Bicycle Diaries: February 2008

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Summer bike tours, Part I

warm thoughts

They have too. The weather service just reported that so far the Windy City received a total of 55 snowy inches. And that they were delivered in over 30 separate snow falls. So I'm trying to maintain my sanity by remembering what it's like to bike when your biggest worry is heat stroke.

I took a wonderful series of sweaty bike tours in northeastern Ohio last summer. I stayed with Uffda Dave & his family on their small farm outside Aurora. It was a working trip to meet with my adult volunteers. I would meet with them in the evenings, since most of them had jobs. That left my days free for touring.

Uffda Dave's youngest son, Nate, is a newly minted Boy Scout. Given his father's and my bikeluv', he wanted to get working on the Cycling Merit Badge. It requires a number of progressively longer tours. So our first was a short 10 mile round-trip over to Solon. Being a small bedroom community near the highway to Cleveland, there isn't a hell of a lot to see there.

But it was an easy first ride and we wanted to stop at Solon's only bike shop to pick up some tubes, accessories, and tools. There's also a thrift shop on the way that sometimes has beaterbikes.

The second day we headed over to Hudson. It's an old farm town about 15 miles southwest of Aurora. I would describe it as a town that time forgot if it weren't for the fact that several years ago community leaders created an entirely new downtown shopping area.

It's as if Jim Carey had filmed The Truman Show there. Although I have to admit that Hudson does have some great restaurants. We ate at Cafe Tandor, a fairly upscale South Asia outfit. We found a pleasantly shaded table on its outdoor patio. Then we compared sunburns:

There are several great advantages of touring around northeastern Ohio. There's plenty of country roads with low cager traffic. The scenery is beautiful alternating between rolling farmlands and wood lots. There are lots of small towns easy to reach from one another. And except for Hudson, most of them are charming, organic copies of the New England villages from which their original settlers came.

To be continued...

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The post-petroleum age

from Bizarro's
Dan Piraro

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Our bill of rights, Part I

but what about
our responsibilities?

Streetsblog highlights the differences in bike tolerance between The City of Angels and our own Windy City. Although we come out on top, mostly for recent laws introduced by our bike mayor, I think it misses an important point. New laws and regulations as well the mayor's famous chutzpah haven't made cagers more bike-friendly.

What we need is a more clear statement of our rights ... and responsibilities. LA's Bike Writers Collective has taken on the first half of this equation with their Cyclists Bill of Rights:
WHEREAS, cyclists have the right to ride the streets of our communities and this right is formally articulated in the California Vehicle Code; and

WHEREAS, cyclists are considered to be the “indicator species” of a healthy community; and

WHEREAS, cyclists are both environmental and traffic congestion solutions; and

WHEREAS, cyclists are, first and foremost, people - with all of the rights and privileges that come from being members of this great society; and

1) Cyclists have the right to travel safely and free of fear.

2) Cyclists have the right to equal access to our public streets and to sufficient and significant road space.

3) Cyclists have the right to the full support of educated law enforcement.

4) Cyclists have the right to the full support of our judicial system and the right to expect that those who endanger, injure or kill cyclists be dealt with to the full extent of the law.

5) Cyclists have the right to routine accommodations in all roadway projects and improvements.

6) Cyclists have the right to urban and roadway planning, development and design that enable and support safe cycling.

7) Cyclists have the right to traffic signals, signage and maintenance standards that enable and support safe cycling.

8) Cyclists have the right to be actively engaged as a constituent group in the organization and administration of our communities.

9) Cyclists have the right to full access for themselves and their bicycles on all mass transit with no limitations.

10) Cyclists have the right to end-of-trip amenities that include safe and secure opportunities to park their bicycles.

11) Cyclists have the right to be secure in their persons and property, and be free from unreasonable search and seizure, as guaranteed by the 4th Amendment.

12) Cyclists have the right to peaceably assemble in the public space, as guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.

And further, we claim and assert these rights by taking to the streets and riding our bicycles, all in an expression of our inalienable right to ride!

