Monday, December 30, 2013

Danger-They Drive Among Us!

It's not the zombie apocalypse, but it is frightening. I'm talking about the inattentive, distracted, totally unpredictable drivers that populate our roads. Unlike zombies, they don't exhibit the lurching walk, ragged bloodied clothes, and dangling shreds of flesh to warn us that they are on the march. Like zombies, they do have human form making it difficult to distinguish them from true, living humans when behind the wheel.

Potential drivers lined up at the DMV for drivers licenses.
Runners struck by newspaper carrier on Chenal Valley Drive
On this past Saturday morning a group of 4 runners was struck by a 67-year-old newspaper carrier. The time was pre-dawn, about 6:30, and the details are murky from there. A friend, who had just begun his own run nearby heard the commotion and was among the first to the scene, reported it to me.
From his report:
3 adult male victims were down on the ground along side the road and on the grass between the road and the sidewalk. A third adult male victim was on his feet frantically screaming for help into his phone. He was trying to explain to the 911 operator in a very panicked, almost impossible to understand voice where they were located. My partner, knowing exactly where we were located called 911 himself to allow them to hear instructions in a more calm voice. We then evaluated the situation checking out all 4. 3 of the 4 had what appeared to be serious injuries. They were all conscious and able to talk but complained of extreme pain, difficulty breathing etc. At least two of the three also had visible head injuries. A doctor who lived right at the scene heard the commotion and came to the scene to assist. Eventually the fire department, ambulances and police arrived and all victims were transported to the hospital. The injuries appeared severe and I overheard an EMT say "critical" but my guess is that all will survive.
My reporter left with the impression that the runners had been running on the right side of the road, likely using the bike lane and the traffic lane, and were struck from behind. It was obviously a confusing scene and the driver possibly went down the road and then turned to return to the scene. His impression is contradicted by a newspaper article on the incident.
A report in Sunday's Democrat-Gazette stated that the "Little Rock collision report marked the vehicle of James York, 67, as striking the runners in the southbound lane of Chenal Valley Drive as the vehicle traveled north, just after turning from Serian Circle."  Chenal Valley is a broad avenue so it is not hard to imagine a newspaper carrier moving to the left side of the road in those early hours. The runners told officers that they were running in the bike lane against traffic.
If the newspaper article is correct, it would mean that the runners were properly running against traffic so that they could see oncoming cars, but were struck from behind as the delivery vehicle traveled on the wrong side of the road.
How the hell do you avoid that? Hi-vis, reflective clothing is very effective. They could have run on the sidewalk, but sidewalks typically are crossed with curbs and driveways and are usually not favored by runners. The fact is, that as pedestrians and cyclists we can't always anticipate the actions of drivers.
No citations had been issued as of the time of the article. 
This struck a nerve with me...
I had pondered writing an article on the topic of dealing with the random actions of bad drivers due to a near-disastrous experience of my own. On Christmas morning, I left home on Park Hill in North Little Rock to ride my bike across town the my in-laws' home for Christmas dinner. At 11:00 on Christmas Morning there was almost no traffic, I made both of the traffic lights near the bottom of the hill on "green" and was relaxed on the near-vacant 4-lane road. As I passed a gas station on Main Street, a car traveling in the opposite direction suddenly veered in my direction. The driver did not signal or slow as she took a long diagonal across both opposing traffic lanes toward the gas pumps. I was sure that I was about to have a head-on collision with a Buick, but I locked my brakes, put my bike into a skid, and managed to steer into the driveway and onto the adjacent sidewalk as the driver finally saw me and braked as well. We were probably 10 feet away from a crash that would not have ended well for me.
The car that I encountered left the northbound lane about where this white car is located and made a bee-line for the second driveway on the right.
I don't recall ever having heard anybody describe themselves as an inattentive, dangerously bad driver, but there are plenty of them out there. I went back to talk to the driver as she got out of her car. "Ma'am, you need to pay attention to where you're going. Nobody wants to get killed on Christmas Day.", to which she responded,  "I wudn't lookin' for no bicycle."  No shit? I'm shocked.
It was broad daylight and the sun was at her back, I was dressed in a bright blue jacket and there was no other traffic in the vicinity.
I consider myself to be a very cautious rider, warily eyeing traffic approaching on cross streets, assuming that folks will run red lights and stop signs, and taking it for granted that drivers do not see me, but how do you anticipate the totally erratic? The fact is that we can't anticipate these things. My driver thought she had the road to herself and didn't need to be paying attention. She may have been messing with her phone or simply being lazy and careless. The newspaper carrier had likely followed the same pattern for many mornings without issue before he ran down 4 runners. The odds were in his favor until his luck ran out, along with that of the runners.
As runners, walkers, and riders we are vulnerable and over-matched in our automobile-centric world. Flouro has made a comeback in the style business, which means that it is once again fashionable to wear hi-vis gear. Having been though a couple of generations of day-glo phases over the years, I not crazy about the look, but in our world visibility is always your friend and hi-vis, along with flashing lights, is probably the most effective thing that we can employ to be seen on the road.

