Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Follow Up, Closure, and Vector Control

Graphic design that's eye-catching and informative

Compared to the labels they were using before, this is amazing progress. I wonder if they had a lot of people walking up to these with paper cups, trying to get water out of them (BUCKET DOES NOT HOLD WATER). 

I'm hoping the mosquitoes carrying other diseases don't feel slighted because they were left off the label. Maybe that was on purpose though. Maybe an angry mosquito is easier to trap. And maybe, if everyone responsible for putting objects into our shared spaces (signs, roads, paths, buildings, trees, parks, fences, etc) paid as much attention to making them BOTH functional and attractive, at least to humans if not to members of the Culicidae family, as the graphic designers behind the vector control trap signage...I can only imagine. Get up. Go ride. Bzzzzzzzzzzzz.


Guanyin Showers Me With Compassion

Guanyin: in her right hand, a bottle of pure water. In her left: a garden hose, for spraying compassion on hapless cyclists.

I lost my wedding ring while riding my bicycle home tonight. At the four-way stop (yes that one) on my way home from work, I touched thumb to ring in a compulsive, or at least habitual, manner, and OH NO. It was gone. The golden symbol of union with my beloved had vanished. I pulled over to the side to get visual confirmation, staring at my naked finger: yep, gone gone gone. I looked at the ground in my immediate area, on the chance that I had drifted off to spinning happy la-la land and been snapped back by the clink clink of gold on asphalt, but it was nowhere around. 

So, think back, stay calm, focus, visualize, anything unusual happen, other than LOSING YOUR WEDDING RING, I mean? Well, just as I was pulling out of the driveway at work, a pickup truck that may have been speeding a bit surprised me, causing me to brake just I started to roll out, but no, I didn't think it was that. A palo verde tree had blown down across the canal path, leaving only a foot or two to pass between it and the water, but no, that didn't seem like a wedding ring removing moment, either.

I flashed back to every person I passed who may have seen my ring, and picked it up: the cycling waiter, the two girls on cruisers riding the wrong way down the bike lane, the woman walking her dog. Had they seen the glint of gold, and picked it up? What were the odds that on my way back I would run into one of them, and what conversation could I start that would result in them giving it back to me? I hoped someone had found it; I hoped no one had found it; I pictured all of them headed directly to the pawn shop, or home to the kitchen table to stare at the thing, to ponder the moral dilemma before them.

Another possibility, one which struck me as quite possible, and gave me an interesting sense of yes that's what happened, was that it had fallen off as I was stuffing my clothes into my trunk bag. I got off the bike, unzipped the trunk, and there it was. I slipped it back on the finger, snugly, and was happy for one less boneheaded move to have to explain.

Guanyin With Garden Hose was on another side of the house with the art from yesterday's post about the Reach 11 ride. She is believed by both Buddhists and Daoists to dispense unlimited and unconditional love, compassion and mercy. I was thinking about her on the ride home, not focused tightly on her, just generally free-associating about what the text would be to accompany the photo above. When I found the ring in the trunk bag, I did imagine that she had turned the magic hose on me there at the four-way stop. While I may not actually believe specifically in immortal beings like Guanyin who float around the ether spraying mercy our way at opportune or needful times, I did reason that compassion and mercy are real psychological states, and that it's possible that contemplating Guanyin as a symbol of this class of psychological states in my moment of crisis induced a positive feeling of calmness and focus which I needed to figure out where my ring had gone. If I had freaked out and flown directly to a dark spirally place crushed by the cold, merciless, infinite vastness of the universe instead, I probably would have turned around and pedaled the whole way back to work in a sweaty panic, riding the wrong way down the bike lane, scanning the ground for a lost ring of gold, exhibiting a most ineffective and unsafe form of cycling, to no avail.

