Category: Musings

Unpaving roads

I’ve previously joked that disintegrating roads contribute to the popularity of adventure bikes. Governments can’t afford to maintain our public roads, resulting in challenging rock gardens for cyclists and recurring front-end repair bills for the motoring public.

On this 100th Anniversary of the first Federal funding law for public roads, WIRED Magazine looks at the state capital of Vermont, which unpaved the half-mile long portion of Bliss Road in 2009 for roughly 20% of the cost of repaving this deteriorating road.

Montpelier VT Satellite View

Bliss Road is highlighted at the far right of this map, while the town proper is located at the far left. The five large-lot homes located within city limits on Bliss Road contribute about $20,000 in property taxes to the city budget each year. Although a homeowner trying to sell his home was apparently the impetus for the unpaving project, Bliss Road serves more than these residents living on the edge of town. People traveling from other nearby cities such as East Montpelier use Bliss (and nearby Murray Road) as cut-throughs to bypass heavy traffic on Towne Hill Road. Students also use Bliss Road to travel to and from the regional U32 Middle & High School. Still, it illustrates the subsidy required for those who choose to live on the outskirts of town.

Unpaving projects are suitable for low-traffic roads on flat terrain. I live and bike in Santa Cruz County, which has many low-traffic roads, but they’re in mountainous terrain. The result can be teeth-chattering descents on broken pavement. We also have numerous “slipouts” — places where a portion of road “slipped out” and slid down the side of the mountain after a heavy rainstorm. The county can’t afford to repair this damage, so they put up a “one lane road” sign as a temporary fix. It’s … interesting to see a 20 foot chunk of asphalt several yards below as you cycle along the edge of the abyss. You can see an incomplete list of these slipouts under the “On-Going Traffic Advisory” section at the Santa Cruz County Public Works Road Closure web page.

H/T to Carson Blume, who also makes the observation about gravel bikes and bad roads.

Kalamazoo: My reaction, press reaction, your reaction

Last night’s tragic news of a five people killed by a maniac behind the wheels of a Chevy pickup truck on a rural road north of Kalamazoo, Michigan continues to dominate social media. County attorney Jeff Getting and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder expressed their condolences and promised to fully investigate and prosecute the 50-year-old man who allegedly ran down the group.

For those who haven’t hard yet, police across three different counties began receiving calls about a reckless driver. Shortly after 6:30 P.M., this driver caught up to a group bike ride on the 5500 block of Westnedge Road north of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Media reports indicate the Chevy truck “looked like it hit a brick wall.” Police caught the alleged driver fleeing on foot. Five of the cyclists perished by the time medical help arrived, and another four remain hospitalized with serious to critical injuries.

Media response has been sympathetic to the cyclists, as have statements from local and state officials. Media and police all report the cyclists were riding uphill in the shoulder of a straight, rural road, and that the unnamed Chevy driver slammed into them at high speed in the shoulder.

Both the media and local officials have made parallels with last February’s shootings during which Uber driver Jason Dalton allegedly shot and killed six people and injured another two. Dalton claims the Devil manifested himself through the Uber app and forced Dalton to commit the murders.

Media, for the most part, have avoided calling this an “accident.” One notable exception was the Atlantic, which is ordinarily pretty good about such things. The Atlantic later changed their headline after several people called them out on this language.

I’d also hope that a “director of road safety” for a large cycling club would be aware of the national discussion regarding “accidents” and traffic safety, but I know from personal experience that one doesn’t always think and speak clearly when ambushed by media immediately after a tragedy like this.

safety is no accident

The reader comments following these news media reports seem more sympathetic than usual, though, naturally, the dregs of humanity feel compelled to contribute their sociopathic stupidity about licensing cyclists and worse. I was a little discouraged to see victim-blaming coming from one of our own, however, in a story that mostly did a decent job fitting this crash into a wider narrative about cyclist safety.

Bob Strader - cyclist safety Kalamazoo

He appears to put the onus of safety on the more vulnerable road user even as he tries to make some sense of this tragedy. After discussion with others, I’ve reconsidered my opinion of Strader’s comments. I’ve made similar comments about my personal preferences on local roads after reports of crashes and close calls, while maintaining that cyclists have full rights to use these public roads.

The 5500 block of North Westnedge Avenue looks like this:

5500 North Westnedge Avenue

There is absolutely no excuse for that Chevy truck driver not to have seen a large group of people on bikes, regardless of their position or even their choice to use this road.

About two dozen people lose their lives each year while riding a bicycle in Michigan. I imagine those closest to the scene of this mass casualty are in a state of shock. My sincere condolences to them, with hopes for real change in all our attitudes about road safety. Sorry for the sloppiness of my stream-of-consciousness narrative, but this it’s always difficult to get a handle on incidents like this.

Re-thinking the commute for bike promotion

Happy World Bike Day, USA Bike Month, and (for much of Northern California) Bike Week. Bike to Work Day in the Bay Area and the Monterey Bay region takes place this Thursday.

I love the bike celebrations associated with these events designed to encourage the bike-to-work trip, but is it possible that we focus too much on the work trip to the exclusion of other trips that can be done by bike?