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How To Buy A Bicycle

2013/09/02 Leave a comment

“Hey Nick! I hear you know a few things about bikes, and I’d like to get my own and start riding. Where do I even begin?”

Garrett checking out some bikes

I get this question a lot, and even spent a Startup Weekend working on an app to help people with it. It turns out, quite a few people rode a bike as a kid, and 10 or 20 years later, want to ride a bike again. But unlike buying a car, for which we have endless auto company commercials to educate us and sites like AutoTrader to help us sort through the thousands of listings, the process of buying a bicycle is not well-understood by most adults. Someday, we might get to finishing that project, but in the meantime, here are a few steps to get you started:

1. Envision yourself riding your future bike.

Where will you be riding? Who will you be with? What will you be wearing (ie work clothes or workout clothes)? How long will your rides be? Why will you be riding (commuting to work, recreation, racing, etc)? For bonus points, find stock photos or videos of other people doing the type of cycling you’d like to do.

2. Go to a local bike shop to look around and go for some test rides

I’m personally a fan of Pedal Power in Lexington. They’ll likely ask you to describe your answer to question #1. Bike shop people are super-knowledgeable about bikes (sometimes too knowledgeable), but they’re good at helping people find a quality ride. They don’t make most of their margins off bike sales, so turn off your salesperson aversion and just trust their advice. Please don’t showroom them. Their goal is to get you on a bike that’s a great fit for you, which helps build a relationship with you so you’ll come back for maintenance, accessories, etc. And yes, you will need to go back for those things.

3. Realize that a good, new starter bike will cost you $400-$800.

The things for sale at Walmart (and even Dick’s Sporting Goods) are “bicycle-shaped objects”. They cost less (up front) because they’re of a significantly lower quality, but will require maintenance sooner, and that maintenance will be more expensive in the long run. Another plus with a quality bike-store bike is that it will hold its value longer if you decide to sell it later.

4. Used bikes are great!

If you can’t find a new bike you like in your price range, high-quality used bikes are a solid choice. There are some hit-or-miss options on Craigslist, but Lexington (like many other communities) has The Broke Spoke community bike shop. They sell used bikes for usually less than $200, and the volunteer staff is super-helpful. The money earned from selling used bikes aides the shop in its mission to serve bicyclists who couldn’t otherwise afford bikes, parts, repairs, or training.

5. Accessorize.

Helmet is the only thing here that is a must, while all the others can be helpful depending on your answer to question 1. I usually budget an extra $100-200 for an assortment of the following:

  • helmet ($40)
  • bike lock ($30)
  • front and rear lights ($30)
  • water bottles ($10)
  • cycling shorts & jersey ($70)
  • fenders ($40)
  • cargo rack ($30) – to carry stuff on your bike
  • bike rack ($50) – to carry your bike on your car
  • “clipless” shoes and pedals ($120)

*Alternative option: BikesDirect – This is a good option for some people, but I only recommend it to people who know exactly what they’re looking for and have a restricted budget. Prices are low because the bikes are “off-brand”, factory-direct, and not well-adjusted to you, the rider. From my experience, most of the components (mechanical parts) on the bikes are of decent quality, and are much more maintainable than the aforementioned “bicycle-shaped objects”. Most bike purists won’t be happy that I included this, but for the sake of completeness, I don’t think I can leave it out.

I hope that helps, and if you have any other questions, just let me know!

-Nick

User-friendly cities

2012/05/13 1 comment

What is a user-friendly city? We say that the iPhone is user-friendly, but what about Washington, D.C. or Madrid? The concept of designing from a user-centric perspective is common in the creation of web and mobile applications. There is a whole field of User Experience (UX) designers who take a holistic approach to optimizing the “system of systems” that make a product. A major focus of my company is helping people navigate unfamiliar indoor spaces, so I look at the world through this lens all the time. But who does user experience design for our cities? For whom are we designing? And even if an amazing design is created, how does it get implemented amidst the dynamic cultural, political, and economic flows of a city?

