Bicycle Diaries: October 2006

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When war is civil...

It's been a rough couple of weeks not the least of which because I recently found this vid on YouTube. It's from the local TV station in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Fourteen years ago the war began there as the Yugoslav National Army was trying to get out of the city. Having witnessed it, the vid has sparked a shit-load of bad memories.

And I've been reading Niall Ferguson's new history of the 20th Century, The War of the World. In it he explains the phenomenal violence of the last century in terms of ethnic hatred and conflict. The chapter on the First World War highlights a quote from the novel, The Bridge Over the Drina. The bridge itself (pictured to the left) still stands today despite World Wars I & II as well as the Bosnian War.

I first read this book, by Ivo Andric, as I was getting ready to go to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1993. Winning The Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961, he describes how different ethnic groups, who otherwise had lived in peace for centuries, could viciously attack one another.

The following quote from The Bridge Over the Drina is what Ferguson included in The War of the World. Isn't it amazing that we refer to wars within communities as civil when civility is exactly what is brutally destroyed in such conflicts.
The people were divided into the persecuted and those who persecuted them. That wild beast, which lives in man and does not dare to show itself until the barriers of law and custom have been removed, was now set free. The signal was given, the barriers were down ... A man who saw clearly and with open eyes and was then living could see how this miracle took place and how the whole society could, in a single day, be transformed ... Men ... vanished overnight as if they had died suddenly, together with the habits, customs and institutions which they represented.

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Oz freewheels into the future

Last week, Steve Bracks, the Premier of Victoria, Australia committed $4 million to promote biking among the state's 34,000 elementary students. The most innovative aspect of the initiative is a bike give-away.

As the students enter high school, they will recieve new bikes. And those from disadvantaged communities will recieve the first 4000 bikes. The premier hopes this will encourage them to continue riding after they've outgrown their childhood bikes.

The government will spend an additional $72 million over the next 10 years to expand bike paths as well as build bike sheds at schools. Rather than traffic issues, most parents are concerned with the security of their children's expensive bikes. But the $12,000 price tag for a typical bike shed is well beyond the means of most schools.

With a recent $4 million government grant, Bicycle Victoria, a local bike advocacy group, is developing programs to get young people on bikes. Over the next four years, the Ride2School campaign will work with schools to specifically target parents who drive their children to and from school. In addition to bike sheds, it will identify quiet neighborhood routes as well as teach children how to ride and look after their bikes.

Schools are organizing Bike2School Days. At Cambridge Primary, for example, 54% of the student body either biked or walked on 13 September. Three others are conducting Hands Up surveys on the first school day of each month. According to Bicycle Victoria,
Students at our three model schools are being asked by their teachers ... to put their 'hands-up' if they rode, walked or came by car to school. The results are then tallied and faxed to the Ride2School team.

Regular monitoring has been shown to hasten behaviour change, because it helps maintain the focus on continual improvement. Teachers have told us that students enjoy the process of being surveyed.

We are currently developing a counter on our website which will enable students and teachers to log-on and upload their results on-line. They will then be able to compare their results with earlier achievements as well as see how they compare to other schools across the state.
I love this type of social action. Local governments supply the funds and non-profits provide the tools so that schools and parents can improve the life of their communities. What else can I write except that I wish SteveBracks would run for Governor of Illinois!



Haunted Chicago critical mass

I'd say around 600 massers gathered at Daley Plaza Friday night. The weather was low 40s with a light drizzle. The xerocrats were out in force as well; more than I've seen on previous masses. Along with two new issues of the Derailleur, the Green Party folks were handing out literature on their gubenatorial candidate, Rich Whitney. And there was the usual smattering of fliers for bands, cafe opennings, and art exhibitions.

Jimmie the Saint, who came up with the route, arrived later than usual. He blew out his front brakes on the ride down. Folks didn't seem to mind since Chicagoween was in full swing. Parents had brought their kids to carve pumpkins and see The Midnight Circus perform in The Haunted Village next to the Picasso sculture.

The circus atmosphere was infectious. Bike messengers were dancing, bike commuters were passing out candy, and frankenbikers were putting the last touches on their costumes. So when Jimmie finally got there nobody wanted to mass up. A few massers started by orbiting the streets around the plaza and picking up more and more massers as they went.

Probably 60% of the mass was in costume. Folks were pretty imaginative like Siskel & Ebert here. I didn't get their costumes until I noticed the boxes of popcorn in their fromt baskets.

