Mayor Hancock Drops in on The Depot

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Denver Mayor Michael Hancock took some time to check out The Bike Depot, a non-profit bike shop in Park Hill where I work. Mr. Hancock arrived with his entourage and press-corps, took a quick tour of the shop, shook a few hands and was on his way down the block. Although there was no time to ask questions, this surface visit does beg two about the future of biking in Denver. Before I do that I will say that Mayor Hancock has participated in Bike to Work Day the last few years and backed the Denver City Councils focus on pedestrian/Bicycle Safety in their next budget proposal. But let’s get into some important issues:

1. Are there going to be ACTUAL separated bike lanes, especially downtown? The 15th Street Bike Lane was an awesome addition for biking downtown but there are still opportunities for car traffic to creep into the lane. Creating less interface between cars and bicycles is good for everyone. It improves traffic flow, encourages bicycle commuting and cuts down on accidents. It is also a commitment by a city to its cyclists, and when a city does this it instantly gives cyclists credibility and respect from drivers.
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2. Will there be any money put into educating motor vehicle drivers? There are bad bicyclists and there are bad drivers. The difference is that bicyclists aren’t moving a metal box that weighs over a thousand pounds at high speeds. The bottom line is that car drivers need to wake up and realize that if they hit a bicyclist or pedestrian they could scar, maim or kill that individual. If the opposite occurs there might be some scratches on the paint. Or blood. It would be great to see city and state government emphasize this when someone wants to renew their drivers license. Or, maybe create a state-wide ad campaign that is catchy, visible and straightforward about the reality of the situation. Whatever way we can improve the relationship between cars and bicyclists should take priority when city funds are being given to the task. Denver is a mecca for Millennials, and Millennials are driving less and biking more than ever. If drivers aren’t made to take bicycle commuting seriously, no friendly visits from the Mayor will ever make up for a dead or maimed cyclist.
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Here’s what I think of this new map of Denver …

A website called MapUrbane is making graphics that poke well-meaning fun of neighborhoods in Denver, and in other U.S. cities. Which is nifty, except that some folks thought their jokes were a) inaccurate and b) not very funny. But I think this map has problems for different reasons: it doesn’t acknowledge any of the cool things our city is doing to improve public transportation and cycling options.

Take a look:

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Oof, let’s see, some of the things they forgot to mention:

  • Denver has some pretty sweet bike paths running all over the place (like the Cherry Creek Trail and the South Platte River Trail). Stapleton, which MapUrbane calls “Almost Feels like Aurora,” hosts Sand Creek Regional Greenway and Bluff Lake Nature Observatory, where you can be in and of the city on your bike but feel like you’re way out in big sky country.
  • Park Hill, home to one of our favorite community bike centers, City Park, and some pretty fantastic cupcakes, among other delights, is simply labeled “Schools and Churches” and “Just Plain Residential.” If only they knew!
  • Poor old RTD can’t catch a break on this map, either. One neighborhood on here is actually labeled “Ugh, not another RTD commute. Wait, there’s public transportation in Denver?” For a system that recently opened a new light rail station that runs all the way to Golden and is working on a massive project to extend coverage to DIA, that stings.
  • Globeville might smell like dog chow/rodeo (?) sometimes, but it’s also a fantastic place to ride around on a warm summer night.
  • The area labeled “Generic people in Lakewood wearing North Face or Patagonia listening to Jack Johnson in their subarus while driving to a micro-craft beer bar” is not in actually in Lakewood. Lakewood is west of Sheridan Boulevard, which is west of Federal Boulevard. Also, Lakewood may be one of the only Western suburbs of Denver where people don’t really wear North Face or Patagonia and listen to Jack Johnson in their subarus.
  • I’d like to re-label “Western affluent football suburbs that are on their way to boarding” with “Bike route to Golden, cool microbreweries, almost to Red Rocks, Morrison, and pretty fantastic mountain biking.”

The bottom line: If we don’t like their map of Denver, maybe we should make our own. Hey, maybe we will!

Will This Tattoo Turn Me Into a Hipster?

I’ve been contemplating getting a new tattoo. And, as a life long cyclist and advocate for bicycling in general, I’d like the tattoo to have a bike theme. It is at this junction that I stumbled upon this image:
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Now it just so happens that I have a truly awesome cat. When I got him I never even imagined I could like an animal so much. He’s got personality, pazazz and charm. So it started to make more than a little sense that I should get a tattoo of my cat riding a Penny Farthing.

One problem: That tattoo would give me instant Hipster Cred. Now the bicycle in the tattoo would be a Penny Farthing and not a Fixie (the preferred bike of choice of the New Age Urban Bohemian) but I’m not keen on the idea of the label being given to me. The key to the problem is the idea that the tattoo would be perceived as “hipter-ish.” Why? The whole problem with hipsters is that here’s group of people trying to be unique to stay ahead of the cool/fashion/culture curve yet they all end up following trends and looking ironically alike despite carrying an attitude that suggests otherwise. A cat riding a Penny Farthing has the perception that I’m trying to be different when really it’s not that far from a tattoo of a dolphin smoking out of bong:
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One of the components of the hipster culture is the bicycle, Fixie or otherwise. What kind you get, how you choose to use it and any accoutrements you want to add to go with it (cat + Penny Farthing tattoo) remain unique to the individual even if that individual is being affected by the culture they are surrounded by. So, to hell with it, I don’t care what people think of that tattoo, I love it and maybe I’ll get it inked on as a Christmas present to myself. But I will say one last thing: the difference between me and a true hipster is that I know this tattoo will not make me cool or be in and of itself unique. It will just be a permanent image that reminds me of two of my favorite things.

