Sweeping generalizations are always false, Mr. Professional Traffic Engineer

Since I’m not an “invited participant” I can’t respond to comments on a National Journal piece about transportation funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure. I’ll have to say it here, where you are all invited participants who may comment freely whether or not you have a snazzy title and professional head shot.

D.J. Hughes, a professional engineer from Delaware, had this to say in his comment (there’s more, so read the whole thing to be fair. And while you’re there, read the comment from Keith Laughlin, president of the Rails to Trails Conservancy—much more optimistic):

Commuter bike trips are not realistic for people with kids in day care, who have a 10-15+ min drive at 40-50 mph avg speed, or who have to take things such as a laptop and files to/from work.  Bad weather also prevents commuter bike trips even for the most avid bicyclists.  People also cannot accomplish essential tasks such as grocery shopping via bikes.

Really? Bad weather “prevents” trips? “Cannot accomplish” grocery shopping?

While he goes on to say that he goes for recreational rides with his kids in their neighborhood, it seems safe to say he doesn’t have the bike commuting/transportation experience of many people I know.

To take just one example, I live 1.6 miles from Rosauers on 29th Avenue. Much of it is straight uphill so it’s not going to be everyone’s favorite ride. Since Spokane Transit's #45 and #46 run up the hill you could choose that option (did you know that we were the first city in Washington to have bike racks on every bus in the transit system?).

But there’s a bike lane for the majority of the ride and that uphill climb turns into a downhill “wheeeeee!” with my panniers full of bananas, English muffins, apples, and nonfat milk. Oh, and a Lindt orange/dark chocolate bar…. I earned it.

Other easy options: I can stop by the URM Cash and Carry on Hamilton—less than half a mile from the Riverpoint Campus where I work and accessible via the Centennial Trail (some of that infrastructure that could get funding if transportation priorities explicitly included active transportation).

Or there’s the Main Market Co-op on Main—less than half a mile the other direction from work and with a bike rack out front.

Believe me, I can be in and out much more quickly than someone who circles the parking lot for 10 minutes trying to find the spot closest to the door to minimize that exhausting walk.

Another biking bonus: When you bike, as I’ve pointed out before, there’s no time wasted wondering where you parked the car—it’s always in the rack or hitched to a sign post in front of the building.

A 10-minute drive at 40mph, which he considers “unrealistic,” means traveling approximately 6-7 miles-- a ride of around 25-30 minutes at an easy-squeezy pace of 15mph that won’t even have you break a sweat on your way to work. If you chose to ride you’d be getting your recommended 30-60 minutes of activity every day with no gym fees.

I no longer have kids in day care or elementary school but I know people who do (I’m talkin’ to you, John Speare) and I used to haul my little ones in a cart on the back of my bike. We went to the beach, to the store—all kinds of places. I’m not saying it’s easy or feasible for everyone. I’m just saying it’s not impossible the way he makes it sound.

The idea that you can't carry a laptop and some files in a pannier is so laughable I won't even bother to address that point. 

His assumption that we have to be cocooned safely away from a little bit of cold air doesn't make sense when you think about all the people who pay good money to go out into recreational settings like ski resorts and outdoor ice rinks. Why we should be willing to bundle up to have fun but not to get ourselves to work I don't know. (Since I'm not the Wicked Witch of the West I don't melt when I get wet, either.)

Sweeping generalizations? Always false. Think about it. 

And while you're at it, think about the mindset in public policy that created a world in which it seems impossible to someone that you could ride your bike to the grocery store. Change is long overdue, so thanks, Secretary LaHood.

A couple of related posts you may want to check out from cyclelicio.us:
  • Bikes="Economic Castrophe"?
  • Stewart Udall's letter to his grandchildren: "Operating on the assumption that energy would be both cheap and superabundant led my generation to make misjudgments that have come back and now haunt and perplex your generation. We designed cities, buildings, and a national system of transportation that were inefficient and extravagant. Now, the paramount task of your generation will be to correct those mistakes with an efficient infrastructure that respects the limitations of our environment to keep up with damages we are causing."
The official policy from US Dept. of Transportation announced March 15, 2010

    Not Exactly a Recipe for Potato Soup: My Vegetarian Trickery

    potato chowder made by Julia, delicious!Image by Lloyd Budd via Flickr

    My soups are never the same two times running even if I start with the same basic ingredients. I don’t use recipes most of the time. How far astray can you go with vegetables, some kind of grain or legume, and some herbs? Season, taste and adjust.