Maybe it was the long ride Sunday that left me with a slightly clearer head even after a long Monday of work. Maybe it was Guanyin's infinite compassion showering down on me after all. Or maybe it was sheer, blind chance, and in an alternate universe another John Romeo Alpha is still riding around on a hot night, dehydrated, sweaty, desperately scanning the dirt for a ring of gold that he lost, cursing his clumsiness, cursing his bad luck, cursing the blind and infinite blackness. I'm sending a trans-dimensional Guanyin missile his way. Chill out dude. Attachment leads to sadness. Let go. Get up. Go ride.

No Hiding Place

Monday, August 30, 2010

Gabion Baskets and Art to Happy Up the Place

Rocks in cages, cactus in a bowl, art on a house in the modern style

I went on an approximately 40 mile ride in Phoenix on my road bike today to celebrate the weather, to ride somewhere I haven't ridden before, to see what I could see. I opened the maps this morning, chose a direction pseudo-randomly, NORTH, then a destination: Reach 11 Recreation Area, a long, skinny recreation zone that borders the Central Arizona Project canal, and proceeded to figure out how to get there. I have hesitated to ride all the way up that direction before because of what I perceived to be navigational challenges: between the mountains and the freeways, I've always thought of getting up to that part of the city on a road bike as hard. The middle part is easy on a mountain bike, not that I'd want to ride 30 miles of streets on one: ride up the canal, pick any one of a dozen trails, and cut across the mountain preserve (and have a blast doing so). But I'm not that keen on riding the canal gravel for miles on my road bike, and while cutting through the preserve is probably doable on a cross bike, my 700x23 tires aren't going to cut it.

My route ended up requiring a short ride along the gravel path beside the canal just west of the Biltmore, in order to reach the paved section just past 24th Street. From there it was smooth sailing up to Dreamy Draw Drive, then along the path to Mountain View Drive. That's where I saw the house above. From there, it was north on 36th Street (bike lane) to the Indian Bend Wash path, which eventually joins up with the path that runs beside the Piestewa freeway up to Reach 11. 

I took a lot of pictures, too many to try to boil down into one post, so more to come. This section of the house with the art, above, had some interesting stuff around the other side. I think it was the first Daoist humor I've seen in a long time. More on that tomorrow.

SWMNBN, with the Central Arizona Project (CAP) Canal, near Reach 11, in the background

The road bike was a joy to ride. I am just about to settle on a name for her: She Who Must Never Be Named  (SWMNBN). Even with the herky-jerky route I chose today, which was more or less the antithesis of a long stretch of smooth blacktop, SWMNBN urged me to ride farther, faster, and happier, all the way. That bike brings out the best in me, physically. After the ride, actually before the end, I felt like I had used up everything I had in the tank. I walked into the house, drank about three different kinds of replenishing liquids, ate some protein, and after cooling down and showering, took a long, restful nap. A ride like that charges me up with happy-tired vibes to carry the rest of the week. Get up. Go ride.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

not the presence or absence of me

get up go ride

So much better in black and white

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fat Cold Drops Falling from a Blue Sky

Fat cold drops, with blue sky and brilliant sunshine

Cold rain curtaining out of a blue sky with bright sunshine
Rain for the sake of water, without gusty wind, thunder, or lightning
I've seen this before, but couldn't quite place it
You know that feeling by now


Fat, cold drops curtaining out of a brilliant blue sky
Think back
Way back
How far?
Far enough.
Got it: a fishing trip as a child, northern Minnesota
A hot, humid July day in the boat with Dad trying to catch a trophy (I never did).
My skin was red and peeling from days in the sun
Sunburn so bad I was having trouble sleeping
Minnesota mosquitoes bothered me worse than the other things that broke up my sleep
Sitting in the boat watching the sunlight dapple the water
When fat cold drops began falling in curtains out of a brilliant blue sky
Water that felt so good on my skin that it returns to me on a bicycle ride to work one day

I wonder
I wonder if he forgave me
That the fish all seemed to fly away when I was around
I wonder if he knew how much fun I had on those fishing trips with no fish
Those summers running through the grass along the shoreline
The smell of an outboard motor
And the feel of a cold rain

Wonder is the bondsman of grief, a cheat, a thief--

I don't really wonder. I know 
I miss him.

