Nov 30, 2010

Time Out for Art: The Frescoes of St. Thomas

Pardon the long post, but I have been thinking about these frescoes lately and want to put this out there tonight for some reason...

We have an amazing work of art in Minneapolis that I suspect most people may not even be aware of. The Minneapolis campus of the University of St. Thomas has a series of frescoes by artist Mark Balma that need to be seen to be believed. In fact, the atrium ceiling has one of the largest frescoes in the United States. I stop in here periodically to look at these and reflect on the meaning behind behind these images. I have taken co-workers who know nothing of the technique behind making a fresco, or the symbolism behind these images, and even they are awed by these.

The frescoes depict a modern interpretation of the seven virtues. Indeed, Balma's take on these is kind of surreal and bizarre, yet it's beautiful as well. Here are some short excerpts from the St. Thomas site describing these pieces to help make these more accessible:

Faith - Faith is the foundation of all of the other virtues. This is why Balma's depiction of the virtue is located at the entrance of the building. A family sits together peacefully beneath the golden sun. The sun provides energy to all living things and although we cannot gaze directly at it, we believe in its power. The family represents love and commitment. The child holds a small goldfinch, a Christian symbol for Christ because of its tendency to make nests from the seeds of the thorny thistle. The overall theme of this fresco is creation, and illustrated by the Native American teaching of the tortoise volunteering his back as a place for the people to live when there was no land.

Justice - Traditionally, the virtue of justice is depicted as a blindfolded woman holding equally balanced scales. Justice is meant to be blind; it does not make judgment based on prejudice. In Balma's interpretation, the scales become the main symbolism, with the images of male and female figures balanced perfectly upon them. The figures are not blind, but they see themselves as they are in their natural state, different and unique, but equal in respect to one another on a scale which is fixed. Behind them is the dark form of a stylized eagle, wings outstretched in an upward lift. The shape of this mythical bird was inspired by the "Thunderbird" of Native American folklore. Native people believed the eagle to be the mediator between heaven and earth, as it was able to soar effortlessly. It was considered the essence of spiritual enlightenment, of principles to be upheld. This representation of the eagle was adopted by early American colonists and became the symbol of our country. The entire piece is framed by a circle, a symbol of perfection.

Prudence - The virtue of prudence traditionally has been depicted by a figure of a teacher, denoting wisdom. Here, prudence is interpreted as the wisdom to make the right choices in life. The main symbol in "Prudence" is a large, scaly dragon. To Asian cultures, the dragon represents wisdom and supernatural powers. A woman with an academic gown stands calmly before it. She carries the book, "Sapienza," which means "knowledge" in Italian. In its mighty claw the dragon clutches a diploma. The woman is not frightened by this vision; instead, she gestures toward it, offering peace. On the other side of the great beast are the pink glimmering arches that represent passage to a more enlightened, successful life. Close examination of the two figures shows that the woman and the dragon are actually in identical poses; they mirror each other. Sometimes our greatest inhibitions are within ourselves. We must confront these weaknesses. Thus, as Socrates said, "Know thyself."

Hope - Hope is played out against a deep blue sky, dark before the rays of sun bring the promise of a new day. The figures represent the cycle of life. A woman holds up her newborn child, who represents a new generation in whom we place our dreams. The young man in the prime of his life is bent over, laboring in the soil. Near him is a flourishing fruit tree in full bloom. His hope is knowing that he will reap what he sows. On another level, we must remember that our hope lies in respecting and caring for the earth. The elderly woman completes the cycle, but she is not a static member of this scheme. She represents the universal grandmother who has laid the groundwork for us to sow our dreams. She carries compost in her wheelbarrow, showing that what dies does not end, but becomes the basic elements needed for new life. In the same light, the pinnacle of symbolic hope in the Christian tradition is the lamb. Amid darkness is the sun, or the Son of the world, who sacrifices himself as the pure lamb in order that we may have the essence of hope.

