Tag Archives: Michigan

Ride Silent, Ride Strong

Last week I took part in the Ann Arbor Ride of Silence, a three-mile group bike ride through the downtown commemorating the five cyclists killed and four injured in Kalamazoo earlier this month. The mood was very similar to the “Boston Strong” group run in 2013; subdued, but with a strong undercurrent of positive energy as the community came together in support.

A2 RoS - Gathering

Tim Potter, the race organizer, told me the turnout was far higher than he expected. By my rough count, there were over two hundred cyclists. Ann Arbor mayor Christopher Taylor was there, and spoke briefly about the need for drivers and cyclists to share the road safely.

A2 RoS - Starting Out

We had a police escort, but even so the route presented a challenge, both to the cyclists and the drivers downtown during rush hour. The size of the group meant that it took over five minutes to pass through the intersections, and I’m sure many drivers felt inconvenienced as a result. I felt bad about that, but not enough to quit the ride. The nine riders in Kalamazoo struck by an out-of-control pickup truck were inconvenienced permanently.

You can read more about the reason for the ride here. And here you can read a letter of thanks from a Kalamazoo cyclist that Tim read out loud.

A2 RoS - State Street

And now I must editorialize.

Reading the articles about the ride on MLive, I was surprised at the number of negative comments. Some of them questioned the need or ‘purpose’ of the ride. And some adopted the ‘blame the victim’ angle by criticizing cyclists in general for breaking traffic laws, e.g. riding through stop signs. Yes, some of that happens.

But the Kalamazoo cyclists were doing nothing wrong. What happened to them was entirely the fault of someone who’d decided that society’s rules about driving responsibly didn’t apply to him. If the victims had been in another car (he’d sideswiped at least one) or pedestrians (he just missed a guy coming out of a store), no one would be talking about how “that group” was to blame in any way. This anti-cyclist attitude concerns me. Why does it have to be seen as “us versus them”?

Ghost bike. Way too many of these.

Ghost bike. Way too many of these.

I ride over a thousand miles a year, so far without trouble. I do my best to be visible and to obey traffic laws. And yet I’ve been buzzed by cars and startled by people who think it’s funny to yell insults or bark like a dog as they roar by. I also know people who think that cyclists don’t belong on the road at all, and have told me how annoyed they get with those damn bikers getting in their way.

MDOT_share_the_road_sign_419309_7But cyclists have a right to the road in Michigan; it’s the law. And they deserve to have drivers treat them with the same respect as they would other vehicles on the road. That includes defensive driving principles that we all learned in driver’s ed. Slow down and give the cyclist a little space. And be sober when you get behind the wheel. Is that too much to ask?

I will continue to ride the roads. And I encourage anyone to take up cycling. It’s good for you. Ride strong, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, and everyone.

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Yooper Humor

My trip back from the Minnesota Voyageur ultra took me through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a drive I haven’t made in quite some time. All I remember from my previous trip was a lot of trees and not much else along US-2.

My drive from the Duluth area to St. Ignace, then over the Mackinac Bridge and along M-22 to our campground in Empire, was pleasant and more relaxed than I’d expected. Traffic got heavier and more aggressive south of the bridge, but it sure beat hell out of going through Chicago.

It turns out that the U.P. actually has some people in it – and most of them don’t even dress like lumberjacks (*). Here are a few pictures of offbeat and/or amusing things I found along the way.

Honestly? Up here you have to tell people not to bring guns into a coffee shop? (This is actually in Duluth, but it's close enough.)

Honestly? Up here you have to tell people not to bring guns into a coffee shop? (This is actually in Duluth, but it’s close enough.)

Somebody pasted this on to make it look like "200 miles". Not true, as it turned out.

Somebody pasted this on to make it look like “200 miles”. Not true, as it turned out.

They have a sense of humor in Wakefield.

They have a sense of humor in Wakefield.

Also in Wakefield - Peter Toth's "Leading Mna" carving - from a single log.

Also in Wakefield – Peter Toth’s “Leading Man” carving – from a single log.

I'm not sure this is the kind of welcome message Michigan has in mind.

I’m not sure this is the kind of welcome message Michigan has in mind.

Escanaba (not in da moonlight). Much bigger city than I expected.

Escanaba (not in da moonlight). Much bigger city than I expected.

And finally, they even have their own chocolate! Not too bad.

And finally, they even have their own chocolate! Not too bad.

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(*) – You might be aware that the Upper and Lower Peninsulas (Peninsulae?) have a friendly little rivalry going. For example, their name for us is “trolls” because we live “under the bridge”. For a humorous take on the differences between Yoopers and trolls, click here.

How Not to Reduce Bicycle Accidents

THE MICHIGAN LEGISLATURE, IN ITS WISDOM, believes it has found a way to boost bicycle safety. All that’s needed is two simple changes to existing laws.

