Category Archives: bicycle advocacy

Finding our Tribe

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Me (Stacy), Oliver and our new city. Looking south toward downtown Buffalo, NY.

Have we met? For some of you, upon meeting me, I was probably a bit enthusiastic, chatty, opinionated, scrambling my conversations, trying too hard to figure out who you might like to meet and what resources I might be able to connect you with. For others I might have asked too many questions. Sometimes I am quiet or cold and curt. I think we all wear many hats into many different arenas. Right now, in my strong desperation for building up connections in a new city, I am being a little forward. Maybe I do this without any excuse all the time, but right now it’s getting out of control.

Before we moved to Buffalo I did some research. I researched the usual stuff, like neighborhoods, houses, and schools. I looked endlessly at maps to find libraries, grocery stores, yarn shops, ice cream parlors, children’s venues, natural resource shops, and Canada. I checked meetup.com for interest groups. I looked for bloggers. I read a little of the local papers and magazines online. It all looked good enough.

What had my heart thumping was when I finally found a glimpse of a cargo bike and other cycling families. This was a needle in a haystack endeavor. Search engines were not providing me anything under the terms “cargo bike,” “bakfiets,” “longtail,” “longjohn,” “family cycling,” and many other variations to find families and children on bicycles in Buffalo. There was nothing except Urban Simplicity‘s blog (his son has graduated highschool) and a craigslisting for an Xtracycle. Them some slim pickings.

Then I saw a photo in the Buffalo News covering Play Streets. Or maybe it was on GOBike Buffalo‘s site of a Safe Routes to School event? Of course I can’t find the article or the photo now, because like I said, it was a needle, in an enormous haystack. In the photo, not prominently positioned, was a bakfiets. A bakfiets! This should have made headlines, but not here. Maybe this bicycle was so normal and families riding in boxes was so mundane it wasn’t note worthy. I could only hope.

With in days of arrival in Buffalo we went scouting for a bike map. Something that would illustrate the safest streets for cycling with children. We came home empty handed, however everyone we talked to at Rick and the GOBike workshop said we needed to get in touch with Justin Booth, as he had “this weird bike.” A couple weeks before we relocated, Joe George, with Urban Simplicity, said we ought to connect with Justin, because he had a cargo bike too. Ok, Justin, now we were on a man hunt. I sent him a message on facebook that went unreturned. All those who would drop his name said he was busy with a lot of volunteer work and his family. I respect this. I am this. I still wanted to find this elusive link to what could be a prosperous family bicycle connection.

A week into the school year where the boys attend I asked a man in the parking lot if he worked there, because I had seen him a few times and he was wearing a name tag, which most of the faculty were not doing. He introduced himself as a Say Yes coordinator at #54, our school, and then we talked about my bike where I was buckling Oliver, the three year old, into. Mr. Antoinetti (sp?) mentioned organizing the school’s bike to school day. You don’t say?! He also says he worked with one Mr. Justin Booth and we should meet. Alright, that’s it. Where ever you are Justin, I will find you.

I posted some casual witty remark in a Buffalo Family Bicycling group on Facebook (It has tribe potential, but I’m getting blank stares right now. A lot of helpful insight, but no family riding buddies. Yet.), and I got a reply, from the man himself. We made arrangements to meet up for coffee last week. I dragged my husband with me because I thought, this could be it. We have found our people.

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Coffee with Justin Booth. A significant piece of the people puzzle.