There are increasingly-many similarities between web and mobile applications and cities. Both often start as small endeavors, experiments cobbled together out of necessity or a dream of a better way. Sometimes they stick, attracting citizens and snowballing. Sometimes they die, fading into just another line in a history book (or Wikipedia entry). Sometimes, they turn into something entirely unintended by their founders:

  • SF: Spanish mission to gold rush boom town to silicon valley.
  • Shenzhen: fishing village to financial center.
  • Burbn: HTML5 location-based service becomes top photo-sharing app.
  • MS Excel: intended for financial calculations, actually (ab)used for: lightweight databases, recording OSHA notes, list of b-day party invites

So, why do we have cities? What are they intended to do? Most cities are concentrations of economic and social activity collected under some form of governance, and many provide “systems for sanitation, utilities, land usage, housing, and transportation“. From this, we can derive that the intended users for cities are people (Note: while this may seem obvious to us, Douglas Adams asserts that an outside observer may be mistaken). But even if we can agree that cities are designed for use by people, who are these particular people? Are they permanent residents or temporary visitors? Are they old or young? What languages do they speak? What type of education do they have? Do they like Bluegrass music?

A major challenge for both cities and software is making changes amidst a large-scale deployment. Like a large enterprise application, cities have a lot of legacy features that must be supported, and a very broad user-base. It’s not easy to rebuild from scratch, without incurring a major service interruption, or alienating a significant group of users. While the existence of software is relatively new, cities have been around for much of human history. For most places, it’s likely that the original city founders are now dead. Even if they were alive, society has changed so much that the founders wouldn’t understand today’s version of their city even if they found a way to exist in it. Even for current residents, making drastic changes is painful. Consider how young Facebook is, but how much its users complain when the service gets a new feature (or kills an old one). What if we re-routed a major highway around a city? What if taxes disappeared…or doubled? What if food trucks show up? What if we un-bury a river through downtown?

My hope for improving the user experience of cities lies on making small changes, rather than big ones. The pilot projects that Janette Sadik-Khan and Mayor Blumberg run in NYC seem very similar to the iteration and experiments advocated by Eric Ries’ Lean Startup movement. I’m also curious to observe a few technologists try their hands at designing cities, as the new Apple campus comes to fruition, designed in part by the late Steve Jobs. Online shoe mogul Tony Hsieh is knee-deep in recreating downtown Las Vegas, taking a gamble that he can transform a part of Sin City into a self-contained oasis for Zappos and its creative class friends.

I’m excited to be part of OpenLexington, a group of volunteers who work on open-data projects in Lexington, KY. Right now, I wouldn’t rate our city as very user-friendly. The roads are organized in an uncommon way, to get things done you often have to “know someone“, and our tight-knit social circles make it difficult for outsiders (eg UK graduate students) to integrate. With OpenLexington, we have the opportunity to greatly improve the UX of the relatively new digital infrastructure that co-exists with our city’s much older physical infrastructure. We’re starting with some small projects, like making it easier to find bicycle parking around town, and creating a web-accessible version of local restaurant health ratings. But someday, as our small actions accumulate, perhaps we can have a big impact, like making it easier for relocating families to feel at home in Lexington, or breaking down the artificial borders among our diverse population. Groups like us around the world are always looking for help, so if you grok this stuff, join in!

The Myth of Bike Lanes

2012/04/08 7 comments
bike lane

Bike Lane in downtown Lexington

Bike lanes are not for cyclists. Bike lanes are for motorists.*

I realized this following a discussion about shared-use roadways (ie the majority of non-Interstate highways and roads in America). I have quite a few friends who don’t understand my choice to ride a bike on the road, partly because the see it as a choice. Where I live, it’s often not a choice, it’s the law. With the exception of bicycle police, cyclists are not allowed to ride on sidewalks. That’s why they’re called sideWALKs, they’re meant for pedestrians. Thus, when I ride my bike on the road, I’m riding it where I’m supposed to be riding it. And, by law, I have the same privilege (yes, “privilege”, not “right”) to operate my human-powered vehicle on the road as those who choose to operate motorized vehicles.

When I’m riding my bike, I view myself as a person who happens to be on a bike. When I’m driving my car, I view myself as a person, who happens to be in a car. Between those two states, I view my life, my sense of urgency, and the importance of my travel to be equal. And I view the lives, deadlines, and importance of everyone around me, in cars, on busses, on bikes, and on foot to be equal.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the currently prevailing viewpoint.

