Friday, May 27, 2016

Photo Friday | Beach Rides

Short and sweet today, because let's face it, we're ready for Memorial Day weekend to get started already!

As the unofficial start to the summer, Memorial Day is typically associated with long weekends, the beach, cookouts, getaways, beer, and sales. Don't forget why we have this holiday, though - for the thousands of soldiers who have died while fighting for our freedom. It's because of them that we have the freedom to kick back on this last weekend of May.


Although I shan't be at the beach this year, this photo is from a peaceful morning bike ride we took on Memorial Day two years ago while in Florida. I'm jealous of myself that I can't be doing this again! The wind in my hair, the salt in the air, the lack of a care... (okay, that's about as much poetry as I can manage.)

Happy Friday, and happy Memorial Day weekend! See you all back here on Tuesday!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Special Guest Post | Monique Koll

I'm really excited for today's blog post, as I wrap up National Bike Month. I've gotten to know biking and triathlon enthusiast and veterinarian Monique Koll over the past year, and I reached out to her to write a guest post, which she gracefully accepted.

In October 2012, Monique and a friend were riding their bicycles in Scott, Louisiana, when she was hit from behind by an unlicensed driver. After recovering in the hospital, walking again when doctors said she may never be able to, Monique became a bicycle safety advocate. She was the first executive director for the organization BikeLafayette; held a position on the Lafayette Consolidated Government Bicycle Subcommittee and Disability Awareness Committee; incorporated and became the first president of the statewide Bike Walk Louisiana; and self-published a book last year, titled Determinational - in addition to returning to practicing veterinary medicine! I learned a lot of her first-person narrative while I helped her edit her book, and her determination (for lack of a better word!) and feist stuck with me. She has been dealt tough cards in her life, but won't let it slow her down.

As a follow-up to my blog posts this month on bicycle laws, safety and routes, I hope this personal perspective serves as a reminder for bicyclists and drivers to all share the road. Look out for each other!

Photo by Brad Bowie, courtesy of Monique Koll

Photo courtesy of Monique Koll


Racing is something I still dream about, almost every week. "Crotalus," a Fuji Acer named after the rattlesnake genus because they never tire, was my love and my addiction. I would play hooky to go on 50-mile bicycle rides, just me and my bike and the wind, chasing shadows through the long, windy roads between sugarcane fields in south Louisiana. I had just started the sport of triathlon and I had a lot to learn, that was my excuse.

Being partially paralyzed doesn't really suit anyone, and definitely not me. The bad stuff that happens in life is always mindless, and being hit by an unlicensed/uninsured driver, breaking my neck...well I prayed for death. I am an accomplisher. A veterinarian, mother, pianist, mountain climber. People now sometimes say I'm an inspiration, someone to look up to. They are so sweet! 

Two months in the hospital, close to a year more in a wheelchair, may never be able to walk again...that was not my reality. The truth is, any of us in that position would work as hard as I did to recover everything that was lost. I now never believe in a reality that I don't like. I learned my lesson trying to fit into limitations set forth by others.

I can't ride again, not really, not yet. But that doesn't keep me away. I referee triathlons now.

Also, in the time I couldn't walk and could barely use my hands, I became heavily involved in bicycle advocacy on the local level in Acadiana. As I learned more and more, it wasn't just safe bicycle paths that were deficient in Lafayette, but all forms of "active transportation." Active transportation includes cycling, walking, pushing a stroller, using a wheelchair, horses, skateboarding...everything but individual motorized vehicles.

Cities become grey and lifeless without these methods of transportation, and Lafayette was headed in that direction fast. Yes, Lafayette, the colorful Cajun heartbeat in Acadiana! Scary. Luckily, city planners on the national level recognize this, and have found ways to make cities beautiful and livable, instead of just car-worshipping concrete jungles. The Lafayette city planners are on board, so, safe!

I took it upon myself to educate our community in beautiful cities, and how to keep our heritage by being open to all modes of transportation. I had a volunteer office with the city planners, sat on the Bicycle Subcommittee and Disability Awareness Committee in the Lafayette Consolidated Government, was the first executive director of BikeLafayette, and incorporated and became the first president of the statewide Bike Walk Louisiana, to help promote policy-making for active transportation. This is not anti-car, just pro-happy living.

I still plan on riding again; I think about it every day. I sometimes wake up sobbing because I swore I was finally able to... But the choice is to keep going and do good, or feel miserable for life. And that's just not in my cards.

Photo by Travis Gauthier/Zoom Photo Studio, courtesy of Monique Koll


Friday, May 20, 2016

Photo Friday | Geaux Velo

Happy National Bike to Work Day! Did you bike to work today? Let me know how your commute was in the comments below!

For today's Photo Friday, I thought it was a good time to share a new program on the UL Lafayette campus - Geaux Velo! Launched in March of this year, this bike share program has three stations (one at Cajun Field, one near the U, and one near Griffin Hall and the parking garage), allowing you to check out and rent bicycles to get around campus, or even around town.


