Tuesday, December 20, 2011

No Bikes On The Bridge!


I'm going to cut to the chase with this entry. There will not be a protected ped/bike lane when the City of Milwaukee restores the Hoan Bridge, a celebrated (by most) Cream City icon.

I've had several conversations with cyclists and non-cyclists regarding the proposal to put bicyclists and pedestrians into the thought process of restoring the bridge. I've heard decent conversations supporting and against said proposals.

The arguments against the proposal have come, oddly, from bicyclists. My fellow cyclists generally think the money the City would have used for the updates ought to be used to improve, repair, and add to existing bike lanes. While I understand the point of view, I don't think those taxpayers are seeing the big picture. 1) Bicyclists aren't the only people-powered taxpayers in the mix. I'll get to the second missing part of the big picture in a moment. I would like to hammer out something regarding this first point.

My biggest problem with drivers and driving in the USA is the fact drivers behave as though they are reason roadways exist. This is not the truth. They may be only reason highways/speedways exist, but roads existed LONG before the automobile first sputtered its engine. And what were we using to maneuver ourselves at a quicker pace than walking? That's right the Velocipede and, finally, approximately 13 years prior to Benz and Ford rolling out their first production models, the Penny-Farthing & Safety Bicycle.

When I heard cyclists voicing their desire for the money for updating the bridge going into existing bike lanes instead, I heard the thought process of drivers. Pedestrians, Skaters, and Rollerbladers also deserve to be considered when the City is using OUR money for roads and protected lanes... much in the same way bicyclists deserve to be considered when designing driving lanes and stops.

Moving on to 2) We've go to begin taking the bicycle serious somewhere. I thought a major historical site and local icon was a fantastic start gate. The Hoan Bridge is the Golden Gate Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge of Milwaukee. One of the coolest things to do when on either coast is to visit and walk/skate/blade/bike their respective iconic bridges. Why not bring that kind of thing to our City? I mean, Cream City has a gorgeous Eastern horizon view. But you only have a split second to enjoy it while speeding past in a car. Imagine how nice it would be to STOP & ENJOY this natural resource while traveling from one side of the city to another.

And, for those cyclists who train for tours/races here, imagine having a serious grade to climb connected to the Oak Leaf Trail. As someone who doesn't mind pushing myself on even the most leisurely rides, I definitely would rather take my chances on that hill than on the busy and less protected flats of 1st or 2nd street.

It makes me wonder whether, maybe, local politics had something to do with striking the idea of protected lanes for peds/bikes. You know... "OCCUPY THE BRIDGE"? If so, we've lost something greater than protected lanes. We've lost a serious connection of the people to their CITY. Our bikes, blades, skates, boards, and feet are serious. They are integral tools in us exercising our freedoms. These forms of transportations require nothing but food and some minor upkeep (exercise and dirt cheap tune-ups) to utilize. That's POWER on a very personal level cars don't afford us. And, on a morbid note, the only time a car connects you to the City is when you're left on the pavement after a horrible accident, mechanical failure or loss of expensive fuel.

In these troubled economic times people are increasingly using bikes for commuting and exercise. It's time our local government considers this fact more when planning road/street/bridge expenditures. The present Oak Leaf Trail is a very good thing, but nowhere near the end-all of meeting the needs of taxpaying cyclists and pedestrians.

The Netherlands did not become the cycling haven it is today overnight. It took cutting edge planning and bold action to step/roll/skate/pedal away from a strictly car culture. Take note as you click the post title above.

Merry Christmas (and any other holiday you may be celebrating this time of year)!

Peace... Love... & Joy

- @

"There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country. A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right tempo. Even a bicycle goes too fast." - Paul Scott Mowrer

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Winter Wonder-City!


With "the season of giving" in full swing, I thought I would share another story about riding on these Cream City streets. What new anecdote do I have to impart to you? I'm glad you asked.

Stopping at lights/STOP signs in traffic can be somewhat tricky. Many... make that most... sources/guidelines (including the Department Of Transportation) suggest the best place to be while at a stop is away from the curb. Curb leaners stand the chance of getting caught with the dreaded "right hook".

