creating a casual cycling culture

America has a traffic problem. And a walk-ability problem. And an air pollution problem. And an obesity problem. And a noise problem. And a pavement-heat-island problem. And an extinction problem. And a climate-change problem. All because we’ve prioritized cars over people. We’re building our cities and our lives around these speeding metal death traps and blaming their victims instead of blaming institutional regulations that make cars a necessity.

This makes me so sad because America is so beautiful and I believe that everybody should feel safe enough to explore both nature and their cities at the pace of foot and bike traffic. You see more, you feel more, you get fitter and you connect better to your community.

The following is an email I wrote to Representative Ruben Gallego, here in Arizona. I love the outdoors, and I’d love to love my adopted city, but it’s a little hard when you’re afraid to walk out your front door for fear of being squashed by some idiot in a car. So, I do what I can without having to go march in the streets (which I feel is relatively ineffective).

Dear Mr. Gallego,

Thank you for tackling the problem with pedestrian safety! I’m a walk/cycle kinda girl and these streets are insanely dangerous… and I’ve lived all over the country! I have three suggestions to add to your efforts:

1. Mandatory driver’s license renewal with a mandatory online refresher course with quiz. Mandatory license renewal is common practice in Idaho (where I’m from) and really helps with people’s driving skills. It affords the state the ability to generate revenue from renewal fees, to educate drivers on old and new traffic laws, and remind them that they must share the roads with pedestrians and cyclists and to give 3 feet of space when driving next to a pedestrian or cyclist. I think that, since we have a ton of drivers from all over the world, many don’t know the laws regarding sharing the road.

2. Slower speed limits. Drivers around here really need to SLOW DOWN! There are many times where I feel like I almost have to drive 90mph on the business loops just to keep up with traffic and it seems like, on the surface streets, it doesn’t matter what the posted speed limit is, everybody wants to do 60mph. And heaven help you if you just want to go the speed limit! I feel like, also, that slower speed limits may help with driver aggression.

3.Protected bike lanes are a MUST if we want safe streets. It’s not enough to simply toss a bike lane on the side of the road because DISTRACTED DRIVERS… and/or angry drivers…

Let me tell you a story that backs up all of my points…

I went on a bike-packing trip, from central Phoenix out to Lost Dutchman state park. The ride there was pretty rad, people were accomodating to us by giving us room, moving into the left lane and so on. During the ride back, however, as we were coming around Spartan Hill in East Mesa, we had a terrifying incident. It’s a pretty narrow/restricted section of the road and even though there’s a bike lane, the speed limit is too high, it’s too narrow and people were going too fast. Cars were whipping around us at 70mph and, even with that speed, there was one vehicle (there’s always one, amiright?) who just HAD to go faster than everybody else, and started honking about a half-mile down the road behind us. He continued honking, and, as he made his way around us, honked, flipped us the bird and then swerved to try to hit us with his boat trailer. He nearly succeeded, missing my partner by about 6″. He then sped off so we were unable to get his license plate number to call it in.

That’s just one incident in a sea of many stories I could tell about my terrifying walking/cycling adventures around the valley.

I understand that traffic can get congested during rush hour and when people are coming/going in/out of the city on the weekends. But, it stands to reason that, the more people get out of their cars and onto bikes, the less traffic congestion there would be, the less distracted/aggressive driving there would be, the less air pollution there would be, the fitter our valley would be… and the less pedestrian/cyclist deaths there would be. The less cars on the road, the healthier & happier the city. I voted no on props 105 & 106 because I believe the lite-rail is essential to creating this casual biking/walking community I’m talking about.

With Phoenix’s year round sun and 9 months of perfect weather, WHY ARE WE NOT LEADING THE COUNTRY in outdoor recreation & pedestrian culture?! We have a real opportunity to show the world what we’re made of here in my adopted city and we should be looking to Portland, Oregon & the Netherlands for inspiration & know-how. Let’s make the Valley of the Sun into a literal “Wattopia” (the imaginary perfect city for cyclists)!

And to all the businesses who fear the lightrail/walkability agenda… look at the statistics. Pedestrians spend more time and money in local shops than car-drivers do.

As somebody who’s had numerous friends and family close to me die in car crashes (mother & her two siblings & her father, a niece, 3 friends and several acquantances), walk-ability means more to me than most people will ever know. It’s always so strange to me that 3,287 deaths PER DAY happen from car crashes and nobody seems to bat an eye. We just get back in our cars and continue the cycle of insanity, believing bullshit paid for by the Koch brothers, meant to kill public transportation in order to pad their bottom line. At our expense.

I dream of a country where we feel more connected to each-other and to our planet. Where it’s easier to slow down and savor our cities, our public lands and each other. Where more people on bikes means fewer cars on the road & fewer traffic related deaths. I believe that if people felt safer walking and biking, more people would do it.

If you’d like to write to your representatives about creating a pedestrian & bicycle friendly city, check out the following government websites:
The Whitehouse
The House of Representatives
The Senate
Your State’s Legislature
And be sure to visit your county & city council websites too!