When talking with friends who are motorists, but not cyclists, they consider their trips in cars to be more important than the simultaneous trips taken by cyclists. One argument is that cycling is multi-functional: while some cyclists are in the act of commuting, others are on their bikes for the purpose of exercise. And in this argument, commuting is considered to be more important than exercising.** While I disagree with that particular assertion, a more relevant disagreement is that the associated assumption that all trips in cars are for the singly important purpose of getting to work. Do these motorists hold the same disdain for fellow motorists transporting themselves in search of entertainment? Likely, yes. It wouldn’t surprise me if they also became upset when their potentially fluid rides are stalled by farm implements, and then show up to the ever-important work and eat a few corn chips, never making the connection.

I would assert that there are 3 reasons for which the journey of a particular vehicle on the road would be more important that that of other vehicles. First, emergency vehicles. There’s a reason they get flashing lights, and permission to blow through stop signs: they are operating in potentially life-or-death situations. Second, commercial vehicles (particularly, tractor-trailers). Think of something that you use in your daily life. Vacuum cleaner. iPhone. Banana. Socks. To quote a friend, “Almost everything you use in a day was on a truck at some point.” Often, those trucks are not just carrying Timmy’s stuff, or Susie’s stuff, but hundreds of people’s stuff. That’s important. Finally, buses. Sorry dude-in-a-Porshe, those 20 people on the city bus may not seem as stylish as you, but I’d like for you to convince me that their twenty lives have less collective influence on their world than your one. As you may have noticed, the importance I assigned here was not due not to some personified needs of the vehicle, but to the needs of the people that the vehicle was serving.

But maybe it’s not their fault. Maybe their frustration is misdirected at non-conforming cyclists, when in fact the true source of their frustration is an incorrect assumption about the predictability of our transportation system. I am guilty of this as well. When I am trying to drive from my house to a destination that is 30 miles away (separated mostly by rural highways), I mistakenly expect that this journey will take me only 30 minutes. But I am wrong. There are all sorts of factors, like stoplights, detours, accidents, and…traffic that can make my trip unpredictable. In fact, this unpredictability is the norm, although I tend to fool myself into thinking that it is the exception.

Which brings me to traffic. Traffic moves according to what I like to call the slowest common denominator (SCD). In my definition, this means that the slowest vehicles in a traffic flow determine the average speed of the traffic flow. This defies the assumption that aggressive, fast drivers are in control of the road. I have yet to see one of these vehicles successfully push traffic forward, bulldozer-style. Yet, I’ve been caught behind many an meandering, elderly motorist who has taken complete control of the rate of traffic on a two-lane road.

And this is where Bike Lanes come in. Bike Lanes are not for the benefit of cyclists. Bike Lanes are for the benefit of motorists. If sharing the road with cars were not a factor, a cyclist presented with the choice of riding in the normal lane or in the bike lane would be unlikely to choose the inferior, shoulder-esque mini-pathway. They would choose the main lane! The reason that bike lanes matter is because of cars. Bike lanes make it so that automotive traffic can continue with minimal impediment from cyclists. That’s right, bike lanes are a means of making it more fair for motorists, who wish to travel at a rate faster than the SCD of a bicycle. So, from someone who, whether I’m hypermiling or riding a bike, is often the SCD, you’re welcome 😉

* To avoid any unnecessary personal banter, I’d like to clarify that I distinguish the difference between a cyclist and motorist as the present (thus, temporary) selection of mode of transportation. Personally, there are different occasions on which I choose to be a cyclist, motorist, pedestrian, and transit rider. Regardless of this choice, I retain my own unique identity, not one assigned to me by my mode of transport. Sure, there are differentiating personality characteristics that people choose to associate with their preferred form of transportation, but we’re all just a flat tire away from being united as pedestrians 🙂

** I understand the economically-minded intent of the argument that commuting (to work) is more valuable to society than exercising. Yet, with the disproportionately high costs of healthcare, especially the reactive medicine needed to compensate for generally sedentary lives in America, I think I could make a case that the economically logical choice is that we all exercise for 30 minutes in the morning, and show up late for work.

Some thoughts on frozen toothpaste

2011/09/17 Leave a comment

What remains of my toothpaste, post-TSA
This is what remains of my toothpaste: 0.8 ounces. I started the day with a full-size (4.8 ounce) bottle of toothpaste, which exceeds the TSA’s limit of 3.4 ounces of liquid per container. The thought behind this regulation is that the possession of certain types of liquid in sufficient quantities can be used to make a bomb. While I am glad that someone is looking out for my wellbeing as an air traveler, a few of the security measures simply don’t make sense.
What if I froze my toothpaste? The TSA’s restriction is not on toothpaste, but on liquids. If I initiated a state change and turned my toothpaste into a solid, would it suddenly be permissible?

