Advocacy Newsletter: Do You Whistle When You Shovel the Sidewalk?
Advocacy Newsletter, January 28, 2020
We believe that an advocate’s work starts at the front porch, includes a
nice snow shovel, and a tune you can whistle.
I hope January is treating you well. This month’s Advocacy Newsletter has a few items to highlight from this first month of year 2020, so let’s jump in.
First, Norte Neighborhood Advocacy established an advocacy committee to assist with strategic planning, provide feedback as issues arise and on-the-street observations and perspectives from across the region. We also look to this group to fuel creativity, camaraderie, and collaboration among citizen advocates across the region. Advocating needs more merriment!
Our inaugural committee members represent the geographic reach of our growing community, from Northport around the bays to Elk Rapids and Kalkaska. Here’s a big-orange thank you to the 12 rockstars on the committee. If you see any of the following people, give them a warm Norte thanks and perhaps share your dreams for a better community.
Thank you Kelly Primo, William White, Jeanne Esch, Corrine Wetherbee, Connor Miller, Janice Beyer, Lauren Dake, Kaischa Smith, Bill Danly, Tracy Halasinski, and John Roberts. The committee is chaired by the newly elected board president, Chris Hinze.
If you have questions or suggestions, please email Chris at email@example.com.
- It’s that CIP Time of Year – CIP is short for Capital Improvement Program or Plan. Local governments use the CIP to review the 5-6 year major infrastructure plan annually. Typically, the further out a project is, the more visionary it is. An appropriate CIP integrates planning between departments and aligns with the budget and policy priorities from previous years. Current major projects proposed for Traverse City include five different bridge projects, reconstruction of Garfield Ave. (Front to Hannah), several neighborhood parks, the Boardman Lake Loop extension, continued sidewalk gap infill, and the annual street reconstruction program. If you want to understand the upcoming walk and bike projects and see where your own positive influence might be useful, there is a public hearing for Traverse City’s CIP on February 4th. If you’re not in Traverse City, you can visit your local government’s website for their CIP process (I’m happy to help, just reach out).
- Fixing the Stroads – Coined by Strong Towns to describe dangerous, multi-laned corridors, that underperform by almost all measures, stroads are street/road hybrids that need fixing. The City of Traverse City recently asked for our input on How to Make Our Major Corridors More Inviting. After you review our list, let us know your own suggestions. Send them my way and if they are relevant to Traverse City, share them with the city planner, Russ Soyring at firstname.lastname@example.org
- 2020 Advocate Academy – Next Thursday, we begin another year in partnership with Groundwork Center to kick off the third annual Advocate Academy. In the six weekly meetings, participants work together to develop strategies and approaches for effective local advocacy related to the Pro Walk/Pro Bike initiative. There are a few spots left, so learn more and enroll today. Bring a friend!
Be safe. Have fun. Keep advocating for all things great.
Have a friend who is always talking about the streets and traffic? They can sign up below.
Bike Life: Are You Winter Biking with Matt?
Friday, February 14
Meet Matt Jones
Great Lakes Maritime Academy student, Matt Jones, travels from south of Hammond Rd. to the Great Lakes Academy for his bike commute. It’s one of the longer winter bike commutes you’re going to find, not to mention one of the more potentially harry routes. Matt does it with an unflappable grin and preparedness you’d expect from a coastie. We sat down with him to hear what brought him to Traverse City and about his attraction to winter biking.
Q: You’re relatively new to the area. What brings you to the Grand Traverse region? Where’d you move from?
I came to Traverse City in June of 2018 by means of utilizing my veterans’ educational benefits to attend Great Lakes Maritime Academy. I ended my active duty service in the Coast Guard that June in Coos Bay, Oregon and moved across the country for the third time. I am originally from a town south of San Diego, California where I spent the first 25 years of my life.
Q: San Diego to northern Michigan winters. That’s a big jump, no?
Yes, a leap indeed! Although I would say that as much as people think it’s cool that the weather is great all the time in SoCal, to me it can get kind of boring because with so many nice days out you tend to waste them. Here, however, you jump at the chance to enjoy a sunny 20-degree day. I genuinely love having four seasons and getting to experience them after growing up in pretty much a one season climate. I genuinely love shoveling snow in my shorts.
Q: What motivates you to be out here on the bike year-round? Do you bike mainly as part of your commute? What other times do you winter bike?
This is a great question. First, I would say if it was not for the advent of fat bikes I probably would have difficulty getting around on my bike in the winter. Second, commuting-wise, getting around on my bike has been an off and on thing I have done for over 10 years. When I joined the Coast Guard it became too burdensome at times – depending on the unit type and location to get to work (by bike). Still, I tried to when I could. Outside of my time spent in the military, sometimes it was by necessity and others like it is now – it is just a better use of my time. I have commuted by bike in five states all with different climates and unique challenges.
Lastly, aside from commuting via bike in the winter, I do try to hit up the VASA winter singletrack. As a side note, I had to tone down my urge to pedal the metal after I hit a tree in August this last year that laid me out for a minute. I road bike heavily, however, since the tree incident I sold my road bike to help my wife and I purchase a home in town. My fat bike is now my year-round go-to bike.
Q: How many years have you been out winter biking?
This is my second winter in Michigan biking. I’ve biked other winters in Oregon and California, but let’s be honest those winter commutes are a joke compared to riding here; a joke that most think I’m joking when I say I get around on my bike here in Michigan.
Q: Does the Maritime Academy have facilities you can use to store your bike? Change your clothes?
Yes to both. There is a bike rack here and if I had bike issues I could utilize an indoor shop space to remedy them. As for lockers, there are day-use lockers. I have unofficially commandeered one to keep my uniform items here at school. If I did not have to wear a uniform I would have no need for a locker, but these spaces, in general, are good to wipe the sweat off your brow. On the main campus of Northwestern Michigan College, I sit in class in my riding gear as I am not required to be in uniform there.
Q: By the looks of your rig, you’re certainly prepared. What’s different on your bike in the winter? What about your gear?
I appreciate your noticing my schwag. In the winter its more about what is on me than what is on my bike, however, I do make a few adjustments to my bike for the winter commute. Pertaining to my bike, fenders are a winter addition on my bike. The fenders do a half-decent job of protecting me from the resultant brine-slush that happens from melted snow and when the temperatures are just right after it snows to thaw. I somewhat loathe the commercially available fenders for fat bikes because they are 1) not aesthetic to one’s bike and 2) I still get that brine all over my back. I plan to custom fabricate something to provide better protection for me and my bike.
Aside from fenders, I lower my pressure in my tires to provide better traction. Other than that, my bike is set up as it would be in the summer. Good lights are an investment anyone who wants to commute on a bike should make for safety in low light conditions but especially in daylight because let’s be honest, the drivers are a little distracted out there.
Now on what I wear/use gear-wise for my bike, I recently just made a load adjustment with the new addition of a basket rack on my front fork. I did this because wearing a twenty-pound backpack for six miles takes it out of you real quick in the cooler temps. When I lived three miles from school it was not that big of a deal, but the long commute rapidly declines comfort if I still wore the heavy bag. Because of brine I mentioned, I use a water-resistant cover over my bag to protect it and then secure it in my basket.
Everyone is a bit different from the amount of heat they generate but for me all I wear most of the time it is a wicking layer and my softshell jacket. I wear triathlon shorts and long underwear, and then a pair of chinos of all things over that because they are stretchy. On my feet are a pair of insulated waterproof boots and gaiters. The gaiters have proven to be a favorite part of my gear because they protect my legs from the brine that gets thrown up by the bike. I have a few pair of gloves depending on the temperature outside, and the same for my head. I have a regular mountain bike helmet that I use most of the time and use a helmet-specific beanie, and on the cold brutal days I will bust out my snowboarding helmet for added warmth. I do wear goggles as needed but most of the time I go without eye-wear. Lastly, a good neck cowl is a cold-weather rider’s best friend.
Q: Any tips for Norte readers who might be interested?
Geez, where do I start? I would say winter biking isn’t as difficult as people might think. In my case, it can be a little dicey, but that is only because I live just outside of town. For those that live in town, the infrastructure is there to capitalize on being able to get around town. I have fallen on icy surfaces, but this has always been surprisingly in parking lots or not the main road. And speaking of ice, the colder icy-er days of winter are more desirable to me than those where it is just a briny slush-fest. You do not need bike specific gear to get out there. Because Traverse City has a vibrant culture of active people, in their closets right now they probably have 75% of the gear they need to be comfortable riding a bike in the winter.