Many larger cities in the United States and around the world have city-wide bike share programs, so it's amazing to see our college adopt such a useful tool for students and faculty. Even if you don't have a bike, Geaux Velo allows you to participate in National Bike to Work Day for a very minimal cost. Even between semesters, the bikes are available for use.

The UL Lafayette Office of Sustainability spearheaded the initiative to bring the program to campus, and has already seen success in just a few months.


The best part? You don't have to be a student or faculty member to create a Geaux Velo account! Anyone can register at the Geaux Velo website.

Graphic courtesy Geaux Velo/UL Lafayette

Happy Bike to Work Day and Happy Friday!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Lafayette's Bicycle Routes

Whether you're into commuting to work or school by bicycle or simply going for a leisurely ride, it can be very beneficial to know where the safest areas to bike are. The number of bicycle-friendly (or at least bicycle-tolerant) streets in Lafayette is growing, and cyclists are much more common to see.

During National Bike Month, it's a great time to look at those roads that are now marked with separate or combined bike lanes, special bike routes, and bike trails in and around Lafayette.


Several roads within Lafayette have recently been restriped to include bike lanes, including Bertrand Drive between North College and Johnson Street, allowing a connection from Cajun Field to the Moncus Park at the Horse Farm.


West Bayou Parkway was restriped last year, and Mudd Avenue on the north side is another newer addition.

In collaboration with CGI and Lafayette Consolidated Government, UL students Daniel Soileau, Alec Daher and Abby Savoie created a bike lane mapping project, noting which streets have dedicated bike lanes, which have shared bike lanes, and where important resources are located along the way. This map is a very helpful planning assistant when you're looking at routes to take.

Bike Lane project by UL Lafayette, CGI and Lafayette Consolidated Government

With Thursday marking four years since Mickey Shunick's abduction and murder, let's focus on the positive things that have happened in her memory. From St. Landry Street getting lots of street lights (a very-needed safety measure) to a loop being named after her, she has helped propel the city forward.

Mickey Shunick's memorial bike in April 2016

The added street lighting runs along St. Landry and turns on Coliseum Boulevard, heading toward the UL Lafayette intramural fields and Greek housing.





The below map traces Mickey's Loop, with the exception of an update to be made along Reinhardt Boulevard near Cajun Field. Due to the new UL athletic complex being built, there's no longer on the street between Bertrand and Cajundome Boulevard. 

This Active Acadiana article is from the dedication of Mickey's Loop on December 30, 2015.

Mickey's Loop path throughout Lafayette.

For a little extra adventure, the Atakapa-Ishak Trail runs through Lafayette, Breaux Bridge and St. Martinville and is a combination of on-road (paved shoulders, shared roadways and bike lanes) and off-road (asphalt flanked by turf) terrain. The trail is noted as being for hiking, running and biking.

Photo courtesy Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission

The full route can be viewed on this Google map (not created by me, but thank you to the unnamed creator who did make it!)

Atakapa-Ishak Trail, courtesy of Google Maps

Where is your favorite place to ride in and around Lafayette?

Monday, May 16, 2016

How to Commute to Work Via Bicycle | National Bike to Work Week and Day

Happy National Bike to Work Week! With a pretty rainy week in the forecast for South Louisiana, it may be a little more "adventurous" for those who plan to bike to work.

Biking to work can be a fun and fuel-efficient alternative to commuting. I've only participated in Bike to Work Day once, when I was conveniently three miles from home and on a relatively safe route. These days, my commute is longer and passes through an area I would not feel as safe riding in.

If it's an option for you (as in, you don't work from home, or commute 20 miles one way), check out some tips below for making the trip a smooth one.


 

Check the weather. 

If you're going to get some rain, make sure you have a rain jacket (or a sweet rain cape) and waterproof bag so your belongings don't get wet. Umbrellas are useless on a bike. Stash a towel in your bag.

Plan your route. 

Google Maps has a bike transit option in their directions, or you can use MapMyRide to create a bike-friendly, safe route from your home to your office. You'll probably deviate a bit from your routine commute in order to follow bike paths or less-busy streets, but it'll give you some variety in the morning. Mapping your route will also help you determine how much extra time your ride will take.

Get a tune-up.

Before you head out, have your bike tuned up so all gears are working, chains are in place, tires and tubes are in good shape, and your handlebars and seat are secure. Check the batteries in your front and rear lights and replace them if you need to, which will eliminate one extra thing you need to pack.

Pack right.  

Packing a good bag is the key to being prepared and traveling light. In your bag, keep a small air pump and tire patches, in case of emergencies. Wear tennis shoes or flats, and pack your nice work shoes. Biking in heels LOOKS nice, but is not fun, and can be a hazard.

