Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Maggie Grabow--The Female Wizard of Oz

Bike lanes leading up the the capitol

In the past eight months--since I've started my blog--I have had the pleasure of interviewing so many amazing people in the cycling community.  In the beginning, I was actually concerned that I would run out of material.  I quickly realized that instead, more avenues presented themselves to me than I ever could have imagined.

For the past four or five years, a name that was repetitively brought to my attention was Maggie Grabow.  A good friend, Jon Patz (the same guy that introduced me to Lennard Zinn), kept saying that I had to meet Maggie because she was performing studies that I would really be interested in.  Her name was also brought to my attention by former Rep. Spencer Black, who had her conduct a study for him.  Finally, after feeling like I already knew her, we got to sit down for a chat.

Maggie is a powerhouse in the field of public health and yet she comes across as a sweet, calm and lovely woman.  She is currently embarking on an enormous change since her husband is entering medical residency here in Madison while she takes on her dissertation.  In the past five years, she, along with Jon Patz and others in the public health sector at UW, have put out two studies that have shaped how the government views cycling in the MidWest--and throughout the country.

Just this past week, Maggie joined a group from Wisconsin at the National Bike Summit in D.C.  It was an enormous success with around 800 participants.  Their focus was that in the United States, 12% of trips are made by walking and cycling yet 14% of all traffic fatalities are walking/bicycling related.  Only 1.6% of Federal transportation funds are spent to make these modes safer...and that needs to change.  Since Dave Schlabowske, Kevin Lueke and I have all written blog posts talking more in depth about this, I won't go into the specifics much more, however, I do want you to know that there is hope with people like Maggie fighting for us!

overflowing session at the National Bicycle Summit
During Maggie's time in Washington D.C. and during the Wisconsin Bicycle summit, she presented her findings on a study that became public last year.  I remember Jon Patz telling me that there would be a big press release, however, I never could have imagined a bike study going viral the way this one did.  Within a couple days, it hit most major newspapers and websites, including the Huffington Post.  Here is a basic overview of this study in Maggie's words:
 We quantified the environmental, health, and economic benefit of bicycling short trips in the 11 largest cities in the Upper Midwest during the warmest 6 months of the year. We united state-of-the-science approaches to modeling transportation, emissions, air pollution in the form of fine particulates (PM2.5) and ozone (O3), and the health effects of air pollution and active transport. These models determine the net health benefit from improved air quality—a benefit that extends beyond city limits—at $4.94 billion per year, saving 608 lives. We estimated the annual regional health benefits from increased physical activity to be $3.8 billion, resulting from avoided mortality and reduced health care costs. In terms of air quality, we saw a reduction in annual average urban fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) by 0.1 µg/m3. We also found slight increase in summer ozone (O3) (a major component of smog) in cities with a decrease in ozone regionally. In regards to physical activity, the total regional benefit was a reduction of about 700 deaths annually, with a savings of about $3.8 from this reduced mortality.  Total combined benefit from both improved air quality and increased physical activity in the region is estimated at a savings of about $8.7 billion with mortality declining by 1,295 deaths per year.

The study that she performed for former Representative Spencer Black proved that the bicycle industry is a very important piece in the health of the Wisconsin economy.  Maggie, along with Melissa Whited and Micah Hahn, estimated that the total economic benefit of bicycle recreation exceeded $924 million annually which is a number on par with the contribution of deer hunting in Wisconsin's economy.  That's just the recreation side folks!  When you add in bicycle manufacturing, sales and services to bicycle recreation, the benefit to Wisconsin is estimated at about $1.5 billion annually.  Now, with numbers like that, I'm not sure how we'd survive without the bicycle industry.

I asked Maggie a few questions beyond her studies.  Here they are:

1) What are you riding right now?  Do you have a favorite bike?
Maggie with her Trek

Road Bike Frame – Gary Fisher ARC Pro
Road Bike Parts – Trek 1220

My beloved Trek 1220 (which I received as a gift from my parents in 8th grade) was stolen outside my office building on UW-Madison’s campus in November of 2008. After 8 months of scanning every bike rack I saw in the entire city of Madison, I finally discovered it on a bike rack on campus, less than a mile from my office. Within 30 minutes, there were three squad cars on the scene, and the police cut the lock. I was thrilled to bring my bike home, only to find that the “temporary owner” tightened the bike seat so tightly that the frame cracked. Fortunately, Trek was able to supply me with a new frame, and the bike store was able to fit most of my old parts. Thus, I currently own and ride a part Gary Fisher Arc Pro / part Trek 1220.

