We're leading a Kidical Mass ride in North Cambridge this summer! The will be on July 18th at 10am, starting and ending in Rev. Williams park (corner of Cedar and Dudley). This will be a 3-mile ride on roads and bikepaths for parents and kids. Take a look at the route. The ride will start with some safety education, followed by the ride (no one left behind!), and ending with snacks, conversation, playing in the water at the Rev. Williams park. Please come with kids on bikes, on Xtracycles, in bakfiets, in trailers, or on trail-a-bikes. Don't be afraid to decorate your bikes!
This past weekend, my family took a walk to see the red-tailed hawks nesting in our neighborhood. On the way home, Dorea was yelled at by a fast-moving biker for stopping to say hello to someone. At the time we were on a sidewalk which is also used as a bike path, but contains primarily pedestrians. This started a conversation about sharing space, and my mother, who is deaf in one ear noted that this happens to her with some frequency -- bikers may shout "on your left" but that doesn't mean that she hears them and they bike past in a huff. This conversation really started my brain churning about the large number of discourteous things that drivers, bikers, and walkers do to each other:
Fail to stop for pedestrians in cross walks.
Fail to notice cyclists.
Stop in crosswalks.
Get angry at cyclists for taking up any roadway at all and seem to want us all to ride in door zones and on dangerous shoulders.
Honk for almost any reason. Honking startles pedestrians and cyclists, which can lead to erratic behavior.
Drive too fast down wet residential streets in the rain, splashing any poor pedestrian or cyclist just trying to get home where it's dry.
Fail to use turn signals.
Cut off cyclists with sudden right turns.
Fail to stop for pedestrians in cross walks.
Stop in crosswalks.
Ride on sidewalks, even in areas where there are lots of pedestrians.
Pass other cyclists on the right forcing slower riders into car traffic.
Ride erratically and unpredictably on streets, which makes drivers anxious.
Fail to obey traffic laws while claiming to want to share the road, which angers drivers.
Ride aggressively on paths shared with pedestrians. Pedestrians are startled by fast-moving cyclists, and calling out "on the left" is not a substitute for slowing down (note that drivers do the same thing to cyclists with they honk at us as a way of saying they're about to pass). Some pedestrians will be unable to hear a bell or shout and others will be unable to quickly change their path.
Let dogs walk off leash in crowded areas, which violates law in some areas, scares kids (and some adults), and causes bikers to make sudden stops.
Walk in groups in a manner that takes up an entire sidewalk.
Step between cars and into bike lanes to wait to cross a street. When you are between cars you are not very visible to anyone, including bikers.
Walk/jog on paths shared with cyclists in erratic ways that make passing difficult. When possible, it's useful to walk and run on the right.
Allow toddlers to walk on bike paths without very close supervision which causes bikers either to make sudden stops or to slow to a crawl for fear of hitting an unpredictable child.
Now I've pissed off just about everyone reading this, but please keep in mind that I've done a large number of things on all three of these lists. I've done a smaller number of things on the list for pedestrians and cyclists just this week. In fact, on a trip to explore some new biking routes just today I did several of these things either because I was uncertain of where I was going or I was anxious about safety. When we share transportation routes with other types of users, conflicts will always occur and hard-and-fast rules don't always keep us safe. We all sometimes allow our own sense of urgency and importance to outrank our desire to play nice with others. But I also have lots of pleasant and courteous interactions with cars, bikes, and pedestrians every day, and I know that most of us want to be thoughtful of others, but we also want to be sure that our own rights to shared space are respected.
After thinking about all of the ways we drive each other crazy, I spent a little time thinking about my personal rules of courtesy. Here they are:
When you encounter someone moving slower that you, it is always your responsibility to keep the interaction safe and courteous. That means that you watch carefully for slow-moving traffic, slow down when approaching, be as clear (and as lawful) as you can what you are doing or are about to do, and keep in mind that slower traffic may be unable to get out of your way.
When you encounter someone moving faster than you, you should strive to act as safely and predictably as possible so that the faster traffic can pass.
Keep in mind that some of our spaces are not shared. Drivers have a right to expect that pedestrians will stay out of the roadway unless they are in crosswalks. Cyclists have a right to expect bike lanes free of stopped cars. Pedestrians have a right to expect sidewalks free of cyclists. If you are invading a non-shared space, do so with extreme caution and at least try to feel a little guilty about it.
We're a bit late to the party, but it's Bike Week! I'll be joining the bicycle convoy through Alewife tomorrow morning at 7:40 am (If you're in the greater Boston area, there's probably a convoy going through your neighborhood!), and on Saturday, we're planning to join the Cambridge Public Art Bicycle Tour.
Keep an eye out for us and say "Hi!" I'll be riding this:
Last night I had the great fortune of getting to hear some words from Anne Leonard at the Consuming Kids Summit and I got to re-watch the Story of Stuff on a big screen. I hadn't seen the film in a while and of course it inspired me to reduce my consumption and waste. Leonard said something after the film played that has given me some food for thought. She said people often ask her when she speaks what they can do, and she sometimes turns the question back around at them and asks what kinds of things they imagine they could do. Invariably, she said, the answers are personal --I could ride my bike more, I could waste less, I could recycle (and often, I could buy better stuff!). Leonard says that's all great and we should be doing those things, but that's not going to fix the problem. We can reduce our own waste, but for every trashcan we throw out, 70 trashcans were sent to the dump in the process of making stuff. We can try to avoid buying products that contain toxic chemicals, but the problem is that almost all products contain toxins. We need to exercise our "civic muscle" as she called it and start organizing and calling our government to task for not protecting us and our natural resources.