Temperance - This virtue is the condition or quality of being temperate (exercising moderation and self-restraint). In Balma's depiction, temperance is depicted as the ability to remain free of distraction and focused on a goal. A stoic woman walks amid a fantastic forest filled with strange beasts. They depict the vices of temptation that face us. The grasshopper reclining on an anthill represents idleness, calling to mind Aesop's fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant. It is seated in front of a television, which Balma considers a potential instrument of a wasted mind. The satyr, half-man, half-goat, traditionally offered wine; but instead, here he offers a bag of drugs. The strange figure in the tree was inspired by the ancient siren, half-woman and half-bird, who sang seductive songs to lure sailors off course toward eventual destruction. Here a rock music diva becomes a contemporary siren. The monkey in the other tree accuses with a pointed finger, but is blindfolded as well. It represents prejudice. The fox, dressed in the garb of a religious man, offers the olive branch of peace while concealing a dagger; he feigns virtue while symbolizing treachery and is a comment on the many wars that have been raged over religious differences. The pig, traditionally the symbol of gluttony, holds a globe covered with the by-products of careless overconsumption.

Fortitude - In medieval times, when chivalry was prized, the virtue of fortitude was depicted by an allegorical person with a sword; thus, fortitude too often is misinterpreted as physical strength. Within American history, however, one of the most prominent examples of fortitude can be found in the African-American experience. In Balma's work, two main figures, draped in colorful, native dress, have persevered to retain part of their heritage; nevertheless, they stand strong. The mule, in the center, is an interesting blend of a horse and a donkey. It is the symbol of oppression, the beast of burden. It also represents the "40 acres and a mule" promised to freed slaves by the post-Civil War government. The two figures unleash the mule from the bridle, having surmounted adversity. The woman takes an active role in the bridle's removal because she has been considered as the lowly of the low. Her exposed breasts represent strength, in the literal sense of nourishment which comes only from a woman.

Charity - St. Thomas Aquinas called charity the greatest of the virtues. This panel, located at the end of the ceiling as you ascend the grand stairway, gives the viewer the physical sensation of being led upward to this virtue. Charity is played out on a city sidewalk; a woman cradles a lifeless figure. A mythical pelican envelops the couple and offers its own blood from its plucked breast to revive the figure.

It would be worth pedaling down to St. Thomas or stopping in if you find yourself downtown with some spare time.

Nov 28, 2010

More on Book Club

With winter rapidly approaching, I am attempting to organize a book club. That effort seems to be going reasonably well considering we have not had our first meeting yet. We will be meeting at Townhall Tap, located at 48th St. and Chicago Ave. on Tuesday, December 14 at 7:00 PM. The first book we will be discussing is The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker. It's up to the group, but I expect we'll be doing more non-fiction than fiction in this book club...

I have set up a Google Group to facilitate communication with the participants (so far there are 8 people signed up not including me). If you are interested, join the group and come see what this is all about. The group is heavy on bicycle-friendly people, but non-cyclists and bicycle-curious are welcome as well.

Nov 27, 2010

Bike Blitz at MMRB

2010 Pie
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Today was the "Bike Blitz" at Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles. MMRB is located in the Midway at 520 Prior Ave. in St. Paul in a small nondescript office building with a couple of red Dero bike racks out front.

Despite the inconspicuous exterior, MMRB does good work. Mike and Benita collect bikes either from donations or from recycling events and repair them so they are safe and rideable. The bikes are then given freely to people that need them. Their typical clientele includes people in recovery, the homeless, low income and other needy folks. This is a ministry for them, but also a service to the community. They also sell used parts and a few bikes, but the proceeds go to covering operating expenses entirely.

I did my first Bike Blitz with them two years ago, now, I think... They participate in a Christmas Wishes program and repair and give away bikes for Christmas through this program. Today was the 2010 Bike Blitz, and I donated the better part of a day to helping them out. I got four bikes on the road for them in the time I was there, which is better than average, it seems.

Although the wrenching is entirely volunteer, they take good care of the volunteers at MMRB; we typically have a little food, some beer, and occasionally pie. Today we were treated to two different kinds of pie - apple and pumpkin. Given that choice, I usually go apple.