To get to Spot Coffee on the corner of Delaware and Chippewa, you have to go where you have never gone by bike before, and trust that you will arrive safely, and on time. It worked. Here’s how we got from home, in the University Heights, to school on Main, to drop off the boys, then to downtown, on our dual-Yuba morning:


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We used the sidewalk on Main Street, having to walk over the curbs at Humboldt Parkway because there were no curb cut, and slowing down along Forest Cemetery because the asphalt side walk was torn up by tree roots. Then it was groovy. Lafayette Avenue was quiet at 9AM ish, the two directional bike lanes and single directional traffic on Linwood Avenue was sweet. The lack of street signs going south needs some improvement but being met by a bike light at the end made up for the annoyance of craning my head around mid intersection to make sure I didn’t pass my turn. We jogged from Linwood to North Street to Delaware Avenue to catch the new bike lane. Downtown was alive, but not overwhelming with vehicles or people, making Brent feel more at ease having Oliver on my deck as we ventured into new territories.

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Bike traffic lights!
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New bike lane on Delaware Avenue, the southern portion. Striped this summer.
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Bikes, everywhere. About five on the rack in the back and a few on the rack we were locking to.

It’s clear I didn’t do my research well. I was looking for a bakfiets, not a face. Sorry Justin. I was just a little too enthusiastic and hopeful that what would roll up to Spot Coffee was a box full of little children. It’s was also not my expectation that the family man I was seeking out would be the executive director of GOBike Buffalo. Surprise! No one mentioned this to me. Or I wasn’t listening. That’s probably the right answer. We didn’t find our tribe, we found the tribal leader.

We I jabbered on for over an hour, comparing notes on cycling advocacy progress in Buffalo and the work I was involved with in Huntington. We wrapped things up with an open ended “how can I help you?” and “what do you want to do to help?” Then Justin took us on the short tour of the lower west side neighborhood, setting us out on a calm path to Buffalo State to bring Brent to work. It was a joyful and inspiring morning. The stalking sleuthing paid off in dividends.

We still need to reconnect about tossing all my children into his box bike and chugging them upslope for miles on end.

The full day in map view:

View Larger Map

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Bikeway that passes under the interstate, close to the lake.
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Still on the bikeway, passing a high school mural wall.
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More of the bikeway where it goes through the Japanese Garden.
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We made it to Buffalo State!
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After a walkabout campus, and lunch, Oliver and I went home, via Delaware Park, stopping for a peace filled moment on Hoyt Lake.

 

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Organizing the Friends of PATH

Good friends shape so much of who we are and who we become. They are a sounding board for ideas, a wealth of information and advice. Friends are the core of our community and those who help, encourage and influence. The Paul Ambrose Trail for Health (PATH) needs good friends.

As I understand the PATH currently, there are many agencies involved with the development, funding, construction, and maintenance of this multi-use network. One group works on planning, one on securing monies, one on retrieving bids, one on ground breaking, another for clearing and repairing. These groups work in conjunction with each other and for the common purpose of providing a friendly and functional recreation and commuting bicycle and pedestrian trail system. Several different agencies have hosted public surveys, meetings and forums to develop PATH to best meet the needs of the user.

Friends of PATH wants to take this idea further. We want to create a group of volunteers who consistently help shape the development and maintence of PATH. We want this to be a group designed by the user, for the user. It could become an advisory committee, or a volunteer maintence group, or a fundraising platform. This is a clean slate, the opening remarks remain to be made.

Join me, Breanna Shell (city planner), Bethany William (RTI representative), Stacy G. (the Tour de PATH chair), and Jody Perry (friend of PATH) tomorrow, Saturday January 19th, 2:00pm at Heritage Station, inside at the CVB. There will be a PATH update, maps, upcoming event information, and a lot of discussion to set the foundation for the Friends of PATH (FoP). We can all commiserate on our desires to be a great friend to PATH.

More information available in this press release.

While you are visiting Heritage Station, enjoy the Cash Mob at Brand Yourself and Art Walk.

Reminder: Critical Mass January Edition is tonight, 6:30pm from Ritter Park fountain. Bundle up, bring lights. Have fun.

 

 

Leaving the Flock

The Scene
We had a big birthday party after school on Thursday. Avery was celebrating turning six. We had an uncountable number of children in the house at any given time between 3:30 and 7:00pm. There were neighbors, school friends of various grades, siblings, myself and another mother and her newborn. There was also the forgotten violin lesson for London (10yo) at 4:45pm and my husband was at work.

