Art is the Handmaid of Human Good

i guess i was punk once


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Nemo 2013

As those of you on the east coast already know, we’re getting walloped with quite the winter nor’easter!

When I woke up yesterday morning, there were a few flakes flying and a dusting on the ground, so I took the pups to the forest for a walk.

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Then, in the great procrastinator’s tradition, I made one last trip to the market for emergency supplies… I’m this case, it was a bulb of fennel.

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I got the snowshoes out of the attic (where they’ve been since April 2010 :-( ) and Gist, Simon, Rudy, and I hunkered in to wait out the storm.

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I did some work and made a big pot of tomato sauce to sustain us during our hibernation.

Sausage, onion, garlic, fennel & mushrooms...

I took Simon out for a walk at about 3:30 pm on Friday, and while it was snowy and windy, there wasn’t much accumulation.

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After our walk, we settled in again for a long, cozy snowy night. Complete with yummy pasta! Thanks, fennel!

The final product: YUM!

The snow and wind really picked up after got dark, and we started to see some serious accumulation. When we went to sleep, we had about a foot of snow and we woke up to a winter wonderland!

Even though it was still snowing, still windy, and only 7:30 in the morning, I had to go out snowshoeing!

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I would say that we have about two feet of snow, but there are definitely drifts of at least five feet. When I went out, I was hoping to cross my street, which is a busy four-lane boulevard, and walk along the esplanade along the Merrimack River. This didn’t happen. The pedestrian signal buttons were covered in banks/drifts that were twice as tall as I am, the road was white, and there were enough vehicles on the road that I didn’t feel safe crossing against the light. Instead I snowshoed around the block on side streets that had been plowed sometime during the storm but still had about eight inches on snow covering them. As I walked, I saw quite a few car-shaped lumps.

As I write this, at 9:30 on Saturday morning, it’s still snowing and very windy. There are a couple of plows and a bobcat working on clearing out our parking lot, but I think the cleanup after this storm is going to take awhile. I think today is going to be another hibernation day (maybe with a few side-street snowshoe breaks…) I am hoping that I’ll be able to make it to the forest tomorrow to do some snowshoeing; and I’m hoping to be able to bike to work on Monday (but I’m pretty sure I’ll be bussing it!)

As I get out during the day, I’ll post more pictures of the snow. I love the stuff, so I’m pleased! If you’re chillaxing with Nemo today, I hope it goes well and that you have power, lots of snacks, and someone to shovel you out ;-) If you are taking pictures of the snow, please share them!

Now… It’s waffle time!


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Progress! (Sorta. Kinda. Maybe.)

So, as I mentioned before, the City of Lowell has recently painted bike lanes and sharrows on a bunch of our streets. This morning, on my way to work, I noticed this new signage that clearly states that bikes have the full use of the lane. And I was happy. Until…
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…This ironic (in the Alanis sense) interaction took place.

Me: On my bike, on the road, at that very light prior to taking the picture. You’ll notice the sign is right next to the light, so basically right where your gaze would rest while waiting for the red light to turn green.
Fifty-something male driver in some kind of late-model sedan: “You should be on the sidewalk, honey. Roads are for cars.”
Me,using a friendly tone: “Check out that sign!”
Driver: “You can’t believe everything you read.”
Me: Totally and completely speechless.
The light turns green, and we go our separate ways.

The moral I took from this interaction: signs are great but education and outreach is better (also, jackasses are everywhere!) This was an annoying blip on an otherwise lovely commute to work – cue a picture of said loveliness:

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And the fact that I love riding my bike to work, and I am confident when I ride because I’ve been riding in cities for 20 years now, means that an interaction like the one above will become a blog post and a funny story that I tell to my co-workers when I arrive in the office: basically something I can roll my eyes and laugh at. I’ll keep riding, and not worry about the jackasses.

BUT. But, but, but, but, but. If things were different, if this were me trying out my first commute to work or school because seeing all of Lowell’s new bike-friendly infrastructure made me feel like ‘Hey, I can do this!’ and this is what I experienced… Well, all the signs, sharrows, and lanes in the world probably wouldn’t convince that riding a bike for transportation is something that is either safe or fun to do. And that’s a problem.

If Lowell is serious about encouraging people using bicycles as transportation, there needs to be education for both cyclists and drivers. Riding on roads is neither easy nor intuitive, and that needs to be recognized and those skills need to be taught. Drivers need to understand that bikes can (and should) be on the road and what sharing the road means. Boston, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Portland have all done a lot of visibility events and provided educational materials along with their infrastructure improvements, and more people are cycling in those cities. And while Lowell is not nearly as large as those cities, if someone from one of them were to come to Lowell after hearing that it is bike-friendly, they would be disappointed.