*I have to add that while talking with Maggie about this incident, she mentioned the movie "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure".  She said that growing up it was one of her favorite movies and that she somewhat related to it when her bike was stolen.

2) When did you get into cycling/What made you get into cycling?

I began cycling as a mode of transportation since my main form of exercise was long-distance running. I sold my car in 2007 as a personal challenge to get around by bike, on foot, or by bus. Living in downtown Madison and having a short commute to campus made moving about the city without a car an easy challenge!

3)  What are three things that you would like to see Wisconsin focus on regarding biking?

a. Separate Bike Paths/lanes – I think one solution for improving bicyclists’ safety is to create a bike lane/path that is separated from car traffic by a barrier of some type, whether it is a grassy buffer or concrete. Though some argue that bicyclists may incur a greater risk by being segregated from the roadway, my personal assessment (after spending time in The Netherlands) is that more people will bike if they feel safe. Separated bikeways can provide this additional feeling of security. As a result, more bikers will be out and about. With more bikers present, it is assumed that drivers will drive more cautiously (Jacobsen, Injury Prevention, 2003); therefore, there will be less crashes and incidents between bicycles and motorists.

b. Workplace Showers – It seems whenever I talk to people about their mode of transportation to work, their main reluctance toward bicycling is the lack of shower facilities at work. I think it is important that workplaces make it a priority to provide their employees with proper shower/locker facilities so that people have the opportunity to bike to work (and especially one fewer excuse not to).

c. Better Education about nighttime bike lights & visibility – A friend of mine was struck from behind and killed while riding on a county highway. It is known that he had a light on his bike, but unclear if in the front or the back of the bicycle. Nevertheless, it was a huge wake-up call for me. Even though it is against the law to ride without a front white light and a rear read reflector in Madison, I see people riding without lights all of the time. I think people need to be better educated about the rules for staying visible at night.

separate bike lanes in the Netherlands

4)  Are there any communities in the world that you feel are "getting it right" regarding cycling infrastructure and what could Wisconsin learn from those communities?

I had the opportunity to visit some communities in The Netherlands in September 2011. It wasn’t long before I came to the realization that bicycling was more than a just transportation option – it was a part of daily life. People of every age, size, and occupation were riding bikes – and not just for recreation or getting to work – but for running errands and taking kids to school.

Eindhoven / Waalre, The Netherlands
• Separate bike paths (on most roads)
• More than adequate bike parking
• Separate street lights for bicycles and pedestrians
• Lack of social stigma against biking – all ages and sizes of people
• Creative carrying devices (for kids, groceries, pets, etc.)
• Underground bike parking – with “bike escalator” for getting down
• Bicycling fits into daily life there, thanks to numerous little details in infrastructure.

high school bicycle parking in the Netherlands
5)  What cycling projects would you like to be a part of in the future?

I’m hoping to continue my research in the co-benefits of active transportation (including bicycling and walking). I’m currently working on an ancillary study at the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Assessment of the Social and Built Environment (WASABE). My research is assessing the relationship of Wisconsin resident’s built environment and the suitability / feasibility of bicycling and walking. I’m also hoping to make some associations between people’s health and the level of connectivity in their neighborhood. In other words, I’m looking to assess how people’s ability to move around in their neighborhoods affects their health.

Although there are times that I feel quite down about the state of the country and world, when I meet people like Maggie, I have to admit that I have more hope.  We can only hope that there are more bright, young people wanting to enter into careers that can make a positive impact on the cycling and walking community.  I am including a link to Maggie's studies for further reading.  Below are a few more pictures from her trip to the Netherlands.

underground bike parking in the Netherlands

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spring Has Sprung Part 2

One of the first "kids" of the season at a friend's farm in Mazomanie, WI

There are moments and sometimes days in my life that I am so overwhelmed by beauty, a love for life and gratitude that I feel my heart may burst.  I have found that although this "bliss" finds me throughout the year, it seems to visit me more often come spring.  I'm not sure if it's the warmth that brings it on, since I tend to celebrate being able to shed layers, or perhaps it's being surrounded by "newness".  Either way, I am grateful to have had a weekend full of bliss.