Black kits have dominated cycling for the last few years, but the more practical hi-vis is now back in style.
It's hard for me to make a solid point about dealing with random unpredictable driver behavior. Some things are simply beyond our control, so I'll just wrap this up with the usual "be careful".
Oh, yeah, and ride like you're invisible. To many drivers, we are.

Friday, December 27, 2013

'tween the Holidays- 3 Bridges Marathon Alert

Things have been pretty quiet here at the JBar Bunker as we drift from Christmas to New Years. The Bartons are pretty well scattered, but Diane's family gathered en masse as her four sisters and associated brothers-in-law and nephews descended on the Hannah homestead for an extended celebration of food, eggnog, fellowship, gift-giving and general mayhem.

It is a bit of a tradition for Diane to lead her clan on a hike up Pinnacle Mountain during the Christmas holidays.

It has also become a tradition for me to ride the 16 miles to the in-laws' house for Christmas dinner, some years being much better than others. Last year's crazy 10" Christmas day snowfall precluded the ride, but I usually manage to deal with the elements and show up in time for the gift exchange and dinner rosy-cheeked and hungry.

The BDB crowd was surprisingly sparse on this beautiful Christmas morning. It is usually teeming with folks showing off their new bikes and puppies.
OK, I stopped for selfie since there was not the usual Christmas Day dog show.
3 Bridges Marathon- Saturday, December 28, 8:00AM
The Christmas Day crowds were thin on the bridges, but that Saturday morning will be different as the inaugural 3 Bridges Marathon starts and finishes at the Two Rivers Bridge. The marathon immediately sold out the planned 200 slots, so logistics were re-evaluated and the race was expanded to accept 400 runners.
The course will cross the BDB, follow the River Trail to the Clinton Park Bridge, then retrace the route before crossing the Two Rivers Bridge for a loop through the park before returning to the start/finish area.
Saturday promises great weather and many of us will be out on bikes, so be aware of this event! Do not plan to access to Two Rivers Park or the River Trail by car via River Mountain Road. Parking at the site will be very limited and shuttles will carry runners and spectators from designated parking at nearby churches. Check out the event home page via the link above for details.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Gettin' Over The Hump- Winter Solstice

