Archive for December, 2011

The City of Lakewood rolled out a pretty reasonable Bicycle Master Plan late in 2011. Even without that, I’d be looking forward to seeing more cyclists on the roads as the weather warms. Lately it seems every passing year sees more cyclists on the roadway. But in the midst of that trend, Lakewood’s Bicycle Master Plan is good news for cyclists and the city.

Bicycles in Lakewood

If you hear skepticism in the word “reasonable,” there’s a reason for that. It’s not because of my conviction that when it comes to getting more people on bikes, the most important infrastructure is human infrastructure: People will ride their bikes when they realize it’s in their own best interest to do so.

Neither is it because Lakewood joins a whole lot of city governments that have lately realized that it makes good PR to be seen as supportive of alternative transportation.

Maybe some have, and even if that’s their motivation, that’s a good thing. It’s up to cyclists to make sure that energy is put to good use.

But after watching this trend gather momentum for years, I think many elected officials and city planners truly believe planning for bicycles just makes sense. I take Lakewood Mayor Mike Summers at his word when he assures me that there was “no political calculus” in his embrace of bicycle planning. I think he knows it’s just a good idea for the city. I know many of the people involved with the plan, and many more of the people they were listening to as they put it together. Indeed, Lakewood’s new Bicycle Master Plan reflects input gathered during public sessions that sought input from cyclists. I’m one of them. I was there.

But there’s another reason for skepticism, and that is the fact that bicycle transportation planning is a sticky business. Even if you get over the idea that cyclists are on one side of a great (false) divide, and all the motorists in the world are on the other, planning for the bicycle community is still a minefield of challenges.

Cyclists themselves are divided like religious sects. The deepest divisions are among those who like bike lanes and those who think segregating bikes actually makes the world more dangerous.

Planners typically like bike lanes. I theorize that’s because dedicated lanes provide both physical evidence of their community’s bike friendliness, and a specific strategy to boost cycling in their community, and therefore meet a common goal of bicycle plans.

But very experienced cyclists often don’t like bike lanes. They don’t need a dedicated lane to make them feel comfortable, and they’ve recognized that bike lanes have drawbacks, too– including some that are dangerous.

Planning Director Dru Siley presents the Lakewood Bicycle Master Plan

Lakewood’s plan navigates the minefield quite well. If a bicycle plan can be both conservative and progressive at the same time, Lakewood’s has that going for it. It starts by recognizing that the city’s built environment is already quite good for cycling. Businesses and residents are close together. We have Main Street commercial corridors with relatively calm traffic. Those roads will not only take a cyclist to useful destinations within the city, but they’ll also send you on your way in a straight line downtown, or to all points west. Lakewood is already a great place to ride a bike, and the plan is well grounded in that idea.

The plan’s wise starting point, then, is how to capitalize on what we’ve got. The main strategies –not listed in this order–are to increase bicycle parking, educate cyclists and the general public, and create a network of bikeways throughout the city.

PARKING: Cyclists have the same parking challenges in Lakewood that cars have. There’s just not enough. That’s why cyclists are prone to appropriate any tree or signpost as a place to lock a bike. Bicycle parking is the first point in Lakewood’s bicycle master plan, and it comes with the excellent goals of installing one bike rack for every block of Detroit, and one for every other block of Madison. It’s also a goal to include bike parking in the codified ordinances—both as a requirement for some new development, and as an option to help meet parking requirements.

EDUCATION AND OUTREACH: The word “enforcement” doesn’t appear at the top of this section, but it’s a key point in this part of the plan. As part of this effort, the city will enforce bicycle related laws, apparently more than is done now. This goes for motorists as well as cyclists, but it’s likely that cyclists will be the ones who notice it most. That’s because the plan observes that “the city may propose that the following bicycle violations” cause cyclists to incur a fine: failure to obey a traffic signal, wearing headphones, and failure to have headlights (presumably if you are riding at night).

Yes’ this is an attempt to get cyclists to obey the same laws motorists do—including stopping at traffic lights. In the vernacular of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson : “It is what it is.” At least they didn’t say they’ll give you tickets for speeding.

Another part of the city’s outreach plan is all about branding. The city proposes billboards, Tee-Shirts, bumper stickers, and even a mural that promote Lakewood as the “Bicycle Capital” of Northeast Ohio.  The unstated goal of such branding is to help the city attract more bicycle friendly people to live in Lakewood’s many fine bicycle friendly  homes and inexpensive, bicycle friendly rentals. It certainly can’t hurt.  Perhaps there will be a design contest. Perhaps they will hire a local artist who lives in a local arts district.

Perhaps the mural will incorporate one of my spectacular, bicycle-oriented wood block prints, featuring Lakewood's vernacular architecture. Perhaps I jest.

