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Archive for October, 2011

IN TRAFFIC

If you’re going to say something about yourself and your bicycle, it’s polite to let the bicycle go first. That’s what you do for your friends, right?

Therefore: My bicycle and I have been in the news a bit lately.

First, I have to create an infinite loop of self-reference by telling you that a post that first appeared on this blog has been picked up by NPR’s Bill Chappell for his blog. He asked me a few questions, then amplified the story, which you can find here. That brought a bit of traffic my way. Here’s a bit of Cleveland bicycle traffic, courtesy of Shawn Mariani. 

Second, the Civic Commons radio show and podcast invited me on a show about bicycles in the city. They had B&K Bicycles owner Neil Kauffman, Akron transportation planner Curtis Baker, Bike advocate Diane Leese (whose spectacular Outspoken Cyclist radio show can be heard on WJCU), and Earth Day Coalition Transportation Program Manager John McGovern on to talk about issues, and they had me on to tell them what it’s like to ride a bicycle in Cleveland. You can find all that here.

To save time in my little monologue, I didn’t note that on most mornings, the first thing I do after breakfast is take my daughter to school—and I do that in a car. Neither did I note that most people who ride their bikes a lot also own cars–a fact that often gets lost in the confrontational dialog between motorists and people who ride bikes.

But here’s what did get on the air–which you can hear in context with all the rest of the people who contributed to the show.

I roll out onto Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, and the noise of the city is my soundtrack. Over my left shoulder I hear the cars coming up behind me. I flick in and out of sunlight in the shadows of buildings. I pass cars and busses. Cars and busses pass me.

There’s movement all around, and I am part of it, balanced on two wheels. This is why I ride my bike to work:  It’s about speed and balance, the physical experience of physical laws. A bicycle is a gyroscope that takes you places.

There’s no separate bike lane on Detroit but the traffic is calm. If you ride a bike a lot, you get to know  the different moods of traffic like Eskimos get to know different types of snow. Cars in a hurry take I-90, or Clifton. Detroit’s neighborhood traffic is less hurried, less stressful. Which makes it perfect for bikes.

I ride down the street with the cars. We mingle in a friendly way. I take the lane when it makes sense and give it up when I don’t need it. Mostly I yield to cars at cross streets, but when they give me right of way, I look the driver in the eye and wave a thank you. I wave to fellow cyclists, too, many of which I see routinely: Erika the barista, Shannon the nanny, Darren the architect. When I get Downtown, I don’t have any trouble parking, and I never get parking tickets.

I don’t think about the gas I don’t burn, or the cost of foreign oil, at least not in association with my bike.  To me, biking to work is about the joy of movement, and about being in control. It’s a truly conservative form of transportation in that cyclists are self reliant. No bus schedules. No loan payments. I get out what I put in. If I want to get there a little faster, I just push a little harder.

Public conversation about cycling is typically about confrontation—cars against bikes, either in tragic accidents or pressing for more space on the roads. That’s what makes good news stories. Confrontations like that certainly happen. They happen just between people in cars, too.

But what I tell people about riding my bike to work is that day after day, month after month, nothing happens except that I get where I’m going and have a good time on the way.

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Image from Thurbersthoughts.blogspot.com.

It’s good news that Ohio Secretary of State John Husted has to accept the petition seeking a referendum on the Republicans’ new map of Ohio congressional districts. That’s not the kind of thing that usually makes it into this blog, but I can’t let it go.

My issue isn’t about partisanship. It’s about water.

There are very few people in Ohio, I think, who do not believe that our waterways—in particular Lake Erie—are significant assets.

Whether you are a business person who believes anyone ought to be able to suck out millions of gallons of water for packaging and resale in little plastic bottles, or whether your business is charter fishing, or whether your conviction is that the lake needs to be defended against polluters and invasive species, our fresh water is an asset.

It deserves significant representation. It deserves a congressional delegation broad enough to stand up for the interests of the people who depend on it.

But the re-drawn map doesn’t just solidify some Republican districts and isolate some Democratic ones. It means just a tiny number of congressional representatives have constituents who live in communities located on our Great Lake and our biggest waterways. In fact, the way this new map is drawn, those assets gets just about as little representation as possible. That’s not in the state’s best interest. It’s certainly not in the best interest of our waterways—particularly our Lake.

We need more districts touching Lake Erie, more representatives of communities on its shores, a bigger delegation directly affected by and concerned for our biggest asset. We’ve got the Asian Carp knocking at our door. We’ve got communities in the Southwestern US running out of water and trying to figure out how to get ours. Lake Erie needs defense. And in the interest of shoring up partisan political control, this map gives our lake and our state short shrift.

The sparsely populated southeastern Ohio district 6 has been this way for a while. It’s easy to say that what all those people, stretching hundreds of miles from Mahoning County to Scioto County have in common is the river.

But the more significant truth is that those hundreds of miles of Ohio River frontage are represented by just one congressperson. Just one representative will have constituents who live in communities directly affected by the river—by the water quality, by the wildlife, by the recreational opportunities.

Likewise, the stretch from Cleveland all the way to Toledo—all that lake frontage and water will be represented by just one congressperson. Defined by the direct interests of the constituent voters, that whole stretch of the lake becomes a priority for just one congressional representative.

Doesn’t Lake Erie deserve better?

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