/dam/nmdot/Plans_Specs_Estimates/Design_Directives/IDD-2018-16_Road_Diet_Guide.pdf

The New Mexico 2040 Plan has goals to “provide multimodal access and connectivity for community prosperity” (goal 4) and “improve safety for all users” (goal 2), and goes on to say “Walking is an essential mode of transportation and a component of nearly every kind of trip…NMDOT will seek to make pedestrian mobility safe, enjoyable, and convenient…”
http://dot.state.nm.us/content/dam/nmdot/planning/NM_2040_Plan.pdf
more info. here: http://dot.state.nm.us/content/nmdot/en/Planning.html

The Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian (STEP) is active in New Mexico:
https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc_4/step.cfm?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery