Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2018 Transit Stories, number one

A few weeks ago someone made mention online that there had only been anti-biking commentaries in the commentary section of the Star Tribune.  I've often thought more bicyclists, walkers and users of public transit need to share more stories about their experiences.  One, to counter the often anti voices.  & two, to reach people of a more visceral or emotional level about walking, biking and public transiting.  I think people are moved more by stories then they are by arguments.  So tell stories and hope that they find a way into public discourse.

I was wanted to write such a story but I didn't have anything.  Then the other day when it was pretty cold (that is saying something for Minneapolis).  I chose to ride the bus rather than pedal my bike south to see a family to discuss a memorial service.  On this trip I caught a story.  I shared the story with my family, then I shared it with the congregation, then I sat down and typed it out and shared it with the readers of the Star Tribune; it appeared last Thursday.

here it is.

I actually like to read the comments, I find them interesting.  This article brought a sad response.  One person commented, "many of us do not want to feel connected to strangers".  I feel that is part of our problem today as a culture.  We do not want to feel connected to strangers.  If you are a Christian or a person of faith or person of conscience not wanting to feel connected to strangers is not an option.  There will be no social progress if we constantly remain unconnected to strangers.  The Christian story is at the least the transformation of strangers to friends (not conversion to belief, but openness of heart).  What if walking, bicycling, and taking public transit were viewed as faith practices, as  ways to engage and meet people and help the grand work of transforming strangers into friends?

Monday, January 8, 2018

Book Review: Street Smart

As my time at divinity school came to a close, almost 18 years ago, my church history professor made me promise him that I wouldn't stop reading.  I wondered why he made such a bizarre request, but I gladly promised.  After a few years of pastoring I realized why he made me make that promise.  I discovered a bundle (I believe that is the proper nomenclature of more than two clergy) of clergy colleagues who stopped active/critical reading after they graduated.

I've been, I believe, a "stable"reader during my pastoral tenure.

I try to read 50 books a year.  The titles of which are predictable: Biblical commentaries, church life, church problems, church solutions, books on prayer, books on self care.  Nevertheless, I am surprised how the demands of the job, personal interests, and vocational aspirations shape and direct my reading.  For example, I realize the importance of reading more fiction than non-fiction (fiction feeds my imagination more).  But I never foresaw the day where I would voluntarily read a book on streets,  this is what riding my bike has done to me.

Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars by Samuel I. Schwartz

from the prologue, "Street Smart tells the story of a transformation in the common travel decisions made daily and weekly in the industrialized world generally, the United States specifically.  Its focus is a modest 9.72 miles - the distance of the average automobile trip, including to work, to shopping, to social encounters, to entertainment - how we've done so historically and how were going to be doing it in the future."  That may not sound like the kind of book the average pastor would read, but it should be.  Because the churches we serve are on streets and people get there, largely, via cars.  But what if the formula changes?  What if people start walking, biking, taking public transit to church more?

Rather than offer a regular book review I will of a book review for pastors (why should a pastor read this book).

How is church life shaped and altered by street design and street policy?  Although this book never addresses this question, if a pastor kept this question in her mind as she read this book she would develop a more intentional approach to church life on the street level.

Church life was been dramatically shaped by two national policies: Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 (which provided the funding for the interstate highway system) and the G.I. Bill (which only provided guaranteed loans for new homes).  Take these two policies and you have an incentive and subsidizing for folk to move out of urban centers to the suburbs.  These policies shaped church life and growth (and decline) since the 1950s.  But we are now seeing a generation, almost singlehandedly, reversing these polices!

Despite cheap gas, despite low car loans, despite the Chevy "denim" and "techno pink" car colors Millennials are driving less, biking more, and moving back into urban centers (as are other age groups).  Cities are slowly being transformed back to their pre-car pasts with an emphasis on dense urban centers, public transit and walkability.

This book will give a pastor some reasons for hope and some reasons why they should be involved in the shape and direction of streets and urban policy.  This involves showing up at zoning meetings, participating in Open Streets, and encouraging church members to take public transit, walk, and bike to worship and church life.

I don't foresee a revival of numbers and church plants in urban centers. But I can see urban/neighborhood churches experiencing new life, still as small communities, and possibly flourishing in light of Americans' desire to live in urban areas.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017: A Year in Numbers

Last night the missus and I got down the wall calendar and did our year in review after dinner with the kiddos.  At first it seemed like an okay year, but the more we flipped through the pages the more we realized it was a full and fun year.  Then this morning when I got into the office and switched over  my work calendar I looked back on 2017 and thought, what a year.