Rain can camouflage other forms of water.

Get up. Go ride.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gumby: The Field Test

Gumby greeting the world he meets in the streets with his "Hi there! Have a great day" pose.

I was feeling some peer pressure to mount a whimsical figure on my handlebars to send a message to the world, but which figure? And more importantly, which mount? I chose Gumby, and 3M Dual Lock, and tested the combination under a variety of temperatures, wind speeds, road roughness, and humidity. I cleaned the surface with alcohol before applying the adhesive, and allowed the recommended 72 hours of cure time before squishing the two pieces together on the bar.

For this application, I chose the SJ3550(Type 250) Dual Lock, with approximately 250 stems per square inch, with a rated tensile disengagement strength of 57 pounds per square inch, and with peal and cleavage mode separation strengths considerably lower. Assuming that Gumby is a flexible substrate, and the handlebar a rigid substrate, that combination has a 90 degree peal strength rated at 4.6 pounds per inch of width. He's easier to peal off sideways than frontways or backways. I determined that the most reliable way to evaluate the suitability of the combination was to gather empirical data under real-world conditions.

The results? I conclude the 3M Dual Lock is an adequate mounting system for Gumby on a handlebar under typical Phoenix summer commuting conditions. I will report back periodically on any issues noted over time. Get up. Go ride.

He gestures serenely at the pigeons in the distance along the canal, bearing ill will toward no creature.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Welcome to Phoenix

A burst of wind tore through the area along with a storm

The fence around the Soleri Bridge and Plaza project, which has been standing for months, all blew down.

The hard core rode through it all.

When it hits 111F+ and we have thunderstorms, they tend to be energetic, with strong, gusty winds, dust, lightning, and hail. Since this 'tis the season, I recently bought some goggles for bicycle commuting in case of storms, and boy did they earn their keep today. When the wind blasted in my face, as I rode past downed fences and trees, my eyes were serene and dust-free inside their tinted, vented capsule. I'm a moron for not getting some goggles before. In the past I've come home with dusted, tear-filled, itchy eyes that were red the next day. No more! Bring on the storms. I'll ride on. Get up. Go ride.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Don't Ride Like Mr. Skinny

Accidental button push while staring goggle-eyed at some construction equipment lifting objects into space.
Not directly related in any way to the dialog that follows.

Conversation While Driving With Mrs. Alpha and the kids

Mrs Alpha: That cyclist shouldn't be riding down the street like that.
Me: Really? Where should he be riding?
Mrs: The canal is right there, he should have taken that. The speed limit is 40 mph here.
Me: He's on a road bike so he can't really take the gravel path. Anyway, the law says he can be here.
Mrs: What do you mean? He can't go 40 mph. Isn't there a minimum speed law?
Me: No, not here. The Arizona law says that if the lane is too narrow for cars to pass him safely, he can take the lane.
Mrs: So it's OK for him to impede traffic?
Me: Personally I don't think it would be OK for him to have eight cars bunched up behind him, no. I would pull over and let them pass when it became safe to do so, more out of courtesy than anything else. I know what it's like to drive a car behind someone who is going too slow in any kind of machine. But look at that wall on the right side of the road. There's nowhere safe for a cyclist to go except to take the lane through here.
Mrs: People usually drive 45 mph in this area. It doesn't seem like a safe route for a cyclist.
Me: I believe there are better alteratives a few blocks north or south of Indian School Road, agreed. On the other hand, it's pretty safe if the cyclist takes the lane and follows the traffic laws. Unfortunately right as it gets ugly here, right where the bike lane ends, there's no bail-out. You're stuck. (at this point, the cyclist in question squeezes over the the right, between the traffic lane and the wall, into a six inch wide "shoulder" marked with a white stripe. I changed lanes into the left lane to pass him. Two cars behind me did the same thing.)
Older daughter in the car: That's the skinniest bike lane I've ever seen.
Younger daughter in the car: Only Mr. Skinny [our Halloween skeleton] could ride there.
Me: It's not a bike lane. It's not even a shoulder. I don't know why they even painted it there.

