I’ve been writing this blog for eight years! More than eight hundred posts! In those eight years, those 800 posts, until recently I’d received only one negative comment. I can’t remember where it is, or what it said, but it’s there. Not sure how to search for it. No matter. It didn’t bother me. I sometimes think I am doing pretty well for the internet, but it probably has as much to do with low readership as it does with my being “on market.”
But my previous post got two less than supportive comments. They’ve stuck with me. It’s a rare occurrence and I’m thin skinned. I care about what others think and I take criticism seriously.
So two comments. The first was mean and the second was polite but not what I needed after the mean comment. Time to learn from them. Let’s go!
Not sure I can learn much from the first comment. The punch line of the first was that I am down on Albany. That hurt. I’ve lived here ten years and I am a tireless booster of our fair city. As a kid I thought negativity was cool. That it was evidence of intelligence. But then I learned from a friend that it is just as cool to be positive (and it sometimes takes as much brainpower to find the good). Ever since, I’ve tried hard to be positive. For instance, check out my Yelp reviews! Can’t get more positive. I’ve been to bummer places, but I simply pass on reviewing them. I just review the good ones. The bad ones? They are businesses run by people who’ve poured their hearts and wallets into bringing good things to Albany. Didn’t click with me, but I’m not going to erect a road block in their path to success. Readers should also be able to find a lot of Albany boosterism on this blog. Even the post that garnered the bummer comment started with a report of an excellent country loop I’ve enjoyed four times in the last week. I tweet and instagram nice things too. This guy just doesn’t know me.
And sometimes a little tough love is in order. I have a few things I can’t ignore. I am critical of close passes and street sensors that don’t see bikes. Now I also want us to think carefully about our newest bike facilities. How should pedalers interact with them? There are surely other things I’ve blogged about where rainbows weren’t shooting out of my keyboard, but I’d have to read all my posts to remember. Oh. Sometimes I point out that restaurants don’t offer vegan chow. Sorry! I have my issues!
But none of these are meant to be digs on Albany and none are things that should bother thick-skinned New Yorkers. If I thought my posts would make people sad, I wouldn’t write them! They are just things I’ve thought a lot about and hope I have something unique to say. Someone may read a post and as a result ride more safely and live to tell about it. Perhaps a restaurant will offer more vegan chow and then I can go there. But that’s about it. Otherwise, rainbows.
Why can’t I let go of close passes and less than perfect street architecture? It might help to know a little more about me.
I’m a lawyer who wished he’d been a forest ranger, bicycle mechanic or an architect. If I’d known it was a thing, I might have also wanted to be a city planner. But I am a lawyer, so I am pretty good at reading statutes.
I also enjoy precision and safety. My favorite classes in junior high were World of Construction and Architectural Drafting. Precision stuff. At my childhood home I built things out of wood in a swell shed my parents had built for me. It had a cement foundation and a window for ventilation. I loved that shed. I wanted to live in it (I was Bubbles before Trailer Park Boys existed). In that shed, I built tables, chairs and a workbench. Loved measuring twice, cutting once. I also wrenched on bicycles in there. Even slept in it on occasion. Almost as good as sleeping in a tent.
Not sure where the safety thing originated. Maybe because I had aunts and uncles in California who fought forest fires. Maybe Mr. Dover from World of Construction helped, too. Can you imagine being responsible for a room full of kids with power tools? Takes a stern fellow and that he was. I could also owe thanks to my neighbor’s dad who was a carpenter and a volunteer fire fighter. Anyway, one Christmas I asked for a super deluxe first aid kit for back packing. I still have it. The day I got it, I showed it to to my neighbor and sort of friend and he laughed at me. I guess most kids aren’t into first aid. He wasn’t, anyway. It hurt, but I was undeterred. I’d surely have the last laugh when I could patch myself up (but thankfully I’ve never needed a thing from it). Be prepared! But better to not crash in the first place!
Safety and bicycles go together, sure enough. After way too many years atop Big Wheels, I learned how to pedal a bicycle. No looking back! First bike was a Schwinn Bantam with a bolt on top tube to make it clear I was a boy. Then an Ashtabula BMX. Heavy steel thing. Made payments with paper route money on a Redline Proline with Araya rims, Bullseye hubs and a Tuff Neck stem. I’d pedal all over the neighborhood and go to backwoods BMX trails to try to jump. It was a race worthy machine but I never raced. Didn’t want to. I’ve never been competitive.
I graduated to a ten-speed and pedaled all over town. In the summer, I’d wait until middle of the night cool made it pleasant to pedal downtown and pedal laps around the one ways. Not a soul on the streets but me. I was never happier.