So here we go a year in numbers, mostly...

26 number of books read (low year for me but the reason why will become clear soon enough).
Best biography: Raoul Wallenberg: The Heroic Life and Mysterious Disappearance of the Man Who Saved Thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust by Ingrid Carlberg (after reading this book I'm trying to get my city council member to changed the name of Columbus Ave to Wallenberg Ave.)
Best Fiction book: The Beautiful Possible by Amy Gottlieb
Best Non-Fiction book: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate - Discoveries From a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben
Best Graphic Novel: March by John Lewis
Best Kids Book: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi
And best Musical Find: Koln Concert by Keith Jarret (centered my Easter sermon around it)

52 number of sermons + lectures + memorial services + presentations
6  number of times published (Star Tribune,  MinnPost, The Christian Citizen)

5 number of those articles that featured bicycling
1,500 approximate number of miles ridden on my bike 
5 number of people in my family 
5 number of people in my family who now ride regularly
3 number of people in my family who are or who are considering winter biking
2 number of bike rides organized (Portland and Atlanta)
100 approximate number of people who participated in the record breaking Baptist bike ride in Portland, OR
30 seconds the amount of time it took me to get comfortable being typecasted as the person who always talks about bikes at church/clergy/theological gatherings

6 number of times I mowed my yard this year
28 number of times my neighbor mowed his yard

611 number of twitter followers
97 number of real people who followed me on twitter for three or less days then unfollowed me
492 number of people i blocked on twitter
2 number of people i follow on twitter that i met face-to-face 
702 number of friends on facebook
15 number of people i regularly interact with on facebook
X number of people i am still friends with on facebook but have unfollowed them
456 number of people, ballpark estimate, of people who I'm still friends with on facebook but have unfollowed me, because they know im not nearly as clever as i think i am.  

62 number of round trip miles the boys and I pedaled for our bike camping trip.

13.August.2017. the day I found out I was awarded a Clergy Renewal Grant from the Lilly Foundation!!!  Thus why my reading numbers were down.   

5 number of years a gas station donut has occupied in my office desk drawer and not changed, at all.

0 number of Tudor's Biscuit consumed, damn.  
2 number of donuts consumed while visiting with Michael Tisserand
2 number of times the school principal called to inform us about a kid's behavior
1 number of times the school was calling about the other Norvell family's kid and not ours.

there you go folks.  great year, but more than anything looking forward to 2018!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The 2 to 3% rule in action

Yesterday as I biked home I thought, "I gotta contact the Parks and Rec department and ask them to create an entrance onto the bike path."  Right where 51st intersects the parkway there should be an easement or simple ramp onto the bike path.

As you can see from these photos bicyclists already enter and exit the parkway here (no those are not my tracks).
Amending this spot would create a nicer and smoother rider experience.

Now imagine a small change like this happening all over the city.  Now imagine a small change like a ramp onto a bike path happening in your life, or in your work for social change and social justice.  It may not be a headline grabbing change but multiplied by the number of people doing similar work in one city or area and all of sudden real long-term change took place in a number of lives.

I found out about Dongo Chang the other day in a feature in Traffic Lab,the city of Seattle's chief traffic engineer.  The more I read about Mr. Chang the more I realized how important it is to, sometimes, focus on the micro level in order to effect the macro.  I feel more inspired and buoyed by this article than any other I've read this year.  

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Cycling Festival

The vote was cast and the disappointing news was shared Minneapolis/St. Paul (actually Bloomington) would not host the 2023 World's Fair.  And that is too bad.

But what about all the energy that went into preparing the bid?  All that energy shouldn't just fizzle away.  Hey Mark Ritchie, I've got an idea for you.  What about a Cycling Festival?

This summer the family and I will be traveling in Scotland and northern England for six weeks for my sabbatical (thanks to the generous clergy renewal grant).  I've gone a little overboard concerning when and where we will include biking, but that's okay.  As I sleuthed biking in Edinburgh I discovered an amazing concept.  What I found nearly made me jump for joy: A two-week festival of cycling!

