Sunday, September 15, 2019

Coffeeneuring for the hell of it

So the Coffeeneuring Challenge will soon be up and running.
And this year, I don't think I'm going to sign up for it in any official way.
Partly because it overlaps my High Holy Days schedule enough that I don't want to HAVE to ride on a rainy day if my voice tells me it's better to stay indoors; amd partly because I feel like I've done everything I can do with this and still have fun.
I have enough patches and bandannas to last awhile; and in fact will be passing sme of the extras along to friends because I just don't need them anymore.

But still, coffeeneuring is a perfect excuse to ride your bike somewhere.
So if you want to get a cup of coffee, treat yourself and ride to a cafe. Support the local economy. Move your legs and breathe some outdoor air.

Drink up! And hapy riding!

Saturday, September 7, 2019

seasons turning: a ride through north portland

I woke up too late to make it to shul this morning so I decided instead to enjoy a little bike ride around North Portland before the rain came in the late afternoon.
Stops along the way included Peninsula Park, N. Willamette Boulevard (a couple of scenic stops), and the compass rose viewing area at the south end of University of Portland.

Some pix from the day's ride, which meandered for a couple of hours and stayed deliciously cool and cloudy the whole time.


Sunday, September 1, 2019

It's all in the label: Surly edition

This weekend, an item appeared for sale on eBay, a nice wool cap in lovely purple stripes.

 I think it's attractive.
If I didn't already own one each of a simple knit cap and a wool brimmed cycling cap, I might consider buying it.

Except for one small thing: the price.
The opening bid on this wool cap is $30.
That's right, thirty bucks for a factory-made cap that is pretty but otherwise unexceptional.

Here's where things get interesting.

The hat was advertised not by its material first, but by its brand name, which somehow seemed to make that high opening bid okay.

The hat was sold by Surly Bikes. On the other side it had a small label with its logo on it.
And for a moment, even in MY jaded mind, the price tag wasn't so crazy. Because I, too, have been conditioned to shop for brands. That's especially true when it comes to bicycle-related things.

But I caught myself, and regained my senses. That tiny label on one side is why the seller is charging -- and may well realize -- his asking price. The allure and the "lore" of the Surly brand is so strong that even a simply knit cap can demand a higher price if you stick a "Surly" tag on it. Never mind that it's too bulky to fit under a helmet, or that there's nothing about the style of the cap even remotely related to cycling; that little tag makes all the difference.

I reflected on this paradigm ten years ago with the Rapha brand, marveling at how the application of a carefully-researched and well-branded name could increase the price of a cycling jersey by two to three times its prior value. EVen after Rapha was bought by a Walmart subsidiary in 2013, people still flock to the brand.

So once I realized what tricks were being played on my mind by a combination of my upbringing and the phenomenon of branding in today's capitalist economy, I calmed down, had a chuckle and moved on. Because when I can buy a knit cap for five bucks, why spend thirty? Especially since the only reason for the high price is a stupid little tag that could be easily removed?

To be fair, some heavily-marketed items are worth the higher price in terms of function and quality. That's why I continue to be picky about the jeans and shoes I wear. But in so many cases, perfectly acceptable non-branded versions of some items are a third of the price, work just as well and look just as nice. And while this may not always be the case, especially if the Buy Local crowd has their way (they won't in the end, but I digress), it's true enough for now that if you have three kids to outfit for school, you can do it a lot cheaper and more simply then this.

This is the power of branding. The right combination of style-making, words and tag placement is enough to make us lose our heads and want to buy something that may not really be all that special.

I am working on the habit of examining each and every one of those moments when I'm tempted to lose my head. If I stop and do a seven-second check in, I find I'm less likely to shop in general. On my budget, that's a good thing. But learning how not to lose our heads economically may be good for the whole world, too.

I'm going to enjoy a bicycle ride today, to find my head again. It's Sunday, a perfect day for it.
Happy riding!

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Sunday Parkways follow-up

So a couple days ago I received this email from a fellow I've worked with at Parkways for a number of years. I've chosen to remove his name to protect his privacy.

Hi Beth - Someone in the community sent me your recent blog post on Sunday Parkways.  They were concerned about your message and what I would think about what you wrote.  I wanted to share what I felt about this.

First, you're pretty much spot on.  I know what your role has been as a mobile mechanic, which is distinct and different from the route management crew.  Our team has had to adapt to a growing population interacting with our lovely Parkways Routes.  By getting the events open with the resources we have, I'm quite proud of what we've accomplished over the years.  But, it sure is different than how it was.  I thought your blog was fair and raised good points.  Happy to speak to those if you like, but mainly wanted to say that I support you and this blog.