Be defensive but not offensive on your bike. What I mean is, be nice on your bike and do not do anything to add to those drivers who already despise you being on the roadway. Be seen, be heard, and have fun! In my mind, this helps drivers and other roadway users respect those of us on a bike. I can tell you how considerate drivers are by how close they pass by me. Speaking to that I have had plenty of people pass me too close with their vehicle with bike racks on them, and each time still amazes me.
Q: Anything to add?
There is always something to add, but if anyone is interested in something I did not cover they can reach out to me and I would be happy to help as best I can.
For more winter bike tips:
Advocacy Newsletter: ’tis the season for gratitude, exploring, and advocating – always!
Advocacy Newsletter, December 5, 2019
Hello fellow citizens,
As we roll into the holiday season and the gifts to come, I encourage us to look back on the gifts we’ve already experienced throughout 2019. As Norte’s Advocacy Director, for me, that means countless new relationships established and others renewed through a shared cause of safer streets and destinations that provide us great places to be ourselves. Thank you to all our community partners, Business Champions, citizen advocates, mentors, and supporters who make this work richer. Here’s to more and better in 2020.
One of the most significant programs we rolled out in 2019 was the Explore Academy class, “Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape your Community.” The 24 middle and high school students who participated in the program were some of the most exceptional people I was honored to meet this year. With a mix of ages from a blend of schools, they quickly established the program on a strong foundation.
“Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape your Community,” was made possible by a developmental micro-grant from League of Michigan Bicyclists. The class developed over the summer of 2019 in partnership with Megan Olds of Parallel Solutions. We also owe thanks to the support from TC West Senior High and TC Central High civics programs for offering the program as an extracurricular program.
Read the recap at Exploring the streets for opportunities and delights.
Are you thinking about winter cycling?
Norte’s staff is here to offer encouragement, advice, and a hot cup of coffee.
- East Bay All the Way – The buzz for better access and more choices to get around is on track in East Bay. Read our latest update.
- Traverse City Crosswalk Signs – This past Monday, city staff presented several possibilities for City Commissioners to consider in order to maintain the deployment of the popular in-street pedestrian signs at 12 crosswalks throughout the winter. Under consideration is an option to place additional curb mounted signs, thus maintaining extra signage throughout the year. Support for year-round attention and encouragement of walkability deserves our appreciation. Please send city staff and commissioners encouragement for recognizing the importance of year-round safe access at email@example.com.
- To Stop or Not – Traverse City continues to take public input regarding the four-way stop sign trial at W. Front and Madison Streets. They are currently processing over 1500 survey results. The intersection is a tricky one and the right tool for regulating who gets to go when is generating lively debate. You are encouraged to share your thoughts with the chair of the traffic committee, Assistant City Manager, Penny Hill, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Garfield Township Trails – This past Wednesday, 17 Michigan State University students presented conceptual plans for extending the Buffalo Ridge Trail from the YMCA to the Taqueria at Zimmerman Rd. The concepts included connections to the growing neighborhoods along Silver Lake and South Airport Roads and a healthy dose of placemaking attractions. Next year, the Lower Buffalo will be paved from 14th St. to Silver Dr. These conceptual designs are early ideas for an extension that would connect schools, businesses, and the YMCA to residents to South and West of the City. If you are interested in the concepts and want to support this trail, email Garfield’s Planning Director, John Sych at email@example.com
- Snow, Snow, Everywhere Snow – The region has come a long way over the past decade in maintaining clear sidewalks, trails, and bus stops year-round. For example, the Mall Trail is being plowed by TART thanks to the pro-bono services of Johnson Outdoor Services and the County, East Bay, Acme, and Garfield Townships, the City of TC, and others have implemented a plan to clear the East-West multi-use trails all winter. There is a regional effort to be celebrated. Send your snowy-gratitude to County Facilities Manager, Joe Berry, at firstname.lastname@example.org, TC Director of Public Services, Frank Dituri, at email@example.com, and in Garfield Township, Supervisor Chuck Korn, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have some extra energy for moving some snow? Burn off some calories through Norte’s Great Shovel Experiment and/or with one of our community partners, BATA. The transit service needs volunteers for its Adopt-a-Stop Program.