Imagine a cycling festival in the Twin Cities (not just in Minneapolis, not just in St. Paul), a true regional festival with daily rides, speakers, workshops, bicycling world record attempts, feats of strength and skill, promotion of alternative transportation, bike camping trips, how-to's, region wide encouragement of high fives, you name it.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Exploring the 2%-3% Rule

Exploring the 2-3% Rule.  First off, I don't know if this exists as an official "rule" but I am treating as one.  Second, I learned of this "rule" by a friend who teaches at a local university and is one of the smartest people I know.

Here is the rule, interpreted by me: To bring about lasting social change one should look to advance the cause 2-3% each year.  Anything more is too much of an upset to the system and the system will look to revert back to homeostasis (for those of you familiar with pastoral care theories...the language works well).  Over the course of time, from the outside, it will appear as if there were sudden lunges or lurches or leaps toward social change.  However, the leaps were due to the incremental 2-3% changes each year.  Think of an icicle melting, at the first experience of warmth an icicle doesn't just fall off the eave.  It melts and drips and then finally falls off.

Four winters ago I began biking and walking and public transiting and car-sharing (the service I used no longer exists) as a way to move around as the pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church.  The shift in movement brought about lots of immediate change: better health, financial savings, weight loss, got to know the Twin Cities better, and self-image improved.  But the change was my own, it was a long time coming.  I had tried biking full-time in Rhode Island, but the roads were too narrow; I tried in New Orleans but the rain and the humidity soaked my attempts.  My attempt wasn't a sudden jump, even though it may have seemed like it was from an outside perspective.

But would my change bring about change in the family's transportation?  At first NOPE.  For sure, it was winter.

Over the last four years, however, 2-3% change started began to happen.

The first Spring the kids wanted new bikes, CHECK.

Then we started biking to the lake.  CHECK.

Then we biked to get ice cream.  CHECK.

Then we biked to church.  CHECK.

Then the Voice of Reason wanted a new bike.  CHECK.

Then the kiddos started riding bikes to school and to see friends. CHECK.

Then the Voice of Reason and I started riding bikes for dates: to the Guthrie, to a Twins game, to the Orchestra.  CHECK.

Then the kids and Voice of Reason got lights and cycle computers (for distance and speed and time).  CHECK.

Then everyone got racks for the back of their bikes to haul books and groceries.  CHECK.

Then everyone either purchased, was gifted, or won a "buff". CHECK

Then yesterday afternoon (because our van was getting worked on) the Voice of Reason and I pedaled to Judson Memorial Baptist Church for the Choir's presentation of the Faure Requiem then we pedaled over to the Seward Co-Op for grocery shopping.  Big deal you might say.  Oh yeah, here is the big deal: it was cold yesterday and the Voice of Reason does not like the cold and vowed never to bike when the air temp or feels like temp was below 28!  Yesterday evening it was 33 with a feels like temp of 17!!!

Now one kid wants their bike to be winterized, and the VOR wants windproof biking gloves.

Dear Divine this 2-3% rule is amazing!

We still own a van; we still drive approximately 10,000 miles a year; our kids still aspire to get their driver's license; but over time...

Monday, October 23, 2017

Starting Them Young: Biking Toys and Paying Teenagers Not to Drive

I've been biking full-time for four years.  I regret not doing it earlier but there's nothing I can do about that now.  But I do wonder what impact biking will have on my progeny?

I realize the social pressure on teenagers to get their driving license is beyond my parental influence and the even more influential Voice of Reason (my lovely bride has only taken the van to school to teach once or twice this year).  So I have created an incentive to put off driving and to encourage biking, walking, public transit: I asked our insurance agent to provide me a quote for how much it would cost to add one of my progeny onto our auto insurance.  After I receive that number I will give my progeny half of that number.  So yes I am subsidizing my progeny for not driving (just like our government subsidizes cheap oil).  

With the other younger progeny I am hoping the continual days of biking will develop into a deeper love of biking which will hopefully make them not want to get their drivers licenses until much later.  

Which brings me to the point of this blog post.  

I think we need more bicycle themed toys.  Spaceships, remote controlled cars, boats, dolls, buildabears sure.  But what about more bikes - Barbie on a bike, buildabike shop in the mall, a bike built out of legos, bike puzzles, & etc. 

Today I turn 43, and my boys got me this.  

of course they thought it was hilarious that I wanted such a gift, "dad, you don't even have the rest of the CITY set to play with..."  Oh well, but I wonder why the Danish based company does not have more bikes in its sets?  

We got to start somewhere to make walking/biking/public transiting the new norm not an odd alternative.