Second, if this was your last Parkways, I just want to say a genuine Thank you for all your years of service.  You were the reason we kept the Mobile Mechanic position going.  You signed up, rode around and simply made people's days better when you helped them.  We can't do all things forever Beth, so there's nothing but pure gratitude for all that you've give Parkways.  

We've been in the same circles for 15 years, and that's because we both believe that empowering people on bikes is a great life to lead.  If not at Parkways, I'm sure we'll be crossing paths many times again in the future.  

Take care and have a great weekend.

I wrote back to thank him for his efforts and for making me feel welcome each year as a volunteer.
I also indicated that I was going to step aside from volunteering as an official mechanic at future Parkways, for the reasons I'd stated earlier and because it felt like it was time for me to do so.
(I may choose to ride as a Mobile Mechanic, but I won't wear anything connected with Sunday Parkways or PBOT if I do.)

I am grateful for this positive exchange, esecially with someone whose work I really respect.
I hope Parkways will be able to weather Portland's growth, and I really hope the folks at City of Portland will wake the hell up and divert resources to Parkways -- and to meaningful pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure -- because our beautiful badly needs all of the love it can get.

Rubber side down, kids!

Monday, August 26, 2019

Sunday Parkways: acquiescing to reality rather than changing it.

Once again, BikePortland,org has released a lovely report on the "success" of Sunday Parkways.

Oh, how I wish I could embrace this report as the complete story.
Alas, there are other factors at work here.
I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but here goes:

1. This is my twelfth year of volunteering at Sunday Parkways as a Mobile Mechanic. I have hung in there since the beginning. And I have been glad to do it. I haven’t always been needed, but when I was needed, I was there and read to help repair or adjust someone’s bicycle, roller skate or even a wheelchair so folks could get back to enjoying the Parkways experience.

2. In the early years of Parkways, the most complicated or high-speed intersections along each route were managed by Portland Police, with support from professional flaggers. Volunteers were asked to manage residential intersections so that people could get home while the route was open. From the beginning, there was and has ALWAYS been some pushback from local residents trying to get in our out  of their neighborhoods. In the early years it was a rarer occurrence, and usually solved with a smile and a wave as those behind the wheel waited patiently for volunteers to move a barricade or escort them slowly and safely off the route.

3. As Portland grew in size, our roads were filled with more cars and our streets became more built up with retail businesses, condos and high-end apartments. Of course, the streets became more crowded at Parkways. At the same time, this evolution was taking place, PBOT was having increasing difficulty recruiting enough volunteers to help manage the comings and goings along the route. This has been especially prevalent in the last three or four years. At the same time, the City’s budget for Parkways has shrunk, forcing PBOT to beg for money from participants each year, all year long. Finally, a couple years ago the Portland Police Bureau withdrew their on-street presence from parkways, citing budgetary constraints.

The combination of these realities has meant that Parkways hasn’t been able to keep pace with Portland’s growth. In at least two instances, routes have had to be changed or shortened to avoid potential skirmishes with homeless people camping along part of a route where physical assaults and robberies have happened. (This point is being made for folks who wonder why none of the Parkways routes utilize much of the Springwater Corridor or the I-205 bike-ped path anymore.)

4. Over the last four Parkways seasons, this has translated into my personal experience of being yelled at, harassed and even physically threatened by angry car drivers who encountered road closures due to Parkways and were outraged at not being to go where they wanted at that moment. In two cases I had motorists actually DRIVE their cars TOWARDS me in a menacing manner.
One threatened to run me down if I didn’t get out of his way.
The other made a similar threat if I tried to take a picture of his license plate.

I was rattled, and completely unable to enjoy my Parkways experience after each of these incidents.
Still, I kept signing up for shifts as a Mobile Mechanic, continuing to believe in the vision of Sunday Parkways and wanting to do my part to support it. This may have been a mistake on my part.

Yesterday, while I initialed my name on the volunteer roster to check in as a Mobile Mechanic for what would be my last Parkways event of the season, I was handed a bright pink slip of paper. Printed in large letters on one side was the sentence “May I help you?”
I was told by the volunteer coordinator that I needed to acquaint myself with this in case I hadn’t seen the online training.
On the other side were instructions explaining how to help drivers off the closed route and how to diffuse a potentially threatening situation where an angry car driver was concerned.
The instructions state that helping Car drivers get off the route safely, AND to keep parkways participants safe from car-drivers along the route, was Job #1 for EVERY volunteer.
And apparently, this is now the stated policy for every volunteer at Parkways from here on out, regardless of one's assigned shift duties.

At this point, I realized that I was being corralled into becoming, like it or not, another “Mobile Intersection Superhero” and that, in effect, I was being asked to place myself in harm’s way to protect Parkways participants. In short, I was being asked to do the job of Flaggers and Police.

I walked away, sat at a table, and thought carefully about my choices.

