Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ozone, Baby


It's the time of year when the ozone warnings are pretty common

As a full-time bicycle commuter, do I need to worry about ozone alerts? When there are PM alerts (particulate matter), I have tried riding with N95 masks, but just didn't find it comfortable, and they don't do anything to protect against ozone. The good news is, looking at the Airnow web site, the ozone levels in Phoenix rise above the good to medium range only rarely. Also, due to the typical ozone generation patterns and prevailing winds, I usually avoid the worst of it due to the timing of my commutes. If the animation map is at all accurate, that is.

Anyway, the thought of not getting out in the sunshine and going for a ride is unappealing to me. Sure, I could go with plan B, I guess, and take a car, which I would have to buy or otherwise obtain first since we're still a one car family, but it's possible I suppose, and crank up the air conditioner, turn up the stereo, hide behind the tinted windows, take conference calls on my built-in Bluetooth speaker phone. Heck I could be in meetings from 7am to 8pm every day that way, sit in traffic idling and generating my own contributions to the ozone alert, and avoid the sunshine altogether. Or, not. Maybe bicycle commuting is better.

I'm commuting by bike, and doing my part to lower the ozone levels

Monday, May 28, 2012

Bike and Hike: Sic Transit Gloria Mundi


Bike rack, good for holding pack, sign good for locking up bike

I bike often, but haven't been walking or hiking much, so I need to get some miles into my two feet to prep for some longer summer hikes coming up. With this crazy beautiful weather we're having (65 degrees early this morning?? In Phoenix in late May?? Crazy), I decided to combine the biking with the hiking, and ride to the trail. It's not a long distance, nor is this trail very difficult, although one can turn any ride, and any hike, into a workout depending on pace. With the uphill ride to the trail, I pushed it, and also made the hike a workout by keeping my heart rate up.

I did this ride to trail 8A and hike before, and posted about it here. The theory I developed on today's hike is that the reason women outlive men, as evidenced by average life expectancy, is that women hike this trail 8A as a workout in much greater numbers than males. Giving the handful of males I saw on the trail the secret man sign (head nod, mumble "hey") felt like an acknowledgement of our shared inferior lifespans, while being humbled by all the females out there flaunting their longer lifespans while outnumbering male hikers three to one. 

Maybe the males are doing other trails, Piestewa Peak, Camelback, or rock climbing. The guys sprinting up Camelback in 20 minutes would scoff at 8A, I'm certain. But I'm in this for the long haul, not like some nitro-burning funny car drag racing time trial trail runner, but rather more like a long distance cyclist, hitting a pace, maintaining it, hanging out with the longer-lived gender. Although a bike-to-hike up Camelback may be next...


Rock veins, along the trail

I want to do something like this every day. Maybe not taking the time to bike+hike, but some form of exercise that gets my heart rate up, and outdoors, in the real, physical world. Commuting by bicycle is the minimum version. Doing this changes everything, and not doing it leaves me feeling blah. Note to self: when feeling blah, get on bike and ride to a trail where there are big chunks of white quartz with complex black veins running through.


Trying out the very light hiking shoes, the ventilation was nice, anyway


Saguaro blossoms

Bee visiting saguaro blossoms


Rugged!

    
Camelback Mountain, possible next bike-to-hike

All glory, including bike-to-hike type, is fleeting. But what a great way to clear the mind and get the heart rate into the target zone. 


Saturday, May 26, 2012

By Bicycle In This Perfect World


There would be water, and sand, and bicycles, and tiny shells, and impossible infinite hours

In this perfect world, the small group of us would pack up supplies, get on our bicycles, and ride for hours down to the sea. I would spend much of the ride near one of the group, an infuriating woman. Our destination, more specifically, would be sand dunes, an isolated spot at the end of a narrow road, the time of year, late summer. We would ride most of the day to get there, but planning to spend the night, our supplies would include camping items, and food, and beverages, to see us through till morning.

In late summer, in these dunes by the sea, the evening breezes would chill us, so we would build fires out of the wood of the thin fences that would seem to have been put up to retain the sands. We would bring various stunningly tasty food items, which would illustrate a level of planning and intent second only to the positively inspiring steps taken to ensure that the beverages would be ice cold.