Be safe. Have fun. Advocate for all things great.
TWO HELPFUL EXTRAS
Have a friend who is always talking about the streets and traffic? They can sign up below.
Exploring the streets for opportunities and delights
“Overall, I was surprised by how much I liked this. At first, I was skeptical, one, because my dad signed me up for this without asking. But I gave it a try and ended up liking it. It gave me a new perspective on the community that never would have seen. Thank you!”
Norte designed and launched its inaugural “Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape Your Community” course this fall. The program created opportunities for teens to learn more about community design and infrastructure, and the way these elements impact our experience of the community. This will, we trust, help them engage and learn how they can affect positive change.
The foundation of this course is a belief that when we explore our communities with curiosity, careful attention, and intention, undoubtedly, we begin to see things that we haven’t noticed. We then start to ask questions. What is this? Why is it here? How does it impact my experience of this place? Ultimately, as we continue to explore, we begin to see both what we like and appreciate, and how we might make improvements. The process becomes part of our own story and the story of our community and our role in shaping it.
For six Sundays, 24 students aged 13-18 gathered for 90-minute meetups. These meetups introduced them to the built environment, planning concepts, mobility challenges, and the role citizen advocates play in shaping solutions to community issues. In the end, students identified opportunities they’d like to champion and developed an action plan for change.
“The strength of the Explore Academy is to show teenagers that they are part of the community, have a voice, and can help to make it better through advocating and taking action on something that they strongly believe.“
The meetups incorporated six themes aimed at introducing the students to tools and ideas to help them engage with and see the neighborhood. On most Sundays, students spent half of the session exploring the surrounding area by foot or by bus, before returning to discuss observations and ideas. The two most popular meetups, week three and week five, incorporated longer student-led walks. In these walks, students proved proficient in applying concepts introduced in previous meetups. For example, they quickly learned to empathize with others when evaluating a space or a piece of infrastructure that is an obstacle or creates isolation.
The most popular exercise was the “Frame It” task from Meetup 3, The Experienced Neighborhood. The students were sent (in the pouring rain!) by bus to one of the more challenging spots in Traverse City and were asked to walk back. They were instructed to document the positives and opportunities for improvement with photos, using a blue frame to frame the former and orange for the latter. “Frame It” is a coding method adapted from a similar concept invented by landscape architect Isami Kinoshita in Toyko in his attempts to animate public life.
We trust that Explore Academy graduates will continue to pursue ways to impact their community positively. In the near term, students left with a plan of action on a specific opportunity identified during the program. Long-term, we hope that they took away a fundamental understanding that our communities are shaped by design. Each design element in our community represents a choice and value. We want them to understand that someone or someones made a decision. Because of this, another approach is always possible. Decisions can be influenced and can change.
Cities, neighborhoods, and communities are continually evolving. Our job at Norte is to help those who wish to shape them to understand those evolutions better. The skill to be developed is to observe one’s community by reflecting on personal experiences and those of others, researching the issue, then telling your story to shape the community. Done well, the impact will result in one’s values being represented in the community.
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
– Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
“Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape your Community,” was made possible by a developmental micro-grant from League of Michigan Bicyclists. Norte developed the program over the summer of 2019 in partnership between Norte’s Advocacy program and Megan Olds of Norte Business Champion Parallel Solutions. We owe thanks to the support from TC West Senior High and TC Central High civics programs for offering the program as an extracurricular program. And, finally, thank you to the engaged and motivated students who made the program a success. We look forward to working with all of them in the coming years.
* The above quotes are from anonymous student evaluations
Are you thinking about winter cycling?
NOTHING CAN STOP YOU!
Believe it or not, the climate is not the deciding factor on whether or not people cycle. People the world over, including the Grand Traverse region, cycle year-round, and through all sorts of weather. In fact, some of the world’s most bicycle-friendly communities share our wintery climate. The leaders do so by investing in dedicated infrastructure and its maintenance.
That said, there are certainly some best practice tips the individual can use to make winter cycling more appealing. Gear heads certainly have all sorts of advice. Still, for everyday neighborhood cycling, it doesn’t take much to enjoy the quiet, snowy thrill of rolling along on snow.
Norte has visited this topic before. Our Traverse City Bike Life series highlights tips from local champs like Kyle Smith, Patrick Mier, Claire Karner, and Norte Program Director, Ben Boyce. Our Executive Director, Ty Schmidt, even presented at the International Winter Cycling Conference in Montreal a few years back.