Younger daughter (persisting): Mr. Skinny needs a place to ride, too.
Me: Well, obviously I am not Mr. Skinny.
Older daughter (the encourager): You almost are, Daddy. Just a little more Caveman diet...
Me: You know, when we were in Iowa, I had a conversation about bicycles on the streets with Bill [grouchy old friend] while we were out driving around.
Mrs: Oh no. What did he say?
Me: We passed some cyclists who were riding on the right side of the road, and he said, authoritatively, "They shouldn't be there. They should ride on the sidewalk."
Mrs: What did you say?
Me: I was about to quote the Iowa laws, which I had checked before we got there because I wanted to ride. Just then, though, the sidewalk dead-ended into a meadow full of wildflowers and mud. So I said, "What sidewalk? Where should they go now?" "Hell if I know," he replied.
(silence. We were all just kind of waiting for it. Then, from the back of the minivan, came the conclusion)
Younger Daughter: Daddy always says, Don't ride like Mr. Skinny!
(laughter) Me: I never say that though.
Mrs: Well you do now.
Me: Yeah, I guess I will.

Get up. Go ride.

Monday, August 23, 2010

4 Kinds of Awesome

Hi there! Good morning!

Four undeniable kinds of awesome to start the week:
  • Mini French press doesn't make much coffee, but froths milk into long-lasting goodness
  • Ceramic cup glazed by my older daughter w/ hearts & love
  • 1954 Magic Chef stove still works as well as the day it was made. When they coined the expression "You're cooking with gas now," they were referring to this stove
  • That coffee is a cup of dark, complex, week-kicking precious elixir
The week: it is your wide open road. Project happy beams and they'll reflect back at you. Get up. Go ride.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ride to Seventh Avenue Streetscape: What's Usable, What's Not

My road bike, enjoying the Seventh Avenue Streetscape

I needed a change of pace today to take my mind off the heat. So I tuned up the road bike, tried to remember how to maintain a higher cadence, and headed along the Grand Canal in Phoenix to go see the current series of art on display at the Seventh Avenue Streetscape. Every so often, approximately yearly now, it looks like, they swap new art into the light boxes that sit under the shade structures near the seating areas. Art, seating, shade: that seems like a formula that bears repeating. It may seem obvious that simple combinations of elements can change a barren cement zone into a livable place people might use, but usability must not be as obvious as it may seem. 

I'll put the freeway pedestrian overpass picture below just because I think it's interesting to look at and think about. It's pretty usable.

Passing over Highway 51 is a switchback exercise. How's your bike handling and broken glass avoidance?

I really want to show you the gates along the Grand Canal that are meant to exclude unauthorized vehicles, but--I don't even know how to ask such an obvious question. What the hell were they thinking when they installed these on a multi-use path? They couldn't have been thinking much about usability or what people need, I conclude.

First gate: everyone ride or walk through the dirt or mud, now! Completely unnecessary, as you'll see.

Second gate--are you kidding me? Everyone, swerve over through the dirt, next to the canal. Look at the beautiful smooth surface of that path! Look how screwed up that gate is!

Third gate: OK now you guys are just screwing around with me. Is there a hidden camera? The first step is to admit that you have a problem.

Fourth gate, west of Central Ave. The canal puppet master tries to break my will with this attempt to mollify me, implanting the idea that it must be possible to convert the first type of gate into this more usable type, giving me hope. But it won't last. It can't. False hope, thy name is gate-swerve.

Ha ha! No logical, usable bicycle-admitting gate for you! Back to swerving through the bushes, two wheeler! That is a nice bridge to connect with the neighborhood, anyway.