Also I didn't notice as much drinking as last time nor did I see many massholes either. However, folks were pretty stoked for a little mass deviltry. When the mass got to the intersection at Lincoln, Diversey, and Racine, we rolled around in circles blocking traffic from all three streets. If cagers honked in anger, a dozen or so riders would dismount to raise their bikes over their heads. This happened again at Montrose, Broadway, and Sheridan. I'd never seen that before.

The only quarrel with a cager I saw got out of hand as we headed north to Montrose. A guy who was corked got out of his car to threaten the mass. This got everyone chanting, Get Back in Your Car! Unfortunately just as he was doing so, some masshole shoved him from behind. All hell broke loose. The cager and his girlfriend chased the masshole up onto the sidewalk and over a badly placed newspaper box. I got out of there as the police arrived.

For the most part, cagers and pedestrians got caught up in the holiday mood. They shouted compliments shouted for their favorite costumes. Some even threw candy from their balconies.

By the time we got to Montrose Harbor, the mass had dwindled down to maybe 200. Jimmie had planned on telling a few scary stories but the drizzle had picked up. Folks were a bit cold. Others had afterparties to get to.

I wish I'd given my costume more thought. Just one person got who I was supposed to be. That was a masser who rode up asking, Are you Lenin? I should have gotten a Soviet flag or made a sign, perhaps saying, I didn't like Stalin either! Oh well, there's always next year ...


[note: thanks again to Don Sorsa for the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th photos.
To see all of his photos go here.]

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test, test, test

If you're reading this, my blog is having a big problem. I think it's system-wide since a lot of folks have posted about the same problem at the blogger help group listserve.

Essentially, the system is unable to republish the index as well as the entire blog. Folks are getting the following:
Connection refusedblog/2/26/15/



The boy who loved bikes

From Jeff Long and Tim Kane in today's Chicago Tribune:
A 15-year-old boy who loved bicycles and computers was on his way to a fast-food restaurant to meet his mother and sisters when a commuter train struck and killed him in Fox River Grove, his father said Thursday.

Justin Glassmyer, a sophomore at Cary-Grove High School, was killed by an outbound Metra train about 6:10 p.m. Wednesday as he bicycled across railroad tracks where 11 years ago seven students on a bus from his school were killed.

As rain fell at the crossing Thursday afternoon, dozens of students left flowers, photos and hand-scrawled notes that had begun to blur. The boy's favorite CD, "Ten Thousand Fists" by the metal band Disturbed, sat alongside his second-favorite bicycle, which friends brought to the site.

"Coming here was hard," said Katrina Phillips, 17, a junior at Cary-Grove. "I needed proof that he was dead. He was the nicest kid. You wouldn't think that he would die."

As they gathered near the tracks--hugging, crying, and sometimes laughing about their friend--the students said the 1995 crash remains a sorrowful memory for many in the tiny village. Now the crossing's dangers have struck closer to home, they said.

The site is marked by a plaque, and the area is known as "Seven Angels Crossing." But investigators say the location is the only similarity.

"Right now, it's just a tragic accident," said Fox River Grove Police Chief Robert Polston.

Polston added that witnesses said the signals and crossing gates--improved after the 1995 crash--were working properly at the time of the crash.

An Illinois Commerce Commission inspector found that the gates, which block the street, were closed, spokeswoman Beth Bosch said.

But it's unclear whether the teen was crossing the tracks on the street or the sidewalk, which isn't blocked by the gate. Polston would only say that police are still investigating, along with state and federal officials.

Metra spokesman Patrick Waldron said the speed limit on that stretch of track was reduced from 70 m.p.h. to 50 m.p.h. after the 1995 crash. He said determining the train's speed Wednesday evening will be part of the investigation.

Seven students died and 24 were injured on Oct. 25, 1995. They were on their way to school when a train struck their bus at the same intersection at Algonquin Road near U.S. Highway 14.

That crash led to improvements across the country in the way traffic lights are linked to railroad crossing signals.

Although details remain sketchy about Wednesday's crash, Robert Glassmyer said it appears that his son and a friend were bicycling to a restaurant where Justin's sister works. They were to meet his sisters and mother for dinner, Glassmyer said in an emotional telephone interview from his home in Holiday, Fla.

