Monday, September 28, 2009

Tom Owen: Adovcating by Example (and Sometimes a Blow Horn)

I met up with Louisville, Kentucky 8th District Councilman Tom Owen last Thursday at his office in Metro Hall in downtown Louisville. I worked for Tom for nearly 4 years prior to my relocation with the Planner Guy to Flagstaff. When in initial doubt last year of my ability to bike 5 miles to work in response to the soaring gas prices, I only had to think of Tom, now in his late 60's, who has been a committed bike commuter for over 15 years. Here's a little background:

Anyone who lives in Louisville pretty much knows about Tom Owen. "You mean the skinny 60-something guy with the white beard who rides a bike everywhere?' Yeah, that guy. He and his wife downsized to one car sometime in the 1990's. Phyllis mostly does the driving while Tom likes to walk, ride the TARC bus, hitch rides with friends and coworkers, or walks.

Tom's commitment to bike commuting and alternative transportation are strongly tied to his feelings about neighborhoods and community. The 8th District, more commonly known as the Highlands, is traditional neighborhood district. Made up of a series of old historic neighborhoods bordering Frederick Law Olmsted parks and the commercial corridor, Bardstown Road, the Highlands is densely populated, with houses and apartments that sit close together and close to the street, usually hugged by over-grown, romantic gardens. The Highlands is admired locally as a walkable and bikeable community, and Tom is often seen biking through those streets on his way to work, meetings, or home. Being on his bike so often makes it easy for him to stop for impromptu chats with area residents since seeking out a parking space is not much of a problem. Additionally, I always felt that since Tom is on a bicycle he appears immediately more approachable. All one has to do is stop, wave and call out "Hi, Tom".

Louisville weather can be best described as hot and wet or cold and wet. Really, there are only two seasons. The rain and high humidity were always a significant barrier between me and bike commuting. (For this reason, I applaud Mayor Abramsons plans to build a bike commuter station downtown!) Tom rarely lets bad weather stand between him and a good bike ride, however. He usually travels with rain gear that keeps in good and dry. Being a very sensible person, he also carries a change of clothes and keeps a suit in his office for Metro Council meetings where it is important that he looks more statesman-like.

Safety is important to Tom and TOM'S FAMILY. He always rides with a bike helmet, a reflective vest and red blinker lights. Tom attached a rear view mirror to his helmet, which I think is a good idea since he is often riding on busy city and neighborhood streets between his house, downtown an University of Louisville where he works as an archivist and historian.

As part of Tom's job at U of L, Tom does bus and walking historical tours of Louisville and southern Indiana. He has also produced several DVDs of walking tours of historical Louisville neighborhoods, all of which are ideal for shopping, garden scoping and coffee sipping by bicycle. A large microphone horn accompanies him on every tour and he often has it in his saddlebag, along with a pack of bus schedules bound with a rubber bands.

Tom would love to see more people taking their bicycles out of the garage and riding them to work or just 2 miles to the hardware store. Nonetheless, he understands people's concerns about sharing the road with cars and tries to use the outlets provided to him as a Councilman as forums to give people information about getting where they want to go safely. He offers tips on biking on his Council webpage and last year created a Bike Safety 101 tutorial for Metro Louisville TV, which is also linked to his website.

Tom Owen is without a doubt Louisville's favorite and most visible bike commuter. While he tends to dismiss the notion that he inspires anyone to ride his or her bike to work or give the bus a try, the fact that Tom actually stuck to bike commuting because it was enjoyable and life enriching definitely influenced me in my decision overcome my personal barriers to bike commuting. While it is important to consider one's carbon footprint and reduce our personal dependence on gas, lectures from politician rarely effect much change. On his bike, Tom gets to observe his community a bit more closely and participate in it in a more immediate, personal way. He has had an opportunity to talk to many more members of his constituency than he have had he been within the confines of an automobile. That connection with community is something many of us wish to achieve no matter where we live. Observing Tom on his bike for so many years showed me one way to make that happen in my life.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Introducing Louisville, KY Bike Commuter, Katie McBride!

How I love networking and making connections! Schmooze, as my husband would say but it helps keep She Rides a Bike interesting.

