Monday, May 15, 2017

Where's the sleet?: MPO Ride 2017

Last weekend's 4th annual tour of recent bicycle infrastructure in the metropolitan area featured a range of projects oriented to trail riders, bicycle commuters, and in some cases both. Those of us accustomed to the foul weather that has accompanied recent MPO rides were pleasantly surprised by the sunshine and pleasant breezes ("More like RAGBRAI, without pie," said one awed participant). Linn County Trails Association's chief trail counter John Wauer counted 49 riders in the morning, which was at least triple last year's delegation. Though this had to make it more logistically challenging for ride leaders, it was good to get the good news out to more people.

We gathered at the New Bo City Market, along with a huge group gathered to walk for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. So great to see people taking advantage of the weather and Cedar Rapids's increasing walkability to work for a good cause!
The Eastern Iowa chapter of the JDRF does not do things by halves

We found each other among the throng

First stop was along F Avenue NE, near the new athletic complex being constructed by Mount Mercy University.

Phillip Platz from their public relations department, who is also a member of the Linn County Trails Association, said they're hoping for completion by August 1, with grand opening scheduled for September 30.
The CeMar trail will run along F Avenue and through these athletic fields--land donated by Mount Mercy--and will eventually tunnel under 1st Avenue to connect the Cedar River Trail with the Marion Parks Trails. The land between the colleges seems primed for growth, and in September this very spot will be the site of a tactical urbanism event put on by the group Corridor Urbanism, about which more in time.

We rode north, across 42nd Street where the Cedar River Trail crosses the off-ramp from interstate 380... still an awkward encounter, but the interface is much improved.

If it's awkward you're after, though, you can't beat the construction zone north of Blairs Ferry Road. During this stretch the trail crosses Center Point Road before heading north to join the Cedar Valley Nature Trails. I'm sure it will be great when it's done.

The trail crossing at Boyson Road features new trail crossing indicators, just installed the previous day. Push a button on one of the posts on either side of the trail, placed at just the right height for a rider to reach--though I failed to connect when I tried to push it while still on the move.

The buttons trigger flashing lights on the road signs which warn drivers--and they stopped!

Ready to stop for lunch! at Lebowski's Bar & Grill in Robins Square, a few blocks down Main Street from the trail, and dedicated to Jeff Bridges's character in the 1998 film "The Big Lebowski." (Quotes from the movie appear on a poster on the wall.)

Back on the road, we returned to 42nd Street and then pushed all the way west past Xavier High School to the Rock Island Preserve.

The plan is to have a trail through here from Seminole Valley Park to the south, then up to the Route 100 extension (somewhat visible in the picture above), across the Cedar River and then south near the highway to the Cherokee Trail planned to run west out of downtown Cedar Rapids. This will be a multi-year process, however.

We rode down Edgewood Road--very exciting, but not nearly as exciting as Stoney Point Road in the wind last year--to Ellis Park, where we took the Ellis Trail downtown. Finally, we were told about progress on the Sleeping Giant bridge south of Czech Village, how trails in that area will be reconstructed after the flood walls are put in, and the importance of reporting trail counts to the LCTA.

I engaged in some critical thinking while I rode, which is not easy to manage when one is also pushing an out-of-shape body along a reported 26 miles, not running into people, and remembering to shout "Car back!" But I'd recently read an article by Rachel Quednau on the Strong Towns blog, which in turn referenced an article in Bicycling magazine, arguing that cities often neglect the poorest cyclists when developing cycling infrastructure. These are folks who, in Quednau's words, "use their bikes to get to work, not to save a little money or for the purposes of exercise, but because they have no other option." A survey by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalitino found 40 percent of respondents they approached on the street (as opposed to those surveyed by Internet or mail) earned less than $15,000 annually.... in Los Angeles! Here's Quednau quoting Dan Koeppel in Bicycling:

Neighborhood after neighborhood revealed surprise after surprise. The Invisible Riders, for instance, log far more hours than most "serious" cyclists. They do so on equipment most of us wouldn't touch and under the most adverse conditions: at the height of rush hour on the busiest thoroughfares. [...] Most of the riders I met viewed their commute as a battle, but exhibited none of the smug, anti-automotive posturing many committed middle-class bike commuters wear as a badge of honor.
Besides forswearing smugness, which we should all do simply for the well-being of our own souls, we are reminded by Koeppel and Quednau that we need to be developing cycling infrastructure for the whole community, not merely to respond to the desires of a vocal group. Recreational trails are valuable assets, but are we also helping people get to work?

With mountain bike trails? Well, probably not

With trails connecting the west side to downtown? Probably
With protected bike lanes in commercial areas? Definitely!

The new infrastructure the MPO has featured on these annual rides serves, as far as I can tell, both riders of choice and riders of necessity. It's unlikely, of course, many people are using the Cedar Valley Nature Trail to get to work, but a well-planned urban trail network can spare commuting cyclists of all income levels some of the rigors of rush hour. There's some evidence poverty in our metropolitan area has dispersed in recent years, but the Cedar River Trail, the Lindale Trail and the proposed Cherokee Trail all connect low-income areas with downtown. Poor people in core neighborhoods benefit from bike lanes on commuter streets as well as efforts to slow cars through residential areas through road diets and one-way-to-two-way conversions. Cedar Rapids for decades developed as though everyone could and would make all essential daily trips by motor vehicle. As we roll into Bike to Work Week, the progress we've made in commuter cycling can help people get along without cars, which is a huge boost to the ol' standard of living.

"MPO Ride," 15 May 2016
"Riding on Infrastructure with the Corridor MPO," 2 June 2015

Bike to Work Week Diary 2017

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bike to Work Week is upon us! And this year marks nearly a decade since Cedar Rapids began to promote cycling in our community. The years have seen installation of bike lanes, trail construction, one-way-to-two-way street conversions and public celebrations. This year was particularly poignant because it is the last year for Mayor Ron Corbett, who's not running for re-election and whose eight years have seen all these pro-cycling changes.
Emily Muhlbach (right), communications coordinator for the city, prepares
to pass the official proclamation to Council member Ann Poe.
Ms. Muhlbach still has the proclamation with her in case you want to see it or touch it.

Monday dawned warmer than it's been the last few Bike to Work Weeks, which helped the celebratory early morning mood outside Red's Public House as the official proclamation was read by Mayor Corbett and City Council member Ann Poe.

Ron Griffith of the Bicycle Advisory Committee responded to the announcement by thanking Mayor Corbett for his years of service and reminding him he's always welcome back in future Bike to Work Weeks. About 25 or 30 of us then set off on the traditional post-proclamation ride of 3+ miles through the Wellington Heights neighborhood on the southeast side, which covered:
  • 3rd Avenue, which has bike lanes of various types up to 10th Street, and above 13th Street becomes a three-lane one-way with plenty of room for everyone;
  • Grande Avenue, an old boulevard with wide lanes;
  • 19th Street, an important thoroughfare with narrow lanes and parking on both sides; and
  • 4th Avenue, recently converted from one-way to two-way, featuring sharrows to 8th Street and a bike lane below that.

Turning off 19th Street onto 4th Avenue
The variety of streets through which the group rode during what passes for rush hour in Cedar Rapids elicited, as it always does, a variety of interactions with cars and drivers. The years have seen increasing amounts of cycling, and seemingly easier mixing of vehicles, but it must be disconcerting for someone to think they're a five-minute drive from work and find that doubles when they encounter bicycles and/or pedestrians. (For the sake of versimilitude, I had my laptop in my backpack throughout the ride.)

After the ride, those who could remained at Red's, which has a new look since last year, for breakfast. Multimodal transportation planner Brandon Whyte wasn't sure about the $5 burrito, but your humble blogger convinced him this was traditional Bike to Work Week fare, and Bike to Work Week without breakfast burritos is like Thanksgiving without turkeys. He thanked me later.
Next door, the Blue Strawberry had breakfast too!