The first piece I came across at 7th Ave and Glenrosa Ave, a poem by Kathleen Winter

On the reverse side of the poem above is this

This gives an idea what this little art/poetry oasis looks like

A rare sight anywhere in the Valley: canal, path, yard, house, a continuous flow, no block wall, no chain link, no gates to swerve around. Just water, path, gravel, grass, community. Simple combinations of elements that make the whole more usable. See?

Phoenix Light Rail, zipping past the Grand Canal on Central Avenue. Good thing they didn't build gates for it to swerve around.

This is a sign on a marked route that runs down the spine of Phoenix, about 40 miles long

The road bike spinning along smooth asphalt on a hot summer day is nearly silent. That feeling of simple, effective, tuned-up usability may place unreasonable expectations for my fellow human beings into my head. I see a shady oasis of art and poetry on a city street and my hopes rise. I see gates like the series above that appear willfully unusable, and my hopes fall a little. On thing always gives me a recharge, though. It never fails. Get up. Go ride.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Aye, I Eye Eye Protection

Sesilia models the Eye Ride Over Glasses Goggles model 90325. She also has elastic straps on the bottom of her feet which could be hooked over my platform pedals, I suppose

When it's ridiculously hot, dry, windy, and dusty here, the sun is blasting down and my allergies are acting up, I've often thought that some additional eye protection in the form of goggles might help. I looked around and evaluated different models, landing on the Eye Ride Over Glasses Goggles model 90325 to try out first. I bought them online for less than $20 [full price, my money, nothing received for writing this, won't take anything for this review] but with exorbitant shipping and handling, so I won't mention the vendor. Really, it was almost extortion when compared to the total cost of the goggles. I decided to try some that fit over glasses, realizing as I did so that would entail a large compromise, with good odds for total failure. But, in short, they do fit on my large head and over my smallish glasses comfortably. So today when it hit 111F (44C) and was dry, windy and dusty, it seemed like an excellent day for a road test. Honestly, we're getting to the time of year when I start to get sick of hot dry air blowing dust and pollen in my eyes.

As I tried them on this morning, my older daughter remarked that they looked like they should provide excellent protection against basilisks. When I put them on, I found that they were also reasonably compatible with the bicycle helmet, too. So, onto the summary review:

Comfort: Very Good (like anything, may take a little getting used to)
Dust protection: Excellent. Full protection from canal-originated dust clouds.
Hot dry wind protection: Perfect
Sweat rolling off the forehead mitigation: Excellent, none got into my eyes!
Extra bonus: glasses do not slide down nose at all with goggles on
Negative physical effects or sensations: none noted, quite nice overall, lightweight and comfy
Negative fashion impacts: I've never seen another cyclist wearing these so I'm sure I looked like a total freak with them on. Likely to give a goggle tan.
Basilisk protection level: A1, no issues with basilisks at all

In summary, on days when it's 111F, dry, dusty, and windy during my bicycle commute, I'm going to look like a total freak, but will be riding in blissful eye comfort for a change. Usually once or twice per summer, I'll end up with conjunctivitis when my eyes just can't take any more. No more with the bright red eyes, I say! I think these should also be effective in a driving monsoon / dust storm / haboob, which can feel like riding into a sand blaster. Get up. Go ride.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Wax Sculpture Exhibit

The winged girl who offers an apple to the goldfish tree is about to be devoured by an insect while the ponies look on with some interest.

The bat-dragon swoops in on the sun-lizard who dwells in the Pahara Solar System near Nutethiz.

The speaker-dragon envies the snake-camel's tail. The snake-camel envies the speaker-dragon's wings.

In the Hall of Wax, everyone uses sign language, because no one has a mouth.

Friday, helluvaweek, now a chance to kick back and peek through the noise at the possibility of seeing things a little differently. Seeing other people a little differently. Maybe to pause before reacting to consider that the difference you feel may just be a misunderstanding that could be worked out with a few moments of cordial discussion, over a coffee, say, or an ice cold beverage, to understand the intention and context. Because a lot of times I suspect that the context is truly as innocent as, and the intent as whimsical as, some playful wax sculptures. 

