Friday, September 30, 2011

Smoldering Blob Overtakes Bike Lane

Behold the menacing form

Squinting into the setting sun, all I could see ahead was a smoldering blob that appeared to be consuming the bike lane. It also seemed to be formed from olive branches and mud. I've heard of that, from Spain I think, or possibly Malta, somewhere in that neighborhood, around sunset long after summer should have ended, the heat just builds up and builds up until the branches leap off the trees, form smoldering blobs about six feet high and twenty feet long, and blob around the bike lanes slurping up vespas and electric bikes. It belched approvingly at me as I pedaled past. From deep inside, I thought I heard the dying whir of a digesting electric bike. I once saw one of these leap across two lanes of traffic to gobble up one of those cruisers with the add-on gas engines. Yummy.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Farewell, My Airborn Cactus Bubbles

Amy Chan's Skydive will be removed this week

The Scottsdale Public Art BelleArt series at the Civic Center always pulls me in to have a look at the latest in the cycles when I am cycling through the area. The current installation, Skydive by Amy Chan, is cactus bubbles on a crazy orange wall. The SPA web site mentions that she spent time at the Petrified Forest, and I'll tell you, the three days I spent camping in the northern wilderness area of the park left a lifetime impression on me. Very few large plants grow on that dry and mineralized ground, with the result that the landscape painted by reds and ochres and browns, and marked with low rolling bumpy hills, gives you almost no visual scale for size, or distance, particularly when the sun is low and you're looking for the next place to set up camp. 


You end up wondering, wandering, how far is that hill over there? A mile? A meter? Then a large black crow lands on its crest, and its size and distance snaps into perspective. And you're wrong, you're always wrong, when you try to estimate. Hopefully you have a friend you can just send over to that hill that you're trying to range, and have her stand on top of it for scale. Or, you can just sit on a crazy rusty brown red bump, listen to the wind, and groove on the fact that you have no idea how far away that hill is, or how tall it might be. Just sit. Ponder. Consider the hill. For that matter, consider the cactus bubbles floating up that crazy orange wall. 

Then do what I did, get down all fours and put your nose a couple of inches above the surface in order to get up close and personal with the cryptobiotic soil, a fragile, magical being living beneath the blasting sun in a seemingly desolate place. Step on it with your boot or even touch it with your finger and you can cause destruction that will last for decades.You can spend an eternity trying to understand which bits are alive and how, which bits are the crystallized minerals and which are dried organic matter, and how it might all fit together, all near Little Lithodendron Wash.

Laying in the tent, after the hours of visual wah-wah you've been through, you listen to the wind and your ears play tricks. You hear things. An ancient forested swamp that's now petrified logs around you, the distant bleating of a lost sheep that cannot possibly be because the shepherds are at least twenty miles away but you think you hear it, just barely. The mind wanders, you think of the odd plants, and of good friends long distant from this dry wash...

These your unusual weeds, to each part of you
Do give a life: no shepherdess, but Flora 

Last time I rode this way, Anthropomorphic Bicyclist was up, and that was one of my favorites, for obvious reasons. After they take down the cactus bubbles, which by the way you can apparently purchase by contacting the artist via her site for very reasonable prices, next up in this space is Why should I be so sad? My strategy for approaching that work will be to enter the tower area toting a copy of Bertrand Russell's The Conquest of Happiness, and read a few passages to the art, explaining ways that it could be happier. In other words, I don't think it should be so sad. Depending on why it is so sad. Which I'm not sure if it's going to tell me or not. I'll tell it my favorite cryptobiotic soil tales, which usually cheer people up. We'll see.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Can You Walk, Can You Ride?

Once you begin how can you stop: view from the bicyle commute, Tuesday evening, September 27, 2011

Something about forming a new, positive habit. Try something new. Example: ride your bike to work on Fridays. Dress down, take your time, relax, just one day a week. Hey that turns out to be pretty cool, maybe I'll try a couple more days a week, then why would I ever drive my car, pretty soon it sits for days and days undriven. Oh for more undriven cars. more undriven days. Oh for more adherents to the crazy radical thought that sometimes riding a bicycle is better. Sometimes. Oftentimes. Sometimes a car is useful. But there are alternatives and choices. Every commute every day is a choice. It may not seem like it but it is so. Choose to pedal yourself to work on 30 pounds of steel and aluminum. Or, chose to drive yourself in two tons of steel. It's a decision. Can you walk? Can you ride? It is so easy. Tell yourself. It is so easy. Start on a Friday. Do it again the next Friday. Once you begin how can you stop. Once you feel the spin of your legs, the cool morning air, the warmth of the sunshine and see life closer up, you can't stop. You're forming a new positive habit. One more undriven car. One more undriven day. Save the car for when you need it. Which will be less and less. Cars are useful. So is your heart. So is losing weight and toning your muscles and balancing your mind and controlling your stress. Try something new. Ride your bike to work. Start on an easy Friday. And then never stop.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Decorating Dense Cities with Relevant Pastel Tidbits

I once lived in a densely populated and profoundly unattractive urban setting: China in the late 80s. In those crammed cities, which had streets jammed with bicycles, almost everything built in the preceding 40 years was pure ugly, blocks after block, kilometer after kilometer, and whatever wasn't pure ugly-functional was either clumsy Communist propaganda, or the nascent scratchings of commercial interests that would eventually...well you know that part.

But no matter how hard you try, resin statues intending to illustrate how great life is while working or fighting, or giving birth, or combinations of those, for the greater glory of the State just make people feel miserable. "Like what?" you ask, "Do you have any examples?" No, please don't, don't make me. "No, seriously, what do you mean that they just make you feel miserable, how could that possibly work?" OK, take a look at this. Remember, you asked:

Base of Ginormous Mao Statue, Shenyang, China, 1987. Meant to be triumphal, actually oppressive.

OK, you may be thinking, that's not too good, but how bad could it get? It's just public art, and you can always ignore it, and anyway, you mentioned the block after block of ugly, didn't the statues help a little bit? Here, check this out, and see if you have any last shred of that optimism about State art isn't squashed right out:

Extolling the virtues of the One Child policy, a small park in Dalian, 1987.

OK, I'll make it stop, you know I have better stuff coming, but I just wanted to illustrate how bad it can get. You have to leave out propaganda, politics, and commerce for that matter, and in my opinion go for something relevant, local, meaningful, and perhaps peculiar. Possibly with historic relevance, although that's optional, there are certainly many other sorts of local connections that can be worked into pleasing public art as well. Recently while toodling around Old Town Scottsdale after a much longer ride, I came across some historically relevant pastel tidbits of art just sort of scattered around an out-of-the-way corner that seemed like just the ticket: Here is Hidden Histories for Old Town Scottsdale by Elizabeth Conner et. al. 

Human-scale, local, relevant, color. With barrel and other cactus too.

What are these objects? Handouts provided...

I was naturally curious about these objects, what they were, why they were here, and upon walking up closer to them, found the information and handouts above. The handouts encourage you not only to walk around this group, but on reading them, you find out that there's another group somewhere nearby, though not entirely obvious exactly where, encouraging you to stroll around a bit reading about the history of this little corner of the west while trying to find the other group. To just pick a couple of things off the list, from the photo above, and ignoring a bit what the plaque says about it because it is somewhat interestingly out of touch compared with the precision of the handout, 

"Boot: From its founding in 1888 through the 1950s, Scottsdale was home to many farms and ranches. This boot was patterned after one the artist saw at the Saba's family store. This boot also carries a reminder of the Rusty Spur Tavern on Main Street, a 1920s vintage building that originally housed the Farmers' State Bank."

"Bell: Image of the bell honors two Old Town historic properties: Old Mission Church, located directly across the street, and Little Red Schoolhouse, a block away on Main Street. Mexican immigrants volunteered in 1933 to build the Mission Church and its distinctive bell tower. Long-time residents remember the school bell that called students to class at the Scottsdale Grammar school, built in 1909." There's more, much more, but you get the picture. 

