Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020: A Statistical Review

Summer good. Winter bad.

While many people will look back on 2020 as an all-time bad year, for me it was a year of significant accomplishments. I guess the biggest accomplishment was staying healthy during a pandemic that sickened more than 80,000,000 people worldwide and killed almost 2,000,000. Being introverted by nature and having a tiny circle of family members and close friends during even the best of times, I didn’t feel unusually isolated or lonely this year despite a succession of social distancing restrictions and guidelines. Although it wiped out Cheesehead Roubaix and my entire racing calendar, the pandemic actually created more opportunities for me than it destroyed. I got to work from home for most of the year. I even found a new job with better pay and better long-term career prospects. I took a vacation for the first time in 6 years, traveling to Pennsylvania to visit my mother. I put a lot of loving care into my home, replacing the water heater, repairing the air conditioner, turning the “family room” into my “den” now that the kids are grown and gone, and restarting the vegetable garden after a couple of years off. I read 31 novels this year, watched a bunch of great old movies, became a better cook, and never wondered for long how I would fill my time being “stuck at home.”

I rode 5,214 miles this year, my 5th highest total in 17 seasons as a cyclist. That’s 173 rides at an average of 30.14 miles per ride. I set new personal records for mileage in June, August, and September, plus a new record for most miles in a single week: 264. For the first time ever, I rode 800+ miles in 4 straight months. I bought a lot of clothing—this was the year everything wore out at once—but I spent nothing on bike parts. It’s always nice to get through a season without breaking equipment! Even without racing, this was a good year on the bike. Here are my mileage totals, month-by-month:

This was my 7th 5,000-mile season in the last 10 years. Coming into 2020, my “official” target was only 3,530 miles. That’s what I needed to reach 75,000 for my career. In 2021, I will target the 3,316 miles I still need to reach 80,000 all-time. With my recent history, I expect to exceed that target by 1,000 miles or more. But I don’t know if I will press so hard for another 5,000-mile season next year. Getting to 5,000 this year turned into kind of a job, and I wasn’t always enjoying the ride the way I should.

For me, 2020 also was notable for new approaches to cross-training and overall fitness. I added a Garmin Forerunner to my training tools, giving me a way to track walking, hiking, rucking, and snowshoeing like never before. In the 14 weeks since I started using the device, I logged 28 activities for a total of 97 miles over 26 hours. Many of those activities were motivated by the Forerunner and the Garmin Connect website—some of them I wouldn’t have done otherwise—and those numbers should increase in 2021 as I push myself to set new personal records.

Of my other goals I don’t have much to say. The new COVID-19 vaccines offer promise for an end to the pandemic, but we’re not there yet. I want to return to racing in 2021, and so far that calendar is virtually empty. In October I mentioned some worthy goals that I could pursue whether or not bike racing comes back. So, I’m optimistic about the new season despite the uncertainty. I will control what I can control and hope that additional opportunities arise.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Orange Loop Approved!

Moments ago the Common Council of the City of West Bend approved Bike Friendly West Bend’s proposal for a signed and painted bike route. Known at least for now as the “orange loop,” this route will take shape in 2021 and will serve as a model for a larger network of routes that the city will consider if the orange loop proves popular with riders. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Act Now To Save The Bike Route Plan

We have reached a critical moment in the development of cycling infrastructure in West Bend. If you care about this issue, then you need to act now.

The Common Council will reconsider implementing part of Bike Friendly West Bend’s route plan when it meets at City Hall next Monday, December 21, at 6:30 p.m. The map above shows the entire route plan. Three years ago today, that plan failed to find enough support. But the composition of the Common Council is very different now, and up for consideration on Monday is only the orange loop—BFWB’s top priority—not the full plan.

As you can see on the map above, the orange loop is the primary east-west route in the BFWB plan. For short distances it runs concurrently with the blue loop (the primary north-south route) and the red loop (a perimeter route that someday may link West Bend to new intercity routes envisioned by the Washington County master bike plan). The orange loop would connect schools, parks, and residential neighborhoods. Here’s an isolated view:

The route includes a spur to serve Ridge Run Park and UW–Milwaukee’s Washington County campus.

When the full BFWB plan failed at City Hall in 2017, it failed on financial grounds. At that time, the overall cost to implement the plan was a little more than $100,000. This time the price tag is only about $25,000. BFWB has secured private funding for the materials and is asking for city employees to do the installation. Here’s the cost breakdown from the city:

The popularity of the Eisenbahn State Trail is proof that the people of West Bend want bike-friendly infrastructure. And with bicycle sales enjoying explosive growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to imagine that the demand for bicycle accommodations will increase. The BFWB plan is a very carefully measured approach, one that was always expected to take several years to implement. The full plan was too much for the Common Council to swallow three years ago, but this could be the right time to adopt the orange loop as a standalone plan. Its implementation in 2021 would provide a proving ground to strengthen the case for a larger network.

So, let your alderperson know that you support the plan. This page on the city’s website will allow you to identify your representative. If you live in District 6, whose alderman Steve Hoogester died unexpectedly last month, then please express your support for the plan to Mayor Chris Jenkins. Act now! BFWB learned of the inclusion of this agenda item just three days ago, so there was little time to rally the troops. Your support could make the difference.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Honoring The Streak

Today was the first 50° day in almost two weeks, so I rode my bike for the first time since November 9—yes, a full month ago—and kept alive a streak of riding at least once per month that began in February 2014. The ride wasn’t fast or far, but it was fun. I plan to ride again tomorrow on what could be another 50° day before winter weather returns for the weekend.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Game Theory

If you follow pro cyclists like Kate Courtney and Nino Schurter on social media, then you’ll see them employing a massive array of cross-training techniques to target very specific muscle groups. Abdominals, for example. No amount of cycling will give you strong abs, but having strong abs will make you a better cyclist. Kate and Nino work on their legs in the gym too, but it’s their dedication to the “little” things like balance, stability, and flexibility that I find inspiring.