I could place myself in harm’s way voluntarily, and accept the changed nature of both Portland AND the event; or I could decide that it was time to stop volunteering. After some discussion with my sister, who was there to ride the route with me for company and conversation,  and after taking a few deep breaths, I took off my mechanic vest and volunteer shirt, put on another ordinary t-shirt, and rode away. With two other mechanics on duty I would not be missed in that role. And because I did not appreciate the way I was being corralled into becoming a volunteer traffic cop, I decided I was done.

If this is the future direction of PBOT’s management of Sunday Parkways, it is highly unlikely that I will sign up to volunteer again.

I can hear what some of my younger, stronger, more daring bicycle community friends might say to me:

— “For crying out loud, grow a spine. Take a self-defense course or something.”
(I’ve taken two. They’ve given me good tools but have not changed my essential personality. I tend to avoid physical conflict rather than embrace it, and I refuse to feel ashamed of that.)

— “You ought to buy a Go-Pro [camera] and mount it on your bike, and use it EVERY time you ride. That’s the world we live in now.”
(WRONG. The world we live in now is placing ALL of the responsibility for bicyclists’ safety on individual cyclists, and taking it completely off legislators, traffic planners and law enforcement. I refuse to play along with this line of reasoning. My taxes help pay for the roads and I expect some of that money to be used to support people who walk and ride bikes, not only people who drive cars.)

— “Everybody has to do their part.”
(Agreed. I’ve been doing my part for twelve years. My part has been changed with inadequate training and support, and I don’t need to buy into what feels just a little bit like bait-and-switch.)

The photos taken of yesterday’s event show shiny, happy people riding their bikes, scooters and roller skates on streets closed to motorized vehicles. But were those roads really and truly closed?
I doubt it.
The final instruction on my pink sheet reads:
— LET THEM WIN - Safer to stop [participants and move them through
— DON’T ARGUE - Once angry, they won’t be happy. Just tell them you’re there to help.”

The only “training” is an online course with Power-point pages and statements made in outline format. There is no meaningful training provided for how a volunteer is supposed to diffuse an angry and potentially threatening situation.

At the bottom of my sheet was a phone number to call to report incidents:
— Drivers who yell and threaten
— Drivers who hit or bypass barricades
— Drivers who drive dangerously
— "Please text short details of incidents to [phone #]"

I don’t see this as a terribly effective way to create real change on the ground, especially when all other signs point towards letting cars and car culture win. In a city designed for cars, is there really any other way to handle all of this? I doubt it. And I just can’t put my health and safety on the line for it anymore.

I don’t think real change is impossible. But we do need to change the way Parkways is managed and executed in order to keep it safe for anyone not behind the wheel of a car. To do that, we need to think bigger, the way Bogota, Colombia did when they created the first Ciclovia:

— Create a budget string for the event. Divert car infrastructure monies into it if necessary.
— Bring back police and more professional flaggers at every event.
— If you need additional Route Monitors, put them in special uniforms, train them properly, authorize them to act on behalf of PBOT, and PAY them to place themselves in harm’s way.
— Statewide — hell, nationwide! — bring bicycle/pedestrian safety into the school curriculum, and make every student pass a bicycle and pedestrian safety course BEFORE they are allowed to study for a driving learner’s permit.
— Raise the learner’s permit age to 17, and raise the driving age to 18. In every state.
-- Reduce and eventually eliminate subsidies for private car ownership and divert those monies into public transit, and increased lift services for seniors.

I recognize that these are pipe dreams.
I recognize that in America we already lost the car-versus-bicycle wars a very long time ago, before I was even born.
But I cannot let go of my vision of rebellion against car culture. Especially when cities try to organize some kind of “safe streets” initiative but end up kowtowing to the automotive and petroleum industries over and over again.
Sunday Parkways still cannot exist without cars and trucks. And that right there says something about how the City of Portland is trying to convince folks to get out their cars, while at the same time refusing to fight the industries that they rely on for the staging of these monthly events.
While my politics are far from perfect, I know that you can't have both ways in equal measure without something beginning to slip.

Sunday Parkways cannot simultaneously serve as a meaningful vision for a car-reduced future AND as a pop-up diversion for those who embrace car culture the other 360 days a year. Based on my experience I would consider it less visionary and more diversionary these days.

I have a vision that one day, cars and trucks will become so expensive to own and operate that perhaps we won’t need a Sunday Parkways anymore.
And yes, I know that’s ridiculous.
I know that, in order for me to survive as part of a modernized human race, my politics cannot be pure;  because I, too, depend on cars and trucks and a landscape that favors them for many of the things I need to survive.
But I still hold to that vision, and I won’t apologize for it.
And in whatever way I can, I will continue to chip away at the car culture, even if in the end it means shortening my own lifespan too.
Ride on, friends.
Ride and stroll and support public transit and take the quieter paths whenever you can.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

goodbye stompy: end of an era

Stompy has a new home tonight.

