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Tuesday, 4 December 2007
Ode to winter cycling, with caveats
Topic: urban issues

I’ve been having a grand old time with the snowy roadways and trails the last few days. Notice I said “snowy.” The slush is another matter; and the infamous, slip-and-slide “car snot” or brownish gunky pancake that coats the back streets, is another matter still. Notice I said “matter” twice. Both times I meant “crap.”

But back to the snow. Ah, what a pleasure to glide silently through a couple inches of powder on a trail glowing with reflected ambient light. The purity of it all. Well, of all but the embedded particulates and various toxics that come with every form of precipitation.

On Sunday afternoon I mounted my older set of Innova steel-studded 1.5” tires on the Kona. Just in time. Because on Monday I needed to commute out to the RIT campus for the first day of classes. Everything worked great – though for while I’ll have to use East River Road instead of the Lehigh Valley Trail (north section) and thus will exchange a great nature experience for a couple miles of looking over my shoulder. I keep dreaming that trail sponsors will start plowing the most popular lengths of trail to encourage year-round bike commuting. But that’s a long way off.

This morning I rode out Monroe Avenue to Pittsford and the Nazareth campus. Some people are amazed I take this route. Frankly, I do so only because it’s the quickest way from my house, and I have trouble mobilizing my body in time to do the longer, slower, but much more pleasant Canalway Trail. But Monroe isn’t too terrible for the “reverse commuter.” Very little motor traffic heads east from the city line early in the morning.

With some snow and slush at the fringes, Monroe Avenue doesn’t put its best face forward, no matter what time it is or which way the traffic is flowing. But don’t rule it out. Just be careful, especially at the I-590 juncture.

You can also go intermodal. The Monroe bus line (number 7) has frequent service from very early to pretty late, so you can toss your bike – I mean lovingly cradle it – on the carrying rack and climb aboard to comfort. Quite often I bike the whole way out to Nazareth from the Highland Park neighborhood then take the bus back to the city from the Pittsford four corners. Satisfying and cheap.

This afternoon, though, I saw some of the downside. It happened a minute after I’d got off the bus across from Monroe Square, near Union Street. As I was re-mounting my panniers, a young woman carrying a two- or three-year-old in her arms came up and asked me if the number 7 bus had just gone by. When I said it had, she seemed more distressed than impatient. She’d been struggling to navigate that Rochester early-winter special, the unshoveled commercial strip sidewalk. And carrying a little kid obviously added to the burden. I told her another bus had to be coming sometime soon, but she took up her precious cargo again and headed west on foot. She really could have waited – but there was no shelter at the bus stop, or anywhere close by, so walking into the wind made some kind of sense.

That’s the reality that those who warm up to things like Renaissance Square – a maxi-station gone astray - would rather not think about. They scheme to get their developers’ windfall built with (mostly) transportation money, while those who (literally or figuratively) miss the bus and pound the pavement get the cold shoulder.

Maybe we need a true intermodal task force, a real political coalition of mass-transit and human-powered-vehicle folks, to address the full range of problems. I’m going to think more about that after my next bike commute, i.e. early tomorrow morning. And there’s bound to some additional time for contemplation on Thursday or Friday, when I mount the new Nokian carbide-studded tires that I ordered through Freewheelers, my favorite “LBS.” The well-worn Innovas on my bike are approaching the end of their service life. The Nokians, with long-wearing studs and (reportedly) superior grip, will help ensure my personal service life as a winter cyclist won’t be unnaturally short.

(This and other bike-related posts of mine are viewable at RocBike.com, as well. Check out this fine new site, created by activist Jason Crane as a means of popularizing all aspects of cycle culture.) 


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 22:13 EST
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Monday, 26 November 2007
Annapolis - the unspoken issue
Topic: politics

I’d just finished shopping at the Abundance Coop when I ran into an old friend who’s committed to Middle East peace. She made a small gesture and comment about hope. It took me a long moment to realize she was talking about the Annapolis meeting called by George Bush and fronted by Condoleezza Rice – she of the infamous position, uttered as people were dying by the hundreds during last year’s dirty little war between the IDF and Hizbullah forces in Lebanon and Israel, that it was too soon for a ceasefire. I told my friend the meeting was going to be a sideshow, a distraction – at best.

The US media have had almost nothing worth reading on Annapolis; once again, it’s as if their advance teams had signed loyalty oaths at the Naval Academy. But the Israeli press is another story – their editors don’t altogether silence the prophetic voice. For evidence of this, read on:

 

“Demands of a Thief”

By Gideon Levy

Ha’aretz, 26 November 2007

The public discourse in Israel has momentarily awoken from its slumber. "To give or not to give," that is the Shakespearean question - "to make concessions" or "not to make concessions." It is good that initial signs of life in the Israeli public have emerged. It was worth going to Annapolis if only for this reason - but this discourse is baseless and distorted. Israel is not being asked "to give" anything to the Palestinians; it is only being asked to return - to return their stolen land and restore their trampled self-respect, along with their fundamental human rights and humanity. This is the primary core issue, the only one worthy of the title, and no one talks about it anymore.

No one is talking about morality anymore. Justice is also an archaic concept, a taboo that has deliberately been erased from all negotiations. Two and a half million people - farmers, merchants, lawyers, drivers, daydreaming teenage girls, love-smitten men, old people, women, children and combatants using violent means for a just cause - have all been living under a brutal boot for 40 years. Meanwhile, in our cafes and living rooms the conversation is over giving or not giving.

Lawyers, philosophers, writers, lecturers, intellectuals and rabbis, who are looked upon for basic knowledge about moral precepts, participate in this distorted discourse. What will they tell their children - after the occupation finally becomes a nightmare of the past - about the period in which they wielded influence? What will they say about their role in this? Israeli students stand at checkpoints as part of their army reserve duty, brutally deciding the fate of people, and then some rush off to lectures on ethics at university, forgetting what they did the previous day and what is being done in their names every single day. Intellectuals publish petitions, "to make concessions" or "not to make concessions," diverting attention from the core issue. There are stormy debates about corruption - whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is corrupt and how the Supreme Court is being undermined. But there is no discussion of the ultimate question: Isn't the occupation the greatest and most terrible corruption to have taken root here, overshadowing everything else?

Security officials are terrified about what would happen if we removed a checkpoint or released prisoners, like the whites in South Africa who whipped up a frenzy of fear about the "great slaughter" that would ensue if blacks were granted their rights. But these are not legitimate questions: The incarceration must be ended and the myriad of political prisoners should be released unconditionally. Just as a thief cannot present demands - neither preconditions nor any other terms - to the owner of the property he has robbed, Israel cannot present demands to the other side as long as the situation remains as it is.

Security? We must defend ourselves by defensive means. Those who do not believe that the only security we will enjoy will come from ending the occupation and from peace can entrench themselves in the army, and behind walls and fences. But we have no right to do what we are doing: Just as no one would conceive of killing the residents of an entire neighborhood, to harass and incarcerate it because of a few criminals living there, there is no justification for abusing an entire people in the name of our security. The question of whether ending the occupation would threaten or strengthen Israel's security is irrelevant. There are not, and cannot be, any preconditions for restoring justice.

No one will discuss this at Annapolis. Even if the real core issues were raised, they would focus on secondary questions - borders, Jerusalem and even refugees. But that would be escaping the main issue. After 40 years, one might have expected that the real core issue would finally be raised for honest and bold discussion: Does Israel have the moral right to continue the occupation? The world should have asked this long ago. The Palestinians should have focused only on this. And above all, we, who bear the guilt, should have been terribly troubled by the answer to this question.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 16:01 EST
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Wednesday, 21 November 2007
Grant us peace
Topic: urban issues

Three homicides in short order may have shown Mayor Duffy’s surge – I mean “zero tolerance” police sweep – for what it is: a socially as well as fiscally expensive exercise in futility. Or worse: a show of force that will pack the courts, and maybe the jails, largely with people of color, and will end up fueling the cycle of alienation and oppression.

As with the Bush “surge” in Iraq, the Rochester gambit can’t help but pacify this or that neighborhood temporarily. But what then? Does anyone, even Bob Duffy, believe that a nightly blitzkrieg will alter the conditions that produce urban crime? I suppose the aim is to keep a lid on things till the weather is cold enough to keep people off the sidewalks and corners. Then the boys in blue can declare victory, and the rest of us can watch the homicide rate seek its level.

Just tonight the city council gave Duffy the $2.5 million he requested to keep the sweep going a little longer. What worthwhile programs will therefore take a hit so the cops can keep pulling overtime?

I intend to cover this business in the next Justicia, the newsletter I edit for the Judicial Process Commission. (Go to rocjpc.org for past issues, etc.) In the meantime, please join me in frustration.

I remember Bob Duffy when he was the liaison to a police-community relations coalition that included my employer, the Peace and Justice Education Center, JPC, Montgomery Neighborhood Center, and other groups. He didn’t impress me as a dragnet type then; nor did the coalition ever suggest the kind of strategy he’s pursuing now.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 00:37 EST
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Sunday, 11 November 2007
Wilderness trek
Topic: travel

With echoes of last Tuesday’s election (rightwing anti-tax crap; immigrant-bashing via criticism of sensible driver’s license reform; the unfortunate success of local Republicans in maintaining a county lej majority) still bouncing through my skull like heavy metal in a “detainee” cell, I hopped on my bicycle for a backlots tour of the vast Henrietta Wilderness.

Motorists see only the fringes of this tract, which dominates the town of Henrietta’s northern half. And in one sense, they’re not missing much, since what they see at the roadside – endless pavement, scraps of greenery, bigger scraps of “brownery,” and throwaway architecture – is very similar to what one sees in the backlots. No, this is not your Grandpa David Brower’s wilderness, which teemed with life and beauty; rather, it’s a kind of spiritual desert that acquires some wildness from its the absence of life, not including the occasional delivery vehicle that rolls violently through the scenery.

Few dare to tread here – and even fewer to lay down their tire tread.

I know what you’re thinking. Biking in Henrietta? Gimme a Break. Or better: Lemme Outta Here. But don’t prejudge. The fact is, Henrietta, the scourge of pedestrians and aesthetes, offers great cycling opportunities.

Think about it. Not only is this part of town covered practically wall to wall in asphalt; much of the asphalt is in the form of abandoned or underused parking lots attached to obsolete big box retail buildings. That translates into expanses wide enough to pedal at top speed in any direction, do blindfolded figure-eights, try the technical moves your mom and dad warned you about, and otherwise live in a blissful state of transpo-anarchy. Yeah, you can have a grand old time riding the Erie Canal Trail or cruising this or that urban neighborhood. But in Offroad Henrietta, even as you hug the ground, you can fly with the birds.

If you live in the city of Rochester, there’s a “wilderness trail” you can use the next time you are inspired or forced to go to the main post office (Jefferson Rd.), Borders Books (an anti-union chain that’s best steered clear of), the regional market, or goddess forbid, The Home Depot.

Say your destination is Borders: You can take the Genesee River Trail south to the Erie Canal, then head east toward Pittsford, getting off the trail at Clinton Ave. Then head south to Brighton-Henrietta Town Line Road and go right (west) toward East Henrietta Rd, where you can access a sidewalk (recommended for newbies along this stretch) that will take you down toward Jefferson Rd. But before you hit Jefferson, or something hits you there, you can go to the right through some access roads to the regional market. After you cross Clay Rd. just west of the market, you can cruise behind a slew of commercial buildings till you get to some parking lots under construction, then go south a few hundred yards to Jefferson, which you can cross quickly at a new traffic light – which even has walk-don’t walk buttons, though the sidewalk itself is unfinished.

Once across the mad, mad flow of Jefferson, you’ll easily see your way southwest to the delivery and parking areas of the plaza surrounding a Wegmans. Look for Borders down near the end of the development. When you get there, turn around and head for home – and spend your book money at Greenwood downtown, or order from powells.com (a unionized Portland, Oregon-based retailer that’s the thinking person’s book service).

If you follow this advice, you’ll naturally ask yourself why the hell you pedaled out to Macadam Junction in the first place. But that’s where the wilderness ethic and spirit of the explorer come in. You went because it’s there, and you didn’t know any better. Besides, you can pause to rejoice the recent end of James Breese's long pull as Henrietta supervisor, though this life change was undoubtedly painful for him; but the fact is, he strove mightily to make the town a laboratory of sprawl, and he all too successful. I think of his regime every time I navigate the edges of the RIT campus. Talk about "gimme a break." That neighborhood cries, Gimme Shelter.

By the way, on your exploratory trip to Borders, etc., you should take a county or town map. Sometimes the wilderness can play tricks on you. Speaking of which: no grizzlies are likely to cross your path through Henrietta, but watch out for growling, snarling diesels.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:13 EST
Updated: Sunday, 11 November 2007 14:35 EST
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Sunday, 28 October 2007
Rethinking, and re-biking, Midtown
Topic: urban issues

Since I wrote the post directly below, questions have surfaced about the difficulty and expense of taking Midtown Plaza down. Who knew? It turns out that demolishing a major complex within an active business district (ca. 50,000 workers Monday through Friday, plus nighttime entertainment seekers and a growing permanent population) is more complicated than, say, smart-bombing an apartment house in Baghdad, where Amerika has been honing its urban policies.

But as the new chapter of Farewell to Midtown is being written - by committee, and with little democratic discussion – there is one word that hasn’t been put on paper: bicycle. Odd, isn’t it? The players, from the too-oft-quoted head of the RDDC to City Hall’s Tom Richards to the new mandarins of Paetec, talk about more than 1,000 new downtown workers, new office towers and even new side streets, and maybe a touch of greenspace, yet nobody has talked about biking as part of the solution. What do they want, a form of transportation that dare not speak its name?

Every city I’m familiar with that has maintained or restored vitality and humanity to its core has been serious about accommodations for cycling - recreational, commuting, and business (restaurant delivery, messenger service, etc.). Some cities in our greater bioregion, like Chicago and Montreal, have worked for years on bike plans and have invested big bucks in implementation. What has Rochester done?

Well, I’m as happy as the next gearhead about the bike racks on RTS buses and the few locking posts installed on some commercial blocks in the ring of so-called urban villages. And as I’ve said many times, this area has a world-class multi-use trail system. But look at downtown: all the millions of dollars that years ago went into new sidewalks and lampposts and benches, and there’s nary a bike facility or amenity in sight. And the planners, movers, shakers, and imploders still won’t say what they’ll do to encourage bicycling.

Bike advocates, though, have plenty of ideas to offer. Here’s a short list: Put post-and-loop locking facilities up and down Main St.; make sure secure bike racks are in place outside every public building, and put them outside major private buildings within the public right-of-way, too, with or without the consent of owners or merchants; try some marked bike lanes on suitable side streets and arterials; plow and sand the Genesee River Trail and maybe other multi-use trails so they, like New York City’s Hudson River Greenway, can be used year-round; restore two-way traffic to downtown streets, with as much curbside parking as necessary; bring back, and expand, the downtown fare-free bus zone to promote intermodal commuting. And when those 8.6 acres that Midtown Plaza now occupies are cleared or reconfigured, make sure you create a biking-and-walking refuge of some kind.

There are bigger ideas that should get attention, too, like the creation of a light-rail system through downtown that would give intermodality a boost. (“People Movers” and other commuter trains, which move on dedicated rights-of-way, beat buses all hollow, especially at rush hour – and you can walk your bike right on board, too.) But many of us would be happy to see some baby steps. The main thing is to get moving without delay. Otherwise we’ll plunge into the era of Peak Oil as just another washed-up Motor City.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 16:09 EDT
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