After heating and eating our foil-wrapped gourmet beach fair, and enjoying the beverages, as the components of this perfect world have already been listed above, the players in this drama outlined, the setting well described, the night would find its own way. 

In such a place, with this group, the world's problems could be discussed, with possibilities for amelioration of suffering, with open-minded willingness to accept, to seek out, to learn and understand, forming the core values of our ardent verbal meandering. Dreams defined and refined, memories replayed and embellished. It's also possible that it would be suggested, and seconded, and toasted exuberantly, that at least some of the world's problems might be lessened, somehow, with bicycles.

At sunrise, sun coming up over the water, the third and final carefully engineered element, hot and excellent strong coffee, would be brewed, and provided to all in appropriate cups. Wrapped in blankets, warming in the rising light, the infuriating woman would break out the fresh fruit and muffins, pass them around, sit next to me under the blanket, smash a muffin into my mouth. She and I would have spent hours in the night by the fence fire, talking.

In late summer, in these dunes by the sea, we would take one last look around this perfect world, at the sunbeams burning off the morning fog over the water, at the ribbon of sand winding off in both directions, at our bikes, and at the blue sky, and feel in no hurry whatever to set off, back. The infuriating woman's hand in mine. The sound of the waves would seem to mark a moment without limits: that this ride out to the dunes would be all end and beginning compressed into one daylong memory movie of laughter and unbounded goodwill.

Have I experienced this perfect world, by bicycle, before? I can't be certain. But, I know that I think about it often, and smell the sea and imagine the blanket, the coffee at morning, the sunrise, the hours of conversation. When it does happen again, I'll be able to tell: if she turns to me after our hours of talk, lays her head on my shoulder, and said that she's never done that before, I will know that it was the first time, since I will ask, never done what before? And she'll look up at me, and say, spending all night on a beach, in the dunes, talking, just talking like that, to another person. Then I'll know, and it will be perfect.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Have You Ever Really Looked at a Duck?


So noble in bearing, so graceful in form
Ever faithful, steadfast of habit, a swimmer of renown, diver, tricky coloration
Power in repose, grace under pressure, a mix of bold and subtle coloration

Have you ever really, really looked at a duck?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

There Could Be Bells Along the Path


I listened to the wind, and thought that there could be bells




Photos of the bells at the Soleri Bridge and Plaza in Scottsdale. You should hear them when the wind blows. Public art for a public that thinks. These are right along the cycle path. Whenever I hear them clanging away in the wind, I am touched that someone put them there merely for the purpose of me hearing them when I ride past. I hear them; I'm listening.

Sometimes I also stop to admire them swaying in the breeze. This much we can do: see one another as curious minds, open to new ideas, wandering, and interested in the occasional soft sound of bells clanging along the path.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Not One More Foundation Ride of Honor, AZ State Capitol 2012


Ghost bike on display at the Not One More Foundation Honor Ride and Rally

Banner which many participants signed

There was an excellent turnout for the Ride and Rally organized by the Not One More Foundation on Saturday. Cyclists from all over came in groups, teams, and solitary morning rides down to center of the Arizona governmental district to send the message that we require safer streets, to show solidarity around the concept that cyclists dying due to the inattention of motorists is unacceptable. Several speakers explored the topic, including Sterling Baer from the foundation, who asked for a show of hands, among the cyclists there, for anyone who has been hit or brushed off the road by a motor vehicle. Almost every cyclist in attendance raised their hand.

For me, the most moving and affecting speaker, though, was Brent Holderman, one of the three cyclists who were struck by a motorist in Mesa recently, who hit them because she was adjusting her GPS.

Brent Holderman

Several of the speakers talked about elements of True Cycling Support (and against "As Traffic Permits" conditions): a strong 3-foot or safe distance law which was actually enforceable and enforced, vulnerable road user laws, as well as motorist and cyclist education. To which I would add, separated cycling facilities on roads where the speed limit is over 30 kph, strict motorist liability for all accidents involving cyclists, and traffic calming combined with motor traffic elimination in city centers and congested areas with many pedestrians and children. There are indeed too many people being struck down on the roads by motorists who are texting, tweeting, or adjusting their GPS units. It is truly unacceptable.





Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pervasive Altruistic Behavior (PAB) Would Encourage Cycling

Free ice cream* in my bike tunnel on a hot day: encouraging!

You might assume that as the temperature in Phoenix rises, so would anger and impatience on the roads, but that seems not to be the case. On my Wednesday commute home, I pulled up to the four-way stop, clearly second in line to the gold Lexus to my right. Full stop, put one foot down, looked over at the driver. She, sharp dressed fresh from work and with golden blonde hair to go with the Lexus, waved me through the stop, and since there was no other traffic to contend with, I took the offer, smiled at her, and rode on. And I thought, what a nice gesture, a small kindness toward a stranger on a bicycle.

A little farther along, as I approached the dreaded steel trench plates** in my bike lane, I began to plan my merge out into the traffic lane to ride around them. I heard oncoming traffic behind me, more than one car it sounded like, and slowed down because I just figured that they would blow past and then I would ride out around the plates. Just to check, though, as I approached the spot where I would turn out As Traffic Permits (ATP), I looked back over my shoulder at the cars, which were arriving in the zone of the plates just about the same time as me as I suspected, and check this out: the lead car slowed down enough, clearly and obviously, so that I could ride out around the steel trench plates without slowing down much. Seriously incredible. Traffic more than permitted! Traffic made a magnanimous gesture of altruism toward a cyclist.

I felt like the driver of that car cared enough about my well-being to consciously slow down in order to permit me clear and safe passage around the steel trench plates that I really do dislike strongly, and prioritized that care above their own rush to get home. They slowed down enough so that I would clearly understand the gesture and take the opportunity. Wow. In all seriousness: wow.

I waved vigorously my intent to take the opportunity, which I did, and it all worked beautifully. Maybe it was the effects of the Cherry Garcia raising my consciousness, maybe such acts are more common than I think and just go unnoticed. But I thought: has Pervasive Altruistic Behavior (PAB) broken out? Has everyone gone happy-crazy, and decided to go out of their way to exhibit kindness toward strangers, to pay it forward, backward, sideways, every which way, with no thought of payback? And, what if?

I've tried experiments in full-on altruism while driving, to see the effects. One time, for example, I was leaving a full concert parking lot at the end of an all-day Ozfest (long time ago), so the drivers were potentially, well, you can imagine what the drivers could be like trying to leave a full parking lot after a long day of Ozfest. Suspecting that it would be a madhouse, I said to my friend, "I'm going to do an experiment in driving altruism, and just let everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, go in front of me, when I see a chance to let them, without causing undo delay to the people behind me." I was a waving maniac. I stuck my hand out the window, waved EVERYONE on ahead. And it was like a magic ticket out of that parking lot. Totally strange, the opposite of what you would think. Soon as we got out, my friend turned to me, and said, "What the heck was that? How did that work?" And I really don't know, except that somehow the act of not cutting off other people, not rushing to fill every gap, being generous about letting everyone go ahead, created more opportunities and gaps to get out, rather than fewer. At least in that case.

So, what if PAB broke out on the roads? Well, for one thing, all it would take would be everyone deciding to do it. Total immediate cost in taxpayer money or any other source: $0. If everyone suddenly became kind to everyone else on the roads, always letting the other guy go first, always waving cyclists through four-way stops when no other traffic was around, always slowing to allow cyclists to avoid steel trench plates and other obstacles, always watching out for vulnerable road users and giving them full and safe passage? Everyone, taking care of everyone? What if? What if PAB was so powerful that motorists would slow down to a safe and controllable speed anywhere that cyclists or pedestrians might be? A voluntary 30 kph on all surface streets? 

In reality, I would place the odds of spontaneous and persistent PAB quite a bit lower than even widespread TCS (True Cycling Support, see previous post) in the USA, which is also pretty improbable. So this is not a message stating that I actually expect PAB to occur and stick. However, as part of my thought experiment (and again this may still be the free Cherry Garcia talking), what would happen if I ride my bicycle around expecting that not only is PAB possible, but that it might break out at any moment? What if I rode around demonstrating care for all human beings, and expecting the possibility of the same in return? What would happen? And whatever happened, would that be such a bad lens through which to see my fellow humans? That we all have the capacity and even the possibility of being kind to one another?