If there's ever going to be any kind of peace in this world, it's going to be established person by person, around our commonality, by setting aside the differences that divide us, and by valuing those differences which individuate the paths we each take on our own, all to wind up in the same place anyway, in the same base form, in the end. 

Why not make a little room in your brain for something a little different while it is still able. There's an infinite amount of room in there and you're not near to using all of it anyway. If you don't already know some, go learn some sign language, for example, and think about what you would say to the inhabitants of the Hall of Wax. The first sign I learned today: "dream": right curved index finger opens and closes as it leaves its starting position on the forehead and moves up, looking to me like a wax inchworm-dragon flying backwards out of my forehead. Dream. In my dream, people in the street recognize the self in the other, and seek common understanding as a primary value in their daily activities. If I make that sign at you while I'm riding by, that's what I'm thinkin. And I'd really like to know what you're thinkin. Get up. Go ride.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Think I'll Start a Maintenance Log

I can imagine the maintenance log for this Diablo VT: Jan 1: oil change, cost: one arm. Feb 1: tire rotation, cost: one leg. March 1, replace hose clamp: $390. August 1: alternator went out, replace: oh sweet Jesus

I think I'll start a maintenance log for my bicycles to help me keep track of what I've done, how much it cost, maybe to track how long parts last, probably to give me an idea of what I should do next, and so on. I realize I may be the only person on the planet who owns and rides several bikes who doesn't already do that. There's probably a subset of bicycle bloggers who post their maintenance logs on their blogs. There's probably a subset of them whose blog is just their maintenance log. Or, their ride log plus their maintenance log. 

Which does bring up some pressing questions: should the log be electronic, or in a spiral notebook? If electronic, with pictures, for future reference? If electronic, with pictures, why not post it on the blog? Why not have multiple people all posting their maintenance items to one blog, for comparison, encouragement, even competition? Or is bicycle maintenance too personal, too revealing, too quirky, to get that sort of public exposure? To expose your own maintenance quirks to public evaluation? Or, if it's in a spiral notebook, are there other considerations? What if I lose the notebook with months worth of log information? Is it wrong to kill trees to log bicycle maintenance tasks?

No need to overthink it I guess. Just do it. The next time I oil the chain, replace a part, or adjust something, I'm going to record that somewhere. In a spreadsheet. Or a spiral notebook. Haven't decided yet. Get up. Go ride.

The maintenance log for this MUP-cart would be simpler than either the lambo or a bicycle: Jan 1: fixed squeaky/wobbly wheel. March 1: fixed squeaky/wobbly wheel. June 1: fixed squeaky/wobbly wheel. A low-maintenance, safe commuting alternative!

Found a Cycle Computer on the Arizona Canal near 40th Street

Someone lost a bicycle computer on the Arizona Canal in the 40th Street area in Phoenix, and I found it. If it's yours, send me an email to my gmail address: johnromeoalpha . Identify the make, model, approximate odo reading, etc, and I'll get it back onto your bar where it belongs. 

I don't want to retain possession of one more gadget. I've exceeded the gadget holding limit of my life. But, I know if I lost this gadget, and someone found it, I would want them to make the attempt to get it back to me, so here's the attempt. Karma, golden rule, categorical imperative, and so on.

If anything comes of this, I'll update this post, since I'm sure the Internet will be checking back every minute or so to find out the outcome of this. Tell your Phoenix friends who cycle and let's see if this computer can find it's way back to it's rightful bicycle, so it doesn't end up at the bottom of my gadget box, right next to the Handspring Visor PDA and the pci vga card. Get up. Go ride.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Canalscape: Watch Where You're Going, Know Where You've Been

Eventually, the hard way, I learned that while riding a bicycle, you have to be careful where you look, because the bike will follow your eyes. I'm told the same thing holds true for motorcycles. On a mountain bike, I learned to keep my eyes on the best line, and away from the largest rocks, deep ruts, cholla balls, and steep drop-offs that I wanted to avoid. This lesson came only after riding straight into several of these while staring hard at the thing I wanted to avoid. Along the canal, I learned that I could ride through the narrow gap in the anti-vehicle barriers by keeping my eyes fixed on a point just on the other side, right down the middle of the opening. 