This doesn’t make sense.

Also, how effective are those full-body backscatter scanners? The thought is that these machines help TSA personnel quickly detect dangerous objects with increased sensitivity over other methods. I noticed the machines were only in about half the lines at the Denver Airport. Half the passengers are invasively scanned, while the rest simply pass through metal detectors.

What if someone with malicious intent simply chooses to bypass the more thorough scanner?

This doesn’t make sense.

These experiences remind me of an aspect of conversations I’ve had recently with entrepreneurs about their startups: it’s vital that your story makes sense. There are two pieces of this:
1. Actually have a logical story
2. Communicate your story clearly & concisely

In the case of the TSA, their story actually has a very simple logic (however flawed their “product” is under the surface): you want to feel safe, so our systems filter out dangerous stuff and make it safer for you to travel. ZipCar is also great: you don’t need a car, just the service of using a car when you need it. We make that process really easy, and while you pay us for that convenience, you still save money over owning or traditional car rental. Boom. Logical. Everybody wins.

Does your startup’s story make sense like this? Do you solve a human need in a clear, logical way? Or, like the toothpaste regulation, is it easy to poke holes in your logic? Mastering your story can certainly be an iterative process, but you should always be trending toward a simple, logical, easily understandable series of thoughts. This will make your conversations with users, customers, partners, and investors much more productive (and likely, more successful). And to accomplish this, your product team and marketing team (likely the same people in an early-stage startup) need to work together. As form follows function, it’s much easier to convince your audience that a hammer can do the job of driving nails than, say, convincing them that a feather could.

Lesson learned: nail your product, then tell a clear story about it.

Note 1: TSA liquid regulations http://www.tsa.gov/311/index.shtm

Note2: way to go, L3 Communications on selling those backscatter machines and apparently making loads of money by reducing people’s fears! Killer combination of powerful technology, and an even more powerful marketing campaign.

The Bike vs Car Debate continues

2010/09/01 Leave a comment

While I had heard about the debate that erupted in the comments of this article was rather heated, I am somewhat impressed at the generally logical discourse between those who favor motoring or cycling. There has definitely been some bantering back and forth, but there was a high frequency of open-minded comments that blamed neither (or both) the driver and cyclist involved in Monday’s collision.

A few great points were made:

  1. Riding bikes on sidewalks is generally a bad idea. See Ken’s thoughts.
  2. In a collision between bike and cyclist, no matter who is at fault, the cyclist will lose. #Physics
  3. Cyclists: your bike is a vehicle. Operating it demands the same responsibilities as for a car.
  4. Motorists: bicycles are vehicles. Treat them as such.

Still, my favorite comment is the one that follows:

dklane wrote on 08/30/2010 04:23:16 PM:

“As a person who has used cars, tractors, and bicycles on Lexington roads, I find it odd that people wait patiently when I drive a tractor at 12mph but act like race car drivers when I ride a bicycle on the same road at 24mph.”

When I look out at a street, my mind strips away all the vehicles, and all I see are people. Some strutting along the sidewalk. Some on two-wheelers with wind in their hair. Others enjoying a few minutes of steering-wheel karaoke. Yet we all have two things in common: a soul, and a layer of rubber insulating us from the omniscient road. Maybe if we removed the layers of insulation that divide us into vehicular factions, then we might see more clearly that we are all people. People with a destination worthy of the journey.

Categories: Bicycles, Transportation

Why I Hate Cars #2: Wasted time

2010/06/21 2 comments

Automobiles in a traffic jam on a highway

Life is not static, it is in motion. That is why I chose to become a mechanical engineer. I really like stuff that moves. I am going to ride my mechanical bicycle home shortly. While doing so, my lungs will exchange oxygen with the atmosphere and my heart will move blood throughout my body through pressure differentials. My great mission in life is to improve the way people move about the world. Just like horses, carriages, and steam engines, cars have seen their time come, and now it is quickly departing. With the advent of ‘internet everywhere‘, my commute is no longer about getting to where I am going so that I can start work. I can start work on the way. Heck, for must stuff I don’t even need to be in a communal, or even static, location. The downfall of the reliance on personal automobiles in suburban America, however, is that I cannot safely and legally do my work (or have my fun, for that matter) while transporting myself. My time in the car is lost time, and soon others will realize that their commutes are nothing but a frustrating waste of their most valuable resource.