I know that I fall into this same trap. I tend to think that we do our part by not owning a car, living in a small space, and trying to limit the amount of stuff we buy (especially the amount of new stuff). But that's like my daughter H thinking she's cleaned up her whole room when all she really did was pick up the one Lego she saw. I think she tends to get a little overwhelmed at the prospect of cleaning her whole room. I feel the same way about civic action. I can't even wrap my mind around any piece of the larger problem, how can I engage for change? And as a working parent with two small children, I'm lucky to be able to find small moments to do the personal things, like dragging recycling down to the curb, processing the hand-me-downs that keep the kids clothed without creating new waste, making purees so we don't have to buy so many jars of babyfood (OK, Dorea does that), washing our cloth diapers, cooking non-processed food, and doing all the mundane chores of day-to-day life. I focus on the personal things because they meet multiple goals -- washing diapers and processing hand-me-downs saves us money as well as reducing waste, making babyfood gives baby R better food to eat, cooking and eating together brings our family closer.
Looking at the list of suggested things you can do on the Story of Stuff website, I note that most of them are the small, personal things. The larger things seem impossible to me. Write letters to the newspaper? What about? I'm never really sure I have a clear understanding of the issues. I'm sure I should also be writing to congress or something, but I confess that I rarely do. The shameful fact is that I don't personally feel connected to the process and that makes it very hard for me to put those kinds of actions high on my priority list.
But do you know what makes me happy? While writing this post of frustration, I got an email from a friend inviting me to participate in a group that's looking to improve the traffic and business situation in my neighborhood. I love my neighborhood and I love my neighbors. The chance to work with neighbors on making this a better, more connected place to live seems like something civic that, with some luck, I can really do. It may not be specifically focused on the "stuff" problem, but I'll take it. Maybe if I start exercising that civic muscle I'll find I can do a lot more than I thought. I love serendipity.
Winter is a hard time of year for those of us who don't drive. Now, it's also hard for folks who drive, and at least we don't have to dig a car out after storms or drive all over town trying to find parking during a snow emergency, but still, when all transport is by foot, bike or transit, we're very in touch with the weather, sometimes a bit more than we'd like. We can't skip any of the kids snow gear whenever we leave the house, because they really will be out in the weather for the whole trip, not just the 20 feet to the car. When folks don't shovel, or the sidewalks get extra icy after a round of "wintry mix," it slows us down and makes us crabby. Both Angela and I bike some during the winter (though not every day), and it's totally do-able as long as we remember all of our gear, but even when I'm all decked out and relatively warm, it's still not exactly pleasant.
But every year, just when winter is seeming like it's going to go on forever, we get those first few spring-like days like we had earlier this week, and I wouldn't have it any other way. The mittens come off. I shed a layer of sweaters. My bike feels lighter and faster just because the sun is shining. The whole city decides it's time to bike again all at once* and everyone is smiling. Winter can be long in New England. But spring wouldn't be as sweet without it. I'm grateful that even though I live a city life and don't necessarily come into contact with all that much "nature" in my daily routine, our family's transportation keeps me connected to the seasons, and that makes the beginning of springtime even sweeter.
* Note also that the Cambridge cops decide it's time to ticket again. I've seen two traps set up this week. Stop at lights everyone and ride safe. They will ticket you, and that sure can ruin a nice day.
Since baby R was born, we've noticed waste creeping into our lives. We're more likely to waste money on take out. I'm certainly treating myself to more coffees during the work days. When we need to buy something, we're more likely to purchase it new than to work at locating a used item.
We've been trying to think of some sort of challenge to get us back on track. Something like not throwing anything away for a month, or not spending any money, or living without our car for a month. Oh wait. We already do that last one. We're just looking for something to kick us out of our current habits and make us pay a bit more attention. But the trouble is, the most obvious options, like not spending any money for some period of time, would take a lot of energy, and probably a lot of time, at least initially. Energy and time are in very short supply around here.
But Angela had an idea that actually may be sustainable. She was cleaning out our fridge, which happens every two weeks in tandem with our grocery trip. The fridge clean out inevitably ends with lots of leftovers dumped in the trash and piles of dirty food containers in our sink. Instead of chucking the food directly, Angela first took a picture of it.
Now we have a rough measure of how much food we wasted during this last two week cycle, and now we have our challenge. Every two weeks we're going to take a picture of what we throw away and try to make it smaller. No, it's not a dramatic challenge; it probably won't completely change our lives, and it's not a perfect measure of waste (some additional food gets wasted day to day as table scraps), but it's better than nothing. We were already inspired us to eat some leftovers for dinner that would have gone in the trash two weeks from now, which saved us time, energy and money, so we're on the right track.
We're the VC's, two mathematicians, an unemployed toddler (H. born 6/06), and baby R. (born 5/09). We live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and rely on bikes, public transit and our feet for transportation. Want to know more? Read a little about us and about how we became car freewith kids.