    That said, Eldest Daughter particularly liked a particular batch of my potato soup so I’ll try to capture a quasi-recipe.

    She did ask me what “all those little white dots” were in the soup, examining it closely.

    That’s where the vegetarian trickery comes in. To make sure we get enough protein, I hide pureed beans in all kinds of things. If you eat a dark soup at my house and it has a luscious stewlike consistency, you can say, “Thank you, pureed black beans.”

    In this case the little white dots were pureed white beans. I've since discovered that Sweet Husband is allergic to those so I now leave them out, making this recipe something of a historical artifact: "Soup the way I used to make it."

    If you really want great ways to use pureed beans, find a copy of a 20-year-old recipe book called The Brilliant Bean, by Sally and Martin Stone. They have wonderful desserts including a killer Chocolate Torte (hiding more of those pureed black beans) and a flourless garbanzo lemon cake that works for the gluten-free.

    One of the challenges in capturing any of my recipes that don’t require finely calibrated proportions of ingredients is that I don’t measure quantities, so amounts below for seasonings are guesstimates on the low end. You can always add more to oomph up the flavor quotient.

    Start sautéing over medium heat in large soup pot on stove while you work on chopping up the rest of the ingredients:
    • 1 large onion (or 2, if you’re just crazy about onions), diced
    • (This step can also involve leeks, if you have some on hand; clean well, slice white part and some of the tender green)
    • 1-2 T. olive oil (just enough to coat the bottom of the pot)
    When onions have softened and start to brown around the edges a bit, add:
    • 3-5 cloves garlic (more if small), crushed or finely chopped
    • 1 t. basil
    • 1 t. dill weed
    • ½ t. thyme
    • ½ t. rosemary (grind, pound in pestle, or do something to reduce the big twigs to smaller bits if your family doesn’t like the sensation of eating an evergreen)
    • ½ t. pepper (white, if you have it--cuts down on black specks in a white soup)
    • ½ t. turmeric (optional; adds a nice rich buttery color)
    • 1 bay leaf
    (I like adding some of the herbs at this point so the flavors are brought out by direct application of heat)

    Chop and add:
    • 8 or so potatoes, cubed (I don’t peel them because I want the fiber and vitamins, but you can; use Idaho russets, red potatoes, Yukon gold, or whatever you have on hand, although those purple ones might make it look a little weird)
    • 2-3 stalks celery
    Let these ingredients cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently so the potatoes don’t stick to the pan. Meanwhile, puree in a blender in two batches:
    • 2 cans fat-free evaporated milk
    • 2 cans white beans (Great Northern)
    • Optional blender item: ½-1 c. cottage cheese or cream cheese; adds some creaminess to the finished product. You can use light cream cheese, but the nonfat stuff just won’t blend in, so don’t go there.
    Rinse all the cans out with a little water and throw that in the blender too.

    Add the bean/milk puree to the pot and stir. If you’d like more liquid, add more milk (regular or evaporated), vegetable broth, or water. My parents grew up during the Depression, so I rinse the blender with some water and throw that in, so as not to waste a single bit.

    Let the soup simmer over low heat for 60 minutes, stirring very frequently unless you want that milk crusty ickiness on the bottom of the pan.

    At some point, if you have parmesan or feta cheese on hand and want to throw in a little, that adds a nice touch of flavor and a lot of fat. Or you can save it to sprinkle just a tablespoon on top.

    Optional ingredients to add toward the end if you like them: Microwave a cup of frozen corn. You could also add peas or mixed vegetables, but it gets further away from being chowdery. Diced red or green bell pepper adds nice color.

    Toward the end, add 1 t. salt. Taste and adjust the seasonings. I found myself adding some garlic powder and more pepper, including a dash of cayenne because we like things pretty peppery. If you don't want the little black flecks, getcherself some white pepper; then you'll just have little grey flecks.

    Serve with grated cheddar or parmesan cheese on top, diced green onions or chopped chives or parsley if you have them. Enjoy!

