New Day

This weekend I learned how to change the inner tube on my bike! This was so small and so big. I am lucky because my hubby took the time to show me once I got everything set up.

Then I cleaned my bike and oiled the chain.Way, way easier than I thought.

Since I think I’m pretty average here, I realized what might happen if our town offered easy to get to classes to teach other simple, basic bike maintenance. Hmmmmm

My beginning inspiration was the video link I posted above called “short video on beginning bike maintenance.” It will stay there until I figure out how to put it in as a link on the side bar. I take my time learning this stuff, there’s always so much to do. Sort of like how I am taking my time learning how to get around on my bike and maintain it as well…

You know, we tried that 10 years ago…

I am , I’ll admit, an optimist when it comes to human beings. Most of the time, that is. I am not an optimist after I read our daily newspaper. I am beginning to think that part of the problem is that I read it at all. We have one pretty good online local news source, otherwise, “nada.”

There are so many ways to get the news. For national news I actually prefer Stephen Colbert or The Daily Show; I am not alone in that. When I want to know what else is going on, what are people with great energy and ideas and enthusiasm are doing I read GRIST. Sometimes I get mad; it’s not like this is about how great everything is. But a lot of what they do is write about the energy, the ideas, organizations of people right now. There are so many people doing so much good.

I have friends who listen to conservative commentators to, “know the enemy.”  I do not believe in that. I am the enemy too. I am as capable of angry, judgmental, self-centered, thoughtless action and words as anyone. But I make the choice to focus on growing in myself those parts that are generous and affirming. Why not?

Which is my point in writing today. As I make my way around this community and through this Safe Routes town committee I hear the occasional, “we did this 10 or 15 or 20 years ago and it didn’t work.” So, what I think? This is a new day. I am amazed at what people all younger than myself, I am 44,  are doing.  Kudos to them.

Last week I heard Van Jones speak at Siena College. What the local news seemed to focus on were his controversial past moments. (Like any of us submitting to such scrutiny would not have past moments that would make us appear stupid or thoughtless or extreme.) Anyways, what he actually said to the hundreds of student gathered what how much faith he has in their generation. The young people born between 1980-2000 are the most ethnically diverse, ecologically knowledgeable and technologically savvy generation we have known.

I am amazed everyday by what I see and learn. Twenty years ago I dropped out of graduate school to become a yoga teacher.  There was nothing hip about it. I didn’t really know why I just knew the trajectory I was on as a grad student in history was not healthy for me. I biked and took the bus to get around town with my young son not knowing a national movement was coalescing at the federal level- finally to fund and encourage this kind of transportation. Ten years ago I tried to introduce the concept of healthy food choices in my public elementary school cafeteria and was met with silence. But many people persevered.

So, even though I am sometimes discouraged at the work necessary to bring a tiny bit of change to a tiny portion of this planet when it comes to encouraging biking, I know I am not alone in this work. I also know, because I don’t want to say it is only the next generation that will do good work, anything I do is built upon the shoulders of many many people before.

But I am not backing down or giving up because “it didn’t work” ten or fifteen or twenty years ago.

On biking and bike racks

The planets and weather finally aligned for me and my bike. I rode my bike  to work Saturday. As I began my bike ride I felt this really strange sensation. It’s like a combination of “freedom” and “is something missing?” Then, it dawned on me, no seatbelt! I was missing that feeling of the constriction of the seatbelt across my chest. As a yoga practitioner it always interests me the ways in which sensations in our body are a kind of memory and memories can exist as sensations in our body. And, how a car ride and the feeling of a seatbelt are a kind of memory in my body. Double freedom in my bike ride from that!

The ride in was wonderful. I travel roads that I do not usually drive, in search of less automotive traffic. (I am, I suppose, very typical for my gender, risk adverse.) My ride is not that long, just over 2 1/2 miles. Most of it is traveling down an ever so slight incline, so the occasionally fierce winds did not bother me.