"He was smart in school and smart around computers," said Glassmyer, as he prepared to return to Illinois to help with funeral arrangements. "And, like me, mechanically inclined. I'm into cars. I'm a mechanic. He always liked tearing apart his bike."

Glassmyer said Justin grew up in Palatine before moving to Fox River Grove. He has two sisters, 16 and 18, and a stepsister, 10.

The oldest daughter visited Glassmyer for about two weeks this month. Justin had wanted to make the trip but couldn't because of school. His father had hoped Justin could visit during spring vacation.

"I was going to take him to the shop," Glassmyer said. "Teach him a little bit more about cars."

The owner of the Fox Pantry convenience store that faces the accident scene across U.S. 14 said the boy often visited with family members.

"He came in here to buy doughnuts," said Zareen Shah, calling the family "very nice people."

Shah said an employee who saw the accident said Justin Glassmyer was one of two kids on bicycles. The first made it through the intersection, the employee told Shah.

Phillips recalled the teenager's personality.

"He was smiling all the time," Phillips said. "His favorite phrase was, `You're done!' If you said something stupid, he was like, `You're done!'
"He was the sweetest kid."
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

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McCarthy's Bicycle rider

I will not say

As we move into the final days of the US Congressional campaigns, we should remember the Democratic Senator from Minnesota and 1968 presidential candidate, Eugene McCarthy. His success as the anti-war candidate in the New Hampshire Primaries convinced President Johnson to forgo the Democratic nomination.

Years later, McCarthy wrote the following poem. It expresses fatherly confidence in his daughter, Mary.
Teeth bare to the wind
Knuckle-white grip on the handlebars
You push the pedals of no return,
Let loose new motion and speed.
The earth turns with the multiplied
Force of your wheels.
Do not look back.
Feet light on the brake
Ride the bicycle of your will
Down the spine of the world,
Ahead of your time, into life
I will not say Go Slow.
The don't look back sentiment reminds me of Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night. Dylan Thomas wrote it during the final illness of his father, D. J. Thomas. So instead, this poem focuses on the don't look back life as it approaches death. In other words: speed, speed until the very end.
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lighting they
Do not go gently into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.



Sztálin-szobrot vigye haza!

Take the Stalin Statue Home!

When I was a kid in Upstate New York, my parents would take me to a pastry shop at a crossroads outside our village. It wasn't until college that I realized that my favorite mezeskalacs (honey cakes), isli (half-moon cookies), and dobos (cakes) were Hungarian. When I moved back to work for the Boy Scouts I got to know the owners, an elderly couple who had escaped Hungary after resisting the Soviet Army in 1956.

I've been thinking a lot about pastry and politics this week. Fifty years ago, student demonstrations demanding reform of the Communist government quickly blossomed into an all-out revolution. For the following 11 days the world held its collective breath as Hungarians became the first Eastern Europe nation to resist Soviet occupation.

Although it would ultimately fail with the brutal return of Soviet troops and tanks, the October-November revolution was the first sign that the Soviet Union could not fully control its empire in Eastern Europe. And so, I'm posting excerpts from a recent essay by Peter Nádas. It appeared in The Opinion Journal on Monday. Now a novelist, Nádas was a student eyewitness of these events. I'm also posting 4 YouTube videos commemorating the 50th Anniverserary of the Hungarian Revolution.
So, on that Tuesday afternoon, a single flow of humanity was moving down the avenues; they were coming on Váci Avenue, on Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Avenue, but on Marx Square many stopped in hesitation: Which way now? The piled-up streetcars stood motionless where they had gotten stuck in their tracks, with the lights burning in the empty compartments. There were about 80,000 people stranded around the edges of the square, on the banks of this vast intersection. They were singing, shouting demands, having visions, speechifying. A crowd, half a million strong, was already in front of the Parliament building. They demanded that the Russians go home, and clamored for Imre Nagy to make a speech.

Someone appeared on the left balcony. This, of course, couldn't be noticed from below but the news came that someone had come out to the balcony. He appeared to be talking but it was no use, he couldn't be heard. The crowd was screaming that nothing could be heard. Then the word came and spread that Imre Nagy--the former prime minister, and a symbol of resistance to Moscow--was on his way. For that someone on the balcony was, indeed, saying that Nagy was on his way. And they proceeded to install a microphone on the balustrade of the balcony and they hung a few huge, funnel-shaped loudspeakers on the façade of the building. They kept rapping on the microphone, testing it by saying, "one, two, three . . . this is a test," and the sound was echoed by the facades of the surrounding buildings. All this made things even more cheerful, and the square burst into a joyous laughter. But then it started to look like they would screw around with this for an eternity, with this technical preparation; they were just stalling for time. The crowd roared and clattered; losing patience, it gave voice to its discontent and restlessness, its body became lumpy as small groups started to form here and there while impatient orators rose to express their opinion. No one could predict what would emerge suddenly, which of the demands would take hold on the square, and what would come of it.