This is subjective PAB, or sPAB, and I think it could be a powerful tool. Even if I know I don't live or ride in a PAB world, what if I ride with an sPAB mindset? An illusion, but surely a delightful one. sPAB does not expect kindness. Pure kindness does not expect or require kindness. sPAB welcomes kindness, recognizes it, appreciates it, reciprocates it. 

I know it's extremely unlikely, but also that it would be free, so I have to wonder, why not? What's stopping us humans? And what if I acted, thought, and rode, as if the answer to that last question were: nothing. Be kind to everyone, expect nothing in return, and see what happens. Maybe, just maybe, you'll get out of that crazy parking lot faster than you ever imagined. Maybe a car will slow to permit you to arc out around some steel trench plates without slowing down. Perhaps an sPAB ride would be indistinguishable from a PAB world. In fact, because an actually PAB world would introduce moral difficulties that might render PAB ultimately unworkable or unmaintainable, sPAB may have more merit anyway. sPAB for example allows for practical limits like also expecting that PAB is smart and doesn't offer to wave a cyclist through a yield into a busy traffic circle that is already full of traffic, causing the cyclist to also be kind and deny the offer, causing a kindness standoff resulting in a global gridlock.

Also, PAB would seem to go against many basic instincts. I know that. It's still possible to wonder what-if, to look past that and get into sPAB mode. As-if we could be kind to one another, on the roads. Imagine that.


*or, at least, as-if there were free ice cream in my bicycle tunnel 
**these multiple trench plates in the bike lane, with no signage, if it's not clear, is a raunchy, discouraging, and even dangerous way to treat cyclists. They are an excellent example of nasty maintenance of bike facilities that renders them pointless, and causes them to become abandoned bike facilities over time, as cyclists become conditioned to being treated thus, don't like the feeling, and chose to become non-cyclists as the fallback plan becomes the main plan, again. See also the post about closing the PIMA MUP for a year to raise a noise wall. In a LAB GOLD city, btw. (the MUP, not the plates, which are in no LAB metal PHX). If oil companies maintained bike facilities, this is how they would do it.


  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Quail, on the Way to Work


A family of Gambel's quail, sprinting away from the morning bicycle commuter

I've tried to catch photos of the wily, fast-moving Gambel's quail that I see darting about the underbrush on my way to work in the morning. Tried to record their silly chortling call, tried to capture their high speed running retreats, but those things are fast! This husband and wife were scooting along just a little bit slower due to the five little ones in tow, but you don't make a life on the ground by moving slow. If I took some more time out of my commute, perhaps by parking the bike and sitting for a while, I might have better luck capturing them. But they seem to favor the long grass going to seed on the mornings when I have an appointment to get to. Well, the concept of five little quail babies munching breakfast with mom and dad out along my commute route is excellent, along with the bunnies who were also out in number, even if my quail photographing skills are not peaking. Yet. I am in quail photographic training, though, planning to do a "century" soon, which entails sitting in a patch of cholla cactus in the desert until 100 quail run past a few feet away. A quail century is bound to result in some better shots. Until then, please accept these, my humble attempts at grabbing quick glimpses of the quail family peacefully browsing.




Not really quail. Just checking if anyone looks at these.
 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Have Shallowed the Common Ground


In this space, separated by distance, mass, and speed, as traffic permits

I have shallowed the common ground,
seen human to human
at worse, and best,
waved hopes as saver signs,
wandered long between
hollowed and hallowed.
Thru the unseen gap I weave,
LOVE on my back, PEACE, $$$,
Whatever it takes to wake up the you in you.
A t-shirt with Kafka's face, perhaps,
or Calvin pissing on something,
that always gets a laugh of recognition.
(the comic strip character, 
not the 16th C. theologian. Although...)  
I dive into the new asphalt like a swimming pool,
play Marco Polo with the cars,
we pop up and down, and 
shout joyfully to one another,
I make as if to slam my hand on the hood
as the driver cut me off,
and instead caress the metal lasciviously, 
can you imagine,
the composure to do something like that.
Marco.
Polo.
I hear your engine slow when you see me,
Do you hear my breathing catch when I see you?