When I arrived at work it dawned on me that WE HAVE NO BIKE RACKS! I actually can not believe I had not really thought about this before. I have biked in to work and I always bring my bike inside. But today there was a lot going on and I didn’t want it to be in the way. So I attached it to a railing outside and went about my business. As I was I leaving I stood looking at the road I’d soon be on and thought about what a beautiful day it was and how lucky I was to be outside in it.

That sensation goes a long way in limiting the blues I usually feel in the transition from winter to spring.

Thus inspired, I decided to bike to our local co-op.  I had planned to drive to it because of the amount of groceries I needed. But, I decided that since my goal was to bike more and especially to use my bike for around- town commuting purposes, I needed to make the effort. It was heavy, but I have a large pannier and a smaller one and they worked. My fear that I would kick the big pannier off and six 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes would go rolling all over the street was not realized.

But, yet again, in what I can see will be a theme for this spring/summer, the bike rack saga continued. (I know this is an overstatement but if you want to ride and run errands, you need someplace to park your bike) Our co-op has a bike rack in part because a number of years ago I and lots of other people asked about one. I have to give them a lot of credit because they are one of the FEW businesses in our town with a bike rack. However, when I got to the store there were already two bikes parked on it; parked, NOT locked and shopping carts blocked the rest of the rack. I managed to lock my bike to the outside edge and had another realization. You can’t easily lock your bike to this rack because it is pushed up to the wall. You can lock your front wheel if the rack is not blocked by shopping carts or you could take up the entire rack and lock your bike sideways. (A clerk had moved two rows of the carts, before I took my picture.)

While I was there I counted four other people coming and going on bikes. And I was only there 30 minutes total. I talked with one woman who biked up while I was there about the accessibility of the bike rack. She thought it didn’t matter because this is Niskayuna and no one would steal our bikes. Maybe not, although I don’t believe that, but if we’re going to have racks they need to be accessible for their intended purpose. The manager wasn’t around so I am going to ask about  moving them away from the wall later this week (when it stops raining and I get on my bike again.)

Putting one wheel in front of the other…

I took the plunge today and biked to our co-op for a couple of grocery items. My nine- year- old happily accompanied me. It was cold, 34 degrees and windy, really windy. But it was exhilarating too!

Biking it was less then a mile from our house to the co-op. If we had driven it would have been exactly a mile there. But there is an apartment complex and gate to a sidewalk we can get through on bike.

I also got to teach my daughter about biking on roads since at the main intersection to get to the co-op you have to take the lane (is that even the right way to say it?) to go straight and not be in the automobile right turn lane. No space really for bikes. HMMM could I convince the town to put markings there?

Finally…..

My daughter and I made it out to take a nice bike ride around the neighborhood on Saturday. We managed to get out before it snowed AGAIN TODAY..

(I can not believe it’s the first day of spring.) But, I showed my  daughter how to pump up her bike tires. She found this thrilling only when she realized how much faster she could go on tires that had the right amount of air in them.

My daughter loves her bike, it has gears. We bought it at a local bike shop and were able to trade in the one that was too small for her. I don’t love my bike which I bought at the same store. It’s just not that comfortable to ride. Maybe too far a reach? I don’t know. I do know my foot kicks my panniers off which makes me crazy and means I ride with my foot in the middle of the pedal, ridiculous.  It also means I don’t really ride to work with my laptop in my bag either.

Seeking sanity, becoming spacious

I was talking with one of our elected town board members recently about a subject other than biking and what came out of my mouth was a phrase I had used before. It starts, “I am not a radical….” I am not. I have lived a very conventional life.

I am married to a man I love very much. We have two children we are raising together in a suburban home along with two cats and one dog. We eat dinner together almost every night and talk a lot to each other. (Actually, that may be the most radical part of our lives given current culture..) We go to church most Sundays. Okay, I work for a church. In many ways, we practice a lot of things that are upheld as conservative values.

