Welcome to Green Gal's blog, where you'll find stories, recipes, gardening updates, and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems. This blog is written by a young woman entrepreneur who is also a beginning farmer-gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cranksgiving: An Alleycat to Support the Santa Cruz Community

Today I participated in my first bike race, totaling 18 miles in 2.5 hours around Santa Cruz, Soquel, and Aptos. Unlike you might be imagining, there were no fans lining the streets, no blocked off or set course of direction, and most people who saw me pedaling up Soquel Avenue with a huge backpack probably had no idea I was racing from grocery store to grocery store, gathering food based on a list I'd been handed at noon.

The ride was an alleycat ride called Cranksgiving, organized by Santa Cruz Bike Polo and Clutch Couriers. I had been invited by my friend and fellow bike generating enthusiast Jonny. He helps out with the Student Environmental Center's bike-powered energy generator at events, and he invited me to join his team a few weeks ago. All I knew was that I was supposed to show up with some money and that I would be racing around the Santa Cruz area picking up food that would be donated to families in need for the holidays.

Jonny stoked for the race before we left San Lorenzo Park.

When I arrived by bicycle at the duck pond at San Lorenzo Park at noon, Jonny and I paid our $5 and were handed cards to place in our spokes. I chose "The Killer Whale" as my card, and Jonny chose "Bike Polo." Then we set to work using Jonny's smart phone and my spatial understanding of various grocery stores in Santa Cruz and Aptos to determine who would bike to which store and which items we'd pick up. We had a list to follow and had to get a receipt from each store and return with each item on the food list. The food items had been requested by The Familia Center, a family resource center serving low-income Latino residents of Northern Santa Cruz County, and all proceeds from the ride would benefit the Center.

We put all the bikes between those redwood trees. After the organizers explained the race, they counted down and shouted "Bike polo!" We all raced to grab our bikes, and then it began. Watch a video of the start of the race here. If you look closely, you'll see me in the bright green helmet and tan shorts grabbing my bike.

Because I had better spatial awareness of the Aptos-Capitola area, Jonny and I decided that I would bike the farther distance to Aptos Natural Foods and Aptos Safeway, also getting the three grocery stores on 41st Avenue. He rode with me to Soquel to the midtown Staff of Life, Whole Foods, and Safeway, and then he returned to downtown and Westside for a few more stores.

I didn't realize how far Aptos is by bicycle until I was sweating and huffing and puffing along Soquel Drive for what felt like a long time. Other participants in the race kept passing me, speeding along and sometimes running red lights (I knew who was a participant because everyone had spoke cards). I abide by traffic laws whenever I can (sometimes stop signs are more like yields on a bike, and at times, staying safe in busy traffic lanes might require bending a rule or two), so I was a little slower than some who breezed right through red lights. I can blame it on lawbreakers all I want, but when it comes down to it, many of them were just plain faster on a bike than me. I resigned myself to that fact and realized the most important thing was that we were all working to gather a lot of food for people who need it. So I kept on pedaling, finally reaching Aptos Natural Foods about 45 minutes after the race had begun.

I won't bore you with the details of each store I ventured into, but there are a few things I learned  and had reaffirmed today on the ride.
  1. Bike racks in visible locations are important, and I definitely have more respect for stores with bike racks right out front. Don't hide your bike racks, stores! I had to ask some nice looking radio folks outside the Safeway on 41st to watch my bike because there were no bike racks... How can they not have bike racks? I know we aren't in Copenhagen or anything, but seriously...
  2. Nourish your mental map, and you will become a more confident road user. Understanding your city's street layouts is really important if you want to be efficient and safe on a bike. I'm not super familiar with the east side of town, so I wasted a lot of time by not knowing when to begin merging left on my bike to turn into parking lots (on 41st especially). When I did know where I was going, I felt so much more confident and didn't have to hestitate. In my opinion as someone who refuses to get one, smart phones aren't helpful when you're riding along, needing to make split second decisions. It's better to use your mental mapping skills, and I am so glad I don't have a smartphone because today's ride forced me to rely on my mental map skills... and certainly my mental map increased in detail for east side of Santa Cruz today. Sure, Jonny used his smart phone to tell me cross streets before I left, but I had to rely on my own version of Google Maps once we parted ways on the ride--my brain and its ability to recall details much faster than stopping, typing something, and then reviewing it on a screen.
  3. Bicycling is a completely feasible means of transportation, and Santa Cruz is a really great place to use it as your main method of getting around. I felt really safe on my bike today, especially on Soquel, and while there are scary places that make merging difficult (like freeway entrances), we live in a place that has a ton of bike lanes. Most definitely we can do way better as a community on a number of levels to become more bike friendly (we're nowhere near as safe or friendly toward bikes as we could be), but I didn't sense any hostility toward my presence today on the road, and I traveled farther by bike and into new places today than I typically do. That felt good to me, and I realized, too, that sure, Aptos is far, but it's not too far, and I was racing, so no wonder I felt a little ragged. Without the pressure to race others, that trip is totally doable.  
Though Jonny and I didn't place on the ride (I think we came in last for 2-person teams), we did get to celebrate afterward with everyone in Harvey West Park. Burgers, chips and salsa, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery keg, and good bike conversation... and then everyone got some prizes! I rode away with two new water bottles that are perfect for biking, as well as a sense of accomplishment and connection to my community.