My friend and roommate Phillip realizes how valuable his time is. But he is stuck in a rut when it comes to finding a good alternative to his commute. In July, Phillip will marry his high-school sweetheart and move to Louisville, where his fiancée has a nice job as an actuary. The problem, however, is that Phildo is just starting the second year of his PhD program in Materials Science and Engineering…in Lexington. Each day, he will give up three hours of his productive time in order to move his body from Louisville to Lexington and back. While PhD’s are sometimes mocked for viewing their bodies solely as transport mechanisms for their brains, these intellectuals are a vital part of our society. Without people like Phillip who push the boundaries of modern science and technology, America would not be the country that it is today. This is why I am so bothered that Phillip’s only viable option to commute between Kentucky’s two largest cities is to drive his personal automobile. How will America reclaim its title as the world’s economic superpower when our brightest citizens must trade several hours each day of productive life for a monotonous stint behind a steering wheel?

This is a the problem I want to solve in my lifetime.

I Bike KY and Hope you will, too.

2010/05/08 Leave a comment

In celebration of National Bike Month and local Bike Lexington events, I decided to finally make the t-shirt that I’ve been itching to wear, and found a good cause for it to support.

Inspired by a similar shirt I found in NYC, I’ve wanted a good way to proclaim to the world that I love riding my bike in KY. What’s not to love about forests full of cross-country MTB trails and an abundance of rolling hills navigable by horse farm-lined roads? While our state’s marketers often proclaim the merits of Kentucky’s equine heritage, Bourbon, and Bluegrass music, cycling may be our best-kept secret. Well, time to let the cat out of the bag:

The shirts go on sale Friday, May 14th for $15. Let me know if you want one!

While I’m excited to wear these shirts, and see them on other cyclists in KY, what really moves me is the opportunity to use this to benefit less fortunate cyclists in the area. While many commuter cyclists (like myself) choose their mode of transport based on preference, for others, it is the only viable option. The latter group is well-represented by men at Lexington’s Hope Center. Walking into the building on Loudon Ave, the dozens of bikes overflowing from racks make it obvious that residents rely on two-wheeled, self-propelled vehicles. Unfortunately, many of the bikes are in disrepair, inhibiting residents from effectively transporting themselves around Lexington.

While at a BPAC meeting on May 7th, I learned about an initiative to help the residents of the Hope Center overcome this challenge. By providing bicycle repair equipment and lessons, residents will be able to maintain their own bicycles to ensure a reliable, sustainable transportation option. Think teach-a-man-to-fish (we just need a few fishing poles). With help from a few of the local bike shops, all that’s needed to make this a reality is $300. That’s where you come in. By helping me sell 60 t-shirts, we can raise enough money to accomplish this first goal. Then, phase 2: lighting systems for all the Hope Center’s commuter cyclists!

Here are a few ways you can help:

  1. Order t-shirts (contact me if you’re local, or purchase via eBay)
  2. Encourage your friends to order t-shirts
  3. Donate money/tools/time

My Day Without Shoes

2010/04/09 1 comment

April 8th was One Day Without Shoes, spearheaded by TOMS Shoes to evangelize the plight of children around the world who don’t have shoes. Hitting close to home, Booneville, KY was the site of a TOMS shoe drop. For these kids, lack of shoes means reduced access to education and increased incidence of disease. For me, walking barefoot was an interesting exploration of the most basic form of human transportation.

Events like this are the epitome of social entrepreneurship, combining the support of a worthy cause with a brilliant marketing plan and a sustainable business model. That’s why TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie‘s picture hangs on our Rockstar Wall at Awesome Inc, and why I’ll be highlighting his story in my talk at Saturday’s Appalachian IDEAS conference.