The right hook is what happens when a driver makes a right turn, and clips you because said driver didn't notice you at the stop. The closer you are to the curb, the more invisible you become. As you can imagine, the busier the traffic you're riding in the more oblivious to your presence drivers become. This translates into the more visible you should be by positioning yourself where you know they are more likely to notice. Furthermore, when there are three or more vehicles ahead of you at the stop you should actually position yourself in traffic (behind the vehicles). This is a great segue into one my newest bicycling adventure.

A few days ago, on my work commute, I decided to take a less peaceful route to work. This route is one I've been using as Old Man Winter makes his way into town. Basically, I ride to a nearby (home) bus stop and take the bus to a stop within 2-3 miles from work. I get off at that stop and ride the remainder of the distance to work. Reads fairly nice, doesn't it? That's because I haven't written in the bit about there being no painted bike lane on that particular street yet. And, with no painted lane, I need to be bold enough to hold my place on the road.

Well, I do just that. And, at stops, I make certain I'm at least the recommended three feet from the curb. Three plus feet from the curb places me and my bike just poking into traffic, and nearly impossible to fall victim to the right hook. I peek over my left shoulder at one particular stop, and notice a car approaching from behind with right turn light flashing away. There is no turn lane at the stop, so the car is forced to stop behind me.

I must admit to feeling a bit of concern about practicing defensive bicycling methods in rush hour traffic. But I remind myself this is the most crucial time to put this knowledge to good use. I, and other cyclists, are most vulnerable to inattentive drivers when said drivers are in a hurry. I also remind myself of the fact no stop lights in the city of Milwaukee are longer than a (reported) 90 second wait. A minute and a half isn't going to make much of a difference to anyone at this time of day. Right? Well, my motored counterpart isn't operating from the same set of rules/guidelines/safety practices as I am on this particular morning. The driver lays on the car horn. I, attempting to stay in my "happy place", do not turn around. Something tells me I know exactly why I don't want to turn around. And... if you've read any of my previous entries... you, too, know why I don't want to turn around.

The driver, once again, lays on the horn. I turn around in hopes, maybe, I dropped something and the driver simply wants to be a good neighbor. No... no such luck. As soon as my head is turned in the direction of the car, the driver begins motioning AND shouting for me to get on the sidewalk. The car window is up, so I can only hear a muffled shouting on my side of the glass. Phew! Thank God for little blessings. I think, "You should walk over and shrewdly instruct this person to check out bicycle road rights/rules on the dot.org". I think better of it when a scenario of the car driving over my bike plays out in my mind. I shout, "I'm a vehicle on the road. I have the same rights as you", and shrug my shoulders. I mean, what else can I do? The driver can't hear me through the glass, and I'm not prepared to walk over to attempt a drawn-out debate. I can only hope hope this individual is angry enough to mention it to a person whose opinion she actually values, and that truly person knows the rules of the road. Maybe they'll visit the DoT website together?

I turn to face the direction of travel. I hear another car horn. This time I will not turn around... it's not the same car. I think to myself, "Oh no! The natives are getting restless". With all the tension over the political and economic direction this state feels we should be headed, a person on a bike must seem (to some) as a proud, defiant liberal... especially when riding in the month of December. I mean, who does that... Right? What self-respecting Capitalist would give up absolute comfort to engage in a fun, healthy, and fiscally conservative form of transportation? Are these people two of the out-of-control, hardcore political conservatives I've seen and read about? Will they debark the vehicles to burn me at the stake, like a witch in Salem? Against my better judgement, I turn - expecting a stronger dose of scolding. To my delight it is a coworker, and she brings a little sunshine to my cloudy commute in saying "Good morning, Amado".

She, then, begins honking the car horn and signaling to the other driver. The driver won't look in her direction. She simply cuts a burning gaze in the direction she wants to turn. The light changes, and we're all THANKFULLY moving again.

For the umpteenth time since getting back on two wheels, the guidelines I am so studious about reading and memorizing pay off. I look up toward the heavens and say, "Thank you". And I recall Bicycle Times, the DoT website, and every other source I use to learn my rights and gain knowledge regarding my safety. My bicycle, while fun to ride, isn't a toy. It is a (FREE-WOOHOO) registered, moving vehicle. My lights alert pedestrians, as well as drivers, I'm on the road. My (front & back) brakes help me stop when the need arises. My personal state of awareness allows me to navigate safely through MKE and beyond. If I (on my bike) want to be taken seriously on the streets of Cream or any other city, I ought to conduct myself as a serious mode of transportation... especially while traveling in rush hour traffic.