College came and I commuted by bicycle. Two years in Lincoln and two in Evanston. Studded snow tires on a Cannondale mountain bike. Durning law school in New York, I’d pedal a Faggin to Central Park and take a few laps. As a young lawyer in Omaha I’d ride a Bridgestone XO-1 on rail trails outside of Omaha.
Motorbikes got under my skin for a spell. Ended up with three, two of which had carburetors so they needed to be used regularly. Biking took a back seat. I gained a bit of weight. Uh oh, but damned it was fun.
Then 9/11. It was immediately clear that was about oil, so I walked to work the next day and every day thereafter for a couple of years. It took 45 minutes each way. I loved it. But eventually I remembered bikes. The 45 minute walking commute could be completed in under 15 minutes. Yea bikes! Good to have you back in my life! But now I was on the mean streets of Omaha. They weren’t used to seeing pedalers in town.
My focus on safety kept me alive all those years on two wheels. My early thoughts on bike safety were simple. I knew no one saw me so I took it upon myself to ride in a way so that people couldn’t hit me. It was all on me. Same with motorbikes, but I also took motorcycle safety classes a couple of times and read a bunch on the internet. My views became more nuanced.
Despite all that, I’ve been hit once on a bicycle (left hook, Albany, NY) and once on a motorcycle (right hook, Columbus, NE). Wakes a person up. And my sister was killed when her truck collided with a semi a couple of years back (Lancaster, CA). Also wakes a person up. I don’t leave the house without thinking about what I need to do to make sure I come home to my wife and dog. Not once.
No more motorbiking for me at the moment. It isn’t about risk. I feel more vulnerable on a bicycle. It’s just the environment and my waistline that keep me pedaling. To eliminate the temptation, I sold two motorbikes before I moved here and the last one a year or so after we arrived. All bicycles now (but I’ll never stop dreaming about getting another motorbike).
Early on in my time in Albany, I took a biking in traffic class from Claire Nolan (League of American Bicyclists certified instructor). I had previously read about vehicular cycling on John Forester’s site and was happy to have the League class support everything I liked about John’s approach to riding. In a nutshell, ride a bike like you drive a car. Sometimes you need to “take the lane” and then give it back. It’s more complicated, but suffice it say it works well for me. If you haven’t, you should take a League certified bicycle safety class. Never too old to learn! I should take a refresher.
So here’s this blog. The one with bummer comments. I wanted this blog to be about biking, but often I just write about cooking, gardening and my dog. I still bike most every day, but mostly just to get groceries or to get to the community garden or a movie. Short rides of low intensity. Not much to write about, then, but I still want to write about bikes. I sometimes I write about repair, but truth be told I have 30 bikes all of which are perfectly sorted, so there isn’t much material there. It’s hard to wear out a bike, or even a tire, when I rotate among so many bikes and typically pedal only 20 miles a week. I’m also ridiculously easy on my gear. I have big respect for machines (bikes, motorbikes, cars, blenders, typewriters), the resources it takes to make them and the people who dedicate their lives to making them appear. Respect.
But to get back to it. I pedal in the city. So hardly a day goes by without some close call. I am a lawyer who loves precision and safety. I think my safety is my responsibility. So something happens on the road and I think about what I can do to avoid similar circumstances in the future. I read laws, accident reports, traffic studies, engineering papers, I measure stuff, I draw diagrams and then I advocate for change. I write about it here, I contact officials, I attend public meetings. I tried being a part of the Albany Bicycle Coalition (joined the first month after I arrived), but it didn’t work They are awesome, but I am not a team player. Only child. I work alone.
So this blog sits here, parading as a bicycle blog, and the only biking material that gets me excited of late involves bicycle safety. Seems it can be a bummer for some, but I am wired to worry and then do something about it. So this blog is at times heavy. I sometimes find faults with things others think are awesome. Please forgive me.
What should I do? I thought about not writing about safety, but that doesn’t feel right. Just yesterday I remarked to a guy at the library that it was hot, and all we can do is walk slowly. He looked me in the eyes and said “Don’t let anyone tell you how fast to walk. Walk at your own speed.” Damn. That message came at the right time. He’s right. I’m going to walk at my own speed. Pedal at my own speed (10-14 mph if those school radar things are right). Pedal where I want in a lane (in the middle when necessary for my safety and then back right asap). Write what I want to write (like this). I could also not approve comments. But I’d know they were there. Just have to thicken my skin a bit.
I should take a break from it, but will I? I got an email inviting me to enjoy our new six foot wide bicycle lanes. Six feet? Must be right, but has anyone measured them? They don’t feel like six feet, and I have a tape measure… To be continued.