Then, from the cheers arriving in waves from the main staircase we could tell that Imre Nagy had arrived. The square roared, then fell silent wanting to hear how well it could hear itself, then it roared again. Someone in fact announced that he had arrived. From this point on, my recollections diverge from those of others. As he stepped out to the balcony (others remember him to have appeared in a window) clumsily they were trying to put some light on him, but he stumbled over something. It might have been due to a high doorstep, or to his nervousness (for he had never addressed a crowd of this size), or he was unsuitable for this role by nature; but perhaps the balcony floor was simply too steep. Since then I always wanted to take a closer look at that balcony. As I remember, during his speech two people, one on either side, were holding him in the doorway of the balcony. This is why he was so far away from the microphone, and this explains why it was so hard to understand him. According to other recollections, those two people were holding him in a window. But I stick to my own memories. All you could see in this awkward beam of light was that someone stepped forward, stumbled, his hat flew off, while he himself disappeared for a moment. Laughter arose above the square, for it was a ridiculous sight, but it wasn't the entire square that laughed, there were patches of laughter stifled immediately by a general sense of shame.

In a revolution there are no great entrances. It doesn't matter that your arrival is awaited by a whole city, it doesn't matter that you are Imre Nagy--you are just like anybody else. Every emotion was a mass emotion on this gentle autumn evening, or rather, only the crowd could legitimate or suppress individual emotions. To this day I cannot understand how I could hold out from three in the afternoon till midnight without feeling hungry or thirsty, or the urge to pee.

The first--you could say benign and jovial -- phase of the revolution included massive desertion in the police and military corps, the opening up of weapon-factory warehouses, the ritual pulling down and sawing up of Sándor Mikus's Stalin statue, the siege of the radio building in Bródy Sándor Street (I was still standing on the square when the news was approaching from the direction of Nádor Street, "They are shooting at the radio, they are shooting at the radio") and also the first serious armed street fights. This phase ended with a bloodbath. It happened on Thursday.

A good friend of mine was there, in front of Hotel Astoria, when the crowd occupying the pavement simply wouldn't budge. It held up a Russian tank column, forcing the commanding officer to stick his head out of his tank. "What do you want, why did you come here? Why don't you go home?"--they shouted at him in Hungarian and in Russian. The officer shouted back that he had come to free the city of fascist bandits. It wasn't hard for them to convince him that there were no fascists and no bandits there. There were students, there were workers, there were bureaucrats, and there were scientists there. The Hungarian revolution--contrary to popular opinion, and despite all of its anti-communist excesses--was not an anti-socialist revolution, and in its early days not even an anti-communist one. It would have based its envisioned order on public ownership and worker self-government. "Can't you hear that we are talking to you in Russian?" The officer defended himself desperately by saying that he had been duped then. Hearing this, the crowd started to celebrate the Russians, fastening Hungarian flags on the tanks, which the confused Russian soldiers, to show their peaceful intent, allowed it to do. At this moment, another Soviet tank column approached on Rákóczi Street, and when the crowd noticed that these too were decked out with Hungarian flags, a great cheer went up, "The revolution is won! Let's go to the Parliament!" On that Thursday the news that the Russians were with us, that they crossed over, did in fact spread like wildfire.

The next day, on Friday in the early afternoon hours, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, along with President Eisenhower's disarmament adviser, Harold Stassen, assessed the situation in Hungary. Stassen proposed that following the Austrian example, the satellite countries, too, should be made neutral. We hasten to add here that in these days the Hungarians fervently hoped to be treated by the Great Powers in the way the Austrians had been treated. Stassen advised the secretary of state to approach the matter through Marshall Tito or to use some other diplomatic channels; in one way or another, the Russians had to be told that the neutrality of the satellite countries was not unacceptable to the U.S. Dulles doubted that they had to go that far, and rejected Stassen's suggestion by saying he wouldn't have wanted to give the impression to the Hungarian insurgents that the State Department was negotiating behind their backs with the Russians. Judging by the testimony of contemporary documents, however, it seems as if the secretary of state had wished to do even less than the diplomatic minimum. When, an hour later, Eisenhower called him on the phone, he appears to have wrapped his intentions in rhetoric in saying to the president that it was very difficult to know how to handle the situation.

