Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winter Bike Commuters

Remember this? Last winter, former Madison mayor Paul Soglin created some waves in the cycling community with his criticism of cyclists riding during and after a significant snowstorm: "The bicyclists who braved the week's second storm should be taken out and shot. Spare them and the poor driver, when they skid on treacherous streets and slide under the wheels of a truck delivering fresh vegetables." The outrage resulted in this post, with Soglin clarifying his argument and defending his bicycle advocacy credentials.

Madison drivers are usually tolerant and respectful of cyclists, and Madison bicycle infrastructure is excellent. But as a year-round bike commuter, I do observe an increase in driver aggression, close passes, and intolerance once the snow begins to fall. (See Bikesafer's video from last winter...)

However it doesn't have to be this way. Copenhagen has very high year-round ridership, and they are meticulous about snow removal from bike lanes:
(photo credit:
"Keeping the bike lanes clear is important. Not least for safety. But it is also a practical issue. 80% of Copenhageners continue to ride throughout the winter. That's roughly 400,000 people. If this massive group is somehow restricted in getting to work or school, imagine the chaos... Parents would be late getting their kids to kindergarten or school. There would be lost man hours because of people arriving late or not at all. The bike lanes are kept clear for the most basic, practical reasons."
Perhaps if we can increase our ridership stateside we can demand a greater investment in infrastructure and demand greater respect.

Ride safely, and bundle up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More research on "active transportation" and health.

The Washington Post this week reported on a new study further documenting the inverse correlation between active transportation and obesity rates. For example:

United States: 12% active transportation use, 25-33% obesity
Sweden: 62% active transportation use, 9% obesity
Netherlands: 52% active transportation use, 11% obesity

Anne Lusk, a research fellow at Harvard School of Public Health, said the study's results make sense.

"What I found most exciting about this excellent research is the applicability," she said. "The issue then becomes should we improve our transit, walking or bicycling opportunities simultaneously or should we focus on one of the three?"

Lusk said her first choice is bicycles - and not just because of global warming, fluctuating gas prices or the economic downturn. When Dutch researchers asked people to match emotions with various forms of travel, she said, "The greatest emotion was joy for bicycling."

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed"

Photographer Eddee Daniel discusses his new book, "Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed," with OnMilwaukee.

Bikes versus Wildlife

In case you thought environmentalists had a singular agenda, here's the latest from Seattle.

The municipality and bike advocacy groups want to widen an existing section of multi-use trail, in part to minimize conflict between cyclists and other users. This involves filling and paving the wetlands beside the trail and removing as many as 60 trees. Ecologists are concerned about the loss of wetland habitat for amphibian populations and migratory birds, and the removal of the larger trees.

Both sides claim the mantle of Environmental Steward and cite evidence of their righteousness. They finally get to the crux of the debate towards the end of the article:
"It's a seemingly unremarkable wetland," Paquin said as she walked the trail in the rain recently, "but there are amphibians living in there. ... No one is looking out for these critters. You could ride the trail for years and never know there were salamanders there."
Our urban parks and green spaces have the opportunity to serve multiple functions: alternative transportation, urban outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat, and ecosystem services such as stormwater management. Transportational cyclists will benefit from a healthy wetland brightening their morning commute, and wildlife advocates ultimately gain when more people are exposed to local wildlife. Promoters of urban wilderness need to remain attentive to the goals of their allies, and work towards collaborative solutions.

An Argument for Urban Wilderness

What makes remote national parks and forests more deserving of “wilderness” status, of protection and our conservation dollars, and of our appreciation than our urban areas? Both are shaped by a legacy of human use and modification (neither are “natural” or “pristine”), both play a role in local ecologies and ecosystem services, and both afford opportunities for outdoor recreation and communion with nature. And we spend the vast majority of our time in the urban landscape; why shouldn’t we celebrate the wilderness we can find at home - microenvironments with surprising biodiversity, parks and trails worthy of mountain biking and trail running, and environmental education opportunities for our children.

The goal of this project is to explore the idea of wilderness, and specifically to define Urban Wilderness and identify how this concept fits into a broader environmental ethic - growing the constituency of the environmental movement, and shifting the center of the debate from the rural mountains, lakes, and forests to our backyards, workplaces, and communities.