When cycling becomes mainstream, everyone’s safer

November 17, 2017

Part Two of a Response to How Cycling Can Save the World by Peter Walker

The Cultural Trail, Indianapolis

Peter Walker advocates that cities develop facilities for “mass cycling, the sort where, say 20 percent or even 30 percent of all trips . . . are made by bike [which] only happens when cycling becomes mainstream” (xi-xii). He writes with specific places as examples, including London where he lives, works, and rides his bike.

Lower Thames Street in downtown London is an ancient thoroughfare which in the 1960s was widened and made into “the sort of double-lane urban freeway so popular in that era, when the dominance of the car appeared absolute and forever” (viii). After the rebuild, only the most daring bike riders dared use it. Even Walker who had been a bike messenger in earlier years and continued to be “a reasonably confident rider” avoided Lower Thames Road after the rebuild.

Then came the decision to build two Dutch-style “Cycle Superhighways,” one of them on Lower Thames Road. Many Londoners scoffed at the idea, but when these two routes were opened in May 2015, they were deluged with cyclists. Now on these separated lanes, Walker writes, “I regularly wait at traffic lights amid a massed pack of two dozen or more cyclists.” Most of them are ordinary people, “older, younger, slower” than “the speedy young men riding rapid bikes” who used to be the main group of cyclists on the streets.

Although I have never seen a bicycle superhighway, I have no reason to doubt that they work the way that Walker reports. I see a little evidence while looking down from my apartment window and watching people riding the Cultural Trail in downtown Indianapolis. Not a superhighway, it is more like a super-sidewalk running alongside ordinary city streets, yet ordinary people on all kinds of bicycles use it for all kinds of trips—commuting to the office, buying groceries, shopping along Mass Ave, easy-going recreational rides, some with small children on trikes and bikes with training wheels.

Walker has persuaded me that creating networks of good cycle ways like the one on Lower Thames Road (and those in other cities he describes) would bring large numbers of people out on their bikes. I would probably use them, too—when they go to the places I want to go. I fantasize on how much better downtown Indianapolis would be if the Mile Square, with its geometrical grid, diagonal streets, and rich array of business and eating opportunities, would be redesigned in favor of ordinary people walking, riding bikes, and taking the bus.

For cycling to go mainstream, however, major challenges have to be met.

Designing bicycle-friendly streets: Walker writes that the foundational ideal is sustainable safety, which is definitively discussed in a 388-page guidebook written by Dutch traffic engineers. It has five principles. (1) Roads come in three types, high volume through routes, local streets, and connector routes. (2) Street systems should be homogenous, with big differences in size and speed eliminated as much as possible.” (3) Roads should be designed “so that people instantly know what sort they’re traveling on.” (4) “People are fallible. . .and the road environment should be as forgiving as possible.” (5) People should be educated on “how to remain safe” (119).

Even in bike-friendly cities like Portland and Seattle, streets currently fall short of meeting these criteria.

Educating the public: Cyclists certainly need to be educated. One way is with bike safety classes in schools where children and young people learn good cycling skills and traffic-wise patterns. Similar training can be offered in programs (I think of one in Portland) that help low-income adults get bikes for transportation. And most adults would benefit from training in attitude adjustment and learning better skills for cycling.

Of course, drivers need serious re-education to help them overcome what seems to be an instinctive determination to bully their way wherever they drive: jack-rabbit starts and stops, lane crowding, sudden and reckless twists and turns, cell phone and coffee cup distractions, and the unwillingness to give pedestrians common courtesy and rights to cross streets, especially at crosswalks.

Revising public policy: All of this requires significant shifts in public policy: city government, law enforcement, taxing authorities, business organizations, retail merchants. It sounds impossible, but Walker gives examples from places all over the world where it is happening. So maybe it can happen right here—wherever that is—and Walker believes that we’ll all be the better for it.

And so do I.

Even so, we have to save room for the  “Velcro-clad street warriors” of whatever age, whom Walker dismisses disdainfully. More on that next time.

 

 

 

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A new kind of city—for bicycle riders and everyone else

November 13, 2017

Peter Walker’s title, “How Cycling Can Save the World,” catches the eye but overstates his intention. A sentence in the introduction is better: “This book is ultimately about everyday riders, and the astonishing and varied ways in which they can transform the urban environment and way of living for the better.”

The cyclists whom Walker eulogizes are personified by a woman he saw cycling on a London street: “peddling an ancient folding machine at a sedate, regal cadence,” she was “probably in her sixties, wearing red trousers and bright blue visor to shield her eyes from the glare.”

