Saturday, June 30, 2007

Finally a Real Start

That is a cell-phone photo that I hope will one day be historic. Even if it's just historic to me.

The photo shows a whiteboard that lives in the city council briefing room in the basement of the city hall. Written on that white board is a plan for a plan to develop a Master Bike Plan for the City of Spokane.

Since joining the Bicycle Advisory Board (BAB) about 9 months ago, when virtually the entire board was reset, we have made our priority 1 mission to develop a real Master Bike Plan.

Without such a plan any chance of getting funding from anyone, including our own capital projects folks in the city, is basically zero. When federal, state, or other folks with money give their money away for bike facilities, they want to see that the money goes into a community that supports the project. The most obvious way of illustrating that, is showing that the community has bicycle policy and regulation baked into the over all comprehensive plan.

Our comp plan has a lot of bike stuff in it. But there is no Master Bike Plan -- not to mention that there's not a real unified set of policy, nearly no regulation and certainly not a peep on funding. There is a bike map, which is often (irritatingly) referred to as "the bike plan." Aside from being outdated and clearly developed by non-cyclists, it's incredibly inadequate as a tool from which to develop real policy, codification, and regulation -- all elements which are required for any kind of significant funding.

To build an effective Bicycle Master Plan then, requires a lot of skin in the game from the City of Spokane. It requires time from planning and engineering. It requires review and buy in from the council and capital projects as it's developed. It requires citizen and cycling input. It must be shepherded through the political processes around planning, GMA conformity, and just general political goo. It's a document that must be done well and be driven, developed, and written by professionals -- not a bunch of volunteer cycling fanatics. We've been asking the city for some full-time heads to devote to the plan for months now.

On Friday, we had the acting head of planning, the head of long-term planning, engineering, and a really cool woman from capital projects (the money folks) sit down with some of the BAB folks and develop a strategy for developing a draft of the bike plan w/in a year. This is huge. This is huge because we had the right folks in the room, we have correct prioritization w/in each department to finish this project, and we have a commitment to finish the project from these departments, backed by the city.

The "plan" will include, at a minimum: policy, regulation, prioritized projects, and funding specifics.

These are still early days and surly there will be lots to learn and lots of hard work ahead, but for the first time since joining the BAB, I am really hopeful that we may see real stuff happen in the time I am actually a member of the BAB. Yay.

In other news.

Another bike accident in Cheney. Kid. No helmet. Airlifted out. Last word was that he was in critical condition.

Pedals 2 People had a super successful run at fixing up 85 bikes over the last two weeks. That means 85 people that were bikeless yesterday, now have a bike to ride. Blog post on it here.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cyclist Hit

Yesterday a cyclist was in the wrong spot when a driver in a pickup decided to blow a stop sign.

Here's what we know (from Spokesman-Review):
  • Cyclist suffered a concussion and back injuries
  • According to a witness, the driver of the truck was "going so fast that he was flying." The truck blew through the stop sign at Madison and Sprague, crashed into a Pontiac and flipped in the air, landing on it's roof. The Pontiac spun 180 degrees.
  • Another witness: the cyclist "was caught in the cross fire." The cyclist hit a parked Blazer then was shoved underneath the Blazer by the pickup.

So: here's where we get to the part that makes me shake with anger. According Cpl. Mike Car, the officer on the scene (as paraphrased by S-R), "the pickup driver seemed only to have only failed to yield and had not been negligent. Without negligence or recklessness, the driver would not be charged with vehicular assault, (Carr) said."

Uh. Ok. Let me get this straight. Some yahoo in a 2 ton truck blows a stop sign. He's obviously going over the speed limit (it's 25 mph there right?) -- we have a witness (by definition a person who was there and saw the incident) telling us that "he was going so fast that he was flying." Not to mention the obvious physical evidence of a flipped truck and a "old Pontiac station wagon" that was spun 180 degrees -- a cyclist laying unconscious on the ground, and we have this cop saying, "It looks like a fairly low-speed impact..." and making an on the spot decision, with no further investigation, that that there's no negligence.