Tuesday, May 16

Rockwell Collins pit stop about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday
Today and Thursday feature rush-hour bike pit stops, offering advice as well as swag... bicycle commuters. This year features a new location, on the campus of Rockwell Collins near the intersection of F Avenue and Collins Road NE. (There remain stops downtown, where the Cedar River Trail crosses 1st Avenue, and in New Bohemia, slightly relocated to the NewBo Market.) 

Representatives from Northtowne Cycling offered the chance to try e-bikes, which are powered by electricity and which provide needed assistance on hilly terrain or, as certainly was the case today, strong winds. They said e-bikes are becoming more popular, though still a tiny proportion of their sales.

Wednesday, May 17

Live-blogging! from the CR Metro Economic Alliance, where Nikki Northrop Davidson of Bike2Work Consultants is talking "Bike to Work 101." It's a diminished audience, alas, which we can blame on a rainy morning.

Her presentation contains messages for why businesses should encourage employees to bike to work--improved productivity, lower health costs, lower absenteeism, lower parking costs--as well as why and how individuals ought to give it a try. Cycling to work can decrease cardiovascular and breast cancer risk, not to mention excess weight; increase positive mental health; and reduce our environmental footprint. A daily 4-mile bike commute will save about 66 gallons of fuel per year!

So why don't more people do it? Main obstacles are unfriendly weather, busy lives, lack of safe storage, safety on heavily trafficked streets, access to showers, and lack of role models. Each of these can be overcome: Cedar Rapids is improving its cycling infrastructure every year, the number of bicycle commuters in the U.S. is way up since 2000, the more cyclists there are the more aware auto drivers will be, and she encouraged "out of the box" thinking like baby wipes for quick cleanup, backup plans and sharing ride, various clothing options, and rack bags. It's not effortless, but it can be done.

When she was done speaking, the Sun was out! The weather for the rest of the morning was clement, so we were able to gather before noon at City Hall... "bike to lunch with the Mayor" up the Cedar River Trail to Sag Wagon Deli & Brew on Cedar Lake. We sat outside, which of course I was totally unprepared for because it had been raining at the beginning of the morning. Thanks to concerned citizen Ben Kaplan for loaning me sunscreen. Talk at lunch turned to biking adventures, such as trying not to hit animals and sometimes succeeding.
The weather had rolled back in for real by evening, necessitating cancellation of the Ride of Silence. Weather sirens were sounding about the time it was supposed to start.

Thursday, May 18

The storms brought in significantly cooler temperatures for the remainder of Bike to Work Week. Today featured a second round of bike pit stops in the morning and evening. Hall Bicycle helped host one on the Cedar River where it crosses 1st Avenue...

...which is always an interesting crossing...

...and Goldfinch hosted one by the NewBo City Market.

Those staffing the pit stops reported traffic down from Tuesday. While I was there, both the trail and 3rd Street had a steady procession of cyclists, but few made pit stops. Maybe we should sing Bike to Work Week carols?

Also today, my friend and cycling advocate Mateo reported being "rolled" by a diesel truck, which I learn is where the driver sprays you with thick exhaust as he (let us not pretend we need to be gender-neutral here) passes. This is apparently a thing, to such an extent that the State of Colorado has felt the need to pass a law against it. I realize we're a long way from Sesame Street-style community feeling, but sheesh!

Friday, May 19

Even the most festive celebrants of Bike to Work Week found little to love in today's weather, which was chilly with morning-long rain. I suppose any weather is bikable if you have the right gear, but I did not detect a lot of biking to work this morning. I didn't.

I did see a bunch of people riding to the Handlebar Happy Hour at Lion Bridge in Czech Village at the end of the day. (I didn't.) There we mingled with the crowds gamely gathering for the weekend-long celebration of Houby Days.

