Tuesday, October 16, 2007

i sing the bicycle trailer

i sing the bicycle trailer

that connects to my bicycle without a hitch (actually it connects with a clever bicycle hitch that is quick to attach and yet secure)

i sing the bicycle trailer

which i hardly even notice is behind me unless i am carrying two big boxes of kitty litter

i sing the bicycle trailer

which allows me to cart big and heavy loads, as long as they fit on the trailer, and as long as they do not weigh more than one hundred pounds.

i sing the bicycle trailer

especially when it makes the neighborhood kids smile and laugh at the bobbing heads of spring flowers on their way to my garden.

i sing the bicycle trailer

because it makes the green lights work for me (the detectors in the street do not recognize my trailer-less bicycle)

oh, i hope that i am like schultze in the movie "schultze gets the blues," who, a retired salt miner in germany, continues to pull behind his bicycle his bicycle trailer, carrying loads of coal, loads of accordion, and sometimes, as all bicycle trailers occasionally must, loads of empty.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A ton

I have never owned a car and never really felt the need to own one. So one thing I have never been able to wrap my mind around is why do so many people feel they need a machine that weighs a ton just to go from one place to another?

We all have legs or wheel chairs which can get us around. If I need to go further and faster than my legs can take me, I ride a bicycle. If I am going someplace that mass transit can take me, and I don't feel like biking, I can ride mass transit. If I need something bigger than I can carry, I can pretty much always get it delivered for a few dollars more.

A couple weeks ago I took the Minnesota Energy Challenge, and answered questions about my lifestyle so that my carbon footprint could be estimated and I could be told some ways to reduce it. The first questions was: How many cars are there in your household? I said zero, which is the truth. Based on that and on the size of my apartment, I was told that my carbon footprint was so much smaller than the average Minnesotans'. There are certainly things I can do to reduce it even more, and I am working on that, but I felt good that mine was already pretty small.

When I heard the MN Energy Challenge auditor talk to other folks, most of what she asked them about were their driving habits. But what I couldn't figure out was why they even had to drive in the first place. Some people say they have to drive because they have to get to their job. But my choice of job and the place I live were based on if I could get to them by foot, bike, transit, or all three. I wouldn't be able to take a job that I could only drive to, so that is nothing that would ever happen to me.

Because if you have a machine that weighs a ton, your whole life revolves around that machine. Where you work, where you buy your groceries, what you do when you are not working. In my case, my world revolves around those other three modes of transportation, which I feel always gives me more options than my car-enslaved friends.

I don't need that ton to get me around. I don't need that ball and chain. What I can't figure out is why so many other people do think they need it, and keep on needing it, despite all the environmental problems this machine causes.

It's easy for me. I'd rather that the polar bears keep their habitat and that Bangladesh and The Maldives don't wash away than that I have a machine that weighs a ton to get me from point A to point B.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Brand on the Brain!

I live in Northeast Minneapolis and do not have a car, so the Parkway Theater seems so far away from me. But with new management, they have been having such great movies there that it I simply must deal with my distance-fever.

Last Tuesday, I was lured down there by a Gene Kelly/Frank Sinatra double feature. It was very rainy, so I put my bike on the #11 bus and took a long nap-filled bus ride nearly all the way there. It was showtime by the time the bus got to 46th and 4th, so I rode as fast as I could the last few blocks. By the time the double feature was over, the rain has stopped, so I had a nice power bike ride home.

Yesterday afternoon it was the new Guy Maddin film that lured me. My intention was to bike all the way down to the theater on Portland Avenue, but there was such a headwind and it was so muggy, that when I saw the rail tracks by the Metrodome I waited for the next Hiawatha line train and took it down to Minnehaha Parkway. Then I had such a lovely ride along the parkway to Chicago Avenue and I even had time to have a coffee before the movie started. After the movie, I had a nice tailwind that got me home in just a little over half an hour.

I get that brand on the brain about distance, and way south Minneapolis seems so far, and St. Paul certainly seems so far, that when I actually do the trip and go there, it all seems like a big to do over nothing. But it also is good to see distances for what they really are - distances. My car-owning friends think nothing about crossing town. Maybe I think too much about it. Maybe the happy medium is somewhere in between, and maybe there is a nice off-street segment of the trip to make it a little less painful, and even awe-inspiring autumn beautiful.

Friday, October 5, 2007

More Critical Mass

Here is a letter to the editor I wrote to the Star Tribune in response to a column by Katherine Kersten.

In her column about the “bike-riding mob” that she says own the street of Minneapolis during Critical Mass rides, Katherine Kersten neglected to mention the car-driving mob that owns the streets for the rest of the month.

I do wonder when the vote was taken to give streets over to cars. All you have to do is look at a pre-1900 photo or painting, or watch a Western movie, for that matter, to see that streets used to be shared by many users. Streets were where people gathered for special events, and where children played. Pedestrians, bicycles and carriages all shared the road without a single mode dominating. At some point, cars took over the streets, and all those shared uses ceased.

The streets are really owned by those who pay for them. I pay taxes that repair streets, clear them of snow, put up signals, and so on, and yet I do not own a car. And my tax dollars do not pay for the infrastructure that I do use: sidewalk repairs are paid through assessments to homeowners, sidewalks are shoveled by individual property owners. This signals a strong bias in local government toward car transportation. Twenty percent of the households in Minneapolis do not own cars. These people are paying local taxes for car infrastructure, and getting very little for their own use.

In the last hundred years, city streets have been re-engineered from community gathering places into veins and arteries in the car transportation system. Traffic signals and signs and road rules are all based on the needs of cars. Pedestrians and bicycle riders are subservient to cars in these spaces.

A Critical Mass bike ride is a success when there are enough bicycle riders that the bikes do, for a short time, become the primary mode of transportation on a street. As the temporarily dominant mode, the bicycles determine the traffic speed and rules, just like cars do the rest of the time. Bicycles certainly do marginalize cars for a few minutes a month during a Critical Mass ride, just like cars marginalize bicycles and pedestrians for the whole rest of the month.

Kersten thinks that the authorities in Minneapolis should clamp down on the rides in order to get them to stop. But when I was in Portland, Oregon earlier this year, a series of articles in the newspaper described how the Critical Mass rides there were dying out. The cause of the demise of the rides was that many bicyclists felt they were no longer necessary. Portland is a national leader in changing traffic laws and re-directing transportation money to even the playing field for bicycles. These days, in Portland, cars are seen as just one piece in the transportation puzzle rather than the dominant mode, and streets are spaces that should be shared by everybody and all kinds of vehicles. And the Critical Mass rides were one of the reasons for this change in thinking and policy.