There are  many more objects in this little "nicho", or niche. See below for a pottery jug, grinding stone, car tire, ice blocks and tongs, a boxing glove, a rose, a wash tub, and a brand with TWMWT for "The West's Most Western Town," one of Scottsdale's taglines.

One view, but to really see them all, you have to walk among them, and get around them.

With Mission in the background

So then, with my handout in hand, I cruised around the area on my bicycle, looking around for the other group of objects, Diorama, on Second Street, which was said to include a "Salvaged Wall, with recycled door", as well as an electric fan. It took me a few minutes, but I found it.

Electric fan, orange slice, cowgirl hat, artist's palate, salvaged door: this must be the place

Canteen, cotton bale (E.O. Brown and partners built a cotton gin at the foot of Brown Ave in 1920...)

Those objects do it for me. One trick that people who are able to remember long strings of facts use is to associate each one in their memory with an object on the street at a particular spot along a familiar route. That's pretty clearly what these are: the method of loci, a walk through the memory palace. That green canteen? That's for water, long ago brought by the canals of the Hohokam people, then later by those who came after them, down to today in canals and regulated by the zanjeros who siphon and valve and gate it down its various shoots and pipes and sluices and ditches and pumps.    

Of course, this particular envisioning of this memory palace is part of a larger street setting, with commerce, and propaganda, and wealth, and poverty, and other beauty, and probably its own fair share of the ugly, like all cities. But these relevant pastel tidbits scattered around dress the place up a bit, and anchor it in a bike ride down a familiar route, now connected in memory to some context, some stories of this place.

Hi, I have this kind of, um, big old Mao statue, how much could I get for it do you think?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Seattle and New York Appear to be Special Cases

I posted previously about the 2010 bicycle commuting statistics released by the census bureau, which caused one commenter to imply that more dense cities have more bicycle commuting. So I thought I would plug in some surface area numbers, draw some graphs and check some correlations. 

The results, if you are like me and want to just skip straight to them, is that I could generally agree with that statement, which surprised me a bit because it seems overly simplistic, but looking at the top 25 US cities by population, sorted by density, it does look like the denser cities have higher rates of bicycle commuting. However, to get there, I kind of had to throw out Seattle and New York. I also added a column for current LAB BFC status, with 5=platinum, 4=gold, 3=silver, 2=bronze, 1=honorable mention, 0=not ranked or I'm not sure). Wasn't sure where I was going with that, actually, but it seemed sort of interesting, and now looking at this chart, I'm thinking Philadelphia really needs to get to work on a BFC application.