Plan A was to have London stay home. It was her last lesson of the semester. I had forgotten about it, being focused on the party, and not having moved the appointment on my calendar from Tuesday to Thursday.

Plan B was to send her and Elliot (8yo) on their bikes together. Elliot would wait out the lesson with a book and they would return home together. It would be a 1 mile ride, each way. They’d have to cross Hal Greer Boulevard, a busy five lane (one turn lane in the middle) that recently changed their posting from No Turn on Red to No Turn on Red between 7&8am and 2&3pm. Every morning for months, when school returns to session there is a police car with his lights on at the corner across from the school. More often than not, there is car debris in the middle of the road from a recent accident. Everyone was turning right on red there anyway, so I guess they thought that it might be easier to just change the sign than to enforce the law? That corner sees most of their car and walking traffic during those hours, so part of me understands. The part of me that wants my children to be able to get safely across that street at anytime doesn’t.

When the children are on their own bikes, we use the cross walk. Riding up onto the side walk at the entry to the gas station also on that corner, and pushing the button. When the walk signal comes, it posts a red light to all directions of traffic and gives a walk signal to all directions of traffic. When drivers are permitted to turn right on red, their heads are often turned left to see if traffic is coming, not looking right to see if anyone is cross the street. I have issues with this, as you can read, but we choose to use the cross walk with our children at this intersection, and we are not the only ones. When we have the children on our cargo bikes, or we are riding solo, we use the traffic lane.

Milestone
That aside, Plan C is what took place. Elliot refused to leave the party, and I couldn’t blame him. Despite me explaining my needs for him to be with his sister for safety, that I would have to ask his friends to leave the party, that he may not have friends over during the weekend, or any other “trick” I could pull out, he wasn’t going to leave the house. Having the option of independent transportation can lead to one not transporting themselves. London needed to get to her lesson. I couldn’t leave the party, despite Elliot trying his best to convince ME that I would only be gone 20 minutes and that HE could keep an eye on a dozen plus children.

Having the power of independent transportation can lead one to transporting themselves. London went to her violin lesson, on her own bike, under her own power, all by herself. She carried her violin on her back, in its case with the strap. She had a second bag with her notebook and my cell phone, which Brent insisted I have her take along (I have opinions on this for another time). She said she didn’t want to go alone, at first. Then she said she couldn’t decide and that I should decide for her. Then she just went. She was down the driveway before I could get to the front door to see her off and make sure all her lights were on, that I reminded her to look left and right often, to signal only if she felt safe to lift her hand from the bars, to use the cross walk at Hal Greer, and all those other “worrisome reminders” that parents often recite as their children go out in to the world alone.

Wow. What an enormous milestone. She’s walked a couple blocks away by her self in the past. This time, she was riding in traffic, on her own vehicle, with the power of her own body, a mile from home. There were no bike lanes, no sharrows, no paths. Besides using that crosswalk light, there were no sidewalks. She immediately returns to the lane when the light permits her to cross. There was no one there to remind her what the yellow lines mean, or stop at the signs, or keep an eye on cars backing from driveways. All those behaviors we had been modeling for the past year, all those instructions we had been calling out, were being utilized.

She called when she arrived at lessons. Brent stopped by on his way home from work, with party pizzas, to escort her back in the dark. One mile was a huge accomplishment for her (although she really is nonplussed by the whole event), but a really great test of our own strength to let her go. Maybe you can imagine that Brent and I have different ideas of what our children should be able to do, or what we should allow them to experience. We do. We just come at this parenting thing from different childhoods of our own. We have different fears.

Imagine all of that one more time. Our 10 year old has the means and the ability to travel on the streets without an adult, along side and between vehicles driven by adults (and teenagers). Elliot could have been out there with her. He’s actually the far more responsible, aware and capable one of the two. An 8 year old on the road, on a vehicle that has every legal right to that space as a driver, but does not operate in the same capacity.

