Category Archives: bike commuting

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?

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Toddler Oliver’s Day

Yesterday began earlier than usual. We set out to meet up with Mike and Alex, on their new Yuba, to ride a small leg of both our journeys to school together. It was the first National Bike to School Day, and riding with friends seemed like the best way to celebrate. It wasn’t necessary to bring the whole crew, but it sure was more fun.

I intended to ride half way to work with Brent and Mike, but after climbing back up Norway I was done. This made three days of high miles and many climbs for me and I really was trying hard this morning to not slow down the other two adults. I split off and went home to get ready for the rest of our day and they carried on.

We had about two hours to dink about, gather our things, pack our lunches, then roll out. I knew this was going to be a tricky day, with multiple stops and smack in the middle of nap time.

I made a list of all the things I needed to do and organized them by location. We dropped off our CSA check, picked up Avery’s coat (forgotten at the Earth Day fair), deposited checks at the bank, checked for Skylanders at Game Stop, enjoyed lunch at Pullman Square plaza, walked the bike over to Third & Ninth Deli for a Create Huntington lunch meet-up, rewarded patience with a Tropical Moon, returned to Game Stop for the toddler to check out Skylanders (he was asleep the first time), then went home to unload, reload and ride up to the school for pick up.

Busy train tracks don’t stop traffic, thanks to early considerations. Cars, pedestrians and bikes just go under them. This train was moving and loud. Just what our little boys love. Only Oliver slept through it.

Still sleeping at the bank.

The white stripe on the right is the left line for the incomplete bike lanes. I know every city has this problem (delivery trucks or taxis in bike lanes). I look forward to seeing what enforcement and education will be instituted locally. Since we bike in the car lane, I just went around and made my right hand turn at the light.

Just after this Game Stop stop we had a pee-mergency. Avery really had to go. The nearest restroom I could find on the ground level, was the bookstore who had a sign on the door saying the restroom was for customers only. I also had the issue of the sleeping toddler. I walked over and parked the bike at the door, walked Avery in, asked (yelled over to) the check out lady if he could use the toilet and a stranger who was standing next to me made sure he made it to the back of the store (he had already ran off). I stood between the doors, watching Oliver on the bike (two steps away) and waiting on Avery. It was one of the “testing your parent strategy” moments.

Bladder relieved, lunch eaten, toddler wakes up.

Plopped the little guy on the deck and walked the bike across the street to meet up with a few Create Huntington members. This was my first lunch meet up. It’s an open invitation to everyone to gather on Wednesday at noon to talk about the direction of the city casually. Since we packed and ate our lunch before arriving (to save money and to please the children with things they like), I spent the entire hour hearing “we don’t need to be here, we could just walk out!” from Avery, who was “bored.” Hence the next stop, a shameful bribe, that didn’t keep him quiet, but made him happier.

The above photo was taken while I was arriving at Third & Ninth. The man on the right bike was smoking, and hauling a trailer with cargo in it. I had seen this bike the day before at a house on Norway sans-trailer, then spotted during yesterday’s pick up with trailer. I am very curious about what his is doing. The lady on the left is typical of downtown riders, who feel safer on the sidewalks and crossing at pedestrian lights, the one place in the county it’s not legal (downtown streets only). Ironically, to get to any bike rack that you find downtown (there are few), you have to go on the sidewalks, else lock up to street lights, also on sidewalks.

Tropical Moon for fro-yo, then Game Stop again, then onward toward home. We encountered the access to the park (where we cut through) blocked by tree cutters and the road around it closed, so we cut through a brick paved alley and discovered this backyard garden.

After slipping up onto the sidewalk we were able to get on the street next to the park and in between the barricades to mosey toward home. It wasn’t necessary, but this route was a bit more level and the roads smoother. I was growing increasingly tired at this point and couldn’t fathom another four miles I would need to go to pick up the other two children.

The End of the Toddler Mama’s Day

Yet, I did it. There were a lot more stops along the way just to rest. I made it up, gathered my things to set up an after school Scrip, SnackTaxi and reusable bag sales table (my new volunteer position, since I don’t have baby L.). We stayed for the end of year Chess Club party. Brent rode up to the school to ride the Yuba home and I took his mtb. I called him and let him know how worn out I was before leaving home and that I would appreciate an extra set of legs. He’s so wonderful.