Gee. Why don't folks feel safe riding bikes in Spokane?

You can blow through a stop sign, flip your truck, spin a station wagon 180 degrees, plow over a cyclist, and then walk with a "failure to yield" ticket.

That's justice.

Just in: here's the police version, which conveniently fails to mention the eye-witness accounts. The net: "The driver of the truck was cited for FAILING TO STOP AT A STOP SIGN." (caps original)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Last Minute S24O with the Family

We'd been talking of doing some bike camping this weekend. Friday didn't work out. Saturday came and went. Then Sunday, at about noon, we decided to give a go. It was a huge success. We left home at about 4pm. We were at Riverside State Park by 4:45 or so. We got home this morning at about 9 AM.

The S24O's I've been doing solo have helped hone the camping process quite a bit. We brought just the right amount of stuff. We were warm and comfy and did not want for anything.

The one bummer is that the guy working the pay station at Riverside State Park hadn't gotten the memo on the biker sites. I didn't feel like trying to work it up the command chain on a quiet Sunday afternoon and there were plenty of sites open anyway. But it was disappointing that the hiker/biker site policy has not been baked into the overall training program for the front desk folks.

Regardless, we enjoyed a nice night: an hour or so chatting while Maddie played on the sandy river bank, followed by dinner, some minor exploration, and to bed. We were up at 7AM and having coffee at The Scoop by 9 AM.

We all decided that it was so easy and so low impact -- that we would do this very regularly this summer.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Loaners for Life

I've run through a number of bikes in the last few years. I do what a lot of bike geeks do, which is buy bikes or frames and end up building up the same bike over and over again. It's a weird phenomenon and I've seen other bike nerds do it.

In most cases, I end up selling off the redundant bikes/frames -- sometimes painfully, and always at a loss it seems. But some bikes are special. In these cases, I've figured out a way to keep them without storing them. And even better: a way to keep them so they are used. It's depressing to me to see a collection of bikes that rarely get used. If you're a bike nerd that's an easy situation to get into. I know lots of bike nerds who have a huge collection of bikes, some of which get ridden once a year or less. I'm guilty of that too.

So, my solution is to do "loaners for life."
The picture above shows 2 Bridgestone RB-T's, my favorite production bike of all time. The black one, a 1991 RB-T, is my daily driver. It rules. The orange one, a 1992 (repainted) RB-T is my spare that is a loaner-for-life to a buddy of mine.

Our Xtracycle was a great bike for the last couple years and I've got way too much time and energy in that bike to just sell it off. Luckily, another buddy of mine with two kids can now use that bike. They love it.

I have a great Burley Tandem that I bought about a year ago with the idea of putting Maddie on it this year, but it was just too big and it will be a few years before she can ride it. I was going to sell it, and as I fixed it up to sell it, I realized what a great bike it was. It's well-made; made in Eugene; sturdy. I just couldn't sell it. Some day this will make a wonderful trail and touring bike for Maddie and me. Another friend and his son are borrowing that one.

The loaner-for-life rules are simple: take care of the bike, use it as long as you want, and give it back to me when you're done or when I need it again. Everyone wins. I don't have to sell off a great bike (at a loss, always at a loss); the bike is put to use; folks that might not otherwise try out or buy a particular type of bike can get a long experience with the bike.

Friday, June 22, 2007

City of Spokane Street Development Standards Challenged

This morning was a perfect ride day. It was 68 degrees at 9:30 AM, clear skies, and I had the day off. My plan was to go to a quick hearing at city hall and be off... home by 2pm.

The hearing lasted 3.5 hours, and I never thought of leaving once.
This is thick stuff and I try not to bring this kind of crud to my blog, but if you live in Spokane, and you believe Spokane can be a great place, then this stuff matters.

If you otherwise enjoy reading the stuff I have here, consider this a blog-tax.

Here's the goo, if you want to cut the chase, see the numbered list at the end...