(the data in this chart comes from the 2010 statistics on bicycle commuting and Wikipedia's surface area figure for the corresponding city as nearly as I could make it out)
City Pop Workers Cmtr % # Bike Cmtr Land Surface Area Pop Density Worker Density BFC Status
New York City 8,184,899 3,615,588 0.8% 27,917 304.8 26853.34 11862.17 3
San Francisco 805,463 437,814 3.5% 15,208 46.87 17185.04 9341.03 4
Washington, DC 604,453 296,717 3.1% 9,288 40.1 15073.64 7399.43 3
Boston 621,383 309,620 1.4% 4,369 48.4 12830.54 6393.14 3
Chicago 2,698,831 1,168,318 1.3% 15,096 227.2 11878.66 5142.24 3
Philadelphia 1,528,306 583,734 1.8% 10,503 135.1 11312.41 4320.75 0
Los Angeles 3,797,144 1,706,116 0.9% 16,101 468.7 8101.96 3640.34 0
Seattle 610,710 339,160 3.6% 12,306 83.9 7281.63 4043.88 4
Baltimore 620,583 256,622 0.7% 1,788 92.1 6738.14 2786.34 0
San Jose 949,197 426,136 0.6% 2,708 176.5 5376.97 2413.96 0
Detroit 711,910 196,706 0.3% 651 138.8 5129.03 1417.19 0
San Diego 1,311,886 620,939 1.0% 6,390 325.2 4034.21 1909.47 0
Denver 604,414 296,453 2.2% 6,514 153.3 3942.69 1933.81 3
Columbus 789,939 379,334 0.7% 2,498 210.3 3756.25 1803.78 0
Houston 2,107,208 961,240 0.5% 4,393 579.4 3636.88 1659.03 0
Dallas 1,202,797 543,348 0.2% 820 342.5 3511.82 1586.42 0
San Antonio 1,334,359 591,725 0.2% 1,159 407.6 3273.70 1451.73 0
Austin 795,518 412,291 1.0% 4,242 264.9 3003.09 1556.40 3
Phoenix 1,449,481 620,072 0.6% 3,576 516.7 2805.27 1200.06 1
El Paso 652,113 260,318 0.1% 217 249.1 2618.09 1045.12 0
Fort Worth 744,114 330,652 0.1% 473 292.5 2543.98 1130.43 0
Charlotte 734,418 344,436 0.2% 835 297.7 2466.97 1156.99 0
Indianapolis 824,199 366,017 0.5% 1,935 365.1 2257.46 1002.51 0
Memphis 647,870 262,033 0.1% 153 302.3 2143.14 866.80 0
Jacksonville 823,316 375,579 0.2% 843 767.0 1073.42 489.67 0

I added the calculated worker density because I thought that might make a difference, in the sense that it should give a better indication of how spread out the people who are commuting to work by bicycle are, and it did make a small difference. New York and Seattle are the outliers though. Actually, Denver is sticking up there about 1.2% or 3000 commuters higher that you would expect, too, but maybe hasn't gone all the way yet, whatever "all the way" may be. Here's my first graph with New York and Seattle included. I did use the spreadsheet's correlation function to calculate a .51 from these numbers, to show you what we get including NYC and STL.

Looking at this graph, I conclude something else besides just population density is going on in New York, and in Seattle going the other direction, to impact bicycle commuting. Also that Denver may be catching whatever it is that Seattle has got. I will go ahead and assume that New York is in transition and also is so big that it's Different, and also that Seattle is being special in its own way (Portland didn't quite make the top 25 by population, or else it would have been up off the top in its own 6% zone saying hey look at me in my tight pants with my excellent coffee and free-range fair trade organic statistics). Removing those two, here's the resulting graph, also switching to workers rather than overall population, which helped a little (correlation now at .87) still with Denver holding out. The two superstars up there that look like they are just about right where they should be for their density are San Francisco and Washington DC.

If you go all the way and take out Denver, it looks even nicer with a .93 but let's not get too carried away. I included the data above because if you actually have read this far and disagree with the overall idea or approach, it is very probable that you know a lot more about this than I do and can straighten me out, so please do. Regarding the original commenter's suggestion about DFW and size and density, there's some different terms that result in different surface areas and densities, from city, to metro, metropolitan area, CSA and MSA, and probably others. The 2010 census bicycle commuting numbers only relate to the city itself, though, and not the larger or different ways of looking at our complex metro landscapes, so I used surface area corresponding to the population number given. For example one metropolitan area boundary for some Phoenix-related statistics (mentioned in this post) has it almost the same size as the Netherlands, which is interesting but not used to compile the city-specific bicycle commuting statistics given above. And anyway looking at some of the other MSA boundaries, it's getting harder and harder to tell where one starts and the next stops, but at least on Wikipedia, DFW is not the largest or most populous or least dense..

And my main conclusion out of all of this is that I am feeling a little cooped up from this cold and need to get back out on the road really soon.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cutting Corners

Shortest distance, two points, etc

Still sick, not riding, but wanted to just mention three things.