The Bike as a Symbol of Freedom – A short movie review

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The Saudi based movie Wadjda stars a spirited young Saudi girl, Wadjda, whose dream is to one day own a bicycle. The only problem is that she lives in Saudi Arabia where women’s freedoms are severely limited. Frustrated by this and the lack of support from her female role models, she devises a plan to get the money to buy the bike.

This is the first movie both written and directed by a Saudi female and was the Saudis pick as their entry for the Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards even though it was not widely shown in Saudi Arabia. But it’s easy to see why; the story is simple but universal, has a terrific arc and the lead actress plays her part with confidence, humor, grace and stunning maturity. But all that aside, lets focus on the bike.

Almost all kids all over the world would love to own and ride a bike. This is particularly true for Wadjda because in her country culture dictates a woman’s ability to move around freely and, more matter-of-factly, to move herself long distances via bike or car is practically impossible. And so, for Wadjda, who sees herself in her society as more of an “equal” to men, the bicycle is a symbol of gaining that equality.

But, truly and simply, Wadjda wants a bike so she can race her best friend, a neighborhood boy. It looks fun to her. She wants to keep up with the boys. In a very telling scene, Wadjda, after having her best friend temporarily steal her shaw, watches as he joins a group of his bicycle riding male friends who pedal away to their next adventure. There is a longing in that look she gives and it’s an understanding that a bicycle not only can take you places but it can inspire you with an almost endless supply of choices, i.e. the medium is the message, the bicycle is freedom, the bicycle is how Wadjda can empower herself and gain control over her life.

Debate Time! Are electric bikes the solution to city commuting?

Response 1: Yes, they most certainly are!

Electric bikes are on the Internet’s Mind this week — everyone from tech bloggers to the Huffington Post is nerding out about a new-ish prototype from FlyKly, a company that launched a Kickstarter in October for an electric rear wheel which could make it easier and cheaper to Get Places Fast on your bicycle.

The best thing about this invention is that it could democratize cycling in cities like Denver, where commuters travel further distances to get to work than they might in tightly packed megalopoles  like New York and San Francisco.

If the Downtown Denver Partnership’s 2012 Commuter Report is to be trusted, most people living and working in Denver have a 14-mile commute one-way. 28 miles is a long way to bike every day, especially if you’re not a spritely young thing (the same Downtown Denver Partnership report says that people over 30 are significantly less likely to walk or bike to work than their younger counterparts).

Which brings us back to the democratizing idea behind electric bikes. Hopefully this fancy new tool will encourage those commuters who have longer rides to swap out their prohibitively expensive, dangerous, and decidedly silly car for a new-fashioned bicycle with an electric rear wheel.

In doing so, they’ll find that they can go further and be more comfortable on a bike than ever before. And we all love the idea of getting more people on bikes – healthier habits lead to healthier citizens lead to less anomie and more cooperation leads to safer roads lead to more fun for all!!

Response 2: No, they most certainly are not!

Fixing our commuting woes is not as easy as finding a well-marketed electric wheel, idiots. To solve this one, we need look no further than the history of trying to solve social problems through fancy weirdo and/or technocratic solutions that don’t really get to the bottom of the original contradiction at stake.

Like when Brazilian modernists decided to engineer a capital city – Brasilia – in the middle of nowhere – and then it didn’t really turn out how they had planned and also no one really wanted to live there because it was a boring shithole.

The point here, which I’m getting to, is that urban cycling and commuting are plagued by social problems that go beyond the fact that many of us are quite lazy people who don’t want to get all sweaty on our 5-10 mile commute.

Anecdotal testimony from friends and family and acquaintances plus articles I read on the internet demonstrate that a lot of people are actually pretty scared of cycling in American cities. And with good reason.

Writer Daniel Duane confesses in a recent NYTimes opinion article about cycling accidents that “Everybody who knows me knows that I love cycling and that I’m also completely freaked out by it.”

And early last month, Tim Blumenthal, president of PeopleForBikes, posted a somber piece after the death of cyclocross racer Amy Dombroski, who was killed in an Oct. 2013 collision with a truck.

Blumenthal’s analysis was pragmatic: everyone is at fault for the abysmal safety conditions on American roads. Motorists are often dismissive and aggressive toward cyclists, who in turn refuse to follow basic traffic rules designed with everyone’s safety in mind.

America’s problem with bike safety isn’t going to wither away if we get more people on bikes. In fact, since electric bikes can easily bring cyclists to speeds that are harder to achieve on an old-timey non-electric bike (up to 20 mph), they could end up causing more accidents if we don’t change the way we think about commuting.

As John Whitelegg has argued in The Guardian, “Bike use goes up as a result of efforts to make streets safe and connect origins and destinations, and this involves urban design, measures to reduce the speed and volume of traffic and measures to make public transport bike-friendly.”

Let’s take the time to make biking in Denver safe, cooperative, and realistic for the mainstream before we go electric.