In Spokane we have a Comprehensive Plan. If you only read one piece then just read Chapter 4, the Transportation Chapter. In my mind that's the meat. It's easy and fun reading. Really: it's not about how wide a street must be or the depth of the gravel that must be laid down -- it's really about a vision of a city that prioritizes pedestrians and bicycles and other forms of mass transit over single occupancy vehicles. It's a beautiful and progressive vision that would turn Spokane into a world class city.

Anyway, the comp plan is that: a Plan. Where the rubber meets the road is in the Spokane Street Development Standards. This is the document that codifies the chapter 4 of the comp plan. When engineers go and scope out a project, they go to this document. According to the Growth Management Act, we must have a comp plan and the Development Standards must be consistent with the Comp Plan.

Today, the Comp Plan says: if you go and build new roads, you must follow the plan outlined in the comp plan. However, if you are re-working existing roads, you don't have to follow the comp plan. This is what the hearing was all about. We're doing these massive resurfacing projects throughout the city and there is no provision for implementing the comp plan as we do them.

So, we've got $110M or so being poured into the infrastructure of Spokane over the next 10 years to do these massive projects on big arterial and some side streets. We'll have to live with many of these roads as they are configured today for the next few decades. That's huge. Especially when you consider how we could be doing some pretty simple bits to redesign for complete streets at an incremental cost now that is tiny compared to what we will surely have to retrofit in the future.

The Hearing
The hearing was fascinating in so many ways. I'm still processing. Aside from Richard Rush, the petitioner of the hearing, there were no familiar faces and no audience to speak of besides me. It's interesting to me that this kind of hearing is not better publicized by the city, nor is it attended and reported on by the local news, as the consequences are vast for all of us.

The petition that Richard Rush was arguing was denied. In a nutshell: He failed to show sufficient evidence that the city's exemption as stated in the Development Street Standards on existing roads was inconsistent with the Comp Plan.

The hearing examiners were all sympathetic in their denial of the petition -- one of the examiners was a long time county commissioner, the other two examiners had pushed the GMA at the state level some years past.

They all agreed that the final implementation of the Comp Plan exception for existing infrastructure was poor and not the right thing, but as hearing examiners they could only make a motion on the legality of the case, which was: is the language adopted by Development Street Standards consistent with the Comp Plan. They had to agree it was since the language in the Street Standards, as the city lawyer argued, "does not conflict with or preclude the comp plan from being implemented."

This is nearly an impossible argument to win -- basically, to win it on these terms, you have to show that the codes written in the Street Standards directly contradict or conflict with the standards recommended in the comp plan. Of course they don't contradict it; instead, they barely mention specific street facilities to incorporate, saying that there's nothing to preclude them from putting more facilities on if necessary. Slick.

The examiners, who travel all over eastern Washington hearing and ruling on these cases, said in the cases that they hear about bad implementation of comp plans they almost always have to do with exemptions granted in the plans that are too broad. That is the case here. we've basically said: if you build new stuff: follow the comp plan. If you are doing work on existing infrastructure: it's up to engineering on how to implement it.

My Take Aways
1. We must make the language in the comp plan much more prescriptive. Today it is too descriptive. For the purposes of painting a vision of what Transportation could look like in Spokane, the comp plan is a masterpiece. As a document that prescribes and specifies implementation or as a plan for codification, it needs to be tightened way up. We need more shalls, not shoulds.

2. At the end of the day, legally, the decisions about what kind of street facilities/amenities will be (or likely, will not be) added to an existing street (i.e., Bernard re-surfacing; 37th resurfacing; Maple/Ash resurfacing) is squarely with the head of engineering. This is a huge loop hole that was baked into the Development Street Standards that must be fixed.

We must have a process baked into any significant projects (such as the massive resurfacing projects being accomplished with the 10 year bond money -- the effects of which we will have to live with for many decades) that guarantees that the policy and goals laid out in the comp plan are taken into account and signed off by planning, engineering, and other relevant departments.