Finally, as indicated in the title of the blog, I live in Milwaukee WI. Unfortunately, the city salts to deal with snow & ice. I'm not too keen on dealing with salt on my bike or riding 15+ mile commutes in single digits above, or double digits below, zero weather... which means I'll soon park the bike until the March thaw. My knit cap is off to all the riders who ride throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota winters. The winters of the two states are notoriously brutal... known even in parts of Europe. The missus is from Europe, and the only European she's met who didn't shrink at the thought of an upcoming Wisconsin or Minnesota winter is a coworker... from Russia.

But parking my bike until March 1 will also give me time to tweak my bike a bit AND work on some much neglected art projects.

Stay warm & tolerant!


- @

"Toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle." - Helen Keller

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The City & The Sprawl!


This week, as true winter weather draws nigh and the city (trees and other vegetation) is stripped naked, I've been thinking a lot about URBAN SPRAWL. Well, this evil spawn of "modern times" is always on my mind. By this, I mean to point out the fact I ride through A LOT of urban sprawl daily... en route to work. In my pack is a copy of David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries. I took a break reading that book to read And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks, which is the collaborative work of William S Burroughs & Jack Kerouac. Both books are (in their own ways) examinations of the human condition, our immediate environment(s), and the effects of one on the other. Hippos does this in a retelling of the event credited with acting as the catalyst of the Beat movement. Bicycle Diaries achieves its examination with a sort of Johnny-on-the-scene recording of what the author sees/thinks as he travels cities of the world on a bike. And this examination more directly relates to this edition of my ramblings.

*Note to reader: What you are about to read is a culmination of many commutes, and it represents the better route to work. The bright side to this story is I get to experience this in reverse on my way home. - @

The beginnings of my daily rides are pleasant enough. Despite the fact Milwaukee doesn't quite have its collective act together when it comes to urban cycling, we're slowly moving in the right direction. We have painted, not particularly well protected or maintained, bike lanes sprinkled throughout the city. And there are reasonably planned Oak Leaf Trail entrances/exits from many of our major city streets. Though it's evident our local government isn't looking to commuting by bicycle in Cream City as a viable means of personal transport... yet... there are a decent amount of areas to park/lock your bike in the downtown and immediately adjacent areas. So, the beginning of my commute is through a semi-dense city with a long history of... and long breaks from... bustling. It is evident people actually LIVE here.

Many of the local businesses of my childhood are gone. The good news is new businesses quickly occupy the vacant space in a dense city. There is always someone with what he/she believes is a killer, new idea. Seeing the "Opening Soon", "Now Open" and/or "Open" signs as I make my way to the nearest Oak Leaf Trail entry fills my heart with a warm feeling. I may not be the most social animal on the planet, but I love knowing I live in a breathing, beating and ever-growing community. It's one in which I can patronize locally... watering the seeds we call "killer, new ideas".

Once I'm in the trail, I join another segment of our bustling society... cyclists and pedestrians. It's a community of which I am extremely proud to count myself among. These are people who either begin their day with an early stroll/run/roll or a ride to their place of education/employment. They have, are or will contribute to the vitality of this city. And do so without necessarily adding to the pollution a "civilized" network generates. These are MY people. They've made a choice for which not everyone is up.

As we all ease and zip past one another (with occasional G'morings, 'ellos and nods), I can't help but take in the sights to my left and right. It is the history of my city from the viewpoint of a buried train track those who came before me once utilized to do just what I'm doing. I imagine them making their way out of the downtown area and thinking about expanding the city to these parts... The East Side/Riverwest... Shorewood... Whitefish Bay! And they managed this expansion without completely cutting themselves off from the city center and lake (Bayview mirrors this vibe on the southeast side of the city).

The trail spits me out near Bayshore Mall. It's a mall at which I've never felt guilty spending my hard-earned cash. I don't get the feeling I'm spending outside my community, although (technically) I am. I'm glad they've designed it to look like a small city, though. It appears a little more like the shopping arcades of Europe... without the amazing historical sites and people living above the shops.