Provided with unnaturally smooth and pure blacktop, on shallow common ground we stand

Monday, May 14, 2012

That Harsh and Gentle Ride


Greetings, my long lost, but not forgotten, lizardy noise wall friends

Sunday, hot May day: I was riding a straight line down an open road with fresh asphalt and no traffic at a moderately high pace. I pulled an arc out to the left and back onto line to feel the flow. Not a sudden, quick turn, but not a gentle one either, an arc where I could feel the speed and agility of my machine in a smooth turn out and back, one with some lean and enough delta-y to give the tires a little something to think about.

Riding for about 15 miles at about 75 or 80% up to that moment, I felt the heat of the day and the dryness of the air. Two water bottles already down, I made a side trip to a cold drinking fountain I know of, and found it in good working order: push the button, let the hot standing water out, followed by cool, refreshing flow to gulp, and then refill the bottle. Pour some down the back of the shirt for evaporative cooling.

This is my ride down the middle between harsh and gentle, between pushing too hard and going too easy, between staying cool and overheating, spinning away on my fixed gear machine. I'm still not acclimated to the heat, still feel the dessication as a little more discomfort than I wish, still feel the hot air going in and out of my lungs in not the best form that I can achieve, but it looks like this week will be a good training ground, with commutes home hitting 109°F before Friday. Better wear shorts, I guess.

I love to ride, and am a member of the small but dedicated band of bicycle commuters who keep doing it in Phoenix during the summer. For people who say it's too hard, or dangerous, or inconvenient, and so on, I just repeat: I love it. I have to feel the air moving around me, my legs pushing my feet in circles, and that bicycle feeling of arc-flow I mentioned above. I keep doing it primarily because of that, but I guess there is also a part of me that enjoys pushing people's preconceptions just a little bit. Cycling is not dangerous, or hard. It's fun, nearly all the time.    


The path is almost ready to attract a new set of cyclists back to its separate,confidence-inspiring setting

The human mind tends to be fickle, and seeks reinforcement for its emotional responses and prejudices in the flimsiest and most fleeting types of evidence. In seeking reinforcement for the notion that cycling is too hard, the mind finds in a nice cycling path that has been closed down for nearly a year reinforcement of the foregone conclusion. 

Just when you get used to riding it, just as the positive habit forms, the path is closed down for construction to increase the height of the nearby freeway noise wall. The alternative to the path is a very "As Traffic Permits" (ATP) bike lane along Pima Road which as bike lanes go is pretty good, but it's in a whole other league of high skills required to use, and low subjective safety, compared to the Pima MUP. I rode out along the lizard wall section of the Pima path in Scottsdale almost a year ago (see "When Lizards Fall"), just as construction was getting underway, and just before they closed down the path. It looks like the construction is nearly complete, which means the path should be open again soon.

Cycle path maintenance can be done in such a manner that it does not discourage cyclists. David Hembrow has extensively covered the importance of maintaining cycle paths in good repair, and of ensuring that maintenance does not prevent access to existing paths, which discourages cyclists who ride regularly by introducing doubts and unpredictability into their rides, to the point that they can be put off cycling. The familiar route is closed down, the bike goes up on the garage wall just temporarily, then years later you notice it hanging up there, and wonder how long it's been.


Some HDR photos of shade sunshine and sky along a familiar, separate path

With bougainvillea, and oleander blossoms and leaves. Glad I didn't leave it on that garage wall.

When I feel tired, continuing to move forward is the focus, not stopping, not focusing on the fading discomfort, on the harsh heat or dry air, but on the movement, the rhythm, the feel of balance and arc-flow. The stretches of fresh asphalt I rode on were sweet music to my wheels. I was wrung out when I got home, a bit dehydrated, several pounds lighter in spite of three water bottles down. But soon as I cooled down, and rehydrated, I actually wanted to go back out. I did not, not today, but I can see doubles ahead this summer. Once I feel that harsh and gentle ride rhythm, I never want it to end.
 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Monocogular Saturday


Working on pedals, distracted by cog...

