What Downtown SGF Needs

(The following is an edited and expanded version of something I wrote last year for another venue.)

Next month we’ll mark one year of life in downtown Springfield living in the Union Biscuit Lofts on Market Ave. So my wife and I have had plenty of opportunity to walk the streets and observe the goings-on. We’ve had plenty of opportunity to live our lives and deal with all the pleasures and frustrations of living downtown.

On balance: This is the best move we have ever made. I now wish we had done it a long time ago — even with raising a child. Part of what this blog will do in the months ahead is examine our experiences in the context of an apparent return to American cities.

Now, let’s get on with the point of this post. There is a lot of retail space under development downtown, yet there’s much space still sitting (embarrassingly) vacant. As empty-nest baby boomers, there are a few things we’d like to see fill some of those spaces based on what we’re not finding within walking distance (because one of the big reasons to live in a downtown is the whole walking thing). With all the loft development downtown (e.g. Heers and The U), it seems to me that the area is ripe for the economic pickings.

So here are a few preliminary suggestions (i.e. nowhere near an exhaustive list) in case you may be looking for a business idea:

  • Drugstore. There’s nothing downtown. That’s a gaping hole in the retail environment looking for someone to fill it. Empty-nesters buy drugs. So do college students. And toilet paper. And everything else carried by your average CVS and not carried by the Bistro Market.
  • Dry cleaners. The closest, according to my Yellow Pages iPhone app, is a mile away. I’ll walk or ride a bicycle one mile — no sweat. I’d rather walk around the block.
  • Laundry (with drop-off laundry service). The closest, according to my Yellow Pages iPhone app, is a mile away. Because, yeah, we empty-nesters can pay for it and will pay for it.
  • Business/school (i.e. college) supplies — the small stuff you need everyday.
  • Bookstore/news stand, because, well, boomers read stuff on paper (despite this). And, apparently, there are few (or no) news boxes downtown (more on that soon)
  • Trader Joe’s (or similar). If you’ve ever shopped at one there’s no need to explain ;-)

In case you’re considering opening another cupcake shop, please, for the love of all that’s good and decent, please, let me talk you out of it. And coffee? We’re covered. Totally covered. Well covered. You can’t do better than the Mudhouse, Coffee Ethic, or Kingdom, so don’t even try. Bars, restaurants, and other entertainment venues? Covered (although it would be good to get the old GastroPub and Rebecca Grille spaces filled). Wedding shops? Covered. Event spaces? Totally, completely, thoroughly covered. Bicycle shops? Ditto.

Com’on, there are more and more people living downtown everyday. There are only so many weddings we can have and cupcakes we can eat. Let’s start thinking basic goods and services.

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Danger and Difficulty

girls_on_bikesI gave a luncheon talk at the Midtown Library today about bicycling in traffic as traffic for basic transportation.

The big sound-bite: If it were difficult or dangerous, I wouldn’t be doing it.

That happens to be entirely true. I’m interested in neither difficulty nor danger.

The talk consisted mostly of explaining the rules of safe movement and why living a in a flat town with a grid street system creates natural bicycle friendliness.

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Participation Is Easy(er)

Nope. Not talking bicycle mode share here.

Remember, today is the Carbon Trace re-launch. As I wrote earlier, the topics of this blog will now fit the broader context of urban life — especially in small to mid-sized cities.

Today, I’m talking the SATO48 Film Challenge.

I entered the contest — one of 110 teams this year – and actually managed to finish a film. Handed it in on time, too. The Moxie will be showing all the films April 25th to the 27th. Here’s a shameless self-promotion I cooked up:


The headline indicates something that I had no idea about before moving into a loft downtown almost a year ago: I used to find participating in civic sorts of things a bit of a chore. You work all day. Get home. Start relaxing, but only if you don’t have house chores (stop snickering). Cut the grass. Fix a window. Who wants to do anything after that.

Our move downtown has been the best move of our lives — for many more reasons than I had a first supposed. Carbon Trace will be about some of those reasons because I think Americans will need to begin moving into such living arrangements in greater numbers in the years ahead. That trend has already begun. I intend to follow it here.