Walker hopes that his book, which is filled with reports of research studies, will encourage an ever-increasing number of people to think of bikes as “nothing more than a convenient, quick, cheap way of getting about, with the unintended bonus being the fact that you can get some exercise in the process.” He imagines a time when 20 to 30% of daily trips will be on two wheels.

How can this save the world? Rather, how can this kind of cycling transform life in the cities of the world, including the United Kingdom and the United States? In four ways, Walker declares.

A healthier world: “Study after study has shown that people who cycle regularly are less prone to obesity, diabetes, strokes, heart disease, and various cancers. Cyclists don’t just get extra life years, they’re more likely to remain mobile and independent into old age” (9). Cycling (instead of driving) as one’s normal way of getting around works because it is “incidental exercise,” something built into the ordinary activities of daily life, rather than add-on actions, like going to the gym, that are shoehorned into a schedule that’s already too full.

A safer world: We have normalized “a complacent, entitled, careless, driving culture, where millions of people who would see themselves as moral, kind, and careful people nonetheless get into a motor vehicle and routinely, unthinkingly, put others’ lives in peril” (39). Walker argues that “creating streets that are more welcoming for cyclists has a wider safety dividend for other road users, particularly pedestrians” (54). Drivers slow down a little, pay more attention to their driving, and are likely to make fewer trips.

A more equal world: Walker argues that “cycling can make societies fairer. It comes down to the fact that the bike is arguably the most equal and democratic form of transport in existence, at least in an urban setting. It is nearly as cheap as walking, and in some ways is arguably more inclusive, not least because. . . a bike can greatly expand your physical and social boundaries” (61). Bicycling offers mobility to people who otherwise are “travel-deprived,” including children, older people, women, and people with disabilities. Cycling is a less expensive way of getting around.

A happier, more prosperous world: Not only does cycling instead of driving improve the environment, but it has economic advantages, too. Walker claims that building better bike infrastructure is being “billed as a new model for competitive cities—that they are these days judged less on busy roads than on people-friendly streets lined with pavement cafes. . . [T]his philosophy aims to bring about a happier, healthier, more human-scale city” (88–9).

Networks of protected bicycle lanes: What has to happen to bring about this dramatic increase in the number of ordinary people who use their bikes for ordinary trips? Walker’s answer is stated in the title of chapter 5, right in the middle of the book: “Build It, and They Will Come.” A hasty reading of the chapter suggests that the key to changing cities is “fully segregated cycleways,” in which cyclists and motorists are completely separated. One example is a new network of these roadways in Seville, Spain, that was completed in 2006. Within a couple of years, the number of trips starting by bicycle increased from 0.5 percent to 6 percent.

Later in the chapter, Walker makes it clear that building protected cycle ways is only part of the strategy for change. “And for all the occasional opaque discussions about curb heights, lane barriers, and traffic light phases, this is about something more fundamental. Bike infrastructure is, at its heart, about a changed vision for the place occupied by human beings in the modern urban world” (112).

In forthcoming blogs, I plan to  continue my discussion of Walker’s book. Coming next: Walker’s recommendations for how to transform cities like Indianapolis where I live. In the third blog of the series I intend to speak on behalf of cyclists (like me) whom Walker disparages—the “Lycra-clad warriors” ready to hold our own in streams of traffic on city streets.

[How Cycling Can Save the World, by Peter Walker (New York: TarcherPerigee, 2017)]


Old man’s bicycle mount

October 20, 2017

The Old Man’s Bicycle Mount

 “I’m having trouble getting on my bike,” I told Bill Davidson when he was delivering the custom bike he had just crafted for me. “I can’t swing my leg over the saddle as easily as I’ve been doing all these years.”

“Do it this way,” Bill responded. “Lay the bike on its side and step over the top tube, placing your foot on the ground in the middle of the frame’s triangle. Bring the bike half way up and step on over the crank to the ground on the other side. Pull the bike upright, engage the pedal with your foot, and you’re ready to go.”

I’ve tried the old man’s mount from time to time and find it clumsy and slow. It embarrasses me to do it when someone’s watching.

Even so, the time has come when I have to swallow my pride. For four three or four years, I’ve been troubled with a sore left leg that seems to be a persistent case of IT band syndrome. My doctor, a cyclist himself (and twenty-five years my junior) gave me the diagnosis and recommended an exercise regime. I used my Silver Sneakers program to join a fitness center and paid a physical trainer to help me. Although the pain pattern changed, the discomfort continued.

Therapeutic massage eased the pain. I signed up for yoga in a studio a neighbor recommended, but the teacher spent more time describing her personal relaxation experiences than in teaching a novice like me how to learn the positions. After a few weeks, I dropped out. I continued stretching the way I had learned to do it during cross country training when I was in high school and added moves that are described as IT band-specific.