This fall I drove with my son and some friends to attend the “Rally to Restore Sanity” in Washington DC. It was my son’s idea; he’s 15. Jon Stewart’s final words really got to me. (At the rally of course I didn’t really hear them, it was when I returned home and watched parts of it on You Tube.)

Reflecting back, being there in that crowd made up of all kinds of people, and Stewart saying, “we live now in hard times, not end times,” something shifted in me. It made me realize I have to stand up for my own “can we be sane about this” way. I haven’t done that much. Mostly I leave arguing to the extremes and pray that they end up at a middle ground.

So over the following weeks and months, while I walked my dog and fell to thinking about things, I realized, yet again, how crazy and complicated our lives have become. It’s all too much and too easy to feel hopeless when we are tired, overworked, over scheduled, under rested. Lots of people don’t have choices, they are struggling to survive, this is not about that. This is where many of us make choices to watch tv over exercise, eat on the run, drive when we could walk, sign our kids up for every organized activity possible. We can make different decisions, we can make different choices. That’s the sanity we need to restore. And, I hear, though I’m not there yet, that when you slow down, and practice something like meditation, time actually opens up, becomes spacious. I really want to feel that.

Slowing down can give us some space to breathe, consider where we are, and where we want to go. So to me, right here right now, in this suburb where I live, biking and walking to nearby stores and services can go a long ways towards helping restore sanity to our overworked busy lives and maybe, by extension to our world.

Safe Routes and Joyrides

The volunteer work I will do with biking involves serving on a town advisory committee called Safe Routes. It started as part of the Safe Routes to Schools national campaign, but in our town encompasses traveling safely by bicycle or foot the entire town.

I meet with one of the founders of the group and I have my work cut out for me. Jared gave me a huge map of our town with proposed safe routes mapped out already. I love maps! It is a thing of beauty, 2′ X 4′ with green and blues lines drawn for proposed routes.

My plan is to start biking/walking all the routes, see how they fare and see about getting them marked as such. Some involve creating paths through right of ways where cars could not go, but bicyclers or walkers could.

I have a lot to learn about the the language of planning. And I need to call a meeting of the committee and see if I can get more people on board.

Meanwhile… I keep reading and thinking about all of this. (AND PATIENTLY wait for the snow to melt) Right now I am reading Joyride by Mia Burke. Burke was Portland, OR bicycle coordinator from 1993- 1999 and led a time of rapid growth of Portland’s bikeways. While I do not find the book as well-written as Pedaling Revolution it is a great read and the more I read and understand what the possibilities are and why, the better an advocate I can be. And. I believe she will be here in May at Union college!!!

The Pedaling Revolution: on being a spoke on wheel

While I watch the snow fall, the wind blow and the streets ice over yet again, I am taking time to read whatever I can to try and understand why at this moment I have become obsessed with biking again.

Our town has a committee called Safe Routes whose history and information I will write about in a later post. In attempting to re-energize it since a number of people responsible for it have moved, I told one of our town council members that I believe that there are lots of people interested in this. (What remains to be seen is if they will come on board this committee) I am not radical. I am not starting something new. I am more like a spoke on a wheel that’s been turning and is gaining momentum.

I have been thoroughly enjoying Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists are Changing American Cities, by Jeff Mapes. It is an excellent read, really well-written. I am learning a lot.

Like, New York City is pioneering a new kind of street that allows bicyclists to pedal mostly separated from cars and trucks. In 2007 NYC began consulting with Jan Gehl  a legendary planner considered the father of Copenhagen’s livable city movement.c

So while I was happily pedaling away in Tucson in the 1990’s enjoying how good it felt to get around by bike to work and play, a revolution was happening in transportation funding in Washington DC. It was combined efforts of  people who had been biking for a long time and had developed connections and political acumen to bring bicyclists to the political table.

As I read and savor this book I am thinking about how revolutions are not necessarily violent overthrows, as we may think of them.  Revolution comes from revolve, a turning. Like wheels on a bike, this pedaling revolution can grow and create a healthier society by spinning a little more each day.