Category Archives: biking

Uphill In The Snow, Or, You’re Killing Your Kids By Giving Them Rides

Due to my recent commuting schedule and location, I’ve had the chance to observe what I think of as “school rush hour” in northern Utah County, where dozens upon dozens of parents clog the streets bringing their kids to school.

And as it turns out, those parents are likely doing their children a major disservice.

The Davis Enterprise reported last month that kids who get rides to school have decreased learning ability while those who walk or bike can concentrate better.

The study investigated the connections between diet, exercise and the ability to concentrate for school students of all ages. Among its many results, one really stood out: Children have less concentration if they do not exercise on the way to school.

The children were asked to answer questions about their exercise behavior and complete a simple concentration test (one such exercise involved putting together a puzzle composed of face pieces) and they were scored for correctness.

Children who made the trip to school by themselves performed far better than those who were transported to school by car or public transportation (bus or train).

These findings seem initiative, even obvious, yet everyday I see school parking lots clogged with people driving their kids to school. And of course that kind of behavior also exacerbates things like the inversion, creating other long-term health problems.

Kids who bike or walk to school actually do better academically.

People deploy many excuses for driving kids to school. But even if kids have to walk the proverbial “uphill both ways in the snow” it isn’t actually that hard to go on foot. (Housing that makes walking impossible is a whole other, and bigger, problem.) And ultimately, most people in Provo and Utah County live within walking distance of an elementary school. For those people, it’s worth keeping in mind that kids are literally handicapped by giving them that ride in the morning.

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“The city of the future will have bicycle accessible places”

Via BikeProvo.org I recently discovered the video below. In it, Bill Nye talks about what he thinks we’ll have in the city of the future. The things he mentions are pretty fantastic: covered bike lanes with constant tail winds, shower and laundry facilities for bike commuters, etc. But near the end he makes a good point, even something wild like a bicycle wind tunnel is vastly cheaper to build than a typical automobile road. The point: we could have these incredible things if we just want them enough.

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Walk to Church

By Jesse Thomas

Ever since moving to Utah, I’ve had the intuition that nobody should be driving to church (of course, except the pregnant, disabled, elderly, etc.). I have witnessed perfectly able-bodied individuals hop into a car and drive less than a quarter-mile to get to the meetinghouse.

LDS churches around central Provo, from the Church’s official meetinghouse locator

LDS churches around central Provo, from the Church’s official meetinghouse locator

I’ve seen this happen in Davis County, northern Utah County, and here in Provo–while living at Wymount Terrace. Less than a quarter-mile. It’s just another symptom of our entrenched automobile-only thinking. And despite the fact a large majority of members live within about half a mile of buildings in Provo, the church continues to build parking lots with usually over 100 stalls around them.

Here’s the deal, having LDS churches scattered across neighborhoods all over Utah is actually an advantage to forming move livable and enjoyable communities because they are already a part of neighborhoods that otherwise have little or no mixed land use. They currently are the best hope for community in our isolated neighborhoods.

Eric Jacobson, the author of  The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment, argues that car-centric, suburban thinking is affecting our spiritual lives. While discussing the way that our built environment interacts with our society in an interview with Christianity Today, he said, “Churches shape the built environment either by becoming a key gathering spot within a particular neighborhood or by becoming a kind of alien presence in a neighborhood where a whole bunch of cars from ‘who knows where’ show up intermittently throughout the week, but especially on Sunday morning.” The churches are in our neighborhoods, it’s really our choice how much we allow them to benefit our spiritual community.

Norman Rockwell catches the sentiment.

Norman Rockwell catches the sentiment.

Think about how a weekly routine of walking to church can enhance your life. Health benefits of walking places have been well documented on this blog here and here. It gives the chance for more interaction with your many of your neighbors that are also heading to church. And doesn’t the whole idea of walking to church have a romantic feel to it? It’s quaint. It’s about enjoying the company, the conversation, and the moment.

So I can hear the objections already: “It’s winter outside; I’m cold!” “You try walking to church with little kids!” Well fine, wait till spring. As for the kids, you would know that it is hard enough for most kids to keep their energy pent up for three hours at church. Why not let them get some of that energy out on the way to and from the meetings? And do you really want to have to go through the extensive process of loading the kids into car seats and boosters two more times each week?

And as a bonus, biking or walking to the temple is certainly doable for many here in Provo. Despite the hill that the temple is on, there are bike lanes and racks at the grounds. And the future city center temple will definitely be a walkable venture for many of Provo’s residents in downtown neighborhoods (not to mention that there are already a few meeting places for friends of faiths other than LDS already located in downtown).

Jesse Thomas is originally from Chicago and came out to Provo to attend BYU. He will be graduating in April  2013 in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic. He and his lovely wife plan on moving to DC after graduation to pursue work in international affairs. Visit his blog at byubathrooms.com.

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Best November Posts

Yesterday morning I woke up and realized I hadn’t done a best of November post yet. November also happened to have several of my favorite posts, so I decided to do a “best of” wrap up a bit late:

1. Provo in the Snow: The most popular post ever on this blog by far, this post shows what Provo looks like around 4 am immediately after (or, during) a heavy snow storm.

This picture originally appeared in a post about Provo in the snow.

This picture originally appeared in a post about Provo in the snow.

2. Provo: The Poorest City in Its Class: Have you ever wondered why Provo just can’t seem to fill up downtown? Or why it’s just not as vibrant as some other cities of comparable size? This post is part of a series that postulates that the problem is a lack of wealth in Provo. Specifically, this post notes that incomes are lower in Provo than in places like Boulder, Colorado, Ann Arbor, or even Ogden. This later post also notes that poverty levels are higher.

3. Calgary: “Our Tolerance for Crap Must Be Zero”: Poverty is one problem, but another is that people continue to tolerate crap in the city. This post quotes Canadian mayors as saying that cities must stop tolerating terrible things. This post also spawned several others, the most recent of which was this one about Nu Skin destroying a beloved downtown mural.

4. Malls: Another One Bites the Dust: Trolley Square, Utah’s coolest mall in its biggest, most densely populated city, is struggling. That’s because malls are generally a bad investment and because they’ve been overbuilt along the Wasatch Front. This post suggests that it is perhaps time to stop deluding ourselves that malls will help cities.

5. Cowboy Partners: A Primer: If you’re curious what downtown Provo will look like in the future, check out this post, which shows pictures of projects built by developer Cowboy Partners. Earlier in November Provo approved a new housing development by the company and though the specific plans for the project haven’t been released yet, these images show what kind of buildings they’ve done in the past.

6. Another Lesson From Sandy: Biking is Part of Emergency Preparedness: Utah is filled with people who are ready to face a disaster at any moment. But one thing that may be overlooked is emergency transportation. This post notes that after Hurricane Sandy, the people who could get around most quickly and efficiently — or at all, in some cases — were the people on bikes.

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Cyclist Dies in Stroad-Land

A bicyclist died last night in Salt Lake City. It was a hit and run.

According to KSL, the accident happened near the intersection of California Ave and Fortune Road. This is what the spot looks like:

California Ave and Fortune Road, in Salt Lake City. A 25-year-old cyclist died here Thursday evening.

California Ave and Fortune Road, in Salt Lake City. A 25-year-old cyclist died here Thursday evening.

View of the intersection.

View of the intersection.

California Ave

California Ave

California Ave

California Ave

Clearly, this is an awful place. While some of the accidents I’ve mentioned previously happened in places that were poorly designed but ostensibly acceptable — at least according to the standard wisdom — I doubt most people would have anything good to say about this spot. It’s ugly, dangerous, and hostile to pedestrians and cyclists.

The problem is that pedestrians and cyclists have to use it, as yesterday’s accident shows. This consequently illustrates one of the problems with contemporary transportation: we have so many terribly designed spaces — which people have to use for whatever reason — that it’s going to be really difficult to convince them to drive less. If this is what they have to bike or walk through, and possibly die in, why would they ever ditch their cars?

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Progress Doesn’t Have to Be Slow

How long does it take to significantly improve a city? A year? A decade?

According to Streetsblog, in Chicago the answer apparently is 18 months:

Who would have thunk it just two years ago: Portland, Seattle — even some New York City residents — jealous of Chicago’s cutting-edge bike infrastructure.

But here we sit, roughly a year and a half into Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first term, and the city of Chicago has a protected, bi-directional bike lane running directly through the heart of its downtown. Bike advocates from major cities are taking notice.

Chicago still has a lot of room for progress, but the point here is that in an incredibly short amount of time it’s improving by leaps and bounds.

I know I’m used to thinking of progress happening at a glacial pace. I often hate it, but I’ve just sort of understood that that’s they way it goes. However, Chicago proves that improvement can happen quickly. And if that much bigger, more complex city can do it, Provo also should be able to pick up the pace.

Provo is gradually improving bike infrastructure, but Chicago is doing it much more quickly.

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Invisible Dangers, Or, Biking Isn’t More Dangerous

Quick, what’s a really dangerous way to get around town?

If you answered “cycling” you wouldn’t be unlike the people alluded to throughout this post from The Guardian. The objective of the post is to emphasize there there are risks and dangers associated with every activity — even if they’re “invisible” as a result of being normal — including sitting around doing nothing. Among other things, the post includes this quote from Dr. Harry Rutter:

All activities carry a risk. For some reason there seems to be strong focus on the risk of injury associated with cycling. Clearly, when deaths do takes place that’s tragic, and we need to do all we can to avoid them. But I think there is a perception that cycling is much more dangerous than it really is.

This focus on the dangers of cycling is something to do with the visibility of them, and the attention it’s given. What we don’t notice is that if you were to spend an hour a day riding a bike rather than being sedentary and driving a car there’s a cost to that sedentary time. It’s silent, it doesn’t get noticed. What we’re talking about here is shifting the balance from that invisible danger of sitting still towards the positive health benefits of cycling.

The post also calls on walking and cycling to “become the norm for short trips” as a way to improve health and reduce obesity.

The point here is that sitting around — on a couch or in a car — carries significant health risks, obesity and associated diseases being chief among them. And though the post sort of leaves it at that, I’ll add that those health risks clearly come with economic costs as well. These facts are rarely (if ever) factored into transportation planning — when was the last time a traffic engineer wondered how much a new road would increase obesity? — but they’re creating serious problems nonetheless.

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