The problem has continued. While I’m on the bike, I feel fine, but the next day the pain hits and continues into the night. Although my flank hurts a little, the more serious pain clusters around my knee and where my leg joins the torso. Massaging on a foam roller helps, but the pain doesn’t go away.

There seems to be no choice but to use the old man’s bicycle mount. After three days, I was feeling better—enough to take a forty-four-mile ride, my longest in several weeks. It was a humid, unseasonably hot day. On the bike there were a few twitches of the syndrome. After the ride, a shower and a nap, both legs, my lower back, and shoulders were stiff and sore. I spent a few minutes rolling around, took a pain pill, and dozed again.

Within a couple of hours, the pain was nearly gone and by evening I was moving in an almost normal way. The next morning I was fine, except for a little residual fatigue. Does this mean that the old man’s bicycle mount is the solution to my problem? It’s too early to tell, but I intend to stay with it long enough to improve my technique and give it a chance to work.

At the McDonald’s where I stopped half way through the long ride, I talked with a man about twenty years younger than I. Because of chronic vertigo, he’s given up riding a standard road bike and now rides a performance-oriented three-wheeler. We agreed on one point. Moving into our later decades, whether our sixties as in his case, or the eighties as in mine, the advancing years bring challenges.

Fortunately, cycling is an adaptable sport. Some people start cycling when they have to give up running or tennis. Even cycling, however, makes demands upon our bodies and we have to adapt or quit. For me, learning the Old Man’s Bicycle Mount appears to be the way to go.

Six weeks after making the change, I’m doing better, and it may be that I’m on my way to recovery. It’s probably time to try yoga again, but this time in a studio that has a program for old guys like me. No meditative chants. Hands on coaching for beginners. Emphasis on flexibility and strengthening core muscular strength.

In their book Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100, Roy M. Wallack and Bill Katovsky affirm that old guys like me can keep on riding. If the old man’s bike mount will help me reach that goal, I’m going to keep doing it!


The Fermented Man: Learning to Eat Simple Foods

September 28, 2017

Reviewing The Fermented Man: A Year on the Front Lines of a Food Revolution, by Derek Dellinger (New York: The Overlook Press, 2016)

Derek Dellinger is a homebrewer whose interest in fermented food and drink expanded until he decided to do an experiment, eating and drinking only fermented food and beverage for an entire year. In this book he opens the mysteries of fermenting, delving into the ways that microbes work and why those in properly fermented food and drink are good for us. Dellinger explains the industrialized food industry in the United States, indicating how often it diminishes the quality and variety of the foods that are available to consumers.

The book recounts the author’s experiments in fermenting, some disappointing, others successful, and provides instructions and eleven recipes. Although the book’s subtitle refers to “the front lines of a food revolution,” the author clearly states that he is not urging readers to adopt the fermented way of life he followed for the year.

At the end of his twelve months he went back to a pattern of nutrition that included many of the unfermented foods he had set aside for twelve months. A few moments after midnight of the year his experiment ended he “plowed through a bowl of guacamole perhaps a bit too fast.” When he couldn’t finish the entire bowl he realized that he really wasn’t all that hungry and that his stomach had shrunk during the year. He decided to take it easy to let his stomach get used to the changes. “Some part of me now wanted my caloric intake in small and steady, efficient doses.”

Dellinger quickly realized that some popular and easily obtained foods, in addition to sauerkraut, are fermented, including bread, cheese, yogurt, and salami. Beer, cider, kombucha, and wine can be found most places. To live for a year on this short list of food and drink, however, would be incredibly boring and would be lacking in a full range of nutrition. Dellinger learned to find sources of already prepared fermented food and  prepared many for himself.

For some foods, especially vegetables, fermentation is straight forward: cut up the raw food, pack it tightly in glass jars, cover it with water, and add a little salt to the mix. Screw the lids down, but leave them just loose enough that carbon dioxide released by the microbial process can burp its way out.

Switching to his 100% microbial diet had an immediate and strong effect upon Dellinger’s body. It was relatively easy to maintain a nutritional balance, but getting enough protein took special effort. His health was good, but he was tired more than he liked. He stayed thin, even though he ate a lot of cheese. Especially interesting is the way that this special diet seemed to distance him from the typical American desire for abundance, variety, and satiation.

Dellinger points out that fermentation and fire (however the heat is applied) are two basic processes by which raw foods are transformed in texture, flavor, and nutritional properties. Fermentation and fire destroy harmful microbes and preserve foods.