But Dulles did know, since the next day, on Saturday, in a speech in Dallas, he laid out very plainly what to do. He made it clear that in Eastern Europe one form of occupation had simply given way to another, and called the Soviet oppression imperialistic. He left no doubt about the sympathy felt by the U.S. toward those patriotic revolutionaries to whom freedom was dearer than their own lives. However, he also left no doubt about the limits of American responsibility. The U.S. didn't consider these nations, namely the Hungarians and the Poles, to be its potential military allies.

On Thursday of the following week, Imre Nagy, yielding to the dynamic forces of the revolution, made a solemn and desperate speech in which he announced Hungary's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and declared the country's neutrality, making his compatriots happy, but only for a few hours. Neither the happiness, nor the declaration, had any foundation in the reality of international politics. After all, the U.S. secretary of state had spoken rather clearly and acutely on the previous Saturday.

But on that Sunday morning when the Soviet army returned with its hastily reassembled tank divisions to Budapest, enveloped by this time in wintry fog, to show the world how to smash into pieces a great city which hadn't even had time to recover from the devastation of World War II, on that morning the Cold War project of sundering Europe in two was completed.

The Hungarian Revolution takes a place of honor in the history of European revolutions, in the series of increasingly refined riots, insurrections and mass movements which marked the attempt of the Continent's oppressed peoples to break out of the isolation created by the Yalta agreement and to return to constitutionality and self-determination. Its significance cannot be denied, yet in the past 50 years it has remained unclear where exactly this significance lies.

It put an end to the escalating phase of the Cold War, reduced the risk of an atomic war and compelled the opposing powers to consider the idea of peaceful coexistence as an acceptable minimum. This pressure, however, was not brought by the victory of the republic or democracy, but by their defeat. The Hungarian Revolution remains a memento, a negative experience which continues to be part of the European subconscious.

With some exaggeration, one could say that in October 1956 the peoples of Europe and North America, together with their legitimate governments, decided to put an end, once and for all, to the age of revolutionary change. And they were right to do so. To avoid another world war, the existing orders had to integrate, in some way or another, the social and political dissatisfaction of the age; this became the supreme commandment of the day. Expressing deep regrets, with bleeding heart and being fully conscious of their responsibility, they opted not to support the headless and 150-years-late Hungarian Revolution either by diplomatic means, or by sending volunteers or weapons.

I say this without any pathetic overtones or sadness: My life has passed in the context of this double bloodletting. Since those days, I have hated despotism. But I also find it difficult to turn my head silently at the sight of the weaknesses, cheap little farces, self-endangering prejudices and overall vulnerability of the republic and democracy.

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Raleigh abuse

Have you ever rolled to the local airport? In Chicago at O'Hare Airport, it's not impossible ... but almost. Once you arrive, there are only two racks where the CTA Blue Line enters Terminal 1.

Bikers in Minneapolis-St. Paul ain't so lucky. The folks at The Lake Pepin 3speed Touring Club report that
Paul Casperson, who has depended upon his faithful 3-speed Raleigh since it was new in 1957, locked it at the Minneapolis International Airport while he departed on a 4-day business trip. Upon his return, he found his Trusty Steed vandalized and destroyed. Bruce Morrow has taken charge and will use what is left of the old gal to return Paul to the fold. To that end, we are hoping to locate a 23” Raleigh (or similar) frame. If you can help, please let me know via or call Bruce at 612-722-6019.
And this from The Star Tribune, 21 October 2006.
Leave your bike at the airport? Not a good idea, rider says.
Doug Grow

In 1957, Paul Caspersen bought a black, three-speed Raleigh bicycle for $90. This American classic carried Caspersen, now 70, through Europe, the Wisconsin and Minnesota countryside and, of course, the streets of Minneapolis.

In July, Caspersen needed to be at the Humphrey terminal for an early morning flight to Boston. Because buses weren't running at 3 a.m., the retired family counselor strapped a carry-on bag on the back of his bike and pedaled from his southeast Minneapolis home to the light-rail stop at the Metrodome. He placed his bike in the rack on the light-rail car, and man and machine were delivered to the Humphrey terminal.