The kids suckling on my fingers
I woke up Saturday surrounded by fog.  I could feel the moisture in the air and winced as I stepped out the door and was hit square on with the smell of freshly spread manure.  Ahhh springtime in a city surrounded by farmland!  Mid day, as the fog began to break, a good friend and I went for a "wake up ride".  Big, steep hills never feel good this early in the season, but the legs and lungs must be tested...better earlier than later.  In my eyes, all big hills bring their own rewards.  Our reward was making it to my favorite overlook and being welcomed by more than twenty baby goats at Dreamfarm Creamery.  There is nothing like having that many small creatures run towards you at full speed--all making different cries which I could only make out as "Meeeee!  Come feed or pet meeeee!"  I'm sure my friend thought I was just a tad crazy when I started talking to them and every sentence ended in "awwwww or ohhhhh".
An arm makes a perfect salt lick

I must give you some explanation for my love of goats.  I truly believe that although I was raised in the heart of Minneapolis, half of me belongs on a farm.  I love every farm animal but goats hold a special place in my heart.  Their curious nature makes me giggle (please note that I haven't had one eat my entire garden yet).  I am enchanted by their eyes (although sometimes I think they look like alien eyes).  Their bleating makes my knees buckle and it takes all my will power not to run up and scritch them.  As an extra bonus, they make some of the best dairy products around.  Goat cheese is a staple in my kitchen!  Many times I've thought about giving up my career of personal training to start my very own creamery.  The one big downfall is they have to be milked twice daily which means I could kiss my dreams of biking around the world goodbye.

A few days ago, I received a phone call from a friend saying that his goats had just given birth and that my husband and I could come out anytime to see them.  He and his wife live on a quintessential Wisconsin farm road tucked into the valleys of the driftless zone.  We knew there was no way we could drive out there since it's some of our favorite bike country, so Sunday morning, under a bluebird sky with low winds, we pedaled our way out to Mazomanie.  I knew this was going to be trouble.  Two goat visits in two days...I would be begging my husband for a farm all the way back to Madison.  As we approached the kid pen, the bleating began.  We climbed over the fence and five little perfect beings, all with tails wagging, came to greet us.  No fear, just pure love (and possibly hoping for food).  I couldn't help but pick each one up and give them separate attention.  They were so light and relaxed in my arms...trusting me completely.  Visions of tucking one into my jersey and making a run for it crossed my mind.  But no, the farm is where they belong, amongst green pastures and other animals.

As we stepped out of the pen, I won't lie, my heart strings were tugged.  Thankfully I was distracted by the female goats in the barn, along with horses, a donkey, chickens and roosters.  The back pasture held the sheep and billy goats but a back pasture isn't great for walking across with road cleats.

With every closed door, there is another that opens.  Riding back into Madison, questioning if I really belong in the city, I glanced to my right and to my amazement, had four sandhill cranes within 10 feet of me.  This is always a sign of spring in Southern Wisconsin.  When the cranes return, another winter is winding down.  Of course I had to stop, however in doing so, I scared them off.  I was hoping I could watch them silently for a time, but all too often, these precious gifts are fleeting.  I am just so utterly thankful that I was granted with so many beautiful gifts this weekend.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring, I Mean Summer, Has Sprung!

Church of the Spoken Wheel ride

This week we say "goodbye" to winter and "hello" to spring.  I must say that this winter wasn't really a winter at all.  Warm temps. mixed with snow and ice free roads made it one of the easiest I've ever endured.  Other than the winter I spent in Hawaii, I have never been able to do true road rides each month during winter.  This is a blessing and curse rolled into one.  Most of my riding friends have trained considerably more than I have (curse), however, for the past week, I've been able to ride in shorts each day (blessing).

Here are a few spring fever pictures taken during bike events this past weekend.

My pretty All-City
LepreCog alley cat

Gathering at Revolution Cycles after LepreCog
Church of the Spoken Wheel ride
Our steeds

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Sigh of Relief...