Several chapters focus upon specific food groups and describe Dellinger’s efforts to learn how they are fermented and how it affects them. Dairy products, especially cheese and cultured butter, receive full attention. Natural processes of microbial transformation and the artificial processes of pasteurization are contrasted.

A chapter entitled “Differences Between White Bread and Cotton Candy” explains why the kind of bread that is widely used in the United States has been so altered in ingredients and manufacturing that its nutritional value is little different from that of cotton candy. Much to be preferred, he writes is bread made with a short list of ingredients—whole grain flour, yeast or sour dough starter, water, and maybe salt. It is mixed, kneaded, allowed to rise, given time to rest, and baked.

It’s the kind of bread my mother baked in a wood fired kitchen stove. I’ve thought about learning how to bake it myself, but for the time being will be content with sour dough multigrain bread made from scratch with basic ingredients that I can buy in a shop a few blocks from where I live.

At book’s end, Dellinger writes that he continues to eat simply and that “the pattern of simple eating may actually be the greatest shift in my long-term diet. . .The less complicated the food, the harder it is to overeat, and to overeat of things you maybe shouldn’t be eating much of at all.”

 

 


Wondering Around God

September 21, 2017

Two questions arise for most self-reflecting people. How did I come to be the person I now am? Have I become my real self yet? Elva Anson’s memoir, Wondering Around God (Fair Oaks, California: Emidra Publishing, 2017), is a thoughtful and candid exploration of her eighty-five years of life in which she seeks to answer these questions.

She describes her childhood and coming of age in small communities in the South San Joaquin Valley near Fresno, California. Because her father was pastor of Assembly of God churches, much of the detail in her life was shaped by religious ideas and practices—intense religious experience and the sense of the immediacy of God and Jesus; conservative, Bible-based doctrinal system; and strict rules about behavior, including a social pattern in which the father is head of the household and very much in control.

Despite a deep love for her family, Anson struggled with this system. She was fully engaged in church and public school activities, often in leadership positions, and sometimes experiencing conflict between competing systems. When she was invited to play cymbals in the school marching band, her father would not consent because his understanding of the Bible would not allow her to wear pants.

This challenge was resolved at one level when the band director decided that all the girls would wear white skirts while marching. At another level, however, the conflict remained. When she was visiting her grandpa’s farm, she was permitted to wear overalls when cleaning out the fox pens, and in the Bible men wore robes that looked like women’s clothing. How did these facts mesh with the rules her father laid down?

Anson’s struggles became more intense during her late teens as she focused attention on who she wanted to be. She knew that she did not want to be a missionary nor did she want to be a minister’s wife. “All of my wondering made thinking of the future confusing and difficult. “What I knew I didn’t want to be made me reluctant to try to find out what God wanted me to be” (p. 75).  Read more Wondering Around God


Liturgies in a Time When Cities Burn

September 6, 2017

Fifty years ago, in August 1967, my family and I moved temporarily to Seattle. Although the political temperature was heating up all around the country, we could not have imagined the terror that would descend upon the nation during the next few months,  a period that was climaxed by the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, riots and burnings in more than a hundred American cities, and the anti-Vietnam War rage in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention.

By design, I spent part of my time that year working as a member of the staff of University Christian Church, presiding at worship, teaching classes, and serving as consultant to church committees. I talked with people and listened to their conversations, trying to sense the mood of congregants in one large metropolitan congregation.

Most of my time, however, was devoted to research and writing. My intention was to read in the fields of anthropology and sociology in order to broaden my understanding of the cultural function of worship and other modes of public ritual. Quickly my attention came into focus on a short list of philosophical writings.

I wanted to understand Ernst Cassirer’s writings on the philosophy of knowledge and Susanne K. Langer’s exposition of the relation of cultural forms to human feeling. These two philosophers drew upon a wide range of scientific data in order to develop their overlapping philosophies of feeling and form. Although neither of them affirmed the Christian gospel, they helped me understand religious faith and liturgical action in ways that have sustained me ever since.

I also took advantage of the year to read more broadly in a wide range of theological and cultural studies, guided in part by articles in Saturday Review which I read faithfully. I jotted down notes and reflections and incorporated some of these ideas into longer essays or presentations that I made in my work at the church and in travels around the country during the year.

During the final weeks of my research leave, I gathered these occasional writings together and edited them into a book that was published in 1969. Its title, Liturgies in a Time When Cities Burn, identifies its central idea. The final paragraph gives a succinct summary of what the book contains.

In this time of violent passage various forms of the racial myth, with their intimations of the miraculous and the mysterious, have arisen to give us hope. The results—injustice, inhumanity, genocide, assassination—reveal the inadequacy of this way out of our deep anxiety.