Advocating
It was with these ideas meditating that I read Chicargobike’s recent post that reminds the powers that be, that we must be thinking about complete streets and bike lanes with the intention of having 8-80 year olds get from where they are, to where they need to be, safely and efficiently.

My attitude that Huntington, WV is a bicycle friendly community, remains. However, as we watch our children grow and begin to consider all methods of transportation, we see so much need for improvement. Taking notice of these needs, I spend time writing down my thoughts and expressing my concerns to the agencies that can implement those changes. I encourage you to do the same, where ever you are. It’s one thing to wish things were different, and another thing to let someone know who can do something about it.

Before riding bicycles, we were happy enough to let others make decisions on our behalf. Hurray for a representative democracy! After riding (this could be a BB, before bicycles, and AB, after bicycles thing) we realized “our theys” were not making fully informed decisions. Most of those involved with the planning and  implementation of laws and infrastructure are not riding bikes, walking, in wheel chairs, etc. I am grateful for their attention to the matters, and deeply in love with those who are riding and who are making decisions and creating action, but they are not the majority. They are also experiencing something unique, and so are we.

Encouragement
The thought of asking London and Elliot to go to lessons on their own had been rolling around for a while. I felt like all I was doing was escorting her to practice and coming home. I wasn’t transporting her. She didn’t need me. Brent always met her for the pick up. Other than crossing Hal Greer, the rest of the trip was side streets that may not have had sidewalks and all but one of them didn’t even have paint lines. Very slow, casual roads, where you often found joggers and dog walkers sharing the road with you. The courage to finally send her on her own came from her violin instructor. It had nothing to do with violin. Their family is car-lite too. They ride bikes for transportation to school and work, but do other errands with their van. Hannah mentioned to me that they have been encouraging their 8 and 10year old to ride to school unaccompanied, and they have handled the 1.25mile commute very well, on sidewalks, their preferred riding style. Knowing someone else was out their doing what we wanted to do gave me some confidence to try it.

Does that sound familiar? I started cloth diapering after being around some parents who did so. We began composting after seeing a few friends incorporate this into their lives. We, as people everywhere, often want to see the actions we desire reflected in those around us. We also want to see what we are doing being reflected back. This is why we have social circles and social media. This is why some people move, choose certain schools, wear styles of clothing, practice their faith. We are trying to align ourselves and feel comfortable in our choices. Had Hannah not told me what they were doing, I might not have had London attempt this quite yet. She’s capable, but I don’t know that I was ready, socially, to let her go. While certainly, not everything I do, has to have been done before, or being acted out by others around me (ahem…cargo biking?!?), oftentimes, when it is, it serves as great encouragement.

The Hat Tip
The title of this post is a reference to Travis Wittwer’s Transportland post, Empty Nest. He discusses the discretion made to transition a child from the cargo bike to their own independent wheels. I am not sure where Travis is on having his children ride without an escort. I do know that this is not the start of regular independent child commuting for us, only a foundation.

Where are you in your family bicycling journey?

West Virginia Connecting Communities

Hiding in my bedroom, laptop open, pile of papers on my right knee, pen tucked into a french braid-at the ready, cell phone on my left knee-muted with a conference call out of Buckhannon, WV, where the first WV Connecting Communities are meeting. It was my own blind vision that had me thinking this group was all about bringing together the towns of WV through bicycling, that they were going to advocate for better law structure and help us individually raise each of our cities, townships and regions for the bicycle. I was elated to hear that I was wrong. This body of dedicated volunteers are taking on all alternative modes of transportation.

