Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lucky 13

When I moved to Savannah in 1993, I contracted a serious case of yard sale fever. Episodes have become less frequent since I moved back to Savannah from Atlanta in 2000. Still, every now and then I get the urge to prowl around on Saturday mornings. In the past I was generally on the lookout for old transistor radios and cameras, LP records, tiki mugs, and Mid-century Modern furniture and lighting. I still keep my eyes peeled for these items, but they are now sadly uncommon.

When I make the scene these days, I'm looking for bicycles. And bicycle parts. Usually I find nothing but children's bicycles in various states of decay. No sale. But sometimes I get lucky. A resprayed Specialized road bike from a yard sale donated the cranks and chain ring I'm using on my main ride. I gave the frame (it was too tall for me) to a college student who used it for a fixed-gear conversion.

Yesterday on Craigslist, I read about a sale that promised bike parts in large quantities due to its location: the Savannah Pedicab garage. I was not disappointed. My haul consisted of:
  • Two sets of handlebars
  • One Sugino XD 175mm crankset (with chain ring bolts)
  • Two new Wald chainguards (with hardware)
  • Two new brake cables
All together these items came to $13. I think I got a pretty good bargain.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What I've been doing lately

The decline in posting recently has been partially attributable to my thinking about and then actually acting on an idea for a new blog. It has a wider focus than Bike Year, so I expect I'll continue my action-packed utility cycling narrative here. Perhaps there will be a little cross-posting. We'll see.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

What we learned in college (and how to use it in the real world)

What makes folks loyal to their alma maters? Great football teams? Excellent academic programs? Availability of high quality fake IDs?

What about the absence of cars?

A friend sent me a link to a blog post (thanks, Andrea!) called "Great streets, campuses, and pedestrian nostalgia." Andrea described it as "great" and "funny." I agree 100 percent and encourage everyone to read it in it's entirety.

Here's a snip:
...something I think about more and more lately is the possibility that Americans get as nostalgic as they do about college – identifying themselves as graduates of certain universities to a degree, and with a passion, that I genuinely think is alien to most cultures – whatever that means – not simply because college represents the only four years in which they might have pursued their real interests, but because, in the United States, college is a totally different lifestyle. You walk everywhere.
But what happens when these students leave campus?
So you graduate with your law degree and you move to Ft. Worth and you hang Michigan banners all over your office walls – but that nostalgic loyalty is not simply because you miss playing beer pong, it's because you miss being able to walk around everywhere. It's a particularly intense form of pedestrian nostalgia. In any case, college is like discovering a different world, tucked away inside the United States – and it's a world that's been built for human beings.
Jim Kunstler makes a related point in one of his books (I forget which one) about a similar effect associated with Walt Disney World's Main Street USA. I found the following quote here.
There's a whole other class of Americans who will drive 2500 miles from their small town in Minnesota to go to Walt Disney’s Main Street and walk down Main Street there, you know, unmolested by cars, because they really don’t let them in except for the few antique props that they keep around. And they’ll walk around and they’ll say "Gosh, doesn’t it feel good to be on a nice walkable street in a mixed use, in a simulated mixed-use neighborhood." And then they’ll go back home to their small town and they’ll turn main street into a six-lane expressway, and they’ll cut down all the street trees on Elm Street in order to remove these "hazards to motoring," as they’re regarded by Departments of Transportation, and they’ll do everything possible they can to destroy the great relationships between the things in their older town. And then, another year will go by, and they’ll go back to Disney World to feel good about America. So it’s a pretty kind of pitiful situation.
If college and Disney are so successful in imprinting such fond feelings of independence from cars, what can be done to motivate people to act on them after graduation — to demand walkable and bikeable streets where they don't exist in the "real world" and fight to protect these environments where they do? Perhaps these sleeper agents are simply waiting to be activated. Maybe they need to hear a Robert Frost poem or something and they'll automatically embark on their suicide missions start going to metropolitan planning organization meetings.

Friday, May 04, 2007

White, sliver and green

The smokey haze that's been hanging around Savannah for the last couple days was replaced this morning by a white blanket of fog. It was even raining in at least one place. Sort of. Condensed moisture fell in fat drops from the broadcast tower (pictured above) at the corner of Huntingdon and Abercorn streets, making large spots on the otherwise dry pavement. The forecasters predict we have a 30-40 percent chance of seeing real rain this weekend.

In the previous post I suggested that our current drought conditions had at one positive effect: stimulating bicycle use. Savannah Morning News columnist Lolita Huckaby found a similar "silver lining" in a local version of San Francisco's recent commuting apocalypse. There was no fiery gas tanker or melty overpass, just a barge that got a little too friendly with a South Carolina bridge.

Huckaby catalogs the suffering caused by the damaged bridge, now restricted to carrying a fraction of previous automobile capacity. But then, she gets to the silver (and the green) part:
But there is that bright spot, the increase of bikers, coming from the islands and heading to jobs in Beaufort and Port Royal. One local attorney, accustomed to a 15-minute drive into town for work, bought a bike Monday and turned a two-hour trip into work into a 1 hour 30 minute exercise back home that evening.

With all the attention to the "greening" movement, the bridge disaster could be a hidden blessing if it gets more car owners to park, walk or ride bikes.

Certainly not everyone, because of health issues, can ride a bike. But wouldn't it be great if more people did?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Something in the air

This morning I noticed that some of the azalea bushes in my back yard are staring to wilt. During the month of April, rain hit the ground only twice in Downtown Savannah. The combined total for both instances was 0.43 inches. The Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has mandated an outdoor watering ban that restricts residents from watering their lawns and gardens to certain days a week, and then only between the hours of midnight and 10 a.m. The ban is widely ignored.

By mid morning today, the skies were visibly clouded with smoke from wildfires (click on the Georgia Forestry Commission map above to see which parts of the state were on fire today) . This evening I pedaled to Jones Red and White to pick up some groceries. The setting sun filtering through the smoke cast an odd light on everything. It made the distressed vegetation look even more distressed. We could really use some rain.

It's hard to see many positive angles in current climate around here. Still, the dry weather has coaxed people onto their bikes. I suspect the number of bicycle commuters in my building could climb to 10 by the end of the week. On the way to the store and back I shared the streets with more cyclists than I can remember seeing in quite awhile.