There are two things in common in all of these stories: 1, winter cycling, isn’t by default complicated. It’s still as easy as riding a bike. 2, there are magical moments in winter riding. There’s simply nothing like the quiet of less traffic, streets muted by a layer of snow, while snowflakes gently fall.
For this post, I asked Norte staff for one piece of advice that other recommendations may miss.
- Ty Schmidt: “A fancy bike isn’t necessary. Take the turns wide. And, smile.”
- Ashlea Walter: “Be social! There is power in numbers and if there are two or more people cycling in the winter together, it’s more visible and more fun. I usually walk more in the winter though than bike, and plan extra time in my schedule.”
- Jamie Burley: “Don’t feel guilty about it. Bike when you can, drive if you want. Either way, be considerate of others. We’re all just trying to get somewhere.”
- Mike Decker: “Keep your bike clean and well maintained. Dedicate a space out of the elements to store it and wipe it down regularly.”
- Ben Boyce: “Slow down, watch out for ice, and cut through the Oakwood Cemetery whenever possible. It is awesome in the winter!”
- Gary Howe: “On sloppy, slushy days, I recommend walking. If the distance is too far, combine your trip with a bus ride. You might even take your bike on the bus if you know conditions will improve on your return.”
- Roger Amundsen: “Dress the part. Being on your bike in the snow is awesome, but it’s considerably less awesome if you’re underdressed or overdressed. My advice is to always layer well and to dress for about 10 degrees warmer than the actual temperature you’re riding in. You don’t want to ride with a chill, but you also don’t want to overdress & end up overheated by the time you get where you’re going.”
- Abby Havill: “Walking or biking outside in the snow can be truly magical. With proper attire, it’s so much easier to enjoy the cold, and it’s lessons of calm and quiet. The earth seems to slow it’s pace in the winter whilst being covered in the layer of white magic. Therefore, it’s a perfect invitation to slow down for yourself. We must pay closer attention to our bikes and the movement of our body in relation to our bikes in the winter because of the ice and sometimes slush. It’s far more invigorating to get your bike tires over a mound of frozen ice and snow than it is to do so in your vehicle. Just saying…”
Our Volunteer Director, Mike Decker, also contributed a winter cycling 101 he previously wrote.
Mike’s Winter Commuting 101
- The fatter and grippier the tires, the better.
- Replan your route based on conditions. Your summer bike commute won’t work here.
- Get off the bike. Sometimes it’s the safest option. Get back on when the road is better.
- The sidewalk is your friend. In a pinch, get up on it.
- Invest in a good pair of lights.
- Wear the right clothing. Running/skiing/hiking stuff transfers well for biking. Bright and reflective is a plus, while a pair of bike-specific winter gloves are absolutely worth the cost.
- Don’t mess with ice. Put a foot down, get off the bike, bike on the sidewalk until it’s clear.
- Avoid cars but assert yourself when necessary. If the bike lane is full of snow and ice, get into the street. Cars treat bicyclists like lepers in the winter; they’re more afraid of hitting them.
- Install some flat platform pedals. Your feet won’t slip off, and you can wear boots.
- Find a good space to store it in your home or garage. And, keep it clean. Invest in Simple Green and dilute it with water in a spray bottle. Find rags and wipe down bike if it gets dirty. Clean that drive train!
- Utilize Norte Clubhouse Member Program. You’ll have access to a workspace where you can clean and maintain a bike. A year’s membership and a great investment. And, a great gift!
If you’re new to winter riding, why not join others while exploring the Christmas decorations around Traverse City. Wednesday, December 18 is Norte’s annual See the Lights ride. A slow roll in the snow passing by some of Traverse City’s best-lit homes. If you need the perfect winter hat, we have the Very Orange Winter Hat to top off your gear.
On February 7, 2020, join us for the annual Winter Bike to Work and School Day. You and your co-workers can commit now at winterbiketoworkday.org. The goal is to put little ol’ Northern Michigan on the Winter Bike to Work map. Winter bike to work also includes a happy hour, which might be another pro tip for winter cycling!
Connect your business to the Pro Walk/Pro Bike movement with an annual Norte Business Champion sponsorship.