Grateful for burgers, beer, and bikes.

Cool bike prizes. Everyone won something!

The food that was purchased throughout the race! In addition to actual food items, part of the race requirements including purchasing a $20 gift certificate to a grocery store, and there were bonus prizes for teams that purchased $25+ gift cards to clothing and book stores. 

It felt really good to know that my fun bike experience today will also provide families with food this holiday season. I found out on the Facebook event page that everyone on the ride today purchased collectively nearly $1000 worth of food and gift cards! Talk about pedal power!

How else can bicycling benefit our communities? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the ride, either in the comments or on the Green Gal Facebook page here.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Look What Arrived in the Mail!

My life has been pretty bike-centric lately, with numerous bike rides around and down and up to campus each day/week and the biggest bummers in my day-to-day life being bike lights that don't work when you need them. I've been reading countless articles about transportation and bikes, and I'm working on a longer blog post about my transportation history that is proving more difficult to articulate clearly than I originally thought. Transportation is a complex topic, far more complex than you might think.

In my stumblings through millions of open web browser tabs of bike articles and blogs, I came across a book titled Bikenomics by Elly Blue. It was posted on a blog called Taking the Lane, which I have since spent some time reading and have greatly enjoyed. Many of the larger issues like civil rights and women's rights that have been floating around in my mind lately as I bike and find obstacles to feeling safe on my bike are presented in clear, poignant ways on this blog. More writings about my thoughts on these topics to come.

So I saw the book title, read the description, and decided to purchase the book. I forgot I'd purchased it until I opened my little PO box in the mailroom just now and a little package was there with my name on it! When I opened it up, I was surprised to also find a couple stickers and a unique bike postcard alongside the beautiful book:

I can't wait to start reading! I'll certainly post an update on what I learn from the book as I get into it.

Here's the description of the book from the blog where I found and purchased it:
"Bikenomics provides a surprising and compelling new perspective on the way we get around and on how we spend our money, as families and as a society. The book starts with a look at the real transportation costs of families and individuals, and moves on to examine the current civic costs of our transportation system. The book tells the stories of people, businesses, organizations, and cities who are investing in two-wheeled transportation. The multifaceted North American bicycle movement is revealed, with its contradictions, challenges, successes, and visions."

Doesn't that sound like a great and important read? Happy Cycling, my friends!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

UCSC Strike Leads to Philosophical Reflections on Automobile/Bus-Free Roadways

Imagine the UC Santa Cruz campus without cars or buses circling its horse-shoe shape. No cars driving up behind the sea of pedestrians on Steinhart Way, cramming people off the road or forcing people on bikes to give room to the large metal isolation machines (commonly known as cars) that keep people separate from their fellow slugs. Think of the roads that could become walkways and bikeways (as Steinhart really is and should be since only authorized vehicles are allowed through), people reclaiming space and not having to stop and let cars and buses pass when crossing guards are directing traffic. No bus pollution right in your lungs as you bike up Hagar behind a Metro or loop bus. Walking and dancing in the street, more people walking through forest paths instead of busing around campus, bikes zooming around instead of rusting in a sideyard. Healthier people, healthier air, more human powered transportation.

Today, while biking through rain and fog up the bike path and around Porter and then through the middle of campus, it wasn't difficult to imagine this vision of a car and bus-free campus reminiscent of Santa Cruz Open Streets. With the strike activity at the base of campus, only a few cars are roaming around on campus roads, and everyone is either off-campus or in their dorm. If they are out and about on campus, they're walking or biking through the rain to attend a class that managed to still happen, go to the dining hall, or visit the strike activity.