Thanks to “Cool”, avid TOMS fan and member of Team Alpha, I was inspired to spend most of my day barefoot. It was amazing how strange I felt in the beginning, leaving my house without shoes on.  I quickly discovered how painfully uneven the sidewalks are in my neighborhood. Next came the realization of how much slower I was moving compared to my normally hurried pace. I noticed my feet garnering plenty of strange looks as I progressed through campus to meet up with 50 other barefoot marchers. It would have been great to see more people participate in the walk, but it sparked plenty of curiosity from onlookers, who were eager to learn why a pack of young people were traversing UK’s campus with naked feet. After the walk, I continued on to Awesome Inc. At the completion of my 1.3 mile journey, my dogs were tired and slightly blackened. After a few hours of touch screen business development work, I had a hankering for a sandwich. Although weary of potential rejection, I strolled into the nearest sandwich shop, and was delighted to order my favorite #13 sub without a hitch. I’m not sure they even noticed I was barefoot! Sandwich in hand, I set out to find the latest copy of Ace Weekly to read about “Techsington”, which highlighted some of the great things going on for Technology Month in Lexington. Once I finished lunch and discussed user interfaces with some brilliant UK Computer Science seniors, I set out for a half-mile walk to help Shannon, one of the founders of Nextington 4, move some furniture. Following the return trip to Awesome Inc and a shoeless meeting, I finally gave in and put on my sandals for the No Mercy gaming event at Bakers360.

The great thing about this day without shoes is that it still hasn’t ended. When I take a shower tonight to wash the road grime off my feet, I will be thinking about the kids who don’t have that opportunity each day. When I wake up tomorrow and my feet are still sore, I will compare my meager daily trek to the meandering voyage that kids in Ethiopia take across harsh volcanic soil. Will I buy a pair of TOMS Shoes tomorrow? Probably not. But the next time I’m in the market, I will think about how my feet feel right now, and consider whether Sketchers or Asics are doing anything to prevent that feeling for kids around the world.

As an engineer, I was rather curious about the effect of different pathway surfaces on the comfort of my feet. Here’s how Lexington’s surfaces ranked:

  1. Grass: like heaven to sensitive feet
  2. Carpet: not painful, but the uniform texture is uninteresting to my toes
  3. Asphalt: when well-traveled, the smoothing effect of tire rubber accumulation is pleasant
  4. Concrete: predictable when smoothed, providing decent distribution of force
  5. Gravel: about as painful as those sharp edges look
  6. Raised aggregate: deceivingly painful, unpredictable. There’s a reason I seldom walk barefoot on my parent’s driveway.
  7. Steel access grates: stay off

Stats

  • Time barefoot: 12 hrs
  • Distance walked barefoot: 1.3+1+.5=2.8mi
  • Average temperature: 54 deg F
  • Precipitation: 0.34 in
  • Sandwiches purchased from restaurant while barefoot: 1


Why I Hate Cars (Part 1)

2010/04/07 3 comments

My passionate dislike of automobiles and their effect on modern society is poised to become a treatise, hence the “Part 1” annotation in the title. This initial entry was spurred by startling transportation scenarios (one for me and one for a complete stranger friend), that occurred today while I was not riding in a car.

The most dangerous part about cars is how safe they have become.

Dwell on that for a moment before pointing out how obviously counterintuitive this statement is. You might notice a similarity to Parkinson’s Law, which states that Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Similarly, humans push their level of risk to the upper limits of their perceived level of safety. Why is texting while driving a problem? Because the perceived risk is so low. If drivers truly perceived that their risk of an injury crash increases four-fold when using a mobile device, would they continue that activity?

A few statistics for you to enjoy:

  • 4 out of every 5 accidents (80%) are attributed to distracted drivers. In contrast, drunk drivers account for roughly 1 out of 3 (33%) of all accidents nationally.
  • Texting while driving is about 6 times more likely to result in an accident than driving while intoxicated.

Before I digress too far from the reason for this post, I want to discuss the two transportation safety wake-up calls I experienced today.