On my way to reconnect with the trail, I must cross a fairly busy street. To make matters worse this street runs parallel to one of the key components of successful sprawl... a highway. For lack of a more profound manner in which to express what I feel when I see a highway, they kinda suck. Don't get me wrong. They have their place and usefulness. But, as if life wasn't hard enough to keep up with, highways get us from point A to point B faster. Sometimes I wonder whether highways are an evil tool used to shroud the blight on society that is urban sprawl. It's as if builders and planners sat down in some dark, secret, underground cavern and agreed, "If we can just get them to drive fast enough, they won't notice we're totally destroying the land they value so much to the point they won't even value it anymore".

Anyway, I get back on the trail and drive through the quaint little communities set up along and nearby the Milwaukee River. I'm already feeling lonely. There aren't many people to which to say G'morning or 'ello. And when I do spot people... and attempt a connection... they often give me a look I can only compare to what my phone or computer seems to be telling me when I can't get a signal... "Sorry, Charlie". I'm knee deep in the sprawl! People are already forgetting we rely on one another to make it through this thing called life. And the further north and west (away from The Lake and city) I ride the worse the situation.

I take a moment before turning into traffic and bid farewell to the squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, raccoons and birds. We've, no doubt, been on their societal nerves since we started building beyond the nearest water source. I pedal off the part of the trail which actually looks like a trail, and make my way back onto the streets. This is where the Oak Life Trail gets sketchy. The trail is marked by little, green street signs. There are no painted bikes lanes. And the view is absolutely depressing. This is Mad Max... but in the really real world. Never mind the fact the rare person I see is locked away from his/her immediate surroundings, the surroundings themselves are crumbling before my eyes. Yes! This must be it! It's the end game for Urban Sprawl.

Revolution after revolution turns the smile on my Chevy Chase upside down. The cracks, chunks of missing concrete/tar, variety of debris, and broken glass underneath me serve to remind NO ONE is really living around this part of town. When a business closes out here no one notices. How do I know this? Oh... the huge vacant lots'o'plenty provide plenty of understanding. When people aren't living in a place people don't maintain it. Think of the absentee landlord. Now, think of the absentee landlord who isn't collecting a dime on his/her property. Add to that the fact they can't sell the land AND still have to pay taxes. Does this land owner care whether the grass is green or whether the streets and sidewalks are people-friendly? Does this developer care whether or not a vacant car lot, an out-of-business "family" restaurant franchise or a lot vacated by a department store chain is a constant eyesore... a black eye... on the neighborhood? Can you imagine riding or walking in that environment?

The neighboring communities aren't obviously (psychologically) effected, because no one really lives there. Oh sure... they eat, shower, sleep and grow there. But that isn't all there is to living. To truly thrive a community needs local businesses at which people can work and take part in commerce. People need to walk/run/roll/pedal around and spread their wings. And that's when the psychological effect sprawl has on us reveals itself... we stop walking, running, pedaling. We drive, even when the distance to our destination is less than 1/2 mile away.

Okay, I will balance the previous statement by admitting it isn't all due to The Sprawl. Part of this strange behavior is a byproduct of U.S. car culture. We drive (even short distances), and we create reasons to drive (like, traveling to another community to spend money on things we could just as easily purchase in our own neighborhood). On foot or a bike you must first consider whether what you want to buy justifies the distance traveled, because the cost is immediate rather than shrouded in a gas tank.

Back to the absentee landlord bit...

Business owners in the city, as neighbors themselves, tend to give back to their communities. Why? They understand their business will sizzle as the immediate environment does. And patrons from the community love strolling into those shops, because they feel a vested interest in making sure that place continues to be a part of their commercial family.

You don't get that palpable interaction with a business owner who buys a huge lot in the middle of an isolated community. That investor is there to make fast money and get out faster. These blocks will be abandoned when there is no money left to spend. The communities are left penniless... with blocks of painted line lots.

It's not simply theoretical -- it's happening. And it's appalling.

This is URBAN SPRAWL in all its splendor.

I don't think people, in general, have the time to consider this stuff when they're traveling at warp speed in their gas guzzler(s). They're too busy consuming to consider. We see and feel it all on our bicycles.

Ride on!


- @

"The truth hurts. Maybe not as much as jumping on a bicycle with a seat missing, but it hurts."- Naked Gun 2 1/2.