For those of us that covet our time outdoors, December 21st is always auspicious. It is the solstice, the shortest day of the year, and the official first day of winter. That means that it is also the day that daylight hours start getting longer, just a few seconds per day at first, then picking up the pace on approach to spring. We've got plenty more cold weather ahead, but we're headed in the right (and only!) direction.
The fall has had enough fine weather to keep the wheels turning, but I won't mind leaving the headlight at home for an after work ride in a few weeks.
DateSunriseSunsetThis dayDifferenceTimeAltitudeDistance
(million mi)
Dec 21, 20137:13 AM5:02 PM9h 49m 30s− 01s12:08 PM31.9° 91.446
Dec 22, 20137:13 AM5:03 PM9h 49m 32s+ 01s12:08 PM31.9° 91.440
Dec 23, 20137:14 AM5:03 PM9h 49m 37s+ 04s12:09 PM31.9° 91.435
Dec 24, 20137:14 AM5:04 PM9h 49m 45s+ 08s12:09 PM31.9° 91.431
Dec 25, 20137:15 AM5:05 PM9h 49m 56s+ 11s12:10 PM

Friday, December 20, 2013

Downtown Bridges: Light 'em Up!

As I have stated before, while I'm generally opposed to superfluous nighttime lighting and support night skies initiatives to reduce light pollution, I will readily admit that I love the LED lights of the Big Dam Bridge and Two Rivers Park Bridge. That being said, I was excited when it was announced that the Main Street, Junction, and Clinton Park Bridges would get similar treatment, thanks in large part to a grant from Entergy Arkansas. The bridges were illuminated on Thursday, December 19, as a crowd of over 5000 folks turned out on a balmy winter night to hear live music, a little talking from local dignitaries and  former President Bill Clinton, and to see the switches thrown to light up the bridges.
I've got to say that Clinton is still a star. Think what you may of his politics, he can charm, scold, give a sermon, relate a parable, and make his point all in the course of a few minutes, and do so without making anyone uncomfortable. His short speech last night was likely less than 5-minutes long, but he managed to thank all of his supporters, gently chastise leaders who refuse to compromise and work with one another, recognize his mother, encourage everyone to love their brother,  and, oh, yeah, turn on the bridge lights after enlightening the crowd.  The man has a way of planting fertile seeds for thought.
The award for brevity among the few speakers goes to NLR Mayor Joe Smith. Thank you, Joe. Being both gracious and brief will get a politician high marks from me.

The Philips LED lighting gives the bridges something in common with such iconic structures as the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, and the Empire State Building. Our city continues to grow in terms of quality-of-life features. We're not big, but I like to think of Central Arkansas as a cozy home that has everything needed for comfort and warmth. And we keep making it better with each improvement.

There is a reason that Bill Clinton remains much-loved around the world. Whatever "it" is, Bill has a truckload.
 I think I want to fly somewhere just so I can come home at night to see this from the air on approach to the airport.
The lighting can display millions of combinations of color and motion.
With its stairs and elevator, I have considered the Junction Bridge to be a bit of a stepsister among the bike/pedestrian bridges. I think it just became the beauty queen of the family.

The lights will be on from dusk to midnight each night, and will be in a red-green Christmas theme through the holidays.
I'm looking forward to seeing the bridges from various points around the area. I'm thinking that I might have to try the view from the Vista Trail near NLR's Fort Roots sooner rather than later.
While those of in the cycling community have long appreciated the value of our bridges, this project will enhance the appreciation of these assets by a wider audience.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Emergency Responders Meet To Discuss River Trail Coverage

I was invited to sit in on a meeting of emergency responders and law enforcement agencies at Metroplan last week. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the challenges of responding to emergencies along the Arkansas River Trail, and those challenges are many. Rob Stephens, Arkansas River Trail Task Force chairman, hosted the meeting along with Jim McKenzie, Judy Watts, and Lynn Bell of Metroplan.
Participants included representatives of Pinnacle Mountain State Park, North Little Rock Parks and Rec, MEMS, North Little Rock 911 Center, Conway Police Department, Maumelle Fire Department, and the Little Rock Fire Department.

Emergencies along River Trail can represent unique problems for area first-responders. They are working to solve those problems.

The 88-mile Arkansas River Trail System includes not only the multi-use trail system, but also many miles of  open road covering several counties and multiple jurisdictions. A coordinated emergency response plan is vital, and this coordination is becoming increasingly important as more and more users enjoy the resource.