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Blog, blog, blog...

blah, blah, blah

Over at Geez Magazine, Aiden Enis takes a deep look at the 12 personality types that make up the progressive movement in the US. It got me thinking about the different personalities you encounter during Critical Mass. So below are his types (italicized) followed by my idea of how each applies to massers.
Vanguardists: These are folks who aim to break through the public’s consciousness with a “better way to go.” Often in the limelight, these folks are hard core: high principles, lots of sacrifice and noble aims. They sometimes see compromise as caving and tend to sneer at incremental change, or “change from within".

The employees and hardcore volunteers
of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation.

Embodiment politics: Right behind those on the vanguard is an often quiet community of activists living out what I’ll call “post-turbo-capitalist” ways ... These people engage in “prefigurative politics,” a term Cynthia Kaufman uses in her excellent primer on the theory of social change, Ideas for Action: Relevant Theory for Radical Change, (South End Press, 2003). This group assumes “we should act right now as if we were living in the better world we are fighting for,” she says. This means, for example, creating structures without hierarchy, striving toward consensus decision making, and being conscious of environmental impact.

Culture jammers: If you’ve ever seen a stop sign adorned with a “shopping” sticker in bold letters, you’ve witnessed the work of a culture jammer. These are folks who take the discourse of consumer culture, direct it at itself and allow the beast of consumer capitalism to bite its own tail.

Culture workers: These folks change the world from the bottom up. Rather than focusing energy on the upper echelons of power – self-serving businessmen, government cronies and rogue military commanders – these people focus on concrete ways to change the culture. This thinking stems from Antonio Gramsci, who used the word “hegemony” to describe how a population can consent to its own oppression. There’s always a tension between strong leaders (fascist or otherwise) pushing people around, and the people agreeing to go.

Independent media: A simple exercise will prove the point that our culture is dominated by a few commercial media conglomerates: Google the phrase “who owns what” and come to a site from Columbia Journalism Review that lists the top 20 or 30 companies that own almost everything in the North American media and entertainment industry.

Xerocracy at its best -
when Willow volunteers to put together The Dérailleur, CCM's unofficial monthly newsletter, or to pass it out before each mass begins.

Coalition builders: Change happens when people organize. Civil society, in the form of non-profits, NGOs or public interest research groups (PIRGs), can influence government policy (e.g., lobby for a higher minimum wage or rent controls). Or, they can create independent community services, like art classes in the inner city, cooking skills for low-income folks, health care, and tutoring.

Insider allies: The ranks of the middle and upper classes and other privileged groups have well-meaning individuals who want to share power. Some of these folks may even favor radical change, change that challenges their own power. They’re convinced major change happens when people on the inside of major institutions act as catalysts.

Corporate managers who roll the Lakeshore Path every weekend and Bike the Drive once a year.

Defectors: Among the ranks of every bastion of power, there are individuals who smell hypocrisy and hit eject. They become experts for how not to do things. Defectors pop out from all over the place ... Others, like anarcho-primitivists, for example, wish to defect from industrial civilization altogether, favoring small-scale, rural off-the-grid living.


Dissenters: Unlike defectors, who first enjoy mainstream status and then abandon it, dissenters speak out, often from the margins of their social group. Most newspapers, schools, churches and governments have their radicals/mavericks/ loudmouths – they usually get tagged with a label of some sort. While annoying to many, these individuals often articulate frustration from below, problems with the status quo.

Anyone who posts daily on the CCM listserserve.

Here the explicit strategy is to impede business as usual. To compare: Culture jammers disrupt but don’t force it on others. Dissenters offer subversive speech but leave the actions to others. Disruptives see the need for action now, and step in the way to impede business as usual. Disruptives often enter the circle of power from a location on the fringe. A good example is when hundreds of cyclists merge on a street and flop to the ground in a “die-in.”

Cultural creatives: It’s worth mentioning this group as evidence of the “mainstreaming” of alternative values. Here we have concern for the environment, aversion to advertising, downplay of luxury living, and a spiritual sense of our interconnectedness. They eat organic, ride nice bikes, give to progressive charities and read enlightening magazines (like Utne, Yes! and Geez). While they would claim to be making a broad cultural shift, sometimes it seems they trust radical change will just happen, or leave it to others to initiate. According to Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson, authors of The Cultural Creatives, there are 50 million of these “optimistic, altruistic” people in the US.