We didn't have quite the same crowd as last year for the group picture (for which see the BikeCR Facebook page) but there was plenty of interest in the raffle prizes. 

I did just fine, prize-wise... not going to brag, but my rewards from this year's Bike to Work Week were not only intrinsic. 

Someone asked Brandon Whyte if they've s tarted planning for next year! (His answer: no, they do that during the winter.) I understand the enthusiasm, though. I'm thankful for those people in city and county government who are willing to dedicate resources to those of us who don't want to drive everywhere; and for those fellow citizens who cycle, because there's strength and safety in numbers.


Daniel Choma, "Dr. 38th Street Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Park in the Bike Lane,", 17 May 2017
B.A. Morelli, "Bike Safety Advocates: Cyclists, Motorists Share Responsibility," Cedar Rapids Gazette, 18 May 2017


"Bike to Work Week 2016," 15 May 2016
"Cycling Update," 24 May 2015
"Bike to Work Week Diary," 13 May 2014

Monday, May 8, 2017

Mayor's book tour testing waters for statehouse run

Cedar Rapids mayor Ron Corbett talked more philosophy than electoral politics when he sold and signed copies of his newly-published book, Beyond Promises (CreateSpace, 2017), the story of his life in and out of politics, written in collaboration with Rick and Jody Smith. The event was held at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, in a section of the main stacks near a large window overlooking Greene Square and, beyond it, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. The library was constructed during Corbett's administration, Greene Square was thoroughly remodeled, and the exterior art museum had a major facelift, so whether intended or not, the venue was a powerful indicator of how far Cedar Rapids has come in Corbett's eight years as mayor.

A small (50-60 by my inexpert count) and friendly crowd attended.

Corbett stressed the importance of a collaborative approach. Drawing on his background in sports--he was a star running back at Cornell College--he said team victories mattered far more than individual statistics. Cedar Rapids's recovery from the 2008 flood, as well as the mobilization in advance of the 2016 flood, were group efforts not individual achievements. Corbett later added that witnessing the 2016 preparations made for his proudest moments as mayor.

Collaboration in politics means bipartisanship. He discussed his inclusion of project labor agreements in city construction contracts, which led to a 2011 conflict with a fellow Republican, Iowa governor Terry Branstad. (In a harbinger of 2017's "year of pre-emption," the state voided the city contracts.) Corbett defended the agreements as part of defending local workers and companies, fulfilling his 2009 campaign promise to "buy local, build local, employ local," rather than as taking sides in a "red versus blue" ideological battle.

He recalled his tenure in the 1990s as speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives, "looking for things in common" with the Democrats who controlled the state senate, and establishing an ongoing working relationship with Senate Majority Leader Larry Murphy of Oelwein. Divided government is "no reason not to do anything," he asserted. Today Iowa, like the United States, is under unified Republican control, so I asked during Q-and-A how he would approach unified government. He stuck to his bipartisan guns, saying that everyone who was elected had the right to be at the table. He added that businesses are flustered when successive Republican and Democratic governments pull policy in wildly opposite directions, and that collaboration produces the most consistent and sustainable policy over the long term.

He did not commit to running for governor, but was not coy: He said he would decide in the next month or so. He mentioned Kim Reynolds, about to succeed to the statehouse when Branstad is confirmed as U.S. ambassador to China, as his opponent, implying he would run as a Republican not as an independent. In response to a question from KCRG's Dave Franzman, Corbett said he could examine the sales and library circulation of Beyond Promises, but mostly would rely on "personal reaction" at events around the state such as his next book tour stop in Des Moines. He has traveled the state giving speeches (70-80, by his count) on policy issues like water quality, infrastructure and tax modernization. He said "you don't have to be in office to make a difference," but clearly a potential governor has a lot more star attraction than a former mayor.

Where's the sleet?: MPO Ride 2017

Last weekend's 4th annual tour of recent bicycle infrastructure in the metropolitan area featured a range of projects oriented to tra...