With the help of my former boss, Councilman Tom Owen (Dist. 8, Louisville Metro Council), I met up this week with Highlands bike commuter, Katie McBride. Tom O referred Katie to my blog and she was kind enough to e-mail her compliments to me. Since I was in town on our big family and friend visit I contacted her and arranged to meet downtown.

Katie is a bike commuter with both style and heart. We met up at the Louisville Metro Health Department where is contracted to work on a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to improve the bikeability and walkability of downtown's Hancock Street through the urban neighborhoods of Phoenix Hill, Smoketown and Shelby Park, low to middle income neighborhoods made up of a mix of resilient residents, businesses, and nonprofits determined to fix what's broken and preserve and enhance those attributes that have held the communities together over so many decades. Katie is helping to make improvements that will encourage and enable people to get out and bike and walk along that corridor, to access the beautiful Olmsted-designed Shelby Park to the south, and Waterfront Park to the north.

Louisville enjoys strong neighborhoods built up around many Olmsted parks and parkways. Rooted in proud cultural and ethnic heritages, preserving and sharing the history and flavor of each neighborhoods is center to the efforts of the old City's neighborhood associations and activists. Biking and walking are great forms of exercise that one can use to go places one needs to go. Citizens out walking and bicycling help build community by interacting with their neighbors and supporting local businesses. Certainly, the opportunities for appreciating and preserving these historic neighborhoods are enhanced when residents and visitors are walking and biking the sidewalks, streets and alleys. I will mention that while some parts of this area have become "gentrified" community leaders have paid attention to the fact that many families have called these old neighborhoods home for generations and that making Smoketown, Phoenix Hill and the other old urban neighborhood unaffordable for long-time residents would be a huge cultural tragedy. A priority has been placed in creating neighborhoods with a mix of incomes so that lower income residents do not get pushed out of their community. Anyone who has enjoyed the opportunity to live within blocks of their work, school, parks and shopping knows that the Metro's efforts to support walkability and bikeability can play a key role in supporting affordability.

Not surprisingly Katie met me outside the Health Department where a group of physicians, traveling cross country, was holding a press conference in support of health care reform, specifically a single payer system. I don't know if Katie was simply there as an observer or as part of her job but I wondered where the average bike commuter stands on this issue. I am very much in favor of health reform and will only go as far as to say in this forum that when my mother became seriously ill in Rome, Italy last fall she received excellent care in the ER with no wait and no bill. According to my mother, the staff at the hospital seemed quite proud of the fact her offer to pay was declined. Anyway, I decided not to ask Katie about either her role or her opinion on health care reform or single-payer and proceeded to compliment her on her stunning shoes - by Dansko, no less. And yes, she assured me they are quite bike friendly and comfortable. I assume the strap over the top of her foot prevents those pesky incidences of stepping out of one's shoe when pushing off from a red light.

Despite her girly skirt, Katie seemed apologetic that she was not as dressed up as she usually is. The rain, the humidity . . . Louisville weather can leave one feeling a bit wilted but honestly, she is quite dressed up by Flagstaff standards.

Katie admitted to being quite a fan of fixies and is learning bike repair and maintenance. I'll let her describe her bike in her own words:

"My bike is a Schwinn World Tourist. I bought it used for $40. I am still working on fixing it up and making it my own. When I got it, it needed new brake pads, new tires, it was fairly dirty and the chain was a bit rusty. However, I was able to do all of that work myself, only paying for the parts. I love the baskets on the bike and the fenders that keep rocks and water from getting me dirty as I ride to work. This bike is also great for carrying take-out pizza, which I can strap to the top of the baskets with bungee cords!"

The Planner Guy thought her comments about the take-out pizza were particularly striking and suggested I pay more attention to that the next time I am out basket hunting. I should have asked Katie if she was Italian . . . Anyway, I do like her metal bike baskets; something so romantically collegiate about them. Perfectly sized for a laptop.

Of particular interest to me was Katie's bike helmet, which she affixed with not only a rear view mirror but also a video camera. For just in case. One never knows when one will encounter something novel and interesting on the road. The camera probably comes in very handy for her work. Katie acknowledged that she gets a lot of questions about it. For this reason alone, my husband would refuse to ride with me if I attached a camera to my helmet - he doesn't like drawing attention to himself and I am constantly doing things that result in this very thing. Funny, CM Tom Owen says he does the same thing to his family. A bike commuter pattern??