Signs, lanes, and sharrows are great – they raise visibility and get people thinking about the implications of sharing the road with cyclists. But they are not enough: without outreach and education attitudes won’t change, and we’ll have spent a lot of money for no reason. If Lowell really wants to become more bike-friendly the education piece won’t get left behind.


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Adopted Islands

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Last week at the Lowell Plan breakfast, I ran into one of my Public Matters classmates, Josè. I know he is a member of the Lions Club, so I mentioned how happy I was that the Lions Club had adopted two islands that I pass whenever I walk my dogs (so basically, all the time!)

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These two islands used to be gross, trash-filled messes until a group of high school students in the Leo Club came out early one Saturday morning and cleaned them up and planted flowers. Since then, the islands have been lovely and well-kept. I’m never going to live down this statement but I may have told Josè (while were standing with a large group of people) that I don’t let my dogs use the islands as a bathroom. A little bit of the “broken windows” theory put into practice ;-)

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Anyway, I am very grateful for the Lions and Leos for turning something that was an eyesore into something that makes me smile every time I see it. Thank you!

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Using the 19th

Good morning! It’s primary day here in Massachusetts, so if you’ve been inspired or moved by anything said at the conventions, you should take a minute and head to the polls. Gist and I did double-duty this morning…

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…Simon and Rudy’s morning walk was to our polling place and back. We arrived at around 7:30, and I was the first voter of the day.

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There’s nothing I love more that starting my day by casting a ballot – it’s a better pick-me-up than coffee ;-)


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Bike lanes in Lowell!

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It’s exciting to see that Lowell is on the way to becoming a more bike-friendly city! At the beginning of the summer, the city manager posted on his blog that bike lanes and sharrows would be coming to 17 local streets. About two weeks ago, a friend tweeted that they had noticed new bike lanes on Chlemsford Street. After work that day, I rode home via Varnum Avenue (not my usual route) and noticed the new lanes there. Since then, I have used Varnum for my commute home in order to take advantage of the lanes (I only use Varnum on my way home because even without lanes, Pawtucket Boulevard is the easiest way for me to get to work.)

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The Varnum Avenue lanes aren’t bad (and they are certainly better than nothing!) They are a bit narrow, and they abruptly end, and there are definitely parked cars and garbage cans blocking the lanes in places, but drivers do seem to be more aware of bikes on the road.

I haven’t seen the Chelmsford Street lanes yet (I don’t often travel out that way) but Gist told me that they are wide and very visible, and that they looked safe. And one of my-co-workers told me that she noticed them and didn’t know what they were, but that it was very clear that she shouldn’t drive there. The fact that a driver would understand that they can’t drive in the lane is great, but some additional signage letting motorists know they are bike lanes would be better. I am especially excited about the Chelmsford Street lanes because they provide a connection between downtown and the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.

I heard via Twitter that there are sharrows on Westford Street, and I’ve also noticed that it looks like lanes/sharrows are going to be painted on Merrimack street, one of my usual routes home. There is an outline of a bicycle painted right in front of the library/city hall and there are dotted lines that I am hoping will become actual bike lanes.

I don’t know if this is true or if it was planned, but it seems that Lowell is focusing more on commercial streets when painting bike lanes. Downtown obviously has a lot of businesses, but both Chelmsford and Westford Streets have businesses/business districts and Varnum Avenue is home to Lowell General Hospital. I know that in Portland OR*, the city focused on putting lanes on residential neighborhood streets because they are quieter and the traffic tends to be calmer. I can see benefits to both methods, but I personally lean more towards putting lanes on streets where you can get to businesses, entertainment, etc. (but I am also very comfortable riding my bicycle on urban streets, lanes or no, and 99% of my rides are for transportation.)

In addition to the bike lanes, Lowell will also be getting a bike share program through Green Bikes New England, and City Bicycle, a repair shop that specializes in vintage bikes, just opened downtown (soon Ariel will be making a visit for some upgrades ;-) ) I am really excited to see these new bike-friendly developments in my city. I really hope that they encourage more Lowellians to get out and get biking!

* If you’re writing a blog post about bicycle infrastructure in the US, there has to be at least one mention of Portland, right ;-)


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World Peas CSA – Week Six (sort of…)

Day 201 - Wednesday, July 21st 2010 - I grew this!

No produce on the counter photo this week, Gist was kind enough to pick up the CSA and put it away all while I took a nap. Instead I am showing off this sunflower that I grew with my own hands. This is my third year of container gardening on my balcony and, up until now, I have never been able to grow a flower from seed.

This week’s share contained: Continue reading

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