 A few weeks ago in the post "Do the Right Thing", I talked about how funding may be taken away from safe routes to school, safe routes to work and safe bridge crossings.  Earlier this week, MAP 21 passed in the senate!  A BIG thanks to all of you who wrote your senators asking them to save this funding.  Please see the article written by Kevin Luecke below for more information.
Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin Blog

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Music Makes the Wheels Go Round

As a kid I had a dream--I wanted to own my own bicycle.  When I got the bike I must have been the happiest boy in Liverpool, maybe the world.  I lived for that bike.  Most kids left their bike in the backyard at night.  Not me.  I insisted on taking mine indoors and the first night I even kept it in my bed.
                                                                                                                       -John Lennon

When you think about it, it shouldn't be a surprise that there's such a strong connection between cycling and music.  The rhythm of the pedal stroke, the beat of the heart and the chorus of nature surrounding you.

I can't tell you how many times I've sung a song in my head to help me get up a grueling climb.  And quite often I'll notice a song looping in my brain--replaying several times over before I even realize it's there.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, poetry tends to write itself when I'm on a ride.  This must be similar to what so many musicians experience on a bike.  What are songs really, other than poetry set to music?

David Byrne
Two cycling musicians that come to the forefront of my mind are Neil Pert (drummer for Rush) and David Byrne (front-man for The Talking Heads).  Both have been cycling for years, and both have written books on their experiences on two wheels.

Awhile back, while thumbing through books at the library, I came across Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne.  I was shocked.  How could this book have gone under my radar?  How is it possible that I didn't know about it?  Since I was a pre-teen, I've been in love with Byrne's music.  His ability to completely re-invent himself every few years just makes me appreciate him more.  Now, I realize that I also love his writing.  I've gone through Bicycle Diaries twice--and plan on referencing it again and again.  While touring, Byrne brings his folding bike and explores cities around the world.  What I love is that he doesn't just write about the top "bike friendly" cities--he also explores some of the "least friendly"--and sees beauty in them as well.  David goes into great detail about bike infrastructure and what city planners need to focus on to improve ridership.  He brings up the ex-mayor of Bogota, Colombia as just one example...discussing what Enrique Penalosa did to completely change one of the most dangerous cities in the world in a very short time span.  David keeps a blog that often revolves around cycling at DavidByrne.com

One of David Byrne's bike racks

Next up is Neil Peart.  You may find this amusing but I really don't like listening to Rush.  I dated a guy in the early 90's that was infatuated with them.  I tried so hard to appreciate the music but it never happened.  When my mother-in-law sent me The Masked Rider--Peart's first cycling book--I just couldn't get myself to read it.  It sat on the shelf for months.  Then, my husband read it and informed me that I'd really enjoy it.  I picked it up and then, couldn't put it down.  I was so enthralled by not only his cycling adventure but how he viewed the world.  He was so honest and real.  My new found respect for him didn't get me to like Rush's music (although I think he's an amazing drummer) but it did get me to follow his writing.

Neil Peart 1992 Africa Tour

The first book I read by Neil Peart (drummer for Rush)

Luka Bloom's song Acoustic Motorbike is one of my all time favorites.  His lyrics capture the essence of what riding means to me.  Acoustic Motorbike was released in 1992--the year I was going through a dynamic shift in my personal world of cycling.  Bloom wrote the song after a concert tour that put him behind the wheel of a car for 5-6 hours a day.  He found himself realizing that when in a car, particularly in cities, a bit of a monster came out of him.  Shortly after that, he moved outside of Dublin and started becoming more serious about biking (he's been biking from the age of 8).  When asked the question if that's when he wrote Acoustic Motorbike, his reply was:
"Right.  The idea of the acoustic motorbike came about, funnily enough, when I was talking to my managers and one of the guys from the record company about what it is that I do and what it is that makes me different from say, rock and roll, or from folk music.  We were talking about how it's not really one or the other, but it's something in between.  so you have the Harley-Davidson, for example, as a symbol of rock and roll.  Well, a mountain bike is a symbol of what I do.  And one of my managers said to me, 'It's like an acoustic motorbike.'  It's a motorbike, but the motor is the human power, and that makes it acoustic.  I thought it represented a very interesting visual image for what I do.  The idea stuck with me.  So then when I went on this cycle around the west of Ireland, I decided to write a song, and then decided it was a great idea for an album cover."

Luka Bloom's album

Peter Mulvey, Wisconsin folk hero, has captured my heart with his music and the fact each summer he does his Midwest tour by bike.  That's right, he loads up his guitar and belongings and heads out for weeks on end, playing at venues in big cities and small towns.

Mulvey is a very approachable guy.  Each year my husband and I make a pilgrimage to Cafe Carpe in Fort Atkinson to see him play with Jeffrey Foucault, Kris Delmhosrt and David Goodrich--collectively known as Redbird.  As most folk musicians go, he writes about his surroundings.  One of my favorite songs, Road to Mallow, ushers in images of summer rides through farmland.  If I remember correctly, last year he said that two-thirds of his Midwest tour had been done on bike trails and paths.  I guess this gives him the freedom to compose beautiful lyrics vs. worry about traffic.

Peter Mulvey on Midwest tour

Doomtree is this crazy rap collective from Hopkins, Minnesota.  They all perform solo and then get together, sometimes just a few at a time, sometimes all of them, and put on three hour, mind blowing performances.
Their lyrics are edgy and since they live in a city where cycling rules, they bike.  The best part is they put a video together showing my old stomping grounds in Minneapolis--by bike.  Drumsticks video

DJ Radish Sallis taking a break
from spinning in Madison to ride.

This post could go on forever.  If you're into how music and cycling go hand-in-hand, I urge you to check out Pleasant Revolution --a tour of musicians that travel by bike.  Ride on and may the beat be with you!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Do The Right Thing

"Real leaders are ordinary people with extraordinary determination."  -Confucius

Spencer Black and his wife, Pam, biking along the Pacific coast

Weather you know it or not, we, as cyclists are in the middle of a giant tug-of-war.  Yes, by sheer numbers, we are growing and trying our best to reclaim our space on streets (that our tax dollars pay for).  At the same time, the funding that provides us with safe routes to school and work is being stripped away at an alarming rate and is instead being applied to more "practical" things, like highways.

Thursday, February 2nd, will go down in my book of shame.  At 8:09am, the House voted against saving funding for projects such as:  safe routes to school/work, traffic calming, bicycling infrastructure, rail trails and safe bridge crossings for cyclists and pedestrians.  We lost this vote to the GOP 29-27, however, three Republicans voted to save it (Petri-WI, Johnson-IL and LoBiondo-NY).

You know how people say "I'll always remember where I was when JFK was shot"?  I will never forget where I was when I heard we lost the vote.  I was sitting in the Chicago public library, searching to see what happened with this vote, when I cam across Brent Cohrs' piece at www.chicagonow.com.  It was as if a giant fist slammed into my gut.  I couldn't breathe.  I wanted to cry.  I knew that with this one vote, we went back in time at least 20 years...if not more.  Until today, I have not had the emotional strength to write about my feelings surrounding this event.  Now, that my head has cleared a bit, I feel the need to touch on it in a different way.

In this piece, I don't want to spend too much time focusing on the vote since there has already been great articles written (see Dave Cohrs' post and Dave Schlabowske's post on the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin blog ).  Instead, I want to focus on the local politicians who are busting their asses to improve cycling in WI and throughout the country.

During the 2012 WI Bike Summit--held here in Madison last week--Rep. Tom Petri was recognized and awarded for voting against his party in support of saving the bike funding.  Although I commend Petri for doing so--and hope other republicans follow suit--I am amazed the folks who work daily to improve cycling infrastructure don't get awarded more often.  In my eyes, there are so many politicians that "do the right thing" and rarely get applause.

Being an active citizen in my neighborhood and state, I have either spoken with or written dozens of politicians expressing my concerns for bike/ped safety.  In doing so, I have made a few enemies but have also made many friends.  I think a few of them see my number come up when I call and know what the conversation will be about.  Some of these civic leaders that I admire, and will gladly give a standing applause to are listed below highlighting a few of their projects.

I have to start with Spencer Black.  Spencer and I are not only neighbors but we also serve on the WI Bicycle Federation Board of Directors together.  Although we don't ride together (he's an afternoon rider and I'm an early morning rider), we see each other enjoying the wonders of two-wheeling frequently.  

