Category Archives: safer Huntington routes

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.

 

 

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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?

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.

The Private Life of a Family Cyclist

Do you love how you pull your bike out of the garage, haul a heavy tot into their seat, get them all buckled in, arrange the helmet, load your bags, throw up the kickstand and sail down the drive, only to realize the neighbors were on their front steps watching, more like a befuddled stare. Then you start clicking through gears trying to find the right one to climb up the hill without seeing the gears at your thumb because the toddler brought along his large stuffed dog. You are weaving up the street as you search and because of all the potholes and broken asphalt, and you are slow, you swerve, a lot. Of course there is a very quiet Prius coming up behind you and you wonder exactly how long they had been watching this scene and decide they don’t look like the type to report you for reckless riding.

After you ascend a couple of hills and you have found your gear changing groove the toddler begins to cry, just as you pass the group of parents waiting on the school bus drop off, some idling in their vehicles, windows down. He’s not feeling well, fever of about 101 and you just woke him up from a nap to make it to the school on time. The whole neighborhood can hear him wailing about you going too fast, yes, he said too fast, as we jiggle our way up those hills. It’s a nice early fall day, so you try to point out the colors on the leaves, but you also notice everyone has their windows open. Great, more cries, more tears, a bit of thrashing around as more cars pass you. They make it look so easy, with their foot on the accelerator purring up and onward. Did they look back in their mirror to see what sort of torture you were inflicting on your son?

You notice they did. Was it really all that crying or was it the sort of cyclist-image you were trying to pull off? Was it the other 26″ bicycle you had stuffed into the side bag? Or the other three helmets and diaper bag strapped opposite the bike? Couldn’t be the helmet you are wearing that everyone always thinks is a “great hat.” Or that one pants leg is rolled over your knee and a camera is slung around your neck. Beet red face, sweat dripping, sloppy pony tail. Naw, you don’t look like a circus on two wheels. That’s how you look when you are returning home with the other three children.

The fourth child is crying about how much she hates that you towed her bicycle up to the school and not her brother’s bike-it’s so unfair. Her baskets are off balance so she dismounts and thinks walking the bike would be easier. A circus-on-wheels-look happens when she throws the bike on the ground, resigning to never bike again and you ask if she knows how to get home because you are leaving with her three brothers, all their gear and trying to stay ahead of the weather. Go ahead and do it with a smile because every teacher and parent is pulling out of the school right now too. The bright orange bike, the fire engine red bags and lime green seat do nothing to let everyone else know you are not a mobile clown unit.

Riding up hills with all that weight and a very concentrated look on your face because you are risking everyone’s life to go up the wrong side of the sidewalk that butts up against a lot of traffic. You love your commute, you love your family and you love your bicycle, but right now you feel like showing up unannounced at city hall and tossing the planning director on your deck and toting him back up this hill and see how good he feels and find out exactly where he might be concerned about cyclist safety. You want to give him an ear-full of the benefits of providing safe routes to schools and better access to cycling and pedestrian routes and discuss traffic calming, while huffing and puffing and maneuvering through the areas where trash bins were left out and cars and trucks take up parking on the sidewalk that is your preferred safe spot for this portion of your ride.

Then you see a little happy. Yes, happy. Two bicycles are rounding the bend toward you, on the street you don’t feel safe to pedal with your children, and one of them has their toddler in a rear seat. They wave profusely at you and your crew and you remember that the life of a cyclist is a private one. No driver could possibly know what is going on on those two little wheels of yours. They haven’t a clue why your contraption looks the way it does or why your children are behaving the way they are. You can’t really see any of the drivers anyway thanks to the sun and constant glare on their front windshield. They try to wave you through at four way stops but you can’t make eye contact to know what’s going on. Those cyclists know, because they are huge part of your private life. They see you and your trials and tribulations. They have had their own. You see them and are encouraged.

**This was a combination of days rolled into one story to illustrate how exposed we are and how some days just compound themselves, but it’s all worth it. There are a lot of people out there that understand us and what we are doing, but sometimes we feel so incredibly isolated and private in our way of life. “Risking my life” is an exaggeration, though there are days when I do feel it is dangerous. Even on those days, I do feel I am making a good choice as explained in this post: Despite the Dangers of Norway.

Bicycle Ridership

Some variation of children and I made it out three times this week on the bicycle. Monday morning we cruised into Ritter Park to meet up with friends, who are interested in family cycling and wanted to test ride our Yuba. Monday evening there was a grocery ride. Wednesday I met up with my Tour de PATH chairperson and we walked the town looking for ride sponsors, passing out our new I Bike PATH bike stickers (from BikeButtons/OrganicHaus), and leaving registration forms.

What I noticed right away were the volume of bicycles and riders every time I went out. I think I was only able to capture 10% of what I saw, and most of the time, because we were both moving, they weren’t great photos. Here are some of the better images.

Four friends began commuting by bicycle this week, as children are being released from school, and morning routines are changing. Two other friends bought bicycles and they are also learning their way to work. We learned there were 10 employees at Huntington Prime who bike commute. Our PATH champion, Bethany, at RTI said she’s been doing everything by bike for over a month now. Another friend had her handlebars reconfigured to attach a front mount seat to ride with her son.  It’s happening Huntington. Thank you all for being out there and trying so hard to gain a new perspective. We believe that more riders is the most simple thing we can do to make riding safer for us all.

Any one notice the theme in the pictures? All these riders were on sidewalks or pedestrian crosswalks and many going against the direction of traffic, making crossing dangerous or difficult. I watched some bike down a sidewalk in one direction, cross in the middle of the street to the opposite side walk, so they could use the pedestrian walkway under the railroad tracks.

Not one bike was at a bike parking space. The other photos were on the trail and inner circle at the park, where their is no auto traffic.

Most people do not feel it is safe to ride on the streets, despite it being illegal to ride on the sidewalks in our downtown area. Despite the bike lane that is being painted and signed on 4th Avenue. Despite the low volume of slow moving cars and traffic lights at nearly every block/intersection. Despite me riding on the street with my two children aboard and my teeny-tiny efforts to encourage people otherwise.

Feelings are important and if there is anything I can do to help people feel safer, please let me know. I would even ride with you and help show you my chosen routes and how I stop and where and why, and we would all go slow. Which is one of the objectives of Cycle Socials. Perhaps it’s time to schedule another.

 

Miles Walked: 3.5 Biked: 59 Bused: 0 Drove: 0 Carpool: 6.8 This week
138.1 2266.5 1176.6 3691.8 294 Since August 14, 2011

 

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