Most of our ride home is downhill, but we have three decent size assents and one shallow one. I was taking the ups and downs very slow. I didn’t have my camera around my neck, I didn’t take on any cargo. I knew my limits had passed during the previous 11miles. We made it all the way home and I had this moment in my mind’s eye where I could see myself wrecking, and then I did.

At the bottom of our drive way, making that final turn to pull in, the bike slipped from under me and I lunged forward to catch myself. Everyone else was behind me. Brent likes me to set the pace, since I am the slowest. The bike flipped over, with my legs still entangled, and I just laid there. Bike complete upended. The children stunned into a semi-silent awe (you flipped the bike! so cool! are you ok mom? do you have a boo boo?).

It had started raining about a mile from home. As I said, I was going very slow. Brent had put road tires on his bike Sunday, and the roads around our house are broken, gravely and undulating. All of this, combined with my fatigue, resulted in this.

The bruising and swelling doesn’t show up well. My left hand was in so much pain I felt nauseous. I took a nap immediately, with ice under my hand as I slept. I woke up feeling better, but sore. I took inventory of the bruises on my knees and legs and cleaned my wounds. I haven’t stopped dreaming about biking (during my nap and last night), but I haven’t tried holding the handle bars yet. Today my left hand is weeping and I am sad. Sad because I saw it coming. I feel like I let the thought of it happening bring about the actual event. Knowing that it was just an accident.

Miles Walked: .5 Biked: 55.5 Bused: 0 Drove: 0 Carpool: 0 This week
134.6 2124.2 1176.6 3691.8 287.2 Since August 14, 2011

Commencement

Congratulations to all those celebrating years of hard work at Marshall University. Brent left moments ago to do whatever task he must with the graduate students of his department. He chose to dress in his regalia at home, like he does every year. He chose to wear his cap to the ceremony, like he does every year. Only this year, he also chose to ride a bike.

With this morning’s rain, and continued drizzle, he may get wet. He was looking forward to it. We both love cool rainy weather. I just asked him to park my Yuba at the library, where there is a covered rack.

Bike Commute Time-Budgeting

Friday morning London and I rode together on the Yuba to sunrise yoga at Studio 8.  She can get up the first time I ask at 5:30am for yoga, but can’t get up at 6:30, 6:35, 6:45 or 7am any other school morning. These are the laws of nature.

We took a slightly different route this morning. I liked it better. There was less traffic overall, not that there was much last week, and I was able to come off a side street, closer to the studio than the previous route. Taking 9th Street also led me by the YMCA, where I discovered another bike rack for the city mapping project. Just in time for the LAB BFC application due that evening. The 1.5 miles were flat. We allowed for 15minutes, but made it there with a minute or two to spare, and that was stopping to take a photo of the bike rack.


View Larger Map

 

We had a relaxing session with Jenn, the instructor, and our neighbor, who met us there before going to work. We were able to get home before the ride-share pick up for school and didn’t need to remind London once about what needed to be done to make it out the door on time. She is certainly driven by her own desires.

With the two eldest off to school and three little boys being occupied by Brent, who surrendered his morning to me, I took a shower. Then I gathered my things for a walk around Our Lady of Fatima Parish School (Fatima) with Jenn, who beyond instructing yoga, also owns EcoScapes. Jenn has an extensive community service background including launching the community gardens through the Weed and Seed program. She is currently working on installing rain gardens in public locations to divert storm water runoff from the over taxed and dis-repaired sewer system.

I contacted Jenn a couple of weeks ago about looking at Fatima’s property for potential rain gardens. The site looked ideal to me, and Friday morning, Jenn agreed. The property is at a hill top with many steep slopes and a lot of areas where water is settling or eroding away playground mulch and land. There are several sewer grates in the lawn at the bases of hills and located in unusable areas. The children are not able to play at the bottom of a steep pitch and yet the lawns are being mowed and chemically treated. Rain gardens would be financially and ecologically beneficial additions to Fatima, in my opinion.

Jenn will wrap up a report of our observations and put together an action plan in the coming months. We are both confident of the benefits of rain gardens and see this as an excellent opportunity to transform a large area of unusable space into a productive and educational atmosphere. This will be a wonderful addition to many sustainable changes Fatima is undertaking to coincide with its theme this year, to show how much We Care.