These are always kind of fun and I always learn something each time I go over there. Today I was schooled in the fine points of grip shifters (grrr). I also have absorbed quite a bit about how they run the operation, what's salvageable, and how to best get a tired bike back on the road quickly and efficiently. This is a really different style of repair than I do at home on my bikes, but the experience is additive, and the company is always good.

Thanks MMRB for putting this on and for being out there.

Nov 25, 2010


Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Thanksgiving Eve 2010 has me in a pensive mood. This has been an exceptionally difficult year, and one that I would not wish to repeat. Ever.

That said, I've learned a lot, and that life experience is invaluable. I find that the most difficult times of my life always end up being the most formative. I think it takes discomfort and dis-satisfaction for most of us to move off of status quo, and moving off of status quo is, at some level, is the very essence of growth.

While I have experienced a lot of things in 2010 that I would not wish on anybody, there is still a lot to be thankful for:

Here's to seeking help when you need it, and having the humility and/or intelligence to accept that help when it's offered.

Here's to friends. They keep us anchored and keep us honest, and shine a little light into the darker corners of our thoughts when needed.

Here's to family; both blood kin and in-laws. Great people and unconditional support, even it it's annoying at times.

Here's to competence. There's nothing better than doing something well. It doesn't matter if it's as simple as replacing a chain wheel or as complex as guiding a client through a thorny regulatory issue; nailing it makes your day, and sometimes your whole week.

Here's to values. Sticking to your values means never having to say you're sorry (at least to yourself, that is).

Here's to taking a chance. I am not talking about bungee-jumping here, I am talking about trying something you are interested in but a little afraid of. Reluctance can turn into paralysis pretty damn quick if you are not careful, and that can become a lifestyle after awhile. Like exercise, each time you do this, it gets a little easier, too.

Here's to metaphors. I love them.

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and found more then enough to be grateful for this year!

Nov 21, 2010

And He's Down!

This morning we woke to a glazed world. Overnight, freezing rain had coated everything with about 0.25 inches of glare ice. It was virtually impossible to stand on any kind of slope, and walking was extremely difficult.

What could I do but seize this rare opportunity for a bike ride.

Bounding to the basement, I mounted my studded tires on the bad weather bike, put on a rain jacket and headed out into the mess. It was so slippery that I had trouble mounting the bike - you really couldn't comfortably lift a leg to swing it over the saddle without almost falling. After accomplishing this, however, I rolled out and had a fantastic ride. The Nokian Mount & Ground tires held the road beautifully and the bike handled predictably up hills, around corners and in the straight-aways.

Bringing my ride to a close was another story all together. I was perhaps a little over-confident as I rolled up to the garage and put my foot down. The slight incline of the garage lip was enough to wash my right foot out from under me entirely, and in an instant, I was laying on my back next to my garbage dumpster, looking at the sky. I picked myself up, but it was so slick that I could not even walk up the incline to the garage. Instead I started sliding down the hill in the alley with my bike. I ended up riding back down the alley and circling back up the block, coming in for a landing on the crusty snow in front of the house this time.

I whacked my right elbow pretty hard in the fall, but I think it's okay - it only hurts if I rest on something at this point.

Today's lesson, class, is that studded tires are all kinds of awesome, but some ice creepers make a nice accessory to them in these conditions.

Nov 20, 2010


Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I have had a project kicking around for over a year, and I finally finished it earlier this week...

I picked up a second-hand Bridgestone last summer off of Craig's List. The owner (in a western 'burb) had outfitted the bike for his son - he removed the large chain ring and was running this as a 6-speed with suicide lever added. It was priced right, and I figured this would make a good fixed gear or could be restored to 12-speed operation pretty easily, and the frame/paint was in really good shape for the age of the bike.

Several years ago now, I bought a set of wheels sporting Velocity Aero rims with a single speed/fixed gear hubs. I toyed with fixed geared bikes after reading what Sheldon had to say on the subject, but never really committed to one seriously. Still, I kept the wheels because they were nice wheels and I figured I might want to try this again some day.