First, sometimes I wonder about path designers who do not put the path where it obviously needs to be. Where it needs to be is where people are going to walk or ride regardless of where you actually put it. Even if you put loose gravel down as an impediment. In Bicycling Science, I learned that type of surface, from hard smooth linoleum through deep mud or sand, can be the largest contributor to rolling resistance for a bicycle, so a designer knowing this might think that the loose gravel would stop us from cutting the corner. Nope. Similar to the stoplight designers who put those frigging directional lenses on stoplights so that you can't actually see what color they are until you are exactly where they want you to be (wtf), path designers putting in needless curves and extra right angle jogs should be corrected during the first design review: direct paths which follow the natural route, typically the shortest or on hills, the path of least difficulty, thanks.

Second, the LAB page alerted me to the release of the 2010 Census statistics on bicycle commuting. I exported it to a ODS spreadsheet so I could easily manipulate it in my favored spreadsheet program LibreOffice 3.4, and note just a few items which don't necessarily lead anywhere but just seemed interesting to me. 3576 out of 620,072 workers or 0.6% commute by bicycle in Phoenix, and  only 349 are female. Scottsdale is listed as having 0 female bicycle commuters which I happen to know is false, it has at least 2. Comparing the bicycle stats to some other PHX city stats, here's what I came up with:

  • Far more bicycle commuters in Phoenix than Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders (1766)
  • Far more bicycle commuters in Phoenix than people employed in Farming, fishing & forestry occupations (1555)
  • Far more bicycle commuters in Phoenix than people whose primary housing unit is a Boat, RV, van, etc (1107)
  • About the same number of bicycle commuters in Phoenix as number of people employed in Life, physical, & social science (3,595)
  • There are far more legal professionals than bicycle commuters (7,935)

Phoenix is one of the lowest bicycle commuting places of the top ten cities by population, but comes in ahead of the Texas metropolii. What's up Dallas? 820 bicycle commuters?? 

Last item, an article from the local paper about Arizona's easy-peasy driver's license standards being abused by outsiders. Quoting from the article, "Arizona has more permissive rules than any other state governing who can get a license, how they can get it and how long the license is valid before it expires." This item seems very relevant to me to give context to the venom spewed in the comments section of the article I mentioned in a previous post about the state bicycle safety plan intended to lower bicyclist fatalities. The impression that drivers in Arizona may not be that knowledgeable about the rules of the road in spite of having a license would seem to be supported by observation that people are flocking here from other places to get a license that is seen to be easy to obtain and lasts until you turn 65. I do feel that by scrupulously observing the rules of the road while riding my bicycle, I may be having some sort of marginal positive influence by both demonstrating the some cyclists actually do that, and also having a tiny "this is how it's done" influence on my motorists. But as a member of a .6% group in a big city, that influence is no doubt small. But safety is one place I do no advocate cutting corners.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Inner Bicycle Peace Temporarily Thwarted by Microscopic Particles

Traveling west near sunset on a grid pattern is squinty around the equinox

Achieving and maintaining that elusive inner tranquility and balanced peace while spinning home on a quiet sunlit lane was a challenge with snot running out of my nose like a fire hose. I've caught some sort of bug and feel like my nose is full of tube sealant of a fairly thin type and low viscosity while my throat looks and feels like it was scuffed it up with one of the tube scuffer-uppers that come in patch kits. I commuted by bike anyway, because I feel just kind of blah and yucky but not that sick, but I didn't really plan on needing a box of tissues mounted on my handlebar or a wastebasket mounted on the fork to catch all the used tissues, so that was sort of funny in a sad, snot running down my face, bubbles coming out of my nose, squinting into the equinoctial blaze and wondering if it's every going to cool off here kind of way. 

Yes, at multiple points I slowed down and did a farmer nose-clearing maneuver with impressive results. Still it was more or less a complete farce so I just thought I would share that. And some cool pix of sol giver of light and life on the day with all the news stories about neutrinos possibly traveling faster than the speed of light. Skepticism is warranted but man would that be some kind of stunning and crazy discovery. The thought that as we learn more we find out how little we actually knew and how much there is left to figure out was enough to distract me for a while from my post-nasal predicament. Until, of course, it became so profound that I had to pull over and do that farmer thing again.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Summer that woman knows how to make me do crazy things

You will forgive me for wondering what it would be like...