Over the last 13 months I added a weighted rucksack, resistance bands, and a Garmin Forerunner to my arsenal of exercise tools. I’m kind of proud of that, as it demonstrates a willingness to try new things in pursuit of greater fitness. I will have done something like 25-30 ruck marches by the end of this year and now that I’m into my winter strength training program I am using the resistance bands three days per week. But it’s the Garmin Forerunner that really could be a game changer.

Pardon the pun.

By uploading all of my walks, hikes, ruck marches, and snowshoe treks to Garmin Connect, the Forerunner allows me to quantify what I couldn’t quantify before. And because I can quantify those activities, I can compete against my own numbers or against other people. I haven’t yet joined the Strava and/or Zwift craze to make a game of my cycling activities, and although I have used my Garmin Edge to access Garmin Connect for years I have used its game features only incidentally. When Garmin Connect has informed me that I earned an achievement badge, my reaction has been something like, “Um, OK.”

Garmin Connect badges are little rewards for meeting challenges and they have point values based on difficulty. Some badges can be earned only once while others can be earned as many times as the challenge is met—e.g., your first 5-mile bike ride is worth 1 point while every 100-mile ride is worth 8. Points allow for competition between users, and here’s how I stack up against my friends right now:

There’s definitely a whimsical videogame quality to this system and I never took it seriously as a cyclist, but now I’m reconsidering it. For me, cycling is its own reward. My other activities are too, but not to the same extent. I could use a little motivation and Garmin badges are exactly that. So, for the first time ever, I am actively pursuing one:

And Garmin Connect gives me an easy way to track my progress:

That’s kind of neat, isn’t it? It’s kind of silly too, but I don’t pay anything to use Garmin Connect and if the pursuit of badges gets me to exercise more and/or in different ways, then what’s the harm? I hasten to add, however, that I won’t be giving myself credit for normal daily activities. I could wear my Forerunner all day and capture my steps through the aisles of the grocery store or behind a lawnmower or in any number of mundane situations, but that’s not what I bought the device to do. The idea is to do more than what is required by daily life and become better than I was before. So, game on!

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Future That Didn’t Come

We’ve reached the final month of 2020. I can safely predict that in these 31 days we won’t see any major changes to bicycling infrastructure in West Bend. And that means the city’s 2020 Park and Open Space Plan—a lengthy set of objectives, guidelines, and recommendations adopted way back on March 17, 2008—will have missed many of its targets. Now, municipalities make long-range plans all the time, and in this case the completion of the plan was necessary to keep the city eligible for certain state and federal grants. It’s hard to say how much of the plan was expected to reach implementation and how much was just pro forma busywork. But let’s not get stuck on that; let’s simply look at what might have been for bicycling in West Bend versus what is.

In the 2020 plan, a section called “Bicycle and Pedestrian Route and Trail System” proposed one big idea that lives on: a partnership with Washington County, other adjoining governments, and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. That partnership led to the creation of Washington County’s master bike plan in May 2019. Of course, the new Washington County plan itself is only a plan. In a few years I might be poking fun at it for not going anywhere. But at least for now I can hope that it will fare better than the city’s gaze into the future. Flipping through the 100+ pages of the city’s 2020 plan, the first really tantalizing thing we see is Map 27:

The Eisenbahn State Trail, shown in purple, was already the centerpiece of local bicycling infrastructure by 2008. The Riverfront Parkway is there too … shown in yellow and somewhat hard to pick out from a yellow background. All those wonderful red lines are bike routes that the city imagined we would have by now.

Solid red lines represent off-street routes, and just think about how amazing they would be! Imagine a 4-mile trail connecting Park Site O and Quaas Creek Park, intersecting with the Eisenbahn and with the Riverfront Parkway. Imagine filling the small gap in the Riverfront Parkway between Brookview Drive and River Road. Imagine a Milwaukee River Parkway extending eastbound toward Newburg and Ozaukee County. Imagine a Four Lakes Parkway taking you through Lac Lawrann Conservancy, where bikes are not welcome on the existing trails. Imagine a Wingate Creek Parkway as an alternative to busy River Road and Trenton Road, providing safe and enjoyable riding on the city’s east side. We got none of it.

Broken red lines represent on-street routes, including portions of Rusco Drive, 18th Avenue, Decorah Road, University Drive, Chestnut Street, and Park Avenue, all of which were incorporated in the plan Bike Friendly West Bend presented to the Common Council in December 2017. Appendix A, Objective 5 of the 2020 plan even suggested route markers for bicycling. Bike Friendly West Bend wanted the same thing, but the bike routes initiative failed to find enough support.

We got a few improvements the 2020 plan didn’t anticipate, things like bike racks throughout the city and a few well-placed bike repair stands, but those efforts were driven by Bike Friendly West Bend and a handful of dedicated private citizens, not by city government. The most notable bike/ped achievement of government since 2008 was the construction of a sidewalk on River Road between Sand Drive and the high school parking lot. That’s a nice safety enhancement for the kids, but it’s hardly a network of non-motorized routes connecting every part of town.

So, now what? Should we forget about the 2020 plan when 2020 expires, or should we double down? It’s a very different looking Common Council than the one from December 2017, with new members eager to build trust and goodwill with their constituents. Will 2021 be the right time to make another push for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure?