Sunday, July 10, 2011

Why All Car Guys Should Ride Bikes

When I was six years old, I had a dream where I befriended a fourth generation Camaro that a neighbor down the street had bought for himself. At the age of fifteen, I had my second car dream: this time, my mother won the lottery, and purchased herself a Lamborghini Murcielago. Of course, in this dream my mother immediately realized her mistake, as she could not climb in and out of it, nor operate its manual gearbox. So she did what any caring mother would do: she gave the car to me.
I have had many dreams with cars in them. Sometimes, I’m enjoying the high-revving engine in a McLaren Formula One MP4; others I’m soothed by the whine of the supercharger mounted atop my Ford GT. In my dreams I’ve driven classic Shelby Cobras and Porsche 911s, Koenigseggs and TVR Sagarises (what on earth is the plural of ‘Sagaris’? If you know, please inform me). I have even had dreams about my Volkswagen.
I have never had a dream about a bicycle.
Yet, I ride a bicycle every day. I ride it to work, to run errands, to see movies and go to dinner. I ride a bicycle because it is the logical thing to do. I am not a logical person; I know that automobiles are wasteful, dangerous, and often ridiculous, but I also know that I love them, that I always have and that I always will. I know this with the same illogical and fervent intensity with which I know that the Pontiac G8 surely would have saved GM eventually, that the Chrysler 200 is the proper car for someone, and that Carlos Ghosn has plans for world domination. I love my car, and love is never logical; I’ve accepted this, and it’s why I will never submit to a car-free lifestyle. But I will happily accept a car-light lifestyle. Why? Because while cars may be the center of my universe, they are not all that comprises that universe; rather, cars are the realization of dreams and the pursuit of perfection, wrought through time and labor into a beautiful piece of machine and artwork. They exist within a world that has limitations. Cars wear down, and grow old. Traffic congestion grows worse with each car on the road. Gasoline is not free, nor is it limitless. I want to stay healthy, which a stressful and lazy commute in my car does not contribute to.
Driving is a privilege, something we forget; we allow everyone to drive all the time, and in doing so, they spoil it for each other. No one who loves driving loves traffic, or high gas prices, or the thought of one day having to drive silent cars because gas is nowhere to be found (I haven’t yet decided whether it’s better or worse to drive cars that sound like spaceships). This world was not meant for us to drive the way we currently do, and it certainly won’t be a driver’s paradise in the future, the way things are headed now. This is why I ride my bicycle. I ride my bicycle so the world can be a better place to drive. I keep gas prices down, and make sure that petrol is still around so I can go enjoy the roar of combustion on race weekends. I take up less roadway, and cause less back pressure on freeways by riding on slower and less direct roads (not to mention that my bike takes up a lot less space on the roadway. For reference, compare being stuck behind a bike with being stuck behind a tractor). And on the weekends when I decide it’s time for a road trip out to the winding roadways I love so much, I’ve been looking forward to driving all week, not building an angry hatred while waiting in traffic. And I feel less guilty about the gas, and the exhaust, and the expense, knowing that I lived my logical life all week. On the weekends, when I let the car nut in me loose, I know that I’ve paid my dues, and proved that cars and living responsibly can find harmony. In those night drives, on those wide-open roadways, with my tank full for weeks at a time, I remember the glorious serenity of my car dreams, take pride in my commitment to conservation, floor the throttle, basking in that turbo whoosh, and l grin like I’d just been given a Lamborghini.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

National Bike Summit Day Two, Three, Four.

Sorry for the delay! It was a crazy few days, but now that I'm back in Georgia having enjoyed a calm train ride back to Atlanta and a 15 mile ride from Amtrak to Smyrna, I can update!

Day Two

The morning began with Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists, introducing Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon (one of the most crucial proponents of bicycling in congress), who began his speech by having us recite a favorite mantra of his: "How many people are stuck in traffic, on their way to riding a stationery bike in a health club?", which brought much applause and laughter. He was very animated, as always, and emphasized that we need to be pushing the limit of what we can do to change the world, one bike at a time. We are a strange point; 2 different sides, both intelligent and sincere, arguing absolute opposite sides of the coin: Is it about too much, or too little regulation? He then told us that we need to help people connect to the facts that we have on the ground, including the economics, health figures, etc. As he put it, "we have a good message; people like it!" The issue is not about slashing spending or raising taxes, but about our ability to do things differently, an important fact considering the unsustainable path we are on. "We cannot spend billions of dollars to defend West Germany from the Soviet Union 20 years after both countries have ceased to exist!" Priceless! He then commended some significant successes, like the conversion of street parking to bike corrals, and the high return on modest investments. His final contribution was the suggestion that we should bring bikes to National Parks, as a bike share that would allow users to tour parks without cars.

In sum? We have a growing interest and usership; don't screw it up! All we want is engagement, parity, opportunity.