    Bike blogging in other spaces: More posts on Cycling Spokane

    As I've mentioned before, BiketoWork Barb is the name of the blog, but cyling is not the only thing I write about here. Most of my actual bike-related blogging is over on Cycling Spokane. A round-up of my last few posts there:

    Hassle factor: Bike days vs. car days

    I'm pretty much a 100% bike commuter till it's too slippery-scary in winter, then I switch to Spokane Transit. I didn’t get here overnight—the transition took place over a couple of years or so.

    I regularly talk to people who sound incredulous that I manage all the “hassles” of bike commuting. Hassles are what you make them. When I drove most of the time and commuted occasionally, the change back and forth between systems of organizing and carrying things created hassles. Being 100% bike eliminates barriers to biking and raises barriers to driving.

    Sidebar first: If you have small kids and you’re hauling them from school to Scouts to ballet, my sympathies and you can skip the rest of the post. 

    I’ll put in one plug for raising free-range kids with less complicated schedules, suggest that you bike to school with them a few times so they know the way and get them a bus pass, and leave you to your duties as Mom or Dad Taxi Driver.

    My kids (19 and nearly 16 as of this writing) no longer need my assistance to get to school—and I put them on the city bus a long time ago for all those trips you “have” to drive them for, such as trips to the mall to hang out with friends.

    Bike Day

    • Fill panniers with my stuff (clothing changes if I’m not biking in work clothes, lunch, phone etc.).
    • Bike to work (2.5 miles/approximately 9 minutes, mostly downhill with some traffic sprints).
    • Lock bike to rack, remove panniers, go into office.
    • If it’s cold or wet: Remove outerwear, change into work shoes (or change all clothing if I really dressed from the skin out for the cold—that’s a judgment call because 2.5 miles isn’t long enough to really warm up or freeze).
    Total elapsed time approx 15 minutes (slightly longer if I take the bike into our indoor sheltered bike parking due to weather conditions, because I have to get through the locked door and put the bike on a wall rack; add five minutes if I do a full clothing change)

    Car Day
    • Round up personal items and find purse to put them into, because usually I leave some things in my pannier ready to go. Oh, wait—first spend time figuring out which purse, because a fashion choice introduces color considerations not in play with panniers. They’re black.
    • Remember that I need a parking pass for the day. If I don’t have one on hand, I’ll have to factor in time to go to the campus parking office to purchase one. Add 10 minutes to hunt for the pass, another 10 if I didn’t find one.
    • Drive to work. This may include extra wait time because I don't have a dedicated lane that lets me bypass left-turning vehicles. On my bike I can keep going past because my route has a bike lane for most of its length.
    • Park somewhere in the lot, which involves circling to find a spot. If the lot is full I will have a longer walk.
    • Walk to building (guaranteed to be a longer walk than bike rack, since that's right next to the building entrance).
    • Remove outerwear if it’s cold (might include a footwear change).

    Total elapsed time: 20 minutes, plus up to another 20 to address the parking permit question. (I no longer purchase a year-round parking pass because I don't need one. This saves me $288.06 per year at current prices. Cha-ching.)

    Bike Day: Additional effort to go to meetings in downtown core
    • Hang pannier on bike with my stuff for meeting.
    • Use binder clip or rubber band to contain right pant leg so it won’t catch in the chain.
    • Ride to meeting 1/2 mile away (my pedals are clip-in one side, regular on the other, so I don't have to change shoes).
    • Lock bike to rack or sign pole in front of destination.
    • Arrive at meeting.

    Total elapsed time: Approximately seven minutes.

    Car Day: Additional effort to go to meetings in downtown core
    • Remember where I parked my car in the lot.
    • Walk to car.
    • Drive to meeting 1/2 mile away.
    • Circle until I find a parking spot—and Spokane has lots of one-way streets in the downtown core, so a typical circle can be eight blocks.
    • Realize I don't usually carry parking meter change because I don't need it on my bike.
    • Sprint into meeting destination, beg change from others in the meeting, sprint back to car.
    • Plug meter.
    • Walk at brisk pace back to meeting—avoiding sprint because I now need to cool down—yes, it's possible to get sweatier using a car than using a bike.

    Total elapsed time: Completely variable depending on location of parking spot and availability of spare change (which I admittedly do try to carry in the car, but I use it so seldom there's no guarantee). ALWAYS, always longer than 7 minutes.

    Additional variable cost: $15 parking ticket.

    Hassles? I'll take my bike, thank you very much.