For this trip up to the school I grabbed one of Ashley’s bikes she is storing in our garage. It was a Cannondale Quick, small frame. The size of this bike was impeding. It was extremely light and made for a fast trip up the hill, but I had to over extend the saddle and I was still not giving my legs enough distance. The handle bars were too close and somehow I managed to get my pants leg caught in the chain ring, despite the bash guard. Do I sound like I know what I am talking about yet?  Hope I got all those names correct.

Jenn and I also talked about the two challenges she is thinking over when it comes to bike commuting. Her first concern was getting her bike repaired. Not having a working bike would certianly keep anyone from riding. This has  me thinking about hosting a tune-up workshop for a nominal fee and a few hours of time. Not with me of course, but with a shop owner. Might put that on my Bike Month calendar of ideas.

Her second challenge is the time factor. She drives from one meeting to the next all over town, and then needs to fit in activities with her children. She says she is already late and can’t imagine how much further behind she would be if she rode her bike. We talked about budgeting our time. I estimated I allowed 10 minutes a mile for hilly or flat terraine, but when I was starting out I gave myself 20m/m. When I am with the children we budget for 15-20m/m depending on the distance. The further we go, the more rest stops we will need. When I possed this question on twitter, I got similar responses. A couple of moms use google maps estimator and add 10-25% more time. All of those who responded lived in west coast hilly communities (Seattle, San Fransisco). Our little WV hills shouldn’t add too much time, considering the majority of our city is level.

One of the other things I noted was how, in the beginning, it took substantially more time to get our rhythm and routine worked through. We were constantly running back upstairs for a water bottle, snack, forgotten tool, or misplaced garage door opener. We also enjoy the extended time it takes us to travel now. We like smelling the community, seeing the people, hearing the neighborhood. The commute is a pleasant experience. It is Brent’s favorite part of his work day. It is the thing I  miss the most about my day. Bike commuting is a simple meditation.


View Larger Map

Google said this 2mile route to school would take me 13 minutes. It took about 15 with the light bike, going over hills and about 10 minutes, maybe less to get home, mostly downhill. With the children, it takes about 40 minutes to get to school and 30 to get home. We stop a lot because of climbing.

How much time do you budget? Is it worth it to take the bike when it still takes more time than driving?

 

Community Bicycle Commuter Collaboration & Information Meeting Friday

A couple of weeks ago after the Plan 2025 meeting a volunteer with the city asked if there was a group of bicycle commuters in town. I didn’t think there was an organized group due to the specific nature of her request in such a small city. The following Saturday while at fencing, the instructor expressed an interest in returning to bike commuting but had concerns about the route and the driver’s behavior around cyclists in town due to some of the encounters he has had, as well as those reported by Brent. He thought if other cyclists were coming from his neighborhood and going to the university or destinations along the way, they could bike-pool, or group commute. Similar to a walking school bus concept at schools world wide.

From this point Brent and I discussed how often single riders in town seem to be either negating local traffic laws, or being accused of violating the laws by motorist who are unaware. We discussed how there is a lack of advocacy on behalf of the cyclist (or the pedestrian) and there are no online local resources for anyone who desires to bike in our region. There are organized cycling groups and rides, but resources for family, leisure, or commuter bicycling are either difficult to find or not available. I would love to hear from anyone who knows otherwise.

To address this issue Brent is leading a discussion group on Friday January 20, 2012-10AM at Marshall University Memorial Student Center room 2W9. We invite and encourage anyone, from Marshall or Huntington and beyond, who is interested in bicycle community or commuting to attend or send us an email (asimplesix at gmail dot com) with your desire to remain informed of furture efforts. Some of the topics to be addressed include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Identifying cyclists, their routes and destinations to encourage networking and the option of group-commuting
  • Discuss concerns of those who desire to begin bicycle commuting and identify the challenges they face
  • Document challenges and adversities
  • Discuss positive experiences and correlating infrastructure or circumstances
  • Share current resources, routes, advice, and experiences
  • Identify pedestrian and cyclist resources and needs that could be available online, with in the community or addressed by the city

You will not be recruited to advocate beyond the encouragement to ride your bicycle. Brent won’t pressure you to attend city council meetings or write letters to the mayor. He won’t discourage you either, but that is not the focus of this meeting. We simply would like to give you the opportunity to let us know what you need and what is working. Who are you? Where are you going? If you are not currently riding, what would empower you to do so? What can we do for you?

 

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