NETWORK OF BIKEWAYS: This is where most bicycle plans get bogged down in arguments, and it’s where Lakewood’s plan truly excels. The city hopes to mark the most used bicycle routes—as identified by cyclists during public work sessions—as “shared use bikeways.” This means that rather than segregate the bikes from the cars with dedicated lanes, the pavement will be marked with “sharrows.” A “sharrow” is a stenciled pavement marker featuring a bicycle and a chevron pointing in the direction of travel. The idea is to remind motorists that bicyclists belong on the road, without marginalizing them in dedicated lanes.

I like sharrows quite a bit.  Not only do they satisfy bicycle advocates’ evangelical urges by declaring that bikes belong, but they do so without marginalizing them or taking real estate away from motorists–indeed, without that dangerous “now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t” effect when cyclists exit and re-enter bike lanes at intersections. Sharrows are a great answer to clarifying that cyclists belong on the road in Lakewood.  In short, they are a win for politicians, planners, and pedal pushers alike.

All in all, Lakewood’s Bicycle Master Plan is a win-win, too. That’s not to say there’s nothing left to be done, or that there aren’t other great ideas left unexplored. There certainly are. And no doubt I’ll be getting to some of them here. But for now, Lakewood and its cyclists are in a pretty good place. Join me, please, in looking forward to lots of great rides in the new year.


Read Full Post »

Very fashionable, no?

Today at William Busta Gallery, my daughter Grace, age 9-point-seven, will debut a bit of haute couture, a striking blue dress knit from those blue plastic grocery bags.

You’re well familiar with these bags. They’re the ones that get caught in trees and stay there, sometimes for years, whipping the sky like flags for the state of Gross Consumerism and Litter.

Pardon my vehemence. But these bags are a pox on the landscape. In Ireland, the government has even taken an effective action against them, with a $0.15 tax on each bag–an attempt to deal with their far-reaching environmental impact.

But getting back to the dress: This vivid blue bit of style is actually modeled after the one worn by Big Sister Kitty, the superhero Grace invented. Big Sister Kitty’s story is partly  told in the first little children’s book I printed, Clam Boy and Big Sister Kitty Liberate the Tree and the Sun and the Moon and the Entire Landscape.

Big Sister Kitty, engaged in the fight against litter

The plot: Someone litters one of those blue plastic bags. It gets stuck, high in a tree. Clam Boy and Big Sister Kitty see it, express their disgust, and figure out a way to A) get it down; and B) throw it away. Then the landscape is improved, just a little bit, at least for now.

In that story, Big Sister Kitty wears a blue dress that looks very much like the blue plastic bag itself. There’s a forthcoming book that tells how Big Sister Kitty got the blue dress she wore. But as you can tell by the word “forthcoming,” that story has not yet been told.

What must be told now, however, is how Grace got her Big Sister Kitty dress. The simple answer is that her Grandmother made it. Grace has two grandmothers–one known here as Grammy-Who-Sews, the other as Grammy-Who-Knits. This particular dress was made by Grammy-Who-Knits–who, outside this house, and among adults, is known as Betsy Shaffer.

Note the curly hem

Betsy gathered blue plastic bags from other knitters, friends, and family for months. She didn’t simply cut them like fabric to fit a dress pattern—oh no, nothing so easy and un-stylish as that. And neither did she knit the bags whole with big fat needles, which would have produced a much clunkier, chunkier thing.

Instead she cut the bags into strips about one-inch wide, tied those strips into skeins of vivid blue ribbon, and knit it in stitches like you’d expect to find in any decent sweater.

It is easily the most extravagant and labor intensive bit of recycling I have ever seen. The dress has a great shape. It’s skirt whirls out when Grace twirls in the kitchen—which she tends to do now and then. Besides wearing it for the release of my woodblock and letterpress book Common Household Rhymes for the Modern Child tonight at William Busta Gallery, she gave her classmates at Horace Mann Elementary School a preview by wearing it to school today.

Indeed, I’m certain this is a dress with a future. Grace is already planning to wear it on her birthday, which is Earth Day (which, coincidentally or not, is also the day I launched this blog). The truth is, she could wear it any day of the week, for just about any occasion calling for cheerful, stylish clothes. Washes easily. Drips dry. I mean, really.

Whirling in the kitchen

So if you come by this evening, be sure to engage Grace in conversation, and take a good look at her dress. She can tell you all about it. She can show you the story of Clam Boy and Big Sister Kitty. She can even introduce you to her Grandmother, Betsy Shaffer, who might just  reveal unto you untold mysteries of the human condition. She has that in her. I mean, really.

Read Full Post »