Bike hipsters who lurk daily on the CCM listserve and bitch once a year (usually in summer) that the last mass they were on wasn't political enough.

Contemplatives: These are folks who occupy a subversive presence in both consumer culture and activism because they are able to curb desire and address root causes ... these people are a source of sustenance for the movement.

blog, blog, blog
blah, blah, blah

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How many debates...

do you need?

Robert A. Caro, a presidential historian, comments on FDR:
Their confidence was restored by his confidence. When he smiled on the crisis, it seemed to vanish.

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the final divorce
& what it cost

Yesterday, Kosova's parliament unanimously proclaimed independence. Today, the Serb parliament declared the proclamation invalid and illegal. Sporadic Serb protests have taken place in both nations. What began in 1989, during the heady days of Communism's European demise, is now over: Yugoslavia is no more.

This sometimes peaceful, but mostly brutal, divorce of Woodrow Wilson's shotgun marriage, actually began in Kosovo, Yugoslavia's poorest autonomous province. Slobodan Milošević, the erstwhile gigolo, wooed those Kosovo Serbs who both feared democracy and loathed Albanian (Kosova) nationalism. But he soon lost interest in favor of other unhappy Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But many of us who worked in Yugoslavia during those violent, terrible years knew Milošević would eventually return to the Cradle of the Serb Nation. When my colleagues and I finally pulled out of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1998, we joked that we'd see each other in Kosovo/a next year. Few of us did go back. We were done with all this. But everyone had to wait for the final divorce until yesterday. Here's the final settlement:

25 casualties
100% civilian

40,000 casualties
60% civilian

63 casualties
0% civilian

102, 622 casualties
approx. 50% civilian

137 casualties
50% civilian

0 casualties
0% civilian

1999 - 2008
11,200 casualties
89% civilian

154,047 total casualties
6% of Yugoslavia's 1989 population:

*This photo of a bike on a blood-stained Sarajevo street comes from A Photographers Life, Annie Leibovitz's 2006 book. I found it over at The Washington Post.

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So done with winter

another b/haiku

Rims crust, chain rusts, salt
Stain'd streets under blue, black skies:
So done with winter.

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China's pigeons fly

in the USA

But what about in China? Over at Bicycling Magazine, Dan Koeppel wonders if the days are numbered for China'a venerable steed. Not everything is hopeless though...
The past year was a good year--maybe the first good year in a long time--for the Pigeon. In June, 200,000 Beijing residents pledged to reduce car usage and walk or pedal to work. A police crackdown put thefts on the decline. China's deputy minister of construction ordered cities that had eliminated bike lanes to �restore them. Shanghai slightly loosened the bicycle ban.

But the best news came on September 28, 2006, a few days before the country's national holidays. A young couple got married in Beijing, and in a giddy moment that made nationwide headlines, abandoned the traditional limousine to ride a Flying Pigeon to the reception. The bride, in her wedding gown, arranged herself sidesaddle on the bike's rear rack while the groom pedaled.

"This is the way we like it," the bride told the China Daily. "I will never regret this."

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Too close to home

shooting of 22 undergrads
w/5 dead

Yesterday's tragedy at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL would be bad enough if it weren't for my own connections to this institution. On the one hand, the increasing frequency of university shootings disturbs me greatly. As a former professor I value highly the intimate community that higher education provides young people.

On the other hand, I have close personal and professional relationships with NIU for the last 5 years. Every April I've loaded the steel bitch on Metra's Union Pacific West train. I get out at the last station in Elburn. From there I ride 13 miles to NIU in DeKalb. As I've posted before, I work for the university's International Training Office. They have a multi-year contract with the US State Department to develop leadership and community organizing skills for young people from around the world.

That such an international program thrives at an isolated prairie school is nothing short of a miracle. This is what NIU should be known for; rather than this awful tragedy. All I can offer my friends and colleagues are words of Blaise Pascal.
Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him, the universe knows nothing of this.

All our dignity then, consists in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endavour then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.