Caspersen asked airport employees where he could lock up his bike.

They looked at him blankly and shrugged their shoulders.

Out of time, he locked his bike to an out-of-the way sign post inside the terminal and headed to the plane.

When he returned four days later, the bike was gone.

After several inquiries, he ended up at airport police headquarters in the Lindbergh terminal.

"My old friend was destroyed," Caspersen said. "The horizontal bar was cut all the way through, the seat was gone, the handlebars gone, the gears. ..."

The police officer who was assisting Caspersen was perplexed.

"'Why wouldn't your bike have pedals?' he asked me," Caspersen said. "I said I didn't know. He wondered why my bike didn't have a seat. I said I didn't know. Finally, he just said, 'Why is your bike wrecked?' "

No one seems to be able to answer that question. The best guess is that a maintenance crew was ordered to remove the bike and after workers cut through the lock, decided to keep on cutting.

Some people, Caspersen noted, just don't like bikes, or the people who ride them.

The bigger question, Caspersen said, is: Why doesn't the airport in one of the biking-est regions in the country have a place for bikes?

"We have places for bikes on light rail and buses," he said. "Why wouldn't we integrate the system so we have places for bikes at the airport?"

He called -- and left messages for -- politicians who have funneled millions of dollars into light-rail projects and bike trails.

"No one called me back," he said.

But Arlie Johnson, assistant airport director charged with running landside operations, said staff employees are working on the problem and hope to have it solved by spring.

Johnson also said that he hadn't heard of the demise of Caspersen's bike until this past week but that bike parking has become a concern, especially for airport employees.

"That's great news," said Caspersen when told that bike parking was on the drawing board.

But too late for the remaining pieces of an American classic, now bagged in his garage.

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Design, crime, and cycling in the city

Reinventing the bike shed

Bikes are booming in London. It isn't all that surprising since European cities in general are well-known for encouraging people powered transportation. London has experienced a 50% increase in bike commuting over the last five years. And in Amsterdam, 27% of all trips are made by bike.

Like London, European cities also lead the world in imaginative, aesthetically significant design. I first realized this during a trip to Dublin back in 2001. There I met Lynne, a street artist whose paintings blend stark expressionism with a customary Gaelic whimsy.

Now, across the Irish Sea, the University of the Arts London has invited young designers to reinvent the bike shed. Bike shed? you ask. In the UK, this refers to everything from the familar backyard sheds to municipal schemes for secure bike parking.

Two urban realities have inpsired the design competition. As biking has increased so have bike thefts. Despite this, municipal planners have been slow to come up with practical solutions. C. Northcote Parkinson first observed this problem in 1957. Referring to it as The Colour of the Bike Shed Effect, he explained that it's far easier to get nuclear power plants built than bike sheds. Why? Because local government officials who don't know that much about nuclear power plants typically won't question designs submitted experts. In contrast, the same officials think they know as much about bike sheds as the designers. So the whole planning process gets bogged down in debates over every aspect of the design, like the bike shed's color.

The variety of bike shed submissions reflects the continuing influence of this effect. They include everything from the practical to the fantastic. Chun Yeug Cheng & Ka Fai Lee would plant Bike Trees throughout London's parks. Using a pulley system, bikers hoist their machines to safety. It's a visually stunning idea. Nevertheless, would they want them exposed to England's famously rainy weather?

David Eburah also hoists bikes out of the reach of thieves. His design, The Placycle, employs helium inflated plastic pods tethered to the bike station. This most certainly would protect bikes from the elements. But how would Londoners react to the potentially meanacing sight of Martian-like machines lumbering over the urban landscape?

In contrast, Claire Bandy's Bicycle Pod doesn't bring to mind the sci-fi terrors of War of the Worlds or The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It puts bikes out of harm's way, from thieves and the weather alike, with a simple steel container. While practical and relatively cheap, this design isn't very visually inspiring. I just can't imagine central London littered with 100s of rusting hulks covered in corporate advertisements and splattered with graffiti.

The competition's winners will be announced on 30 october. I hope they choose a design that is both practical and aesthetically pleasing. Basically, what bikers around the world need is a viable option to parking on the fly. The daily inconvenience of sodden saddles, rusty gears, and ingenious thieves is perhaps the biggest obstacle preventing bike commuting from becoming the norm of urban life rather than an eccentric irritant to both cagers and pedestrians.

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