This works on a bike: look where you want to go, avoid staring at what you want to avoid, the bike will tend to go where you want it to. Cast your eyes along the happy path, and your bicycle will follow.

I want to say that a similar principle holds for thinking about the future. To make things better, someone has to create a vision of how things could be, share that vision with the rest of us, and keep our attention focused on that one, rather than others, long enough, and effectively enough, for all of us to get there together. 

It takes a compelling vision to capture people's imaginations, to pull their minds away from what they see around them, from what they are comfortable and familiar with, to get them to focus on What Could Be, to have a better chance of steering us clear of repeating the same mistakes over and over by staring at them and nothing else, to stop us driving right off the steep drop-off because our vision is fixated on it.

What Could Be...from the Canalscape exhibition at Gateway Community College

Canalscape represents one such vision. I am a little ashamed to admit that I only just heard about this project recently, when I read the news about the Arterial Canal Crossings Public Art Project in the New Times. From the City of Phoenix Call to Artists Public Art Program page, I'll copy some of the text here because no one knows how long a page like that will last: "A professional artist will be selected to work with the Street Transportation Department to enhance the design of major street bridges that cross the Salt River Valley canals in Phoenix. The designs will be expected to focus on the bridges' concrete abutments and metal railings, and address the essential role the canals play in the history and life of Phoenix. The designs will be incorporated into retrofits of the bridges as funds become available in the coming years," says the City.

The Canalscape project embraces the concept of a sustainable desert urbanism. The booklet from their site can tell you a whole lot more about that vision, although I don't get the use of Scribd to police access to it--why not put it out there as a PDF to attain a sustainable typographic presentation-ism? Scribd is flaky in the Google Chrome browser latest stable version I'm currently using, and is better, but still not a very good vehicle for presenting a bold vision, in IE8 or Firefox. The only acceptable resolution I can get is if I read it embedded in the Canalscape site, and pan/zoom to read and navigate. I yearned to view their "Timeline" graphic, surely one of the key artifacts of their vision, on my widescreen monitor full across, but no, the text is fuzzy and unreadable in the standalone Scribd incarnation--I even tried dropping down the resolution of my monitor, but no. Note: eventually, I worked out that this one is problematic (blurry and bleedy) and looks like it really needs help from Steve Esser, where this one works. Direct-linked PDF please!

I rode over to Gateway Community College to see the current home of the Canalscape exhibition. I had to hunt for a bicycle rack, and honestly found the online booklet more detailed and informative than the exhibit, but if you happen to be over there, it could be worth a look. 

Visions for what to do with our miles and miles of canal paths have been around for a long time. The City of Phoenix Canal Design Guidelines present a sensible and level-headed approach that would go a long way toward integrating the canals into the daily lives of more people in the city. 

But some of the previous attempts haven't fully achieved their stated purpose. To pick one example, the 2001 American Society of Landscape Architects Merit Award for Design went to the Arizona Canal Demonstration Project, which I happened to include part of in a photograph in my recent post on trees along the canal. As I mentioned, I like the trees and the shade they provide, but the impacts of the design elements mentioned in the award are not evident when I ride through this area. Next time I'm there, I'll dig deeper and document what's still left, but if (as the site says), "The Sunnyslope Canal Demonstration Project is Phoenix's first effort to exemplify the expanding urban role of the canal corridors as unique outdoor spaces for educational, recreational and cultural experiences," it wasn't that successful: this area of the canal just isn't rich in citizens having educational, recreational, and cultural experiences at this time. But, I believe the attempt does help us to keep our eyes on a vision of what the canals could be, since you can't help but notice while passing through here that it is a living example of something greater than the other, larger, non-modified portion of the 180-odd miles of cement ditch skirted with gravel paths.