I had scavenged a few parts off this bike for other projects since acquiring it (the Trek restoration I did last winter claimed a derailleur, for instance), so although I had wheels, I had a few parts to scrounge up. Also, the cranks that came on this bike were a little tweaked - they had an annoying eccentricity that I wanted to remedy if I was really going to ride this bike.

Over the past few months I have been accumulating missing parts on the cheap. I scored some mustache bars from a friend in a handlebar trade, got a saddle from a Bike Lover that had upgraded, and finally found a replacement Shimano crank for a reasonable price from another Bike Lover over in St. Paul.

The wheel is set up as a flip flop with a fixed gear cog on one side and a freewheel single on the other, so I am running both front and rear brakes on this set up rather than the more fashionable front-only fixed gear setup. The Shimano Golden Arrow brakes I am running on this build came with the bike, and seem to be very nice brakes (the self-centering ability on these is excellent, in fact). I finished the crank swap this week, and much to my surprise, the bolt circle diameter was identical between the old and new-to-me cranks, so I was able to salvage the almost-new chainwheel from the tweaked crank that came with the bike. I taped the bars and was ready to hit the road.

Other than a quick shakedown ride to check the crank on Tuesday night, today was the first day that this bike has seen the road in this configuration. I am by no means an experienced fixed gear rider, but I am proud to say that I only had to use the hand brakes a few times when I rode this to work and back today. I found the fixed gear to be particularly fun to ride downtown - I was able to slow down and regulate my speed better to time the lights, it was more of a game than bombing up to an intersection, honking on the brakes and then standing there waiting for the light to change, which I do on my other bikes.

I can't say I found the ride of a fixed gear "magical" but it was different and fun (maybe "magical" comes after you are more comfortable with it?). This bike is not set up for foul weather, so it probably won't seem much more road time until The Thaw, but I am glad to have gotten at least one ride in on it before the weather really turns.

Nov 18, 2010

Shared Among Strangers

This afternoon I stepped onto the elevator in my downtown skyscraper office building. There was one other young man in the elevator already. I hit the button for my floor and the doors began to close.

At that very moment, an older woman in the lobby lunged for the closing doors, trying to catch the elevator, too. My companion sprang forward and pushed a button to hold open the doors for this woman. However, instead of hitting the "open" button, he pressed the "alarm" button by mistake.

The doors opened, but a loud alarm went off as well. An automated voice came over the loud speaker announcing "An emergency call has been initiated!" We were horrified and looked at each other sheepishly.

Within moments, a security guard was on the loudspeaker, asking what the nature of our problem was. We all glanced at each other and I said "Um... Our problem is that we pushed the wrong button - sorry about that". Security said "No problem" and hung up the line.

We all laughed about our little misadventure and got off the elevator on our respective floors. We will probably never see each other again, but we'll probably remember this incident for a long time.

Nov 14, 2010

Meet the New Cat

Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Two weeks ago we took another cat in. "Coltrane" is about 4 years old and a neutered/de-clawed male. We've never had a short haired cat, and although the semi-long hairs are lovely, I am already appreciating less cat hair around the place than with the previous kittehs.

Coltrane was the trusty feline companion of Bike Lover "BillyPilgrim", who moved well out-of-state and couldn't take this fine fellow with him. It was a fortunate coincidence that we were ready for a new cat when Coltrane needed a new home. Mostly it's been seemless; he was kind of high strung when we took him in, but he has mellowed out and demonstrated himself to be a good cat. He's high spirited and quite a leaper, but he's also cuddly and laid back, and not at all stand-offish.

It's been awhile since we have had a young, active kitty; our last cat, Little Cat, passed away a year and a half ago at the ride old age of 19. She was a good kitty, but her senior years lasted a long time. Conversely, Coltrane loves to chase a lazer pointer around the house, and he's always ready to bat the scratchy mouse around the living room as well. Despite this, he is well-mannered and not very mouthy.

Having an animal around the house has changed the vibe at home a little bit. Friendly greetings when I come in the door are always nice, and hearing the "pad-pad-pad" as he stomps around is comforting.

Here's to animals and their care-takers.