Working on the pedals on the Flatland Commuter (FLC) fixed gear w/rack (no fenders yet, have to remedy that soon for serious, sustained commuting action) in order to adjust the straps on the Power Grips. The concept of installing the Power Grips on the fixed gear commuter was that I won't have to deal with cycling shoes that are required with the clipless pedals that were on it. No special cycling-specific shoes equals one less thing to carry, or worry about, or buy. Since all authorities indicate that riding fixed requires some sort of pedal attachment in order to avoid shin-smashing or some other similar calamity, and since toe clips and straps have never been my favorite, Power Grips are going to get  a try-out. 

There's a stubborn simplicity-craving part of me that clings to the notion that since my commute includes zero hills with a total of about +-20 feet of elevation, I could get by with platforms alone, but the authorities have spoken.

I purchased the extra long size because the specs said I should based on my shoe size, but the extra longs were too long, so I needed to cut them shorter and punch some holes to shorten them up. The straps are leather-like if not actual leather, and lacking a leather punch, I scouted around OSG HQ for a suitable tool to punch or otherwise create said holes. While the Dremel rotary tool was considered strongly, followed by an actual drill, which may have done the job but may also have resulted in said strap wrapping up around the bit while smashing the attached pedal against my wrist or other bodily part, I ultimately just went out and bought a leather punch. Which, it turns out, is actually the ideal tool for punching holes in leather straps. Imagine that. Punch. Punch. Punch. Punch. Done. No Dremelling, no drilling with attending strap wrap-up and pedal smashing flesh gashing involved.

While finishing up the pedal job, I noticed that the rear cog, which was all silvery and shiny when I bought it, was looking totally black and grungy. Ditto the chain. Looks like I had a few more miles on the FLC than I thought. Using my preferred "Wipe it off with a paper towel until no longer grungy" method, I got them looking all silvery and shiny again, as in the photo above. With the wheel out of the frame and the bike in the repair stand in the bright light, I also noticed a few more spots of scratches and bare metal needing touch-up. I'm totally going with the "beausage" concept that it's better to protect the bare metal on the frame with a slightly off color than to leave it exposed to the elements. Two years short of 40, I feel it deserves protection over perfect color matching. A few more years in the Arizona sun will even that all out anyway. Eventually, it all looks like zinc chromate in the end, doesn't it?

   

Friday, May 11, 2012

As Traffic Permits (ATP) Discourages Cycling


Cyclists can ride on this five lane 50 mph (80 kph) street, as traffic permits

In "Bicycle Commuting Tips: The Myth of Blood, Sweat, and Tears," I made the case that the main doubts that people raise to me about bicycle commuting don't really hold up on examination, and the true benefits of it outweigh the costs. When I wrote that post, I really did believe that bicycle commuting is much simpler than non-cyclists believe. Just get on a bike, and ride it to work, is really all that it is needed.

While that may be true, it is not a complete or decisive picture. Not many people ride their bikes to work, one can clearly observe. About 1% in Phoenix, is the current statistic. So what's going on?

Well, I may have been accurate regarding the essential, factual nature of the mechanics of bicycle commuting, or bike riding in general, but I failed to address the perceptions underlying the objections. Perception, you see, is reality. Fail to understand the perception, and you fail to understand the reality. And I can tell you, based on dozens of conversations, whatever the mechanics of bicycle commuting are, the perception is that it is dangerous. Really, really dangerous. As in, you have to be crazy to ride out there on the streets, with all those cars. Usually, said by people who drive those cars, so they ought to know, I guess, and in any case believe that they know, because they drive all the time.

With proper training and technique, the mechanics of riding a bicycle on those streets, with all that traffic, can actually be pretty safe. I've had close calls, and I can see the basis for the concern, sure, but what's really the source of the perception? What's actually going on? And how could I be basically right about the mechanics of bicycle commuting, yet so far off the mark when it comes to the perception of it?

In one of my favorite posts, "The Fruit of Error," I made the point that the source of advances in understanding is often mistakes which are understood as such, analyzed, and evaluated. My mistaken understanding of bicycle commuting, based on a lack of appreciation for the common perception of it as dangerous, led me to ponder, for a long time, on many, many rides on these busy streets, if there is a core, or underlying, concept which actually supports the perception. Is there a common principle at work which actually agrees with, or supports, or nurtures, the perception that bike riding on streets like these is dangerous?