The most discussed problem was that of simply determining where the victim of an emergency is located. A 911 call from a land line will immediately provide the call center with the address from which the call is made, and even in the panic of an emergency situation, most people can give you their address or street location. This becomes more problematic on the ART where there are no addresses and many visitors cannot even say with certainty which side of the Arkansas River they are on, much less give a precise location.  Most cell phones have GPS capability, but I understood that the 911 system can only gain a vague idea of location from cell tower information, and that information can be misleading as signals may be switched from one tower location to another as traffic volume shifts.

Much of the discussion involved developing a system of precise location markings that could be accurately relayed by someone under duress. Several ideas were presented regarding the type of information that should be used, such as whether to use GPS or trail mile information. Frequency and type of signage was also discussed at some length.

 I've made a 911 call from the River Trail and, though I know virtually every inch of the trail and can describe my location precisely to someone with the same experience, my description would likely not make a damn bit of sense for even a seasoned 911 operator.
I was at this meeting strictly as an observer, but the group of professionals involved were serious in their approach and very open to the give-and-take of sharing ideas and experiences with others. They are eager to improve response on the trail and that will be in the interest of all of us.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Camp Robinson Trail Closure-December 27-28

Camp will be closed to mountain bikes on December 27-28 so that the area can be opened to hunters.

I had so much fun on my last ride at Camp Robinson that I was eager to get back out there. The icy weather delayed me, but I loaded up the MTB on Sunday and headed out with visions of single-track dancing in my head (what the hell is a sugar plum, anyway?). Imagine my disappointment when I found that TA 2 was closed for a hunt, as it will be again as noted above. I tucked tail and headed to Burns Park but I did not have a gratifying experience. Some of it was that it simply wasn't what I wanted to ride and the rest of my dissatisfaction came from my bike set-up. I had done a little tweaking and missed the mark.

The Burns Park trails are fine and the work done over the last couple of years has improved the area, but it just doesn't compare to Camp Robinson in terms of mileage, quality, and variety of trails. Camp offers easier trails, harder trails, steeper trails, flatter trails, rockier trails and smoother trails. In other words, if you like Burns Park you can find similar trails at Camp, along with just about anything else you might want to try.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Along The Trail-Big Rock Quarry Industrial Art Walk

I've taken the enforced inactivity of the recent ice event pretty well, catching up on a few minor projects, reading, and eating a little too much; not getting nearly enough exercise, but getting in some walks, yoga and light weight work. That shit is all good and well but by Sunday morning, I wanted OUT! After yet another big breakfast (red beans and rice with eggs, bacon, 8-grain toast. Delicious, but a huge calorie load for the ride I did not take.), I drove down to the river with my camera, intent on hiking up a trail from Big Rock Quarry to Fort Roots. A small creek along the trail creates several waterfalls and I thought that I might catch them in some spectacular icy state. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the steep little trail was just too sketchy. The terrain is always fairly tough going, but in the refrozen sleet it was necessary to kick into the ice for every step and footing was still treacherous. It just wasn't worth it, so I backtracked and took my exploration elsewhere.
The quarry was in use at least as early as 1849, and the remnants of the place's use as an industrial site are still apparent in the reinforced concrete structures, cast iron and steel pipe and supports, and the remains of various utility buildings. It never fails that I find scenes in which the industrial combines with the natural to create something that is appealing to the eye.

The old structures are being integrated back into the landscape, reminding me of photos of temples re-discovered in the jungles of central America and Asia. Just give this place a little more time!
The thickness of this concrete says this was built to stay, whatever it may have been, but the flowing water will get it eventually.

A basic composition practice is to divide a scene into thirds. The steps framing this leaf made that a natural.

The corrugated tin siding on this structure led me to think it was a storage shed.