Impotent, too, is the traditional wisdom enshrined in the liturgies of the church, for Christian worship has been demonized, transmuted from a witness against us to a means of our self-justification.

In order to lead us in creating a new society, in some time yet to come, the Christian liturgy of Word and Sacrament must be revivified, purged of its demonic traits, filled again with the qualities which it is supposed to have.

The table of contents indicates the scope of this relatively short book: Violent Passage; Ritual Becoming High Art; Feeling and Form; Liturgical Style; Guidelines for the Free Tradition; Weekend and Holy Day; How Do We Get There from Here? An Interesting Thought, but Can It Cool the Summer? The book concludes with an appendix of prayers for worship, bibliographic notes, and index.

Despite the fact that this book is grounded in events and research that took place half a century ago, it still seems relevant to church people today. It would be difficult to rewrite the book because it is so intertwined with what I was reading and experiencing in the 1960s. There are places, however, where relatively simple editing could be done that would increase its usefulness for today, and that I may decide to work at this kind of uipdating.

The book is available in a few libraries here and there. Used copies are listed by some book sellers. Let me know what you think about it.

As frontispiece, I used a statement from Philosophical Sketches by Susanne K. Langer. We are living, she wrote in 1964, in a new Middle Ages, “a time of transition from one social order to another. . .We feel ourselves swept along in a violent passage, from a world we cannot salvage to one we cannot see; and most people are afraid.” Half a century later, we seem to be living in that same world.


Wind Farms, Corn Fields, and Churches in Town and Country

August 28, 2017

In late August sixty-four years ago (1953), I made my first trip to the village of Somerset in Wabash County, Indiana. My wife and I were meeting the people with whom we would live for the next three years while I attended seminary in Indianapolis, seventy-five miles to the south.

It has been more than thirty years since I have driven through this broad swath of land in the corn, hogs, and soy beans strong hold of the Hoosier state. There was much to see when my daughter Carolyn and I revisited this community on a recent summer day.

Wind farms: Halfway into our drive, we came upon the first surprise, slowly moving, three-bladed windmills towering over the corn fields. Wind farms belong in western states, I thought, where landscapes are open, often desolate, with nothing to impede the constancy of wind. Now turbines have settled into the rural landscape of the Middle West. Already, I have found out that there is much to learn about the politics, economics, and environmental aspects of this development.

Corn, soybeans, and beautiful buildings: On this trip we drove over about a hundred miles of rural Indiana, much of the distance on state highways, especially IN 13. Although there has been little rain for the past thirty days, everything was green. Corn has reached its full height of twelve feet or more, and lush, green soybeans filled many fields. Houses and farm buildings seemed to be in good repair and many were surrounded by significant spreads of well-tended lawns. Even the berms appeared to be regularly mowed by property owners. I am confident that farming as I experienced it in the 1950s has changed dramatically, and here, too, there is much that I want to learn.

Somerset Church with New Entry

Country churches: The Somerset in which we lived was on low land close to the Mississinewa River, about five miles from the city of Peru. It was the largest settlement in Waltz Township and the township school, with forty-seven students in grades nine through twelve, was across the street from the parsonage. In addition to the Christian Church and Methodist Church in Somerset, five other churches were out in the township.

In the 1960s, a flood control dam was built down river near Peru and a wide strip of land across the center of the township is now part of the reservoir. Somerset was relocated on higher ground near IN 13, and the Christian Church building, which we had erected in 1954 following a fire that had destroyed the old building, was moved to a new site.

In later years, the church dropped its affiliation with the Disciples of Christ and changed its name to Somerset Church of Christ. It looks despondent, and a nearby resident told us that she sees only five or six cars parked nearby on Sunday mornings.

In sharp contrast is the College Corner Brethren Church. Despite its location in open country, far from populated places or state roads, it has flourished through the years. It has preserved the frame building in use when I lived in the township but has added on and in 2002 constructed a large worship space, fellowship hall, and staff offices. Here, too, there is much I want to learn.

County seat religion: Our travels took us through three county seat towns: Noblesville, Tipton, and Wabash. In each community, two sets of public buildings anchor the downtown areas: the county court house (and other governmental facilities), and churches, especially, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Christian.

There was a time when these churches were also the bulwarks of denominational strength: large memberships, generous financial support of denominational life and ministry, and the ability to encourage smaller congregations in outlying communities. As we drove by, the buildings looked as substantial as ever, but on a sunny Friday afternoon in late summer, it was hard to see that anything was happening.

Two decades ago, when I retired and moved away from Indiana, I thought that I understood church life in this part of the world. My recent drive in the country, however, makes it clear that much has changed since I went away and there is much for me to learn.