Monday, September 21, 2009

Meanwhile, in Louisville, KY

As mentioned in previous posts, the Planner Guy and I met in Louisville, Kentucky, where we returned for a 10-day visit (including a jaunt up to Cleveland for his cousin's wedding) to visit family and friends. After 16 years of living in the 'Ville, I know the city quite well - but not as a bike commuter since I didn't start down that path until after we moved to Flagstaff.

Bob and I are staying out in the East End, which is very suburban and generally lacking in bike infrastructure suitable for safe bike commuting. Very few bike lanes and no urban trails or multi-use paths. The old City of Louisville is very much a different story, however, with increased bike commuting being a priority of Mayor Abramson, who apparently is pushing for a bike transit station (with showers, bike storage, and some services attractive to bike commuters) downtown. Fantastic idea in my book. I wish him much success with this project.

While bike commuting is growing in popularity, Louisville is home to many enthusiastic road cyclists, who travel in huge, colorful, Lycra-clad packs through Cherokee Park on the weekends and with after work bike groups. Cherokee Park is a Frederick Law Olmsted park (one of several in Louisville) and also a popular destination for mountain and trail riders.

Because bicycling is so tremendously popular in Louisville, it is home to many good bike shops. As Bob signed up for the Louisville Ironman next summer, we visited one of them today, The Cyclist Cafe for a little inspiration. I will admit that my previous visits to The Cyclist Cafe have been limited to the cafe portion, sometimes after a ride along the bike path that runs along Beargrass Creek and the Ohio River. With much shame though, I usually traveled there by car in between meetings. They serve all the fashionable coffee drinks, yummy muffins, and sandwiches. Almost always in need of a good sandwich, Bob found himself ordering one within minutes of our arrival and found it indeed superior to the one he had consumed an hour before at another restaurant, which will go unnamed. I had a Diet Coke and a soft and chewy, cranberry and white chocolate chip cookie. Reluctantly, I left Bob 1/3 of the cookie, remembering the pastries I consumed at the Cleveland wedding.

Most the the bikes at The Cyclist Cafe are of the triathlon, road and mountain biking variety but I did see a Felt commuter bike. It had a coffee cup holder attached to the handlebar. I occasionally see people in downtown Flagstaff pedaling while also sipping a cup of joe and always wonder if I will ever be so graceful. Do you suppose those bike commuters go to an empty parking lot somewhere and practice sipping and pedaling? I can only imagine having several humiliating falls before successfully being able to manage both biking and drinking coffee.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Townie Bike or Two? And Trip East.

Last week my coworker Wayne told me he would soon be hauling out an old yellow Schwinn stored somewhere around town to temporarily replace his current townie bike, perpetually locked up at work. Elegant, vintage wheels that they are, the saddle has been marred by deep and uncomfortable holes.

Most distressing! How could such a thing happen, you might ask? Every town has its menace. In Louisville, raccoons enter kitchens and leave the pantry a wreck of empty cracker and cereal boxes. In Winter Park, Colorado, the Planner Guy's former domain, bears raid decks in search of untended bowls of dog food and tear doors from their hinges in their zeal for the refrigerator. In Flagstaff, we have a little of both but the real villains are the large, black crows that proliferate. Their number, size and intimidating glare remind one of Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller, The Birds. Never take your eyes off them as they certainly have nothing but evil on their minds. See how they tore into this bike saddle? And for what purpose?

So anyway, I left work this afternoon and found Wayne's yellow Schwinn townie bike tied up with his other bike. I noticed both had the same bike bell attached to the handle bars. I say, always stick with what you love. If it works for you, buy one in every color (how many times I have regretted not following that sage advice?).

I haven't asked Wayne if he plans to replace the crow-mangled saddle. I think a classic Brooks saddle would look very nice, indeed. Any suggestions I should pass on?

Life Update: Trip to Cleveland and Louisville
Bob and I depart Wednesday morning for Louisville for 10 days, with a stop in Cleveland for a big Italian wedding. His cousin Greg is the last of the cousins to marry, and Bob must go to dispense the wisdom of two years wedded bliss. And give his wife a tour of his hometown, complete with visits to only the best Italian delicatessens. I will use Bob's Blackberry to document bike commuting culture in both Cleveland and Louisville, since I still have not ponied up the cash for a new Canon. I know where to hang out in the 'ville in search of bike commuters but haven't a clue about where to search in Cleveland so if anyone has ideas, please share them.