    I didn’t even mention that the price of a gallon of gas currently comes in at about the price of a latte. I’d rather be fueled by caffeine than by fossil fuel, and I like my "calories per mile" equation.

    Oh, and my transit alternative? There's a stop on the road that goes past my building, and the central transit plaza is in the heart of downtown, right across the street from one of my main destinations for meetings. Seven minutes start to finish—same as the bike and no parking ticket.

    This post inspired by Design Impact blog post in which someone else did a similar comparison.

    To race, or not to race: That is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…

    Or, put another way, whether ‘tis better for your butt to suffer the pains and agonies of a bike saddle that so outrageously isn’t your BFF that it creates actual wounds, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, leg aches and charley horses from your hamstrings down to your toes, and by opposing—or quitting—end them?

    This may all be the Fit Chick’s fault. Or possibly mine—I’ll get there. She wrote a really nice blog post called Balancing Act on her Bicycling Magazine blog. It may be relevant that it took me three weeks to work far enough down in my email to read the bicycling.com email that led me to her post (which then inspired my post about the taste of happiness).

    At any rate, I read it—about how she has lots of dust bunnies and a cruddy-looking kitchen but that’s okay because she and her husband prioritize riding higher than cleaning (and they have a cleaning service come in twice a month)—along with all the thoughtful comments. Then I came back to it the other day with a different perspective.

    If the problem is deciding how to spend your time, I'm wrestling with it but from about 180 degrees away from her allocation approach: Do I quit training before even getting started in racing because I don't have the time to do what it takes to be competitive?

    I'm a 47-year-old mother of teenage daughters; I work full-time; I chair or serve on several volunteer boards/committees that are important to me (including our local Bike to Work Week effort which peaks in May--and there's no taper involved in THAT effort....); I'm married to the love of my life and he trains heavily for racing (at a much higher level than I'll ever hit); Sweetie’s two kids are with us on odd-numbered weekends and he has to work Saturdays. These all represent time commitments and constraints.

    I started training over the winter thinking I'd like to ride at a higher level and see what I could do in a race. My starting point was as a regular year-round commuter who does longer weekend rides of 30-40 miles with no trouble. I’ve stretched to the occasional longer ride of 60-90 on some of the region’s many outstanding bike rides like Tour des Lacs and Eight Lakes Leg Aches. Note—these are not timed and slowing down does not represent failure.

    Since last October I've been putting in 8-10 hours most weeks getting in endurance miles, doing intervals with a power meter, being pretty systematic thanks to my racing sweetie, and getting stronger—but apparently not strong enough.

    After a punishing 3-1/2 hour ride last Sunday checking out a race course that I'm clearly not ready for, I'm questioning all the use of that time that could have been spent hanging out with my teenagers (who will leave home all too soon) or just having a few minutes of down time between work, meetings, cooking dinner, and trying to spend a minute or two with my sweetheart. I gave up a yoga practice I was committed to in order to make bike time. (And the cat hair coating our crimson sofa could probably take on Fit Chick’s dog-hair dust bunnies in a fair fight.)

    So now—shall I rather bear those ills I have than fly to others that I know not of?

    Do I reclaim that time and get my life back to a different kind of balance?

    Step up the training to try to be competitive, although I don't need racing to have a complete and satisfying life?

    Keep up the training at the level I can make time for, race, and accept that it's going to hurt like hell sometimes and I'll probably finish last every time?

    No matter what, I get a new bike saddle. My bike saddle—aye, there’s the rub.

    I was so tired coming home from that ride that I fell asleep in the car. And by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wish'd.

    Not that I want to die, mind you—this Hamlet thing can be carried only so far. But there definitely are a thousand natural shocks along 54 miles of chip-seal county road. My flesh was heir to every last one of them after that ride.
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    What to do, what to do…. The native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought.

    BUT.... today I went for a ride closer to 60 miles with the good folk of the Baddlands Cycling Club. I had a different saddle (courtesy of my sweetie and North Division Bike Shop where he works, I'm trying out a couple). The course wasn't so damn hilly. I managed a faster overall pace, albeit with a few stops when the group regrouped to let slower riders (AKA moi) catch up.

    It wasn't so bad, and the pale cast of thought got sunnier. I'm signed up for a race, and hoping for a better outcome than that of good ol' Hamlet.