Nov 12, 2010

Wheel Buildin'

Truing Stand Base
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Last year I bought all the fixings to build a set of wheels, but after a few failed attempts during a vacation, I shelved the stuff and have not gotten back to it.

Hiawatha is offering a wheel-building class next weekend, and I signed myself up for it today. The concept is now a little different from what I originally planned. Initially, I planned to build a set of 700c wheels based on Velocity Synergy rims and Deore hubs. Part of what slowed down on this project was that I didn't really have any use for another set of wheels like this; I figured I would upgrade the wheels on the Cross Check or something, but those have been just fine, so without any urgency, the project languished.

I re-evaluated the situation and will now be building a 700c wheel with dic brakes and using those on the Rawland. Although it's currently set up for 650b wheels, with discs that frame can run anything from a 26-inch wheel up to a 29'er. I'll build out the Synergy's and mount some narrower tires than the chubby Marathons I run on the 650b wheels. Those will feel a little more lively and will be fun to ride. I'll also be curious to see how the bike handles the larger wheels; I have this theory at on a small frame, 700c wheels are not all they are cracked up to be. I like the fit of the Rawland frame, however, so it will be interesting to see if the wheels are noticeably different. If this all goes to hell and the wheels don't work with the bike like I hope, I'll have a nice set of Cyclocross wheels, so no harm done.

I'll be able to re-use most of the stuff I have but will need to swap out the hubs, obviously. That was taken care of today. I am also eager to build some wheels; I've gotten fairly proficient at truing up wheels, but have yet to actually construct a set. This should be an interesting and rewarding experience.

Nov 11, 2010

Night and Day

Dawn Shadows
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
The switch to Daylight Savings time has dramatically altered the ride to and from work. Prior to last weekend, I was running my powerful lights in the morning and rode home in low sun. It's now reversed; low sun in the morning (or dawn, depending on when I get moving), and darkness on the way home.

After a close call or two last year, I run lights if the sun is at all low on the horizon. At night, lights are obviously necessary, but I think they are even more important in low sun. I generally use the "flash" setting front and rear at dusk and switch to steady beams after dark. The trick in twilight is to catch the attention of drivers and pedestrians; at night it's more about being visible and being able to see.

As I have said earlier, there is something magical about riding a bike in the dark, even if it is in rush hour traffic.

Nov 9, 2010

Lunch On.

School Season Again.
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
We are convening a gathering of the MPLS Bike Love "Downtown Dining Club" on Thursday. Anyone at all bikey that finds themselves downtown over the noon-hour is welcome to join us for food and fellowship. Specifics on time and place can be found here.

Edit - this just in! We'll be a Black Bamboo around 11:30. That's in Accenture Tower, ground floor, south side of the building. The food is decent but the price is excellent. Should be a good time.

Nov 8, 2010

We Are So Special!

The City sent a self-congratulatory message to subscribers of the "Bicycle Update" list today. It points out the highlights of the 2010 season, and reads as follows:
Bicycling Update Subscribers,
2010 has been a year of accomplishments for bicycling in Minneapolis. The Cedar Lake Trail, one of the few remaining gaps in the off-street bike path system, is nearing completion. Construction began on Minneapolis’ first bicycle boulevard. Nice Ride Minnesota launched bike sharing with 700 bicycles at 65 locations. And ten miles of street were improved for bicycling.
To learn more view an interactive map of new and improved 2010 bikeways (pdf).You can also visit our new projects website and track the growth of bikeways over the past decade.
Also, Nice Ride Minnesota is beginning a planning process to expand bike sharing.Two workshops will be held for the public to share where they would like to see more bike sharing stations.The first meeting will be in Northeast Minneapolis on Tuesday, November 9th, from 6:30 to 8 pm in the Northrup King Building (1500 Jackson St NE, Suite 314). The second meeting will be held on Thursday, November 11th , from 6:30 to 8 pm at the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center (2834 10th Avenue S).
Happy Riding,
City of Minneapolis Bicycle Program
I totally support these enhancements. The Cedar Lake Trail extension is a great upgrade, even if it is a little expensive. The 40th Street Bike Boulevard is a good test case of Bike Boulevards - I rode that project on Saturday between 28th to Chicago, and although I was skeptical of the project at some early planning meetings, I liked the enhancements and traffic calming amenities and think they will enhance east-west connectivity. Nice Ride was a success, despite my early skepticism there as well.

I caution Minneapolis against the sin of hubris, however. Shaun Murphy has done great work to help get these projects developed, and we appreciate his efforts. I think he was instrumental in getting a lot of this work done in 2010. Other projects, such as Marq2, Hennepin Ave., and First Avenue are bike-unfriendly and/or poorly executed. I appreciate that the city is trying to move in the right direction, and based on the PR pieces they are issuing, they view this as important, but a holistic and thoughtful approach and a master plan will be needed to arrive at a coherent and effective bike infrastructure.

Nov 7, 2010


Earlier this week as I was leaving the office, I noticed that I had lost another bolt from my crank. This has been a bad year for chainwheel bolts for me. That's like... the 4th one I've had fall off a bike this season. While contemplating this most recent loss and tightening down the 4 bolts the remained, I also noticed that my chainwheel had gone from a 42-tooth to a 41-tooth somewhere along the way - one tooth was entirely gone and the others were pretty worn.

I picked up an Origin8 replacement chainwheel and some new bolts, popped the crank off and replaced the chainwheel this afternoon. I was quick and simple, but definitely necessary. I inspected the rear cog and that was just fine, with very little wear. The chainwheel that was on there was very cheaply made - it was probably the original wheel and seemed like it was just heavy stamped steel. The cog, on the other hand, was a newer Shimano cog, so that was in much better shape.

I probably took a little life off the chain by riding the chainwheel in that condition, but measuring it, it's not too bad, and with winter coming on I am not going to deal with that until Spring (hopefully).

I learned today that Park no longer manufactures the nifty caliper for measuring bolt diameters to replace these components. The best solution is apparently to consult Sheldon Brown to calculate your bolt diameter.

I find being able to do these kind of simple repairs to be very empowering.

Unseasonably warm temps brought us outside today for an afternoon ride with that little chore out of the way. We stopped at the Midtown Freewheel and got Molly outfitted with some full-finger gloves, a flasher and a head-band type ear warmer. She's kept riding as the weather has gotten colder, so she's earned a little investment in gear to keep her comfortable in the chilly. She'll be rocking a rechargeable Blackburn Flea rear flasher around the neighborhood effective tomorrow. I like these - they are small, bright, and last a long time between charges. I have yet to run one in really cold weather, but I suspect it will be just fine.

Nov 6, 2010

Getting Chilly Out There

Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Yesterday morning I awoke to 26 degrees. We have had a few hard frosts now and it's typically in the 30's at night, but I think this was our first sub-30 morning.

Over a year ago I posted on some concerns I had over riding into the winter. Like many things, preparation makes all the difference. I have been using my powerful lights in the morning, and I have been able to dress appropriately as the temp has dropped, so as of yet I have had no problem whatsoever matching my set up to the weather (you may recall that I include "darkness" as bad weather because you have to prepare for it).

The most obvious change is the unpretentious Raleigh single speed. It's not as interesting as my Rawland but it's stout, has big, big tires, fenders and lights, and it's kind of fun to motor along on. When it turns icy, I'll change out the Big Apples for some studded tires, but I intend to either wait as long as I can or try to avoid the studs and go with big contact area this winter.

The other changes are less noticeable but probably more important. I am totally sold on wool cycling hats. We picked up a wonderful Grovecraft wool cycling hat last Spring for Molly. She never took to it though, and I ended up appropriating this. It's become my favorite hat - soft merino wool made from recycled (or rather re-used) sweaters with ear flaps for extra dork-credibility. Otherwise nothing out of the ordinary - wool base layers, wool socks, gloves and some Sporthill tights.

I think I have a pretty good chance of riding most of the way through winter this year. We'll see how I am feeling about that in January, however.

Nov 3, 2010

More Stupid Bike Games

Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Back in mid-October I posted about a photo tag game I am participating in. The idea is to find some obscure mural and get a picture of it with your bike in the photo. That photos gets posted on-line and then others hunt around and try to find the location and recreate the photo (more or less) and post the next mural. I scored my second "find" today.

There's another stupid bike game I play that's a little edgier. There's a small but passionate group devoted to taking self-portraits of themselves on a bike. For whatever reason, these have become known as "Panda" photos. I have indulged in run-of-the mill Panda photos previously, but lately I have been drawn to the more thrilling "danger Panda" genre.

A "danger Panda" photo requires that you ride hands-free and snap the picture such that the other hand, and the moving bicycle is clearly visible.

I can only imagine what I look like to normal people as I attempt this.

Nov 2, 2010

DIY Book Club

After trying unsuccessfully to hook up with an existing book club, I have decided to try and start my own damn book club. I found the book club I dipped my toe into to be kind of a closed circle; by starting a new one, I am hoping to open this to others that have wanted to try this but maybe have not found the right group.

The first book we will be reading is a non-fiction book (The Gift of Fear) by Gavin DeBecker. I read this several years ago and found it fascinating. The author is an expert at threat assessment; he is a behavioral psychologist type and has done a lot of work on determining when someone is, in fact, dangerous. The link has a better description than I can provide, but suffice it to say that it's a fascinating window on human behavior, and with recent issues on the LRT trail and assaults in Elliot Park, it's timely and topical. The book is available from the MPLS library and can be purchased in paperback for about $7.00.

I put the initial feeler out on this via MPLS Bike Love. This is still dynamic and specifics on time and place are yet to be determined, but if this takes root, I'll probably open a Facebook page to manage this. We'll probably meet either in South MPLS or downtown in early to mid-November to discuss the first book. If you are at all interested please let me know via the comment function below and I"ll keep you posted.

I promise this group will be open and receptive to new people, will be respectful of all opinions, and won't be stuffy or snobbish.

The discussion on Bike Love can be seen over here.

Nov 1, 2010

A Better Way

After several years of using Park and Portland Avenues as the backbone of my basic commute, I have abandoned that route almost entirely. A friend polled me on how best to get downtown these days, expressing some frustration with the noise and traffic on Park and Portland. I suggested Chicago Ave. as a better option. Here's why.

I began experimenting with Chicago last winter. Heavy snow and ice was encroaching on the streets and narrowing them considerably. Parked cars were starting to crowd into the bike lanes on Park and Portland. Add to that the fact that the posted speed limit on these 3-lane, one-way streets is 35 mph, and more typically traffic moves at closer to 40 mph, and the prospect of falling and sliding into traffic, or getting rear-ended, seemed too likely to make that a good option for winter riding.

I set a course on Chicago one snowy wintery night last January, and was pleasantly surprised. Although there was traffic, it was slower and better behaved than on Park or Portland. An unexpected benefit was that it was a lot more interesting to ride. South of Lake street, it's residential and mixed commercial use; north of Lake street we have Midtown Commons and retail until you get to the Abbott Northwestern Hospital campus. Franklin/Chicago is seedy and sketchy to the freeway and then you pop out into Elliot Park, which is marginally sketchy as well, but still feels safe enough on a bike. Connectivity to other good routes downtown is good, too.

The real problem with Chicago was terrible pavement. It was like a third world street early this summer. For about two months it was torn up and then entirely re-surfaced, so it's creamy smooth and a pleasure to ride on.

I am surprised the City has not yet looked at enhancements such as sharrows on Chicago Ave. They are currently working on enhancements to 17th Ave. (the "Southern Connection" project) because 17th is one of the few streets that goes all the way from Minihaha Parkway to near downtown (17th stops at 22nd Street, so it doesn't make it the whole way). Chicago goes all the way from the Crosstown to 9th Ave. downtown. It's wide, and the lights are in place at all major crossings. It's a better route for bikes and more direct to downtown if you are anywhere west of Cedar Ave. and and east of I-35W.

Hopefully others will read this and start riding Chicago and making bikes more visible on this route, which I really do like more than Park/Portland.