Next up was Janette Sadik-Khan, the Commissioner of the NYC transportation department, who said that we cannot afford to wait for Washington; we have to appreciate the progress we've made. People have made these changes happen! She then made a huge announcement, introducing the NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) guidelines for bicycle-related roadway treatments, a uniform supplement to the MUTCD, which is often criticized for its lack of creative bicycle solutions. These NACTO guidelines are online and will be updated. She also shared that NYC has found that the addition of bike facilities improved safety not just for bicyclists and pedestrians, but even more for drivers! This is a huge sell, since drivers often feel that they are getting shafted by bicycle facilities built using government money.

Andy asked both Earl and Janette where they get their inspiration. Janette's answer was that she travels, and seeing how other cities have transformed themselves and how enjoyable it is to get around those cities has been a huge inspiration. She likes that in a global marketplace people can live anywhere, and that this forces cities to be competitive with each other; bicycling, and efficient transportation, are huge factors in this competition. Earl agreed.

Mike Van Abel, the executive Director of IMBA was next, introducing Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. I was particularly a fan of his argument that "if we want to youth back to the land, back to the outdoors, give them a bike!"

Salazar's speech focused on the interaction between conservation and biking; not only for mountain biking in wilderness, but because of the connection between transit and environmental impact. He noted that recreation creates jobs, and makes us happy! In addition, we tend to focus on western wilderness, but its as much about urban wild spaces, parks, and rec areas. He is very excited about the Great Urban Parks idea, and wants to engage young people in conservation efforts.

(A later post will include info from the sessions I attended)

Day Three:

This was the big one; visiting the offices of Congress to lobby our Congressmen! I was present for the following:

-Rep. Gingrey (11th) This was a good one; we got a lot of feedback from his Chief of staff David Sours, who was receptive but clearly required some convincing. This meeting, like most of the others, was about economics. Arguments about building community, reducing VMT, being more environmentally friendly, are all difficult to make compelling for those not concerned by such conditions. However, in a time when good investments are hard to come by, the return on bike infrastructure is a crucial fact.

-Rep. Scott (13th) Scott did not ever return our contact attempts, so we had no meeting scheduled, and his staffers were occupied. So we dropped off the booklet with the economic info, and went on our way.

-Rep. Johnson (4th) Johnson, who represents Decatur and eastern Atlanta, was HUGELY supportive; his staffer was nothing but positive, and basically said that they were 100% on board, but that it really isn't something that they have much control over. This was also sadly common; people like the message, but its a hard time to condone spending. If the return is so high, why are we afraid to commit?

-Sen. Isakson: Isakson's Transporation rep is a cyclist, and she was super excited by the evidence we had. That said, she warned us that good supportive facts and enthusiasm still aren't always enough. Like I said, this was a common mood.

We ended that day with a reception in the Senate Dirksen building, with speeches by Earl Blumenauer, Tim Blumenthal of BikesBelong, and Andy Clarke. In the end, the message was positive: Despite the hurdles that remain, we did the best we could, and our efforts were appreciated by most. Pins were distributed with gusto, and most of Capitol Hill was sporting one (including all the other lobbying groups!). I met many interesting advocates from Alabama, Calfornia, Missouri, and staff from Complete Streets, America Bikes, LAB, etc. It was awesome! But best of all? Meeting Gary Fisher, and telling him about my first bike bought with my own money (a Joshua F4).

Day Four:

Congressional Bike ride in honor of Gabby Giffords! We took a roughly 10 mile tour of some of DC's finest bike infrastructure, including separated lanes, contraflow lanes, paved trails, colored lanes, and more! It was a wonderful time, and while I could describe it in more detail, instead I will encourage you all to visit it for yourself! Truly remarkable. Finally, I must include a shout out to the BikeStation at Union Station, for allowing me to lock up my bags there for free, despite not being a member! They are enthusiastic, friendly, and just all around awesome, like most of the other people I met in DC. One of the greatest cities I've even visited!

National Bike Summit, Brief Photo Gallery

The first image is one which I think perfectly captures our aspirations; the road to the capital is not a 6-lane highway, but a small roadway with a bike lane right down the middle.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood telling us how much he loves bikes!

Congressman Earl Blumenauer rallying the troops with his enthusiasm and vehement support of bicycling.

The congressional bike ride in honor of Gabby Giffords.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

National Bike Summit Day One (Or, Ray of the Dragon)

(The title is a reference to "Way of the Dragon")

As a side note: Yesterday I rode the metro, bus, my bike, Amtrak, and then late at night, when stuck using a car to visit an old friend, got a flat tire. I consider this a sign from the universe.

This afternoon marked the beginning of the National Bike Summit 2011; They had bike racks set up outside, and it was an easy walk from the Metro Center station, both of which were clearly appreciated by attendees. As a first year attendee, I opted to join in the first-timer's session. The first speaker was James Moore, representing the bicycle dealers' association. He made a strong case for the 'relevancy' of the bicycle to economics, showcasing how the construction of a rails-to-trails project in his town more than doubled his business, allowing him to hire 2 full time employees and a staff of part-timers. Since rails-to-trails relied in large part on Transportation Enhancements (TE) funding, he was adamant that our ask (in lobbying congress on Thursday) should be to thank them for TE, and to encourage them to renew it. As he put it, "If you're interested in seeing people pull themselves up by the bootstraps, make it possible for them to do so without buying a car". He shared a number of amazing stories of people who can't afford cars, and thus rely on bicycles, and how providing good bikes and safe facilities to them was critical for them to be able to commute to work, and have jobs at all.

Second speaker was Mike Vanable, the IMBA executive director. He began his speech by stating that "about 5 years ago, we realized the mountain bike was a bicycle". This got many laughs, but is an important point; IMBA joining forces with LAB and other groups was a huge turning point. He emphasized that the solidarity of recreational and commuter cyclists is huge, and that economic arguments will be more important than ever this year (I'm pretty sure everyone said this).

Next was Stephanie Vance, the so-called "Advocacy Guru". She got into advocacy because "my parents were like 'hey! you should get a job!". Love the sense of humor that cyclists have! She got her speech started by reminding the audience that its not always about the message, but about the followup (also she gave out free stuff, which people love).

Her first questions for prizes? how many bills are introduced in a 2 year congressional session? (10,000). How many pass? (4%) How many of those are about renaming post offices and federal buildings? (35%). She then transitioned into telling us what is important in dealing with members of Congress and their staff. First off, our asks are focused on thank yous, and asking for continued support for TE, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails Programs. Then asking them to join the Bike Caucus, and encouraging them to do district visits with bike groups. She finished by noting that of all things, persistence is key. Also, hugely valuable fact that was reiterated later? If undecided, the most most important variable in a legislators' decision regarding a bill is the opinion voiced by his constituents via letters and email.

After this, we all migrated to the ballroom where I joined Brent Buice (director of Georgia Bikes) and other members of the Georgia bicycling community (shout out to Bike Roswell!). Andy Clarke got things started, noting with a somber though positive tone that this year is a tougher, and more critical year than the past two. He reminded the crowd that Oberstar and many other supporters are gone, and that those who replaced them may be decidedly less enthusiastic. Despite this, the momentum is still there, as evidenced by the storm of applause as he introduced Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who was awarded the Oberstar Award (League of American Bicyclists' highest award) for his massive commitment to livable and sustainable communities projects. LaHood spoke about his love for bicycling, and how important politicians are for getting projects going. He noted that without advocates and engaged constituents, nothing will get done. His speech received two standing ovations, and I'll admit, I've never before been so proud of a Secretary of Transportation before. Bikes Belong had a presentation following this, on their peopleforbikes petition project, which I encourage you all to visit and sign, at

It was a big night, and I am amped for tomorrow! (Janette Sadik-Khan is speaking!) That said, it's time to log off. Tune in for tweets at BikeGaTech or blog updates tomorrow evening!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Greetings from the National Bike Summit! (Pre-Day 1)

I arrived at the Amtrak station in Atlanta last night around 7, crossing my fingers that they had a bike box available; fortunately, they did! And more fortunate, there was a gentleman there who inquired about bike shipping, and it turned out used to be an avid cyclist. He helped me in boxing up my bike (which only requires loosening the handlebars, removing the pedals, and rolling the bike in), and we chatted a bit about his first diamondback, his favorite giant, and how Amtrak is excellent (which was confirmed during the trip).

After boarding, I was seated next to another friendly guy who was traveling around, watching his daughter compete in D1 softball pre-season games; he clued me in on all the tips and tricks of riding the Crescent line (the Amtrak route from New Orleans to NYC), and was quite polite. Despite his notable snoring, it was a good way to spend the trip. Also, the seats are ENORMOUS and spacious, with 120 volt outlets for each passenger, meaning I could surf the web, watch youtube videos, tweet, and not sacrifice battery life.

Arrival in DC this morning was a piece of cake, and the baggage handlers were very positive about me taking my bike. Its nice when people stop calling you crazy, and start acting pleasantly surprised! I unboxed the bike, loaded it with my panier bags, and rode off to Georgetown to the friends' place I'm staying at. While the conference doesn't start until tomorrow evening, I took advantage of the day to walk the 5 miles down to the capitol (something hard to imagine in Atlanta!), before hoping on the Metro to GWU, and the #31 bus back up to North Georgetown. This is, at its heart, my favorite thing about DC: Like Atlanta, it took up the torch of public transit in the late 70s, to help the city better serve a populace expanding outward into the fringes of the city. Unlike Atlanta, however, DC's WMATA was aggressive about serving people, and built up a multi-modal network centered around the union of heavy and commuter rail, buses, and airports, serviced as well by a small bike share network, lanes, and sidewalks for pedestrians. So that when you travel around DC, you do so in a way that allows you to appreciate the history and meaning behind its buildings, that encourages you to visit businesses, to talk to strangers. Best of all, may be the thing that DC does not have occupying all the visual space: Parking.

I love my car; but today, I didn't miss it at all.

Tomorrow, the start of the National Bike Summit 2011!