To boil it down to its most basic form: if you get on your bike and ride, what's the first problem you run into which supports the perception that it's a crazy dangerous idea?

I found the answer in an innocuous-sounding phrase in the book "Effective Cycling." This post is not about that book, nor is the concept a key or core theme in the book, even though it possibly should be, because for me, it represents the entire program. The little phrase embraces the present reality of cycling in America in three simple words: As Traffic Permits (ATP).

At first, you notice ATP when it's time to merge, or turn, or cross, or take the lane, or enter or leave a bike lane, and then eventually you come to realize that when there's traffic, which can be most or all of the time when you're commuting by bicycle, more or less everything you do is ATP. 

In my experience, a lot of my own successful and even fun bicycle commuting involves communication with hand signals, lane position, predictable and legal movement, patience, etc, and gaining the "permits" in ATP can be a two-way dialogue. I get it, and it can mechanically work, and I generally feel safe doing it, although much less so on the busy, fast street in the photo. But again, this is not about the mechanics of it working, or how I feel about it after several years of practice, but rather the root of the perception. Imagining a novice rider coming up to the stop sign on an entering side street here, on 44th Street in Phoenix, at rush hour, I'll tell you the root of the perception that it is a crazy dangerous place to ride a bicycle: As Traffic Permits. ATP.

When the cyclist approaches the stop sign, they instinctively realize that to cross this street, or to turn and merge onto it, or to do pretty much anything related to moving on or over it on the bicycle, all of it is ATP. Mechanically it can be done, of course, but the perception is that it requires Traffic to Permit the action. Sometimes this just means a gap of sufficient size opening, while other times it involves actual permitting by a driver, to yield. In any of these cases, however, there is one very accurate and key truth about the perception of of the danger of ATP: get it right and it mechanically works, but get it wrong, in any way, and at 50 mph it ends very badly, very quickly.

At 50 mph, a moving object covers 73 feet per second (or, at 80 kph it covers 22 m/s for you metrics out there). Which immediately indicates the central, fatal flaw with ATP: if any of the key parts of ATP are misjudged or misaligned, the speeds involved mean the mistake is potentially fatal very quickly. If the "As" part, the timing, is misjudged, if the "Traffic" part, the sum of the vehicles moving on the road and the gaps between them, is not accurately and instantly assessed and converted into an effective moving mental map, if the "Permits" part, the gap or ability for the bicycle to make the desired move is poorly judged, death is very possible and only a moment away, and our perception grasps this reality without hesitation. The margin for disaster or death is a split-second, in the ATP world. If it takes five seconds to assess the current traffic state, decide if Traffic Permits, and cross, the assessment needs to take into account five lanes of traffic at a distance of almost 400 feet in both directions. That's intense, and daunting, however you look at it.

ATP, As Traffic Permits, is in effect wherever cars and bicycles (and pedestrians for that matter) mix. It is particularly in effect where there are bike lanes, a reality which is seldom explicitly understood, even while the perception of danger is still present. ATP includes the scenario of vehicles crossing the painted line, which they sometimes do with terrible results, as happened with the death of 53-year-old Shawn McCarty at 4:30 on a recent sunny afternoon in Scottsdale. Traffic did not permit, and he had little or no chance of knowing, and little or no time to react. But more generally, ATP comes into play in bike lanes wherever motor vehicles and bicycles mix through entering, leaving, crossing, turning, merging or diverging, all of which are common and necessary maneuvers on our current streets, with or without bike lanes, in fact. And all of them ending up having ATP at their center. To complete the maneuver safely and successfully, an accurate split-second ATP calculation must be made by the cyclist certainly, and often by the involved motorists as well.

The only successful alternative I have seen to ATP are the comprehensive and holistic cycling infrastructure and laws such as those enacted in the Netherlands, and Denmark, for example. ATP is not the way to go, if you want or need more than 1% of your citizens to cycle to work, or if more people want to cycle, but are stifled by the perception that it is crazy dangerous to do so on the streets we currently have. ATP is bull.

The reality of ATP: traffic does not permit. It fills up the space available to it, and moves as fast as it can.