This doesn't mean we'll implement every last standard in the comp plan on existing streets, but it will mean that when we resurface a street as huge as 37th (as the City did, between Grand and Bernard last year), the majority of which runs next to school property, we would look at facilities such as sidewalks on both sides, bike lanes, pedestrian buffers, street trees -- all of which can easily fit on this massive street -- and would slow the traffic to a reasonable speed while creating an inviting place to walk or ride a bike.

It is an awful stretch of road to ride or walk on at the moment. And unless someone comes up with gobs of money to retrofit it in the future, it's likely to be an awful road well into my daughter's lifetime.

3. Who we elect matters. Much of this is about political will. If people elect other people that care about this stuff, it will change. Find out how your local representatives think.

4. If more folks understood the spirit and direction of the comp plan and the vision of the city that it paints, I believe they would stand behind candidates and perhaps even tax initiatives that supported the real implementation of the comp plan. The benefits of the comp plan are extremely difficult to sound-byte, but very easy to rail against if your a typical anti-tax crusader.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Gratuitous Bike Porn

Alex is a buddy of mine that lives in Seattle. He just got this bike back together after wrecking it -- he got hit by a car; luckily only the bike forks suffered long term damage, he's ok now. When he wrecked it he had had it for about a week and was still getting it squared away. Now he's got a new fork and some new bits on it, and it's complete.

Alex is sort of John + 2 years or so. All the bike obsessions and fascinations I go through now are about 1 to 2 years old for Alex. But maybe I'm finally closing the gap a bit, because this bike is really everything a bike should be. It truly is a do-everything-I-would-want-to-do-bike.

My favorite features; in priority order:
  1. Geometry of the frame. First off, it's very similar in the basic geometry to my RB-T, which I love. The headtube is slightly steeper and the overall size is scaled up a hair, but generally, the geometry is about the same; with one big-ass exception: the rake on the fork is 60mm. This provides a trail of about 40mm, which is the sweet spot for hauling loads up front and provides for a spirited ride when unloaded.

  2. The tube set is standard gauge/diameter steel, so there's enough flex for that magic feeling that is oft-disputed on the bike lists. I don't try to convince folks of this phenomenon. The folks at Bicycle Quarterly call it "planing," and describe some kind of harmonic synergy between the flex of the frame and a rider. At the end of the day, it's pretty subjective and it's like porn: defining it is difficult, but you know it when you see it. I call it "magic" now. Either a frame is magic for me, or it's not. I'm not going to dispute how it feels for someone else.

  3. Fat 700's/Fenders: this bike can take true 700 x 38mm tires with (SKS) fenders. It can take 42-45's w/out fenders! That kind of tire sizing makes for a useful bike. If you want to spend time on the rough stuff -- single track, logging roads, etc -- put some fatties on there. Or if you want to do touring, put 35s on there and fenders. Obviously, it's the frame that makes this kind of versatility possible, so another critical piece of fat-tire-ability is the cantilever brakes. I hate setting up canti's, but they make the most sense to me for brakes.

  4. Internally geared hub. But not just any; this is a Rohloff hub. It's 14-equally-spaced gears. The Rohloff is the standard expedition-quality internal hub. This means no fussing with gears or worrying about mechanical gear failures in the middle of no where. It also reduces maintenance to almost nothing on the bike. The frame was built with the Rohloff in mind; check out those stylin' drop outs.

So, those are the biggest reasons this bike rules. Clicking on the pictures here will take you to Alex's SmugMug site where you can see more pics. I can't wait to get over to Seattle and ride this bike. Alex says it's magic. I hope it is for me too.

Oh, and the bike was a custom bike built by Ivy Cycles.