One reason I will highlight today as the new direction of Carbon Trace begins: participation. When I’m not worn out with the job of living in a suburb, I find myself wanting to be out of Vandelay and in the streets doing something. I am energized by my new living arrangement.

I hope to capture the buzz of urban life on Carbon Trace. Bicycles will continue to play a role because mine will continue to get me where I want to go.

Oh, Vandelay is the name we gave our loft ;-)

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Carbon Trace Re-Launch Begins 15 April

Several things have been keeping me busy this winter. I’m right in the middle of doing an academic case study examining a successful civic journalism project. I have also been re-working all of my classes — something that is regularly necessary, especially as I notice generational changes in students. Further, I have been busy re-thinking Carbon Trace in light of many developments in my life, including moving toward a national focus in bicycle advocacy and a desire to place that advocacy in a broader context.

Today I announce the re-launch of Carbon Trace set for 15 April. The focus of this blog will change. Bicycling will remain an important topic within a broader context of urban life — especially in small to mid-sized cities.

Carbon Trace will become a driving force in a book project that I will announce later this summer.

Some changes you will see soon:

  1. I will cut back on many of the bicycling links on the sidebar and add others that fit the new context.
  2. More specific reporting of urban issues.
  3. More multimedia features.
  4. More personal narratives (from various sources) about urban life.

The bicycling stuff isn’t going away. Again, it will simply be wrapped in a bigger context.

A special plea to all my long-time readers: I will need your help with my book project. Crowd sourcing will be playing an important role. As I reveal the nature of the project, please pick up any ball that looks interesting to you and run with it :-)

[As for Rhetorica: I will announce the re-launch of that blog later this spring. Its new project will be related. There is, after all, a rhetoric to everything :-) ]

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Taking A Break, See You in the Spring

Rhetorica and Carbon Trace will be on an extended blogging hiatus until sometime in the spring.

This is mostly a career-related break. I have several projects and matters to attend to that are going to require my full attention.

Now, when I say full attention, that doesn’t mean I’m going dark. I’ll still be commenting on the various topics of interest related to my two blogs through Facebook and Twitter.

I know you’re all out there just clinging to the edges of your seats :-)

Back soonish…

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Happy New Year! Happy New Culture!


If you have to get a song stuck in your head Respect is a good one :-)

I’m also declaring “respect” the the Carbon Trace word of the year for 2014. As in:


By so declaring, I am making a pledge to work for cultural change to achieve the very respect noted in that graphic from I Am Traffic.

Check out the presentation from our founding meeting last year:

There’s a long road ahead to achieve that vision. Success is not assured.

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Carbon Trace Update

I was very busy the second half of the semester at MSU, and it’s easy to see the result on Carbon Trace: not much published recently.

Luckily, the semester is now over, and I’m on my way to Florida :-) That means, among other things, that I’ll have time to write about some issues that I have neglected recently while enjoying the fine south Florida weather.

I’ll holler when I get there. Until then, enjoy your ride.

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Do Not Stop In The Blind Spot

Too many urban bicyclists die each year in entirely preventable right-hook crashes with trucks. How do you prevent it? Proper lane positioning. You should never position yourself to the right of right-turning traffic — even if a bicycle lane channels you into such a position (e.g. such as some lanes in Portland, Oregon do).

Here’s a British video demonstrating the danger. Just translate left to right.

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Bicyclist Killed In Hit-And-Run

A 23-year-old bicyclist was killed by a hit-and-run driver Sunday near the MSU campus. Here’s a report from KSMU, including an interview with me.

Here a Google Earth look at the intersection (click for larger image).

ScreenHunter_251 Nov. 19 15.08

That’s a look from roughly the perspective of the west-bound bicyclist looking toward south-bound traffic. The sight lines are open across the entire intersection. Kimbrough is a 3-lane, 30-mph street. Bear Blvd. is a residential street with a stop sign.

No information is available yet about what exactly happened. Given the conditions at the intersection, it appears to me that a t-bone collision here would require a breakdown of safe driving behavior by one or both of the parties.

I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE: Police have arrested a suspect, according to the News-Leader:

Police said Shannon R. Smith, 31, was located in Buffalo and arrested Tuesday evening with the help of the Buffalo Police Department and the Missouri Highway Patrol.

Smith remains in the Greene County Jail and is being held on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter, according to a Springfield police news release.