Motor vehicle traffic consumes all the space that is opened to it, clogs it up, and travels it as quickly as possible. It does not permit. It excludes. ATP nurtures in the mind of potential cyclists the not-wrong perception that it is crazy dangerous to venture out into it on a bicycle. Yes it is economically easy to obtain a working bicycle. Yes it is quite simple to get on it, and ride it to work. All true. But not the full story. The full story takes into account the strong, engrained perception that ATP is bull feces, from a safety assurance perspective. Ultimately, this is a perception of motorists, by motorists, who know what they know. And they know that it is crazy to trust in ATP, to rely on split-second decisions, to place your life into the hands of their distracted texting and tweeting kind. 

This has led me to the realization that true separated infrastructure, a physically separate system of bicycle roads, bridges, tunnels, and signals, along with laws and practices which enforce strict motorist liability along with vulnerable user recognition, is the way to go. True Cycling Support (TCS) is what is needed to address the perception of crazy road danger and nurture the key perception of subjective safety, not ATP. 

Any program, any technique or cycling methodology, any road feature or new paint, any enhancement or project which relies on ATP, actually ensures that more people will not cycle, as it perpetuates the problem by perpetuating the perception that the streets are dangerous places for cyclists.

One of the greatest aspects of cycling is that it can be a cheap, simple way to enjoy and experience the freedom of movement, of travel, of exploration, and discovery. In fact, and as I said in my Blood/Sweat/Tears myth post, the actual mechanical and economic barriers to get on a bicycle and go for a ride are trivial. However, the first, the and greatest, barrier that one will encounter that will interfere with that freedom and undermine that simplicity is ATP. The rub is, ATP is generally not intended to be that barrier. Right? It's meant to be, and is, a guideline for using the car-choked roads we have. 

Intended or not, though, ATP is the first and most significant barrier to achieving the sense of subjective safety required to overcome the perception that cycling on those roads is crazy dangerous, the engrained perception which stands between potential cyclists and the freedom to move around and explore their own world on their own terms under their own power. So intentional or not, ATP has to go, and needs to be replaced with TCS. To overcome ATP as a barrier to freedom, all citizens should give due consideration to the matter of what True Cycling Support would actually entail.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Nothing's Worrying Me


A sudden storm snuck in, unexpected by me

I always carry rain gear in my office pannier, so whenever a storm blows up, which is once in a super moon in these parts, I am prepared. But this afternoon, the temperature was just right for a ride home in the rain without rain gear. I let the drops splash all over me until the tail wind caught me, and made me feel like a rocket. The peak winds during the storm were 44 mph with gusts to 55 mph out of the east. I was headed west. Yeee haaaaaa.

I felt the tail wind coming a little off one side, but I knew the street bent the right direction just ahead, and then....whooooosh. I was moving right along, with the cool rain making me feel like there was nothing in the world to worry about.

Then the wind changed direction, and I made a turn more into it than with it. The drops were hitting me hard enough (in the wind) to sting a little bit. But that was alright, too, nothing was worrying me then, either. 


Sure signs of storm and wind: water, leaves, and citrus in the gutter

Italian Cyprus trees indicating wind speed high enough to make cycling interesting

Any other day, what I saw in the next photo would have worried me. Wet steel plates in my bike lane. Shiver. But not today. Today, I was Joe Cool blowing down the road like a two wheeled Zen sail thing. Whooshing along. Wet steel plates? No matter. Curve around them in a smooth flowing wind-aided water cooled arc. Nothing's worrying me.

Wet steel plates. Similar to ice to bicycle tires, no problemo.
 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Seize the Ride


Morning ride

In my bicycle meditation, the wind in my ears flows in and I steer swerve little esses to feel my momentum move back and forth in a coast and pedal, coast and pedal rhythm. I lean slightly forward to feel more weight on my hands, then backwards, bend my elbows, shift my hands around the bars into infinite combinations of position and balance, each one works but differently. Three riders, guy in green, guy in black, and me, all cross the street ahead in different places: green guy in the crosswalk, guy in black in the right turn lane, me in the travel lane. Guy in green: take the crosswalk just to be sure. Guy in black: take the left turn lane so as not have to switch lanes back and forth, more predictable. Me: travel lane, to trigger the light if I have to, and I always seem to have to. In my bicycle meditation I tend to not care where anyone rides, long as I seize the ride and get out on my bicycle.