A closer look through the window revealed a brick pier covered with delicate lapboard, making me wonder how the building evolved over its period of use.
These partially-burned timbers suspended under a concrete structure look like a mobile.
This art is all natural.
In addition to the accidental art provided by nature and the old buildings, it seems that I always run across some intentional art left by some creative soul.
Here we are in Dogtown.
The tagging was OK, but the creepy baby painting added a surreal touch to the scene.
I didn't expect to find a stretched canvas.
You never know what you're going to find along the trail. Sometimes you just have to get off of the pavement and see what you can find.

River Trail Ride Report: Ice Hazard Remains

Some time ago I issued a standing offer to my friend Matt Milner to guide him around the River Trail loop. Matt lives in Heber Springs, where he is a fishing guide, and had ridden the trail but had not figured out the Dillard's-to-downtown puzzle. He took me on one of his local rides around Heber a few months ago so I was reciprocating and I always enjoy riding the trail with out-of-towners. I will admit that our timing could have been better, as it was still damn cold and we found that all of the bridges along the trail were ice covered. The upside was that it was sunny and warmer than it had been in several days and I was suffering from the dreaded cabin fever.

When Matt texted me on Wednesday that he had arrived, I grabbed a Clif bar for lunch and headed down to meet him at Fike's Bikes. Trail conditions were good enough until we got to the Shillcut Bayou bridge in Burns Park, where we ran into Diane, aka Mrs. JBar, and made our first dismount to cross the ice covered bridge. When we got to the BDB and saw that it was covered with ice, Diane showed her wisdom and finished her ride back to her nearby office as Matt and I headed up the narrow sliver of clear bridge deck.

Matt spends most of his days wading or rowing trout streams. I guess it toughens him up for riding in his shorts on snow days.
The section shown above was as good as it got on the BDB. We had to dismount a couple of times on the BDB, on the Cantrell Road viaduct near Cross Street, and on the Clinton Park Bridge. A road bike is not the ideal craft for navigating icy streets, but we fulfilled our mission without mishap. I headed back to work and Matt rolled on to pick up a few more miles. It wasn't an epic ride, but it was great to get out of the house and on to the bike after several days of weather-imposed lock down.

Some of my BikeNerd friends have been comparing notes on trainers and rollers, but I'll settle for a few rides like this to get me through!
Ride your bike, avoid the bridges, and be safe. The thaw will come.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Orbea USA-Spokes Update

I've been asked by a couple of folks for an update on the status of the new Orbea, USA location at 119 S. Main in downtown Little Rock; and specifically about how Spokes fits in and about the retail policies at the location. I had a fair idea from earlier conversations and a press event, and have posted a couple of articles on the topic, but I called Mat Seelinger at Spokes to freshen up my information.
Work is progressing on the construction of the Spokes coffee bar, though as is often the case, things are a bit behind schedule and the hoped-for mid-December opening would take a "Christmas miracle" according to the general contractor. Mat wouldn't speculate on an opening date, but it was inferred that given the current situation, it would likely be after the holidays.
Expectations are that the coffee bar will be very popular, not only with the cycling crowd, but with many downtown office workers seeking a jolt of quality java in the cool ambiance of a bike business.

The Orbea showroom on Main will soon include a Spokes retail presence along with a coffee bar.
The bike shop side of the Spokes entity will offer the full Orbea bicycle line, along with Orbea clothing and tri gear, Shimano shoes, and a limited bike service area. Most service work will be referred to the Spokes' Stifft Station location, but if someone needs flat fix or has a mechanical in the downtown area, they can likely get you back on the road.
Initially, Spokes will have two staff members on hand, both of whom will be capable baristas, wrenches, and retail sales people. Orbea folks can step in to help in a pinch and staffing will be adjusted to meet the demands of the location.
The chemistry of this joint venture promises to be very cool, and brings a very positive vibe to the Main Street location. I'm looking forward to watching it develop.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Back On Single-Track;Bridge Lighting Event; Your Christmas List

 Remarkably Good Trail Conditions At Camp Robinson

A couple of weeks ago I reported on the good trail conditions and the wide range of choices at North Little Rock's Camp Robinson. After spending a few hours out there last Sunday on a variety of trails and loops, I'll say what riders often tell me when they rediscover Camp Robinson after not riding it for a while. I forget how good it is.