Smith has not been formally charged and police continue to investigate.

Update: According to the News-Leader:

Smith told police, according to documents, she was driving 85 mph when she saw a bicyclist enter the intersection.

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The Heart of the Matter

Note: Nothing new to read here — just thinking out loud and boiling things down.

The rules of safe movement are these:

  1. First come, first served.
  2. Drive on the right.
  3. Pass on the left.

Everything should follow from these rules. Everything includes (but is not limited to):

  1. Traffic laws
  2. Traffic controls
  3. Engineering of streets and roads.
  4. Driver behavior.

Laws, controls, and engineering should never put any street/road user into the position of having to, or feeling the need to, violate the rules of safe movement. One essential test of laws, controls, and engineering is that these do not direct, encourage, or suggest street/road users violate the rules of safe movement.

Driver behavior must include proper obligations and expectations that follow from the rules of safe movement (operative word: safe):

  • There is one obligation: Ensure your behavior creates a safe environment for all street/road users. (example)
  • There is one expectation: That other road users are meeting their one obligation.

Beyond the rules of safe movement and the obligation/expectation, there exists in traffic no other expectations or guarantees. For example, no street/road user has any right to expect to go any particular place at any particular speed in any particular amount of time. To believe that one does have the right to go any particular place at any particular speed in any particular amount of time is, at a minimum, discourteous. (The adjective I prefer here is “totally freaking outrageous,” but I understand I must be “reasonable.”)

To the extent that drivers of all vehicles (and all other street/road users) embrace 1) the rules of safe movement  and 2) the obligation/expectation is the extent to which we have a safe street/road network that operates with a culture of care and respect. To the extent that laws, controls, and engineering use the rules of safe movement as an essential characteristic is the extent to which we have a safe street/road network that operates with a culture of care and respect.

And now you know why we don’t ;-)

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Flip-side of the Amsterdam Coin

The damned thing is done. Sort of.

It’s not what I had originally intended. Last year, when I published a tongue-n-cheek trailer for this video, I was planning a documentary about bicycling in Springfield, Missouri with comparisons to Amsterdam (realizing, obviously, that such comparisons are difficult at best given the radically different contexts). The comparison was never the point. The point was — still is really — to caution people hereabouts (and all over the USA) about bicycle lanes and tracks.

Well, several things went wrong along the way — none of which are worth going into detail about. You can piece together most of it if you care to dig through a year’s worth of posts on this blog.

Anyway, think of this video as a draft. It’s rough in spots. It needs further work. I’ll be interested in your feedback for making it better.

By better, I mean helping me do the rhetorical work of furthering my point: Dutch bicyclists made a bad bargain in Amsterdam by surrendering the streets to cars and cramming themselves into lanes and tracks; we Americans ought not follow their example.

Get the popcorn ready. A cold beer wouldn’t hurt either. This is a video only traffic bicycling geeks can appreciate.

UPDATE: Many good suggestions for polishing this draft are flowing in by various means. Please keep suggestions coming. Known issues:

  • Length: This needs to be 15 minutes tops.
  • Hazards: Needs more explicit explanations of certain hazards.

UPDATE: I’ll keep a list of persuasive suggestions here:

  • Lose the parking segment; doesn’t advance the thesis
  • No long segments without verbal or textual commentary

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On Paying Attention

So there I am this morning stopped at the light at Elm and Kimbrough heading east toward MSU. I’m first in line. The switch at this intersection often doesn’t trip for bicycles.

There was very little traffic. A guy in a minivan pulls behind me — and we wait.

After a bit, I decide to pull a maneuver that I will use in such situations if I deem it safe and necessary. I looked back at the motorist — difficult to see him in the glare of his windshield — pointed to the trip and then waved him forward. I swung left to take a position behind him. This is not a legal move strictly speaking, but it is one that helps keep things moving and is easily accomplished without hazard. And I only use it if there’s no other traffic about.

As I’m pulling behind him I see that he’s not pulling forward. His window is open — despite it being 37 degrees — so I said “pull forward and trip the light.”

That’s when I noticed he was texting.

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A Note On The Sociology Of Bike Lanes

Eliot Landrum, a CyclingSavvy instructor and a founding member of I Am Traffic from Dallas, posted the following story to Facebook recently:

For the “student stories” file.

Jay, a [CyclingSavvy] grad, joined me up for coffee and a social ride this morning. He told me about a trip a friend and him took last weekend to Austin… they brought their bikes and just rode pretty much every day as long as they could. He said he was shocked at how unfriendly the city was. He said he couldn’t figure out what they were doing wrong. He was in the correct lanes, staying away from door zones, using signaling… and they were getting honked at and yelled at constantly. He said he was so happy to get back to Dallas and ride anywhere he wanted without getting honked at. For those who aren’t Texans, Austin is seen as the cycling mecca and Dallas as the “most unfriendly city” for cyclists.

I told him about the retributive cycle and how bike lanes and heavy infrastructure promote “getting out of the way” of motor vehicle traffic. He said that all made a ton of sense with his experience.

I also explained that the “bike friendly” designations are heavily factored by simply how many bike lanes a city has, not whether they’re safe or useful or needed. He thought the “bike friendly” designation meant more about the attitude of a city towards bicyclists.

Tamar, another [CyclingSavvy] grad, was also there and she said she recently had a similar experience in DC. She said folks were riding in the door zone and whenever she got out of the DZ, she got honked and yelled at. She thought it was funny that when she came to Dallas and started riding for transportation, her mom fretted over the danger of riding here… when DC (where her parents live) is in reality far more dangerous.

Interesting conversation. I wish more people could see it this way.

I once wrote about bicycle lanes as a bad education, i.e. what the lines teach street users may not be the lessons they ought to learn. This story is a perfect example. Whether or not a community has a must-use law for bicycle lanes, the “taking away” of street width for bicycle lanes may lead motorists to believe that use of the bicycle lane is mandatory. It may lead motorists to ask an entirely reasonable question in the context of streets with bicycle lanes: Why is that bicyclist in front of me when they have their own space?

As the record on Carbon Trace shows, I drive my bicycle all over Springfield, Missouri with few hassles and honks from motorists. I do not remember the last honk — it’s been so many weeks ago. But I know exactly how to get honked at instantly. All one has to do is ride on any street here with a bicycle lane and ride outside the lane. A honk will soon follow. I’ve actually tested this.

Further, in nine years of riding a bicycle as full-time, basic transportation here, I have had just one instance of a motorist actually putting my life in danger on purpose. In five days of shooting video in Amsterdam last year, I caught seven such instances. Seven in five days. I believe that these motorists felt justified in part because Amsterdam provides bicycle lanes throughout the city. Get out of those lanes and, well, as the video shows…

Update: The video will be ready this October — only one year late ;-) And it will not be a “documentary” so much as another side to the Amsterdam story. I will not be making comparisons with Springfield. So, yeah, it’s going to have a high bicycle-geek factor to it.

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1-mile Solution in the News

Here’s a short Q & A published in a group of local papers about the 1-Mile Solution.

I keep thinking this kind of encouragement might actually help a few people follow the path I discovered. That path was remarkably smooth to follow.

I did not arrive in Springfield nine years ago already hip to the whole traffic-cycling thing. The flat terrain and grid street system made it easy to stick with it. And then just doing it, experiencing it, and thinking about it led me quite naturally to an understanding that one can drive a bicycle safely in traffic as traffic.

Oh, and bicycle education. Let’s not forget that. I’ve taken both the LAB course and CyclingSavvy. No one is too experienced to take these courses.

So, you see, I do want to increase participation. I’m just picky about how to do that.


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Lane Position and the Sun

Hit from behind is the rarest of car-bicycle collisions in urban areas. The general rule of thumb is: The danger is in front of you at intersections.

This picture, however, illustrates, a situation where the danger is behind, and the proper choice of lane positioning is not intuitive for many people.

Another general rule of thumb: Your shadow points to danger. I live on the west side of my major destinations now, so mornings and afternoons often look like the picture above — riding into the sun. That means the sun is in the eyes of motorists behind me.

So I should scurry to the extreme right like a good little second-class street user, right?

Dead wrong.

The proper lane position is down the middle where bicyclists will be garishly silhouetted against the light reflecting off the street.

See how dark the right side is? See how you can be lost in the building shadows?

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