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Bike love

from Flann O'Brien's
The Third Policeman

How can I convey the perfection of my comfort on the bicycle, the completeness of my union with her, the sweet responses she gave me at every particle of her frame? . . . She moved beneath me with agile sympathy in a swift, airy stride, finding smooth ways among the stony tracks, swaying and bending skillfully to match my changing attitudes, even accommodating her left pedal patiently to the awkward working of my wooden leg.

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Obama's elephant

and I don't mean
the Republicans

In the final hours of yesterday's Potomac Primaries, the NYTimes reports on the elephant lurking in Obama's living room: RACE. Ginger Thompson writes that, despite Obama's insistence on a colorblind campaign strategy, his advisers and aids have locked horns over race with not-so surprising results.
Instead of following a plotted course, Mr. Obama’s campaign has zigged and zagged, reacting to outside forces and internal differences between the predominantly white team of top advisers and the mostly black tier of aides.
To be frank, I don't think Obama needs to worry about the race elephant. My fellow citizens are ready for an African-American president. What he should be worrying about, however, is the zig-zag over race. If Obama wins the campaign adviser and aids will become his presidential advisers and aids. It reminds me too much of the Carter Presidency when the bitter policy disagreements between Cyrus Vance, the Secretary of State, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security Adviser, effectively paralyzed our foreign policy.

What I'm getting at here is that the primary/caucus season is not only a good way to learn about the candidate. It's also a sneak preview of how her/his administration will conduct policy. Carter was the first candidate I got excited about - I was a sophomore in high school. In fact Obama's campaign reminds me a lot of Carter's come-from-behind campaign. Even his campaign slogan, JC Can Save America, has the visionary ring of Obama's Change We Can Believe In. Unfortunately, when Reagan trounced him 4 years later, much of it had to do with Carter's zig-zags. I certainly hope that Obama gets this path straightened out so he can lead that damn elephant out of his living room.

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Pothole haiku

and an explanation

YIKES! We getting another 6 inches of snow today. That makes a little over three feet in so many weeks. One result is that we're having the worst pothole season I've experienced in 10 years. Last week, our local CBS affiliate reported:
Here's one measure of just how bad this winter has been. Byrne said on February 7 last year, the 311 system had 160 requests pending for pothole repair. As of Thursday, there were 5,649 pending, with 415 calls having come in Wednesday night alone.
Potholes wound asphalt.
Covered in white salty puss,
once true rims go THUNK.

We're also battling record ice this winter. The city's Streets and Sanitation Department uses calcium chloride pretreated salt as well as a calcium magnesium potassium acetate blend, or CMAK, when the temps drop. The latter is particularly effective but it leaves a sticky white film all over your bike. While it doesn't appear corrosive, it does hides the rust %)

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What's in your bag?

Can you dig it?

Both Jen in Chicago and Cyclelicious have posted on the contents in their bike bags. That and yesterday's plunging temps inspired me to do a little digging of my own. I found the following short story, Bang, Bang, Bang, in one of the travel notebooks I keep in my bike bag. I wrote it a few months after I moved into my four-flat here in Lincoln Square. It describes a Bosniak contractor who spent a week rebuilding our back porches.
The slow, rhythmic sound starts deep in the center of my building and reverberates up, out through my top-floor apartment. It was a late night so the impact has much more of an impact on me this morning than it should. Most likely, it's the crew my landlady hired to build the new decks out back. I get up, look out the kitchen window. I see no one.

I make an espresso, light a cigarette and go down the front stairs, because there's a stack of 1 x 6's blocking my back door. I go into the alley alongside my building. Big chunks of concrete are piled waist-high against the wall. Around the corner, in back, there are higher piles of concrete. It looks like those black-and-white shots of Berlin after the war when little old ladies and children were cleaning up the rubble.

No one's around except for this one guy breaking up the entire walkway with a long, pointed iron bar. He's sweating at nine in the morning. I remember seeing him last week when he and the rest of the crew were putting up the flooring and stairs. The whole crew is from the Balkans, like my landlady, Ezma. The boss is Macedonian, another is Serb, and two others are Bosniaks: Muslims from Bosnia-Hercegovina. He's one of the Bosniaks. I don't remember speaking to him.