Camp Robinson has more single-track miles than you will ride in a day. If you say you did it all, I'll say that you missed something!
The upper trails like Yucca, Airport, Ten Bridges, etc, are hard-packed and look like they have been groomed. After riding Ten Bridges, Airport and Buddha with trail dog Willie, I let him take a break at the truck as I joined a couple of buddies to ride some more. Willie is good for about 9 miles it seems. I usually don't last much longer on the mountain bike, but on Sunday I was just wishing for more daylight.
After situating Willie with a bowl of water and a couple of recovery treats, we headed out 5-Mile Trail, which I have only ridden a time or two since major logging took place a couple of years ago and damaged many of the most popular trails. I was very impressed by the amount of work that has taken place to restore the trail system. It took a lot of effort just to tie the trails back together after the bulldozers and burns of the logging operation, but what has taken place since last spring is way beyond that. There has been a lot of rock work done on 5-Mile to harden creek crossings and it appears that weedeaters and leaf blowers have been at work. Big thanks to the trail fairies, as the condition of trail was eye-popping good. From 5-Mile, we cut down Dogwood Trail to Merlin. Merlin remains what I'll call "rustic" with a lot of leaf cover and loose rock, but it offers up a fun and challenging range of features. I always feel good about myself when I can ride it without dabbing a foot in the switchbacks and I am sorely behind on that score for the week.

When I checked in shortly after noon, 4-5 riders had preceded me. When I checked out at dark, I saw that 16 folks had checked in. Mat Seelinger at Spokes reports that large numbers have been showing up for the traditional 2:00PM Sunday rides, with as many as 30-35 riders on recent Sundays. If you've been wondering where your ride buddies have been on Sunday, I may have just told you. Get a sportsman pass and get to Camp.
Downtown Bridges Lighting Event: Thursday, December 19

The new lighting systems on the Main Street, Clinton Park, and Junction Bridges will be dedicated, and it should be spectacular. I am a big fan of the lighting on the BDB and Two Rivers Bridge so I am actually excited about the prospect of the downtown projects. I'm normally a Scrooge when it comes to outdoor lighting, but the bridges just make me smile.
 A mild Monday night in December was a good opportunity to get in a ride and check out the lights at the BDB.
Here's a link to a KTHV site containing press release with the details of the event.
It's a short shopping season but local bike shops can help!
If you are reading this, you are likely a rider. You also likely have somebody on your Christmas list who is a cyclist, and most riders need something.
Here are a few things that you might put on your wish list or score for someone on your list:
-Winter gloves
-Socks (deFeets Blaze are my "go to" winter socks.)
-A Garmin bike computer for the very good boy or girl
-GoPro- see line above for qualifications.
-Arm warmers, knee warmers, ear band.
-Gift card for a tune-up at your favorite shop. Add new bar tape, cables and housings for a fresh bike feel.
-Rider fuel: Coffee, gel, bars, etc.
-Tools, work stand
-Subscription to Velo, Bicycling, or other bike magazines. Yes, some folks still like to read on paper, and it supports the websites!
-Winter tights, base layers
- BACA membership: Support local bike advocacy.
- Road ID
-Ergon mountain bike grips. These things are like an E-Z chair for your hands.
You have my permission to print this out, make check marks and additions or scratch out lines, and then leave copies in strategic locations where they might be "found" by those poor souls struggling to decide on a gift for you. 
 The weather for the coming weekend is taking a turn toward cold and wet, so it will be a good time to get your shopping done. Malls are scary places, but local shops are warm, friendly, and a likely place to run into some of your riding buddies.