Bicycle Turn Signals

The second method makes it clear I’m not waving at you, you see…

The first proposed change allows a cyclist to signal a right turn by extending the right arm, rather than upturning the left arm at a right angle. It passed the Michigan House unanimously.

The second change (so-called “vulnerable roadway user” legislation) increases the penalties – fines and/or jail time – for injuring or killing a cyclist when driving a motor vehicle. It’s expected to pass with strong bipartisan support.

Well, bravo. It’s nice to know our elected officials can agree on something. If only I thought it was actually worthwhile.

As someone who cycles more than 1,000 miles per year, and occasionally does multi-day trips of 200 miles or more, I think I have a pretty good idea of what could improve my safety when riding. And despite endorsement of the two proposed changes from the League of Michigan Bicyclists, I cannot share in the optimism.

MDOT Work Zone Crash Statistics 2008-2012Does increasing penalties reduce accident frequency? There is a precedent we can check. In 1996, Michigan doubled penalties for traffic violations in work zones. According to data from the Michigan Department of Transportation, reported accidents in work zones increased from around 3,000 per year in the early 1990s to over 6,000 ten years later, and while that rate has dropped recently (see chart), the average remains about 5,000 accidents per year. Doesn’t look like much of a preventive effect there.

And I fail to see how increased penalties for hitting a cyclist is going to reduce the frequency of motor vehicle-bicycle accidents. It isn’t fear of financial loss or jail time that makes me an attentive driver, it’s the thought that my inattention could cause me to hurt or kill someone. You cannot legislate that attitude. Better training and awareness might help, but I didn’t see those provisions in the bills.

I know there are people who believe, despite Michigan’s share-the-road laws, that bicycles don’t belong on roads. I’m not mainly worried about them when I’m biking, nor the people who think it’s fun to honk their horn as they pass, or roll down the window and bark like a dog. At least they know I’m there. What worries me are the people who don’t.

And on that note – a recent crackdown on ‘distracted drivers’ in the Chicago area resulted in 135 tickets issued, mostly for texting while driving, despite warnings posted on electronic signs that an anti-texting operation was in progress. Perhaps they were too busy looking at their phones to read the signs.

091002c-Distracted Driver-CagleCartoons

Jeff Parker | Florida Today | Licensed from CagleCartoons.com

Hey, Michigan Legislature: you want to increase road safety for cyclists? How about more bike lanes or wider paved shoulders? Better yet, how about more multi-purpose trails so we don’t need to ride in the road? What? Yes, I’m aware that costs money. And I understand that changing a couple of trivial laws is easy, costs little, and makes it look like you’re doing something useful with your time and our taxes.

Yes, once I can stick my right arm out I will feel so much safer. Would it be appropriate to show my appreciation by extending my longest finger as well?

Bluntly Speaking – $2 Bills and Legal Pot

Thomas Jefferson may have grown hemp, but I doubt he’d be happy with the latest association of his name with it.

A "toke-n" of my appreciation?

A “toke-n” of my appreciation?

Regular readers know that I stamp $2 bills to shamelessly plug my blog, and distribute them mainly as tips at coffee shops and such. With the blog name change, a new stamp was needed, and it recently arrived, so my tips now properly advertise runbikethrow.net. The bad news is that according to the Detroit Free Press, apparently someone has stolen my idea of using the $2 bill to shamelessly plug something – in this case, a push for the legalization of marijuana.

MORE: Click here for some amusing, and possibly true, stories about people who thought that $2 bills were phony.

According to the Freep, medical marijuana and marijuana legalization groups are trying to demonstrate their “economic clout” by using at least one $2 bill in every cash purchase they make. Michigan has 130,000 registered medical marijuana users and 13 percent of Michiganders surveyed admitted to using it last year, so there could soon be a serious push to loosen current restrictions.

Given the nature of this blog, you can guess how I feel about recreational use of marijuana. I run, bike, and train in Aikido to improve my body and mind, and smoking (anything) or using mood-altering drugs would do the opposite. If you have a genuine medical condition that marijuana relieves, hey, do what works. Otherwise, I have a suggestion – put down the joint and go exercise the ones you were born with. You’ll feel better and live longer. And yes, the “runner’s high” does exist. It took a while for me to experience it, but it was worth the effort.

Want to feel good about yourself? Finish a marathon. (Finish line, Chicago 2011)

Want to feel good about yourself? Set a goal, train for it, and accomplish it. (Finish line, 2011 Chicago Marathon)

So should you come across a $2 bill stamped with either fitnessat50.net or runbikethrow.net, be assured it represents something very different from promoting legal cannabis. It means, rather, that I appreciate the effort you put into making my cappuccino for a ridiculously low wage, and please visit my blog, nudge-nudge wink-wink.