For those of you that live in Wisconsin, you probably know that Spencer served 26 years on the Assembly.  He retired just over a year ago--many had to fight back tears--but hasn't stopped working for the state and community.  His life is dedicated to helping the environment and improving cycling conditions.  He served on the Governor's Bicycle Council, helped passed legislation setting up the state's trail system and a new complete streets law, chaired the committee on Balanced Transportation which initiated the first significant state funding for bicycle facilities, worked on "dooring" legislation making it illegal to harm a cyclist by carelessly opening doors and requested that studies be done to show the financial gain the cycling industry brings to Wisconsin.  If this isn't enough, he and his wife, travel around the country biking together.

Brett speaking to cyclists that are riding to oppose bike budget cuts 

Brett Hulsey is not only my state rep but also a friend.  He's one of my "go to" people when I have a question about local environmental issues and almost always shows up to my bike events.  Brett took over in the assembly when Spencer retired (he holds Spencer's old seat).  When running for this position, he could often be spotted on his bike bringing yard signs and fliers to those that wanted them.  Brett also serves on the country transportation board with hopes of improving the bike/ped infrastructure in Dane Country and throughout the state.  The picture above shows Brett at the first Bikers Against Walkers Budget ride around the capital following the news that Governor Walker would be cutting an enormous amount of funding for state bicycle projects.  I have to say a special "thank you" to Brett for also speaking at my first all women's bike event last year!

Dave Cieslewicz

I couldn't write this piece without talking about Dave Cieslewicz (formerly known as "Mayor Dave" in Madison).  I moved to Madison when Dave first took office and was so thankful to have a mayor that supported cyclists.  Coming from Minneapolis, I can't help but make comparisons to Mayor Rybak.  I asked Dave what bike projects he's most proud of and he quickly responded with this:

"Probably the biggest thing I'm happy about in all the biking stuff we did was put $50 million in the capital budget over five years for bike and ped improvements. It was the first time we had ever established a budget category for these projects and we boosted the funding. I don't think you'll find too many cities (and none our size) making this kind of financial commitment. And it's infrastructure that will make the casual biker feel safe enough to commute on a regular basis."
In 2007, he launched the new Platinum Bike Initiative and created the Platinum Bike Committee.  In 2010, he, along with Kathleen Falk and several other local leaders, traveled to Europe to study several cities bike infrastructure.  Their hopes were to bring back ideas that could be applied to Madison and Wisconsin.  Since then, Madison has adopted "bike boxes" and "sharrows" to help keep urban riders safe while in traffic.

If the above projects aren't enough, Dave also started the B-Cycle bike share program with Trek and 20 by 2020--an initiative to get people in Madison to take 20% of their trips by bike by the year 2020.

Kathleen Falk
 Finally, I'll talk about Kathleen Falk who is the former Dane County executive and is now running for governor.  The first time I met Kathleen was at the Saris gala--the largest fundraiser for the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation.  She was dressed up and yet still on a bike that shows how you can power electronics through the wattage the bike produces.  Kathleen is a true environmentalist.  She leads through example and was one of the top users of the B-Cycle bikes in 2011.  When plans for the highway 12 project from Madison to Sauk City were being made, she insisted that a bike path be put along side it.  At the time, I questioned this.  Now, I can't believe how many cyclists, walkers, roller skiers and inline skaters use it.  The phrase "Build it and they will come" fits this scenario perfectly.  Because she supports cycling as a positive means of transportation, I know that if she becomes governor, she will continue to improve Wisconsin's bike friendly legacy.

Each person and action is a drop in the bucket, but together, we CAN make a difference.  I urge you to take a moment and thank your local politicians who support bicycling.  More importantly, I ask you to volunteer with organizations that improve cycling, like the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation.

*Just as I was finishing up this piece, I received a post stating that the Cardin-Cochran Amendment had just been accepted as part of the base Senate transportation bill, MAP-21.  If this ends up becoming law, it will ensure that local governments, school systems, and metropolitan planning organizations are able to access funds to make bicycling and walking safe and accessible.  Please go to the League of American Bicyclists for more information and write your senator stating that you support this!

Thursday, March 1, 2012