He apparently remembers me too, and stops breaking the concrete. We talk about nothing in particular - the decks, the weather. The conversation slowly turns to the more personal. He tells me that he came to the States six months ago, directly from Bosnia-Herzegovina. He has a wife and two sons, aged 19 and 16. The youngest is good in school. The other is a problem. He doesn't work much. Has a girlfriend and a car here in America.

We talk about the war, because I happened to have been there in 1991 when it all began. I then came back in '93 to teach at an underground university in Tuzla. He knows Tuzla well; he went to mining school there. He's from a small village near Doboi, half an hour to the east, and worked in Kladanj, one hour south. Kladanj is famous for its mineral springs - they call the water from there Muzshe Voda, or Man's Water. It's good for restoring a man's vigor.

"War, no good," he says flatly, imitating a gun with his fingers and shooting no one in particular. The Serb paramilitaries drove him and his family from Teslik in '92. He joined the army, fought against them in Central Bosnia with the 7th Armija for 3 years. "War, no good," he repeats, opening his arms, hands parallel with the blasted concrete. He shows me two ugly scars on his right leg. He doesn't explain where they come from, but they look like shrapnel wounds: ragged, star-shaped, one on the inside of the calf and one near his knee. Same thing on the other side, a little farther up.

I get him some water with ice. We smoke his cigarettes. He tells me he's very proud of the work they're doing, as he gives the supports a firm shake. The main floor beams are notched and bolted at every joint. He shows me how they have sanded down all the rough edges on the stairs, railings, and banisters. Everything is steady, solid.

In '93 there wasn't a building left standing out in the countryside. When I was there in 2001 most of them had been rebuilt. It seems like every Bosnian knows how to lay foundations, raise walls, and set the roof in just a few days. They have an extraordinary skill for knocking things down and building them back up.

If everything goes well, he tells me, he won't have to work weekends or holidays much longer. It's apparently been a rough time for them recently: he had been shuffling bags at the Loop Sheraton but was let off during the recession. He and his family lost their apartment, and now they live with the crew boss. He's saving up money to go back to school, maybe get back into engineering. That, or open a restaraunt.
[Editor's note: This last picture of a bicycle on a blood-stained Sarajevo street was taken by Annie Leibovitz in 1993. It appears in her new 2006 book, A Photographers Life, Random House. I found it over at The Washington Post.]

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Just had to post this %)

Tutsi from Ansbach

I've gotten a number of interesting comments from around the planet; but never one from a dog. She's originally an Ami (Deutsch slang for American) from the shores of Lake Michigan. Now she lives outside Nuremberg and apparently enjoys rolling with her Lola-inspired companion. As she writes at her blog
Rikscha fahren ist eine sehr komfortable Angelegenheit, ich kann es nur empfehlen!

The rickshaw is very comfortable, I can definitely recommend it!



Obama on a trike

the candidate
on bikes

Kweenkong, over at The South Side Star, ran an impromptu caption contest for this picture of a young Barack on his trike. Among all the submissions my odds on favorite has to be,
Blue shirt - check!
Blue shorts - check!
Blue tricycle - check!
Blue states - check!
If you hadn't noticed, Obama is my odds on favorite for our next president. He's no stranger to the streets as his 2004 autobiography shows. And for the last few months the bike-o-sphere has been highlighting his support for bike advocacy.

Chris, who blogs at Trailtapes, wrote Obama asking his support for Senate Bill 858: the Bicycle Commuters Benefits Act of 2007. It's an amendment to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 that would extend the transportation fringe benefit to bike commuters. A similar tax exemption is currently underway in the UK.

Obama's reply includes:
The benefits of commuting by bicycle is almost an endless list — reducing harmful emissions, reducing congestion, reducing petroleum consumption, promoting personal health — but our public policies have evolved to where smart and sustainable transportation uses are discouraged.

Roads are designed without pedestrian or bike paths, office and shopping parks are designed around the automobile, and even the best transit systems may be incompatible with bike use. It is time to revisit all federal policies to better accommodate the energy and environmental health priorities of the 21st century.

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