Finally, your Thursday night bike options have doubled this week. In addition to the Thursday night chilled out ride on this Solstice evening, Liza is really going to need some help fixing up bikes out at Dishman Dodge. Please contact me (johnspeare AT gmail DOT com) today if you can help her out. It's basic stuff: changing tires, simple brake adjustment -- just getting these bikes rolling. The plan is to meet there at 5:30 and work until 8 pm. Bring tools if you have them. We've got 4 bike stands and some tools.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A New Road and a New Park and Many Bikes

I took a vacation day today to take a ride and do some volunteer work.
In the AM, Joe and I took a ride out towards Cheney. Our intention was to hit the Columbia Plateau Trail but we decided to loop around earlier and ended up exploring some new areas. I love it when we find a new road.
I forgot my map, which is a good thing, or it would've been a ride on familiar and same old routes. Joe is a perfect riding partner too -- he's always down for whatever whim seems to catch me. Want to go longer? He's cool with it. Want to cut it short? No complaints. We rambled around out east of Marshal on known roads, then ended up on Keeney Road, a new and unknown-to-us-road. A nice dirt roller. I was pretty satisfied just finding a new road when we stumbled across a county park.
The park is a small area that was likely a farm at some point. It's got a small lake on it and lots of wetlands. Lots of birds. This would make a nice picnic destination. The entrance is on the corner of Keeney and Washington Roads, very close to 195.
We got home at around 11AM and then at about 4PM, I picked up Joe and we went to a local car dealer where we are fixing up a huge pile of bikes for an annual kid bike drive that is being directed by a local TV station. Pedals 2 People is running the wrenching part of the drive, which I now know, is the most significant effort in the drive.
There are about 70 bikes out there. All of them are absolutely the cheapest of the cheap. These are donated bikes that are just in awful shape. We've got just under two weeks to get these bikes in ridable shape. It's a huge task and more than a bit daunting. If you can help, even by just cleaning up bikes, if not actually wrenching, we could really use your help. Look for the "KHQ" entries on this calendar to see when we're out there. Feel free to contact me if you have questions:

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Rest Stops and Community

My buddy Jon, at Outthere Monthly, recently introduced me to a great little bar on Sprague. It's the Checkboard. It closes at 9PM. It's got a pool table, some nice old booths, a nice set of stools and generally feels like a place that hasn't changed much in 50 years or so. It's tended by a sweet elderly lady and what I assume is her husband. It's got good cheap beer and no fussy stuff. Jon's comment on the bar when I last had a beer with him there, was something like, "in any other city this would be filled with hipsters..." Maybe so. I like the quiet crowd of older locals that have typically been in there when I've visited.
After a meeting that ended at noon yesterday, I took a ride out to Hairy Gary's to pick up a light and check up on a rack he's building for me. Last year, I discovered the Yardly Bar and Grill, which is about a 1/2 block away from Gary's. The Yardly is squarely in the middle of an industrial neighborhood and tucked away on a quiet corner surrounded by dirt lots and big hunks of metal. By 2pm on Fridays, it's nearly full with the workers from the area pouring in to celebrate the weekend. It's got the best fish and chips in town by such a long shot. I found out yesterday though that you must ask for the "panko" version to get the best. Otherwise, you get good enough.
After a huge lunch of fish and chips and a pint of Kokanee, I figured a visit to the Checkerboard was in order on the way home.
I like stopping for beers at interesting places as I tool around the city. Mostly, I stop for the community and camaraderie. My favorites are Benedittos and the Baby Bar. But going to other parts of town and finding small local places like the Yardley and Checkerboard is a great way to discover the micro-communities in Spokane.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Downtown Bike Bathroom. Pumpers. Family Bike Camping

If you're downtown and need to use a restroom, but you don't have a bike lock -- go to the bathroom next to the gondolas in Riverfront Park. You can ride your bike right in there and take care of business.

Can you pump up a tire? Then Pedals2People needs your help. Go here and find the events with titles that begin with "KHQ". Then show up and help us out. We're also doing a free bike tune up day at West Central Community Center this Sunday.