Autumn always sounds to me like some semi-celebrity you meet randomly in a hotel bar (called the Equinox) when there's surprisingly good piano jazz music playing, a special on the freshest oysters on the half-shell you've ever had, everything is going better than you expected, and then she shows up and everything really goes better than you expected. 

Hey, Autumn, how you doin? I think in that scene it's also expected that mind and body are in perfect comfortable relaxation, everything seems as pretty OK as it could possibly be, and the temperature is not 107F. Somehow, the thought that they have the thermostat in that comfortable piano bar where Autumn hangs out set to 107F kinda ruins it. It could be that there is some good bar business reason parallel to free salty peanuts for setting the thermostat at 107F, but somehow I just don't think Autumn would hang out there if they did that. 

In fact I asked Autumn about that and she replied, in her sultry voice that sounds a bit like leaves rustling on a dark street on a cool night, "Not my thing, sugar, that's more what that (inappropriate term) Summer goes for." Oh Summer, you hot blonde wild woman, I think our time together this year has run its course, so please stop using your tricks to get the bartender to turn up the temperature to 107F. No more record heat baby, no more setting records. I got some cool Fall bicycle rides to do with Autumn, she's murmuring her darker schemes and more private dreams, and I'm inclined to go along with them. I've already felt her near on these cooler morning commutes into work, she's lurking around her somewhere.

What's that Summer? One more swim on a hot day, one more chance to drive the bike off the bank on a whim just once, to see what it's like, just once? Summer, you crazy woman. You crazy. Summer: you just took my shirt off, stop that. Yours too? OK, you're gettin through, you're getting your point across, and I know you won't give up the hot days until I go along with it, OK, OK. Hey, Autumn, come back, no, it's not like that, she's leavin' soon, she always does, you know how it goes, she's just got to get it out of her system and I'm telling you, a quick dip in the cold water sometimes satisfies her. Sometimes she just pulls me under though. Summer baby, we're swimming, we're swimming one more time. Autumn, I'm going to call you soon, I got your number.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

All Quiet on the Cicada Front

For weeks late this summer, riding along the canal meant being serenaded by a constant chorus of singing cicadas. I believe the type that sing in the summer here, and which don't emerge so much in mass coordinated rare groupings as in some places but instead nearly every summer, just at different times, and some summers more than others, are known as apache cicadas, a lovely name. They appear to love to sing in the heat as much as I love to ride in the heat. I read that they actually sweat to cool themselves down in the heat, also like me.

Back on August 9, for example, when I took a day off and went for a ride instead of going to work, the canal verily reverberated with the raucous buzzing of Diceroprocta apache. Then, seemingly all at once, they all packed it in and stopped buzzing. That is, the males, who make all the noise, found mates (or did not), the females put their eggs into twigs etcetera, then all died and made room for the next generation of their brood to wile away the years in silence, apparently for three to five years of burrowing and root-gnawing. In the summer of 2014, or perhaps 2016, the canals will reverberate with their children's raucous buzzing, even as the ground today is littered with the current generation's lifeless carcasses, and the canal is oddly silent.

In August, the cicada buzzing here at Central and the canal was intense.

While riding in the silence, I attempted to calculate how many (approximately) cicadas breathed air, sweated in the heat, buzzed, lived and died this summer just in Phoenix. We'll call it 517 square miles. 14.4 billion square feet. Is one cicada per 14 square feet too high an average, taking into account the whole summer? Maybe. Maybe one per 28 square feet, half a billion cicadas in the city? One per hundred square feet would be 100 million cicadas. But, since the crackly tree buzzers certainly didn't stop right at the city line, well, however many there are per square foot, that's certainly millions and millions in any case. All quiet now. Buzzed, made cicada eggs, ceased buzzing operations, packed it in. All quiet on the cicada front.

Now I can hear the occasional splash of a grass carp

2011 cicadas: I'll tell your kids in a few years that you were young once, and buzzy