West Virginia Connecting Communities members are invested in walking, bicycling, group transit, healthy citizens, and so much more. In their own words:

Connecting Communities
Smart Growth & Complete Transportation System

West Virginia has many challenges when planning for its future transportation needs. It is a rural state dotted with small towns and cities and a challenging geography. The rural nature of our state makes transportation a major issue for getting to work, school or obtaining services. Furthermore, public policy is lagging behind the rest of the nation and our roads, bridges, biking and pedestrian and transit infrastructure are nonexistent and/or old and in need of substantial repair.

All cities and towns benefit enormously from transportation enhancement projects and bike and pedestrian programs. With West Virginia’s focus on tourism as an economic engine for growth in a state with many social needs, the trails programs are critical to our states’ tax base. While the need for quality roads exists, we need to make sure we build and repair them in a way that keeps pedestrians and cyclists safe, especially in our most rural counties.

Connecting Communities is a statewide non-profit that will provide a unifying voice for citizens, elected officials, and policy leaders to address smart growth and a complete transportation plan for our state. Our vision is that people are healthier because they are walking and bicycling to their neighborhood grocery store and kids are walking and bicycling safely to school.

Be an advocate for and a strong and informed voice for the proposed statewide bike plan. Help make this project into the economic development driver that it should be.

Advocate for policies that encourage connectivity of West Virginia communities and planned growth that takes advantage of existing resources. Advocate for policies that encourage improved health/fitness and wellness opportunities as well historic preservation and farmland protection programs.

Expand our growing coalition of partners and allies in West Virginia in a way that brings local voices to the conversation with our elected and policy leaders to give West Virginians a wide range of transportation options.

Be a credible voice in educating local, state and national policy makers as well as the media on Smart Growth and a complete transportation system across the state.

Develop a plan to fund pedestrian, biking and other “complete transportation” projects. In other words, seek grants and other funding sources for collaborative projects to supplement use of federal and state transportation funds.

Work with the West Virginia Department of Transportation to incorporate pedestrian and biking opportunities where practical; be the link between the WVDOT and communities and local groups.

Create a realistic legislative agenda.

WV Cycling Foundation dba Connecting Communities
Kasey Russell, Russell.kasey@gmail.com, 304.542.1994

November 2012

WVCC is looking for you to serve on committees that represent your interests and your communities. Speak up, be involved. My email to Kasey said just this:

I do what I can to advocate and love to help out as needed. I am terrible about making appearances, but do try. I also work slow, but again, do my damnedest.

If that doesn’t assuage you, then keep me in the loop.

She added me to her email list. It was the least I could do, maybe you can do this too.

Thoughts from August 2011

**Pulled open my draft folder and found some interesting writings. This one is from August 2011. Many of the thoughts still stand.**

 

Bike Triumphant

We celebrated surpassing our van miles with our bikes yesterday. In approximately two months, we have ridden more miles on our bikes to more locations with more members of our family than we have driven. I like to disclaim my mileage on the vehicle with, 400 of those were to Columbus and back to take my grandma home, and to do a little bike shopping. Yet, that’s part of this “real life” experience. Sometimes you need to get out of town and sometimes the best (economical and convenient) way to do that is with a car you already own. Grandma could have gone home on the Greyhound, in the same manor she arrived, but I just didn’t want to send her off that way.

We have had other challenges here in Huntington, WV, when it comes to getting somewhere without a vehicle. I was unsuccessful in finding a way to the local airport, the art museum, Lavalette and Kenova, WV. There was a trip to Charleston that Brent needed to make. We have used carpooling, when the driver is going our way anyhow and sometimes we have driven, because after all, we have a car to drive. Yet, it remains my preference to find ways to get to and fro without the Honda Odyssey. I enjoy the process of solving the problem and I relish the accomplishment once I have seen that it can be done. The savings is motivating and my legs are also looking stronger.