Roads are pretty empty, especially compared to a typical rainy day. Normally, rain freaks everyone out and they cram onto buses or drive to campus. (Little do they realize how wonderful being slightly soggy after a rainy bike ride can be!) Rainy days are usually crowded traffic days, but since no one's here today, the streets are empty, except for the rain and wandering deer.

I realize that buses and cars are sometimes necessary to access our hilly campus. Not all people have the physical ability to walk or bike to campus, though many who think they don't have this ability would be surprised to find out they do if they tried. Sometimes we transport things that require more space than a bike can handle, and most people don't own bike trailers (even if they maybe should). Also, when we're sick or hurt, the bus and car are solutions to still get to campus without jeopardizing our health.

With those limitations expressed, however, visioning our campus space without (as many) buses and cars is fun and actually opens the door for the mind. Imagine how the spaces we currently have on campus could be better used to support walking and biking so that people who are capable do so voluntarily and not just when there's a strike.

One really obvious thing I realized while biking up the bike path is that there are no designated walking paths to reach the west side of campus. To get to the east side, there are shoulders along Coolidge and a sidewalk near the bus stops followed by a path parallel to and separated from Hagar Drive... but the only clear path to the west side of campus is the bike path, which is technically closed to pedestrians. On days like today when the only way up or down the hill is walking or biking, many people use the bike path for walking. As a person on a bike heading uphill and having to breathlessly squeak "on your left" to a group who has taken over the path, my first impulse is to inform them that they aren't supposed to be on the path. I always catch myself before I say anything, of course, because at the end of the day, I love that they are walking and not busing or driving. What I'm really feeling is a need for a designated pathway for them to use so that they are safely out of the way and I don't have to swerve or slow down when I'm in the groove of biking up to campus. I've met other people who bike to campus and get angry at pedestrians on the bike path, so I know that people walk it often and that there is some resentment from people on bikes who see the sign at the top and bottom of the hill and do not expect to be swerving around pedestrians. This solution seems so simple--just widen the non-grassy area to the side of the bike path and indicate at the top and bottom that pedestrians are to remain to the side of the bike path.

Another thing that's interesting to think about is what we could do with all the parking spaces that could be vacant if fewer people drove to campus. This isn't my idea--it's been done at other universities and cities on a temporary basis and was mentioned this morning at a meeting I attended off-campus. The event others have done is called (Park)ing Day, and the description on the event's website states:

(Park)ing Day is an annual open-source global event where citizens, artists and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places. The project began in 2005 when Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, converted a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in downtown San Francisco. Since 2005, PARK(ing) Day has evolved into a global movement, with organizations and individuals (operating independently of Rebar but following an established set of guidelines) creating new forms of temporary public space in urban contexts around the world.The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat … at least until the meter runs out!
With fewer cars on campus and some lots empty (like the one above near McHenry Library), this kind of project could engage students, staff, and faculty walking by in thinking about how we can better use spaces in our community on campus and turn them into places that have meaning and purpose beyond simply being a place to store your giant hunk of metal transportation when you're on campus. There are so many reasons not to have a car-centric campus and community, and opening spaces up in communities to convert them from parking spaces to something more community developing and inspirational is one reason that people don't often think of.

I've been pondering transportation and its relationship to my life, social justice, sustainability, and other topics lately, and I've been working on a blog post for awhile about my transportation history. I will post it soon and perhaps it will better frame the context that I'm coming from in writing this piece about rethinking our roadways and transportation-related places on campus.

I want to also say before I end with some more photos that there's an entire other blog post that could be written about how the strike and these reflections are related, how lack or limit to access to transportation and access to education and access to fair wages are part of the same systemic problems that are a huge challenge in our community, culture, and world. I promise reflections like that will come soon, and even if it takes awhile for those reflections to be written and posted here, they are brewing strongly in my mind and I've been sharing them with people I see day-to-day.

I rode around and took pictures on my way back to my dorm today... There were not only empty parking spaces but also empty bike spaces, as seen below.

But the Bike Co-op (sandwich board sign below) was one of very few entities open today on campus, and it made me smile because I knew that the people running the co-op today must have biked up the hill or live on campus. The more full bike rack in the back of the photo was cool, too.

And this last photo is me when I returned to my dorm covered in rain water, my hair frizzing and curling, and my spirits high. Biking in the rain is fun! I can't wait to bike downtown for sushi tonight with Green Guy--I hope the rain is gentle on us when we bike back up the hill to this city on a hill that I call home!

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