Those of you who know me know that a bicycle is by far my preferred form of transportation. I have been commuting for the last five years on a pair of $25 10-speed bikes. There is no other form of wheeled transportation that invigorates me and reminds me of my fragility as much as a bicycle. Today, while enjoying a 20-mile jaunt down Old Frankfort Pike, I was reminded just how insignificant I am on a bicycle when compared to a dump truck. I’ve traveled today’s cycling route several times (challenging hills and only 5-miles-to-horsefarm beauty), but just now experienced the difference in industrial traffic on a weekday vs. a weekend. As I was passed a 35mph by the seventh behemoth Mack truck on the pothole-infested, 2-lane, shoulder-less thoroughfare, I began to wonder if the truck drivers would even feel me if we were to collide. I found myself hoping to at least be the princess’s pea. Finally breaking out of the industrial park inside of Lexington’s New Circle Rd, Old Frankfort Pike becomes a 55-mph scenic byway with rolling hills steep enough to conceal oncoming traffic. Although the verdant landscape provides breathtaking views, the stream of near-misses from passing traffic aptly reminds me to breathe. My first close call of the day came when a pickup truck driver approached from the rear as my riding buddy and I were about to crest a hill. Instead of following good driving practice, the driver chose to display a flagrant disregard for the fragility of his own life by swerving into the opposing lane to pass us. Little did he know, a box truck occupied that other lane barely 50 yards downhill. The idiot driver fortunately avoided a collision, but nearly side-swiped my fellow rider in the process. That could easily have been a whole lot worse.

I typically follow S. Upper St. home from work, but today noticed that it was blocked off by a police cruiser. Curious, I took a detour, only to find more blocked roads in the area surrounding the Pedal Power bike shop. As I wound through a maze of alleys to see what had attracted the authorities, I was startled to see a long, solitary skid mark that was punctuated by a motorcycle. Shuddering, my averted glance quickly noticed a nearby sedan with a chopper-sized indentation in the hood, and the truth of the scenario unfolded before me. As I retreated down the alley to reflect and avoid being a nuisance to the rescue personnel, I was beckoned by a man sitting on a bench at nearby Mellow Mushroom. “Get off that bike!” he screamed, somewhat hilariously. Curious, I approached this man, whose name I discovered was Joseph. Out for an evening walk on the warm Spring night, Joseph had been the sole uninvolved witness to the collision, but he was far from unaffected. He shared with me the string of challenges brought on by poor decisions in his personal life, but he was totally shaken up by the accident that he had just witnessed. Weary of the fate of the injured motorcyclist, Joseph urged me to reconsider my mode of transportation, or to at least ride on the sidewalk away from the dangerous cars (even though I shared these stats). As I rode off wearing my neon yellow jacket (thanks, Mom), I turned on the three flashing lights on my bike and thought about how easily a 2000lb automobile could pulverize my sub-200lb pedaled amalgamation of human and steel. Realizing that transportation laws require us to travel on the same roads, I quickly remembered why I don’t like cars. Update: Driver of car was charged with DUI, motorcyclist is Sam Mullins, a friend and UK Engineering Alum.

At some point, I’ll hit on my other reasons for strongly opposing the automobile as the dominant form of human transportation, including:

  • Inadequacies in driver training and certification
  • Social impact
  • Environmental impact
  • Economic impact
  • City planning
  • Exercise and health

Please say a prayer for the motorcyclist who was in the collision mentioned above. It’s entirely possible that sending that last e-mail of the night is the only difference between he and I.

Being Friendly to the Environment

2010/03/23 Leave a comment

Some things don’t make sense:

Organic banana excess labelingOn a shopping trip to Meijer yesterday, I stumbled upon an ironic sight: Why do the “Certified Organic” bananas (left) have more than double the disposable plastic packaging of the chemically-enhanced bananas? Does that really cater to the Green crowd? Labeling aside, I have been impressed with the variety and quality of Meijer’s fresh produce section.

Others are a bit more logical:

Zero Waste discussion at SXSWPanelists from the Zero Waste discussion at SXSWi 2010 congregating around the Austin Convention Center’s innovative refuse bins. Labels: “Recyclable Paper”, “Recyclable Metal/Plastic”, “Landfill“. Sure makes the destination of your waste a bit more clear.

LexTran's new COLT TrolleyLexTran’s new COLT Trolley, servicing Downtown Lexington and the UK Campus area. Oh yeah, rides are FREE. Seems like a good way to attract ridership and reduce downtown parking issues.

UK Solar Car's new garage bannerFinally, just wanted to brag that my friends at the UK Solar Car Team finally installed a permanent banner. Quite an improvement over the electrical tape hack-job I did in a pinch last year. If you want to talk to a group of students who understand energy efficiency and won’t bloat the facts, catch a meeting on a Monday night at 7pm at the DV Terrell Building.