I thought a lot about the Canalscape vision as I rode my bicycle through the current canalscape this weekend. A few things people have done along the canals so far really work; many things do not. I have a photo essay below to show some of both success and failure that I saw. I wish I could say my tastes are refined enough, and my imagination active enough, that I internalized the grand vision of Canalscape, and applied it rigorously to all that I encountered. Alas, I think my current vision is more in line with the modest City of Phoenix Canal Design Guidelines. And in fact, as the guidelines are put into practice, as the Arterial Canal Crossings project moves forward, and of course as the Soleri Bridge and Plaza project is completed (photos in this space on 11/6/2010!), my ability to grasp and imagine grand visions may be enhanced by resting on a foundation of real features along the canal that are nearer to it. For now, though, I have a few derived guidelines of my own that I would like to share: 

The canal corridor should be accessible from, and related to, the surrounding area--busy cross-streets, residential, park, strip mall, retail, downtown, mass transit, urban multi-use paths, business,  and industrial zones. Each requires its own unique solutions.

There should be ample shade from both structures and low-water usage plants and trees.

There should be benches and other pleasant places to rest, chat, read, and look around.

There should be convenient sources of drinking water.

There should be at least a few open, functioning public restrooms.

There should be clear signs telling people where they are, where nearby amenities are located, and distances to previous and next features along the canal.

Here are some photos I shot this weekend of some features that I think work, and others that do not.

If this had a sign, it would say "Next restroom: Thunderbird Paseo Park, 22 miles ahead.

The water is pretty cold, and there's enough pressure to get the bottle almost full. Doggy-level faucet included around back, too. A little shade would help, but I'm not complaining. This stop is a life saver.

All three of these shots are at the Nature Park by Hayden Road and the AZ Canal in Scottsdale. Look at that shady spot in the background. A good book and a cup of coffee is all one needs back there.

Canal residential, also in Scottsdale. It looks like it belongs there.

Canal office. At night the lights sometimes blaze here, and I dream of an office like this.

The gravel is working for these two. They were moving right along!

Another way to do the MUP. Not strictly on the canal, but connected to it.

Some call it access. It's somewhat difficult to get up this. If one of the more upscale neighborhoods in the city has access like this, what about the average (or lower) neighborhoods? (near Lafayette Blvd)

Another doubtful access method. In the heart of Arcadia. Also see the next shot.

This is by the Arcadia ramp. No way to cross here (except swimming, forbidden!). Go about a mile back, or half-mile up, to get over to the new Crosscut MUP. Which is going to be one sweet path, by the looks of it. I'll make sure to ride on the south bank of the AZ Canal to get here, though.

Shopping carts in the Grand Canal, about 3/4 mile from the Canalscape exhibit.

Grand Canal at the 202 Freeway

Not on the canal, at a nearby park, but what you don't want to see happen to civic improvements: what state is a community, and a 'scape of any kind, in, when signs warning of the results of continued vandalism are wantonly vandalized? This is a vision that leads off a cliff, if it fixates.

Cyclists, pedestrians, strollers, equestrians, and runners, all can get a sense that the linear space along the canal suits them, without competition from motorized vehicles, for moving along a quiet flowing waterway, yet slicing through a large desert urban city. Making full use of its many varied miles in their current form is sometimes challenging, sometimes physically demanding, but it always feels promising to me: as if, just ahead, around the next turn, may be something or someone new that I haven't seen before, a chance for learning, or helping, or just having fun. If I understand it, the vision of Canalscape is to make improvements along the canal which make its promise more accessible, and richer, to more people. Thank you to Nan Ellin, her students, the tireless canal boffins at SRP, and the rest of the people who are working to create the Canalscape vision of a Happy Path to hold our imaginations. I'll keep my eyes in that direction as I go out and do one of the things I enjoy most. Get up. Go ride.

Watch where you're going, know where you've been