I'd been trying only halfheartedly trying to sell my singlespeed bike (Stompy, Version 3.0) for months. Meanwhile, I'd taken it out a few times and ridden it -- the longest ride was in April when I rode 68 laps in the Ladd's 500 -- and each time I liked it, but I also sort of didn't.
The bike was light, and nimble, and fun. But it was also a little cramped for me when I compared it to the more relaxed upright position on each of my two other bikes. I had just resigned myself to having to store it for another winter when I got a text tonight asking if it was available.

Half an hour later, I had sold it for the asking price to a younger woman with (presumably healthier, younger knees), who rode away happily after handing me the cash. I watched her ride away, pounding the pedals from a standing position all the way up the hill on 13th. And I knew it was a better bike for her than for me.

Just before she arrived, I took one last photo of the bike, a lovely bike, a fabulous bike that I had ridden both off-road and on pavement since building it up three years ago.

I wasn't ever planning to race again, so why did I build another singlespeed? Maybe because the fantasy, the tiniest hope of an idea of racing, still lurked at the back of my mind. As long as I had that bike the fantasy could stay and hang out awhile longer.

But fantasies can only be sustained for so long before they stop making sense.
So when I got the text tonight, I knew it was time to let the bike, and the fantasy, go.
I'm fine with it. I raced on a singlespeed bike for six seasons of short-track and four seasons of 'cross and people told me I was a badass for doing it, even though I finished last or near last every time. The one time I made a podium it was because there were only three of us in the category; all I had to do was finish, not die, and I'd earn a State medal in womens' singlespeed. I still have that medal and at some point I'll probably let go of it, too. But not yet. It still reminds me I was badass once, and could be again in some other way.
I still have my 'cross jersey, too, a long-sleeved affair that just fit me when I was twenty-five pounds lighter than I am now, and today I can still zip it up but man, it's a tight fit. Do I frame it with the medal and hang it on the wall? Naah. Maybe at some point I'll give it away, but again, not quite yet.

So today was a good day, a day when I could let go of a period in my cycling life and it felt totally okay. Tomorrow I'll go for a ride on a bike that fits me and feels way more appropriate to the rider I am now.

Happy riding.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Parkways tourism: an eye-opening perspective

I went to Sunday Parkways today as a tourist.

I had signed up to be a rolling wrench; then a family scheduling matter preempted my volunteering so I instead joined my sister and other family members for a leisurely ride around a greatly-shortened Outer Northeast loop.

Being a tourist was nice. I didn't have to worry about anything and could just ride at a mellow pace, enjoying the event through the lens of my great-niece and -nephew, ages 9 and 7 respectively. This meant less riding and more fun exploring and playing in the parks along the route, but I didn't mind.

What I did learn, both by observation and from friends who'd volunteered, was that the overall rate of volunteers had sunk to new lows with this year and at this event especially. This was a confirmation of a hunch I'd nurtured over two years, that PBOT was having trouble recruiting volunteers, especially to be Intersection Superheroes -- those who sit at intersections and assist/guide car drivers across the closed streets of the Parkways route. There were noticeably fewer people staffing the intersections, and some of those weren't really doing their jobs. When a driver approaches an intersection s/he must be escorted across the route at a walking speed. Today, I saw over a dozen drivers helping themselves to move barriers and drive along the route to get where they wanted to go, sometimes driving along as far as two or three blocks before turning off the route again.

I'm pretty sure this is not what PBOT had in mind.

I admit that, the first two times, I had half a thought of getting off my bike and helping direct traffic when the volunteers were just sitting there. A closer look revealed that one volunteer was busy tabling for a cause to notice the car was there; and the other volunteer was sitting next to a walker so she clearly would've been challenged to help direct traffic. I let go of my momentary guilt and rode on, enjoying myself for the rest of the ride.

But it confirmed my suspicions that Parkways is really suffering from a lack of funding for professional staffing (flaggers and police, particularly) and a growing inability to recruit volunteers for each event. This route, formerly seven miles, was shortened to just over four -- mostly likely to avoid having to staff more major intersections with professionals now unavailable.

Honestly, I was glad not to have to volunteer today. But I also wonder about the future of Sunday Parkways when the signs are so clear that its organization isn't keep pace with the city's growth, or with the changes that will be needed to keep it viable and safe.

I haven't signed up to volunteer for the remaining two Parkways. I'm busy in August, and the September event is the day after Selichot and a week before Rosh Hashanah.
Plus, I've now volunteered for four shifts at parkways and feel I've done my bit for the season. And I'm not really up for being expected to work as a traffic cop when that's not what I signed up for.

I hope PBOT can get it together, but I worry that what's needed is too far beyond them.