Wanna go on a family bike caravan and camp out at Riverside State Park? I'm thinking June 23rd 22nd; leave the fountain at noon. If you're interested email me.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pride Parade 07 and Mobile Sound

Pedals 2 People had a great turn out for our section of the Pride Parade yesterday. No one counted, but the guess is about 25-30 cyclists showed up and rode with us. Mike here took a bunch of pictures, hopefully we'll see those soon.

Our sound system wasn't nearly loud enough, so that gives us something to work on. After the parade I saw a guy with the most righteous bicycle mobile sound system I've ever seen.

Click for big and you'll see that the cabinet is covered in sequins. He's got good volume, and obviously impeccable taste. Anyway, this guy's name is Chris, and as soon as he started talking ohms and wiring in series and deep cells, I knew we found our technical advisor.
Lesson #1: get rid of the deck. There really is no reason to haul around a car stereo; he wires his MP3 player directly into amplifiers, which then go directly to speakers.
I'm excited to get our system dialed in now. We have a 2-channel 2x40 amp for the mains and the 4x6 speaker and we have a bass amp with a single bass speaker for the low end. Our marine batteries held up great. We'll see how they do when we get some good volume.
I'll document the process and final product here, as it's been hard to find basics on the web for a bike mobile sound system.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Steep Hills

Ben and I spent the day tooling around the north east-ish part of Spokane and the Valley. The picture there is on an old blocked off piece of road that runs between Evergreen and Sullivan just south of Trent.

I showed Ben one of my favorite climbs: Lehman road on the bit between Wellesley and Bigalow Gulch. That's a hard hill and it got me thinking of other short and steep hard hills in the area:
  • There's Forker, off of Progress and up to Pleasant Prairie. That's next to the Lehman climb, but much less enjoyable due to gobs of traffic.
  • Greenwood, from Gov't Way up to Rimrock. That's a lung burner.
  • Monroe Street from 4th to 8th: a short and steep climb.
  • Tower Mountain: prolonged pain; actually all those little mountains there have some insanely steep parts. I think it's 44th AVE off of Glenrose that just basically goes straight up for that last 200 yards before you hit the private property wall at the top of Browns? mountain.
  • The last mile or so going west bound on the Springdale-Hunters pass. This is a classic; because it's a hard climb for the 10 miles before this and this last mile is just flippin hard.
  • That little chunk of Maple St b/t 16th and 19th. If you don't ride this, then you're probably thinking of the wrong piece of street. It's a weird diagonal offshoot from highdrive. And it's damn steep.

I'm sure I'm missing a bunch; but these are the ones I ride sort of regularly; at least a couple times a year each. I don't know how steep they are, but they are severe.

Hills and cycling are fun to talk about. And it's interesting to see how cyclists evolve with regard to hills.

Here's how I did it.

When I didn't ride much, hills were all I focused on: where are the hills, how hard are they? Lots of flat rides and rail trails.

Then I started riding a bit and I figured hills are just part of it, but they still sucked and I went through huge efforts to avoid them; long routes around the steep hills.

I rode enough and eventually I had what I call my "hill epiphany." It was on an unexpected long steep hill near the end of a long day of touring. I just put my head down, started spinning, and got into the zone. For me it happened here: about 5 miles of very steep grade on a hot summer day with a fully loaded bike.

After the epiphany, hills have never been the same again. They're still hard, but there's a sort of an interesting challenge to them. I'm still slow as crap, but there's a very slight improvement year over year. Maybe when I'm 80, I'll be an impressive climber.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Bike Fairy Came Today

Remember the post where I was going on about that yellow cantilevered frame that was sitting in a heap -- the one I see everyday when I pick up my daughter from daycare?

Well, I just got this email from the home front:

...that yellow cantilevered bike showed up on our stoop this afternoon. it's missing the shifter and cable, but it has a SAhub. the rear brake cable is frozen, the kickstand is pretty stuck.front wheel is out of true. not sure what's going on with the cranks: you can pedal backwards, but they also spin when you move the bikeforward. a cool frame.

one more for the garage.


who said blogging doesn't pay?