Miles Walked: 0 Biked: 44.9 Bused: 0 Drove: 10.2 This week
58.4 577.2 12.6 574 Since August 14, 2011

Plans for Huntington’s Cycling Future

This week I made a call to the folks at the PATH about their intentions with a specific portion of their map that effects our route to school. I was disappointed to learn that the portion of Norway we prefer to use for convenience, but loath because of safety issues, will only be receiving Share the Road signs and there are no plans for improving the quality of the roads, sidewalks or installing bikes lanes.I offered them my assistance in anyway I could, including any help I might be with writing for the West Virginia Safe Routes to School Grant.

I expressed my interest in improving the routes to schools for many locations in Cabell county, as I believe “what’s good for the goose”…and “it sometimes takes a village”, as well as “be the change you want to see”. We have many friends here who have said they are unable to get their children to school (Geneva Kent, Hite Saunders, Spring Hill, Beverly Hills Middle) by any other means than to drive or have them bussed by the school board because of the very traffic they have to participate in to portage their family or the lack of alternate protected sidewalks and bike lanes.

A Simple Six as Leadership

I am learning a great deal about the power of the bicycle as I embed myself deeper into this lifestyle. I am still learning. Many others have blazed the way of advocacy before me. Up to this point I have avoided a lot of outspoken behavior that bares a strong message in favor of cycling here in Huntington. At least I feel that I have done a decent job of only relaying our experiences without a lot of complaint and finger wagging. I recognize that cars are not the enemy. I have tried to keep my questions and concerns about bike safety to forums that have members who might share my sentiments or have a solution to offer (PATH, Create Huntington, Critical Mass Huntington). Many of the blog posts I have made were in an effort to describe how we have biked as a family in our town and as a way to illustrate the positive in Huntington, despite it’s reputation in the national news.

All the while I have wanted things to improve and I have wanted someone to share it all with. Our transition to going car-lite has been gradual and I don’t expect or ask anyone to give up their cars. I may ask my friends why they haven’t considered biking, but I won’t tell them they should run out and buy a bike and join me, although I would love it. I will tell you all about our experiences and explain to you how we are doing it and why it’s such fun. I will even tell you all the negative experiences and difficulties we have had with our bikes. I enjoy talking about it, but I do wish there were other families here embracing it. I look forward to seeing the PATH completed and the community more receptive and accommodating. I am excited to see the changes as they occur here in our little Appalachian city. I am happy to be a part of them, no matter how insignificant.

Then there is the self doubt and the fear. While I know I am very passionate and obsessive about what our family is doing now, if you knew me before, I wasn’t passionate about much of anything. I certainly had interests and I discussed my process of understanding the food culture, cloth diapering, aftermarket economies, preschool art, raising children, and my belief system with my friends, but I could have shrugged any of them off at anytime. I wavered in my convictions of what I loved. I didn’t know who I am and I was adopting the interests of the media and my peers. This isn’t to say I was jumping on board every passing ship, but I valued what others were doing and when I found a particularly frugal method that was also “socially acceptable” I would consider it and then possible join the crew. As I grow I am also peeling off some layers of my image. As I root myself in my existence I am strengthening my resolve. I am standing for something.

There have been some difficult conversations in my home lately. Most them involve my sensibilities and my husband’s convictions. We are constantly standing worlds apart on many things that he holds true (topics like FDR’s second bill of rights) and I toss about like salt. Yet, just because I don’t take to heart his values and beliefs doesn’t mean we don’t have a middle ground and attempt to find the others point of view. I see where he is coming from, but it’s not something I accept for me, at this time, and it’s OK. Most of the time it’s better than OK, it’s wonderful. I used to worry that we would grow apart as he builds his career and I wondered pointlessly (I know there is a purpose) through child rearing longing to finish my masters degree and to build my own interests that seemingly get push aside for colds, spelling tests and chess club. Our differences are opportunities for learning and growing together. I use this as an illustration of how my point of view may vary from many in my circles and yet we still have good relationships.

It is my hope that my passion for seeing Huntington, WV as a strong bicycling community, one that builds a foundation on small local businesses and community relationships is shared by my peers and the citizenship of our town.

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