This concludes your armchair activism post for the day. Get out there and #exploreyourbackyard!

no place famous

i almost got catfished by my home-town this last week. what with it’s beautiful trees, rivers, lakes, mountains, small-town charm and friendly people…

seriously, i got smiled at by a woman heading into the tiny airport bathroom! rare elsewhere in the world but common where i’m from. it was a little disarming!

Plus, my whole family is still there.

The Russell Clan

august is my favorite month in idaho. the wheat it this glorious gold color, the barley is laid over and ready to be made into beer, and the potatoes are starting to flower. the harvest begins.

the mornings greet you with a crisp 65 degrees as you grab a cup of coffee and sit out on the front porch, watching the dawn curl it’s sleepy fingers over the tetons in wyoming.

open. spacious. breathing room.

we had a jam-packed schedule this week!

the boyfriend has never done a triathlon out of state before and it’s all he’s talked about since we made the trip last year. so we spent a lovely saturday morning at the event, where he ended up taking 2nd place in his age group!

look at that face!

while the boyfriend was racing, i popped into the coffee shop and struck up a conversation with a self-important california woman who told me her husband was trying to get her to move to my lovely home-town.

so, as any good idaho girl would do, i did my best to dissuade her; the winters are awful, there’s no ocean, it’s full of mormons (some of my favorite people, but i’m not going to tell her that), it’s super boring (it’s not really) and it’s full of rednecks…

there are already too many californian’s and utah’ns moving there and jacking up the prices so that the people who’ve lived there for generations can’t afford to live there anymore. this was something i previously thought was reserved for places like key west and the california coasts, but apparently it’s happening in my little no-name slice of my no-name state.

but i digress… the day before the tri, the river called to us, so we packed the family up and did a 3 hour float through the idaho highlands. i was a little bummed because not a whole lot of wildlife made an appearance. but it was all good – the water was cold, the sun was out and there was plenty of beer!

the trip went way too fast and i always miss it when i leave. each time, i wonder to myself if it’s time to move back home yet. is it time to return to the lakes and rivers and mountains and leave my saguaros behind? i feel like i’m missing everthing. my neices and nephews are all growing up, my brothers are old now and my dad… the nostalgia is thick.

but then i remember the shitty winters, how long they last, how much i hate the cold and the snow, and, instead, make a pact with myself to go visit every 3 months until i can figure out how to snow-bird back and forth!

is there a place that calls you home?

from nomad to city-dweller

the identity of nomad is a tough one to give up.

can i get an amen?! i’ve been transitioning from nomad to city dweller for the last 3 years and let me tell you, it’s been a tough one!

i call myself a “feral” cat because sitting still has always been difficult for me. I’ve always moved from place to place. i was made for the outdoors and i also promised myself that i’d only live in beautiful places. those two things led me to move to 3 different states (although i don’t generally count northern Nevada…), led me to guide tours at both Grand Canyon National Park & in Key West. just a minuscule sampling of all the beautiful places one could go.

but, a boy called my heart and i now find myself in the middle of Phoenix, with its grimy, noisy streets, insane traffic, and giant homeless population. coming from rural Idaho, the solitude of the Canyon and the laid back atmosphere of the islands, this move was a culture shock to say the least! everything moves so fast and, from my experience so far, this city is definitely less than friendly.

love of my life & the cat’s meow. 
taken by me in Puerto Penasco, Mexico

i’ve been in the city now for about 3 years and i’ve basically been a shut-in; too intimidated to go out into the streets and appreciate the city for what it is. because of that, i’ve noticed myself getting a little fluffy around the middle and falling into depression – brought on by my filthy habit of comparison: this city is nothing like my home-town and nothing like the glory of the places i’ve been AND i now have to find a “career” because who lives in a giant city without getting one of those? plus, i’d like to not have to eat cat-food when i retire.

but i do love the sonoran desert that surrounds this behemoth of a city, and as my husband, Teddy Roosevelt, said:

so i’ve created this blog as a prompt to help me appreciate my city for who it is.

why do this?

  • to get me out of my house
  • to help me feel connected to the community
  • to discover cool shit in and around the city

since i don’t believe that you can discover much from the seat of a car, i want to do as much by bike or on foot as i can. that may be a little tough considering phoenix’s issue with automobile related pedestrian deaths and the surface-of-the-sun heat in the summer time. but i feel like taking side streets and canal paths to my destinations will greatly reduce my chances of a run-in with the ubiquitous speeding-metal-death-traps (it just boggles my mind that phoenix doesn’t lead the country in outdoor recreation. it has beautiful weather 9 months out of the year, yet everybody drives everywhere!). and in the summer, there just may be more personal posts and posts of activities outside of phoenix.

i’m thinking of doing a “city parks challenge” where i visit a new city park every day and/or a “phoenix trails challenge” where i hike a new trail every day. i’m also eyeballing the bouldering gym and, even though i have a touch of social anxiety, i’m thinking of joining a running group and maybe a hiking group – although i tend to like the solo hike better than group hikes. i’m also thinking about taking this photography class from one of my favorite bloggers (not an affiliate) so i can share & reflect on whatever beauty i happen to find.

but i want to know, have you ever had to move to and settle into a place that didn’t sing to your heart at first? what did you do to help your relationship with your new city to blossom?

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