Friday, September 11, 2009

High Bike Fashion on Phoenix Avenue.

Yes, Flagstaff is a mountain town and Patagonia, NorthFace and Columbia constitute high fashion here, we do have our own original fashion designers. Two local talents can be found at Red Thread on Phoenix Avenue between Beaver and San Francisco, where Jen Jones and Tina LaChance cut cloth and pull thread. Besides being highly sought after seamstresses, they design clothes and have fashion shows. Many a little (and big) girls dream, and they are doing it!

Quite the sports girl, as well, Tina designs wrap around skirts in moisture wicking fabric perfect for ice skating, water ratting, and bike commuting. So perfect for bike commuting that she sewed a reinforcing fabric on the seat of the skirt. Tina said she likes to wear her's over jeans and bike shorts. I like the neon red color and piping. Great for visibility.And a little pocket.
And a little blue skirt.

Here, Tina displays her reversible, quilted wrap skirt designed for skiing. Of course, in the mountain southwest, why not wear it for a cold, cold morning bike commute? With some tall boots (such as the tall Montecito boots courtesy of Teva that I wrote about this past spring ) and some warms tights one couldn't be better insulated.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Something Old, Something New, and Something with Four Wheels

A lovely vintage Schwinn, a common sight in a little college town like Flagstaff, locked on the sidewalk of San Francisco Street. I have a deep appreciation for older things. I love vintage clothes, antique furniture, old photographs, and 100-year old houses with gently worn furniture on the front porch. I've enjoyed all of the above but never a vintage bike (make mine a Schwinn, thank you). I'd love to find one and attach a nice roomy basket (filled with puppies)like the one pictured here. This bike has been places and at one time someone brought it home brand-spanking new. Years later another someone uncovered it, maybe from a junk shop or grandma's garage, and decided to take it to school or ride it to work. Wouldn't it be fun to know all this bike's stories?

Of course, there is nothing wrong with modernity. I'm talking about the solar powered trash compactor, one of several placed in downtown Flagstaff as part of the City's sustainability and downtown enhancement efforts. I am a big fan of solar and wind energy, both of which seems to be finally gaining some steam in Arizona. Renewable energy . . . bike commuting . . . .hmmm, could the average bike commuter tend to lean toward such crazy notions? You tell me!

Close by the solar powered trash compactor and around the corner from the vintage Schwinn, a crowd gathered 'round this tiny, red Smart Car, whose owner packed some shopping into the rear of her vehicle, and asked questions about storage and comfort. The owner had no complaints. The Smart Car, the only car I think about owning if and when the dog-friendly Honda Element finally kicks the bucket, is a refreshing sight among the many monsterously large trucks and SUVs that seem to proliferate in Flagstaff. If one must own a car, and for the present, we must (heavy sigh), the Smart Car seems a reasonable choice, even in Northern Arizona.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

At the Corner of Aspen and Humphreys

For some reason, the intersection of Aspen and Humphreys is the perfect place to capture Flagstaff bike commuters, often traveling in pairs. Still without a properly working camera, I struggled to get these few decent shots.I like the leggins and the skirt.

A few blocks over on San Francisco I ran into this smiling gentleman. Who wouldn't be happy in a Bob Marley t-shirt. Once again, a total stranger quite pleased to show his mountain cycle chic.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Of Bikes and Dog Walking

My sister Valerie et son petit ami, George, took a recent trip to Tennessee for a little mountain biking and kayaking. Here is a picture of Val from behind prooving one doesn't need too forgo style for the great outdoors. The shot is a little fuzzy but you get the idea. Plaid is going to be the big thing this year and Valerie is always very fashion forward.

Here is George with Rosie, Valerie's very sweet rescue dog, at a trail at Furman University. I envious when I see other Flagstaff bike riders pedaling along with their dogs dutifully trotting along on the leash. Jade-dog would never behave so well but Rosie apparently is able do very well and has even been welcomed on their stops at a dog-friendly restaurant that Valerie and George enjoy.

Rosie sunning herself next to the French doors, post bike ride. She's just exhausted!