Pack deodorant, oil-absorbing sheets, dry shampoo, perfume and makeup. If you ride to work regularly, keep spares of your toiletries and beauty products at work so you don't have to add them to your bag every time. Especially if you have an appointment or meeting, you don't want to look sweaty and disheveled.

Pack weather gear if necessary. Most times, you'll need sunglasses (even if it was raining earlier).

Pannier bags are great because they allow for packing items on both sides of your rear tire. A backpack stays close to you and can support a little more weight, but can make your back super sweaty.

Don't forget your helmet!

Plan your outfit accordingly. 

Unless you're able to show up to work in bike shorts and sneakers, you'll need to find a movable work-appropriate outfit. Pencil skirts can be too restricting for ladies, and swingier skirts can cause some inadvertent Marilyn Monroe moments. Cover up!

Style your hair to work under a helmet, since you need to wear one. And you've already packed your brush and dry shampoo, so you can touch up anything flat.

Black pants and a button down may be covered in sweat at the end of a ride. Stretchier material is more forgiving during rides.

Wear short sleeves or a sleeveless top, or pack a change of clothes in your bag.

Remember your rights and laws. 

Travel smart and follow the rules of the road. Bicyclists have rights, but you also have a responsibility, and everyone needs to share the road.

Be safe! 

Travel where you are comfortable, and if you bike in the dark on either part of your commute, make sure you have bright, working lights. Always be observant of your surroundings. Be careful listening to music with headphones - make sure you can still hear what's going on around you.

Figure out your parking situation. 


Depending on your office situation, you may need to lock your bike outside, or there may be an empty space inside you can "borrow".

Figure out in advance where you'll be able to safely store your bike for the day, and ask permission from a building manager or your boss, if necessary. If you leave it outside, lock it away from highly trafficked areas like sidewalks, and close to your office if possible.


And don't forget your bike lock and key!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Photo Friday | Project Front Yard Updates

After Mayor-President Joel Robideaux's first four months in office, Project Front Yard held a press conference yesterday to give the public updates on recently completed projects and upcoming initiatives.

Project Front Yard is a beautification, cleanliness and education initiative formed by Lafayette Consolidated Government in the fall of 2014, and in its short tenure, has made a big impact on Lafayette. Iberia, St. Martin and Acadia parishes have all adopted their own Project Front Yard organizations to spread the momentum beyond our city limits.


Mayor-President Joel opened the press conference and gave a brief overview of Project Front Yard under his leadership. One of my favorite projects he plans to tackle is the revitalization of University Avenue from I-10 to Downtown/UL campus, which will be a boost in so many ways.


Newly appointed Project Front Yard coordinator Skyra Rideaux talked about Project Front Yard's involvement in keeping Festival International green and clean.


LCG Director of Public Works Tom Carroll recapped the amount of materials and trash collected by April 23's Household Chemical Collection Day. 355 city residents brought a cumulative 36,500 pounds of material. Of that, 92% of the materials will be converted into fuels, roughly 4% will be sent for treatment and only 4% of items collected were sent to the landfilled.

In addition, 540 gallons of old paint were collected, recycled and remixed for sale at Habitat for Humanity's ReStore. If you're looking for a unique color, there's your opportunity! The paint collection and remix saves the city $8,000 in paint disposal fees, since it cannot simply be dumped into a landfill.


During Household Chemical Collection Day, tech company and new Lafayette resident CGI sponsored an e-waste collection, where people could drop off old electronics. CGI will recycle and repurpose materials for low-income residents. 235 residents brought 10,137 pounds of e-waste, and with the contributions from partners like UL Lafayette, an additional 5,430 pounds were collected.

CGI representative Anne Swanson said, "In honor of Earth Week, we conducted an e-waste recycling competition in five of our offices across the country, and I’m proud to say that CGI Lafayette won!"


One of my favorite updates from the press conference was the announcement of the school plastic bag roundup winners. Check out this blog post from March for all the details. Levi Kastner and Jeremy Broussard, who created the plastic bag roundup last year, spoke about the importance of teaching students about environmental responsibility and the better way to use materials.

Prairie Elementary won the elementary school competition, with students collecting 3,058 pounds of bags, or just over three and a half pounds of plastic bags per student. Paul Breaux earned the top spot at the middle school level, collecting 350 pounds, or more than half a pound per student.
 
All collected plastic bags were sent off for repurposing. Every participating school received planter boxes made from a composite material containing plastic bags, and Prairie and Paul Breaux will receive a bench made from the remanufactured materials. You can see the bench below!



Director of the Planning, Zoning, and Development Department (and general badass) Carlee Alm-Labar thanked the students who participated in the plastic bag roundup, and everyone who contributes to Project Front Yard efforts, saying, "These efforts mean so much to Bayou Vermilion District and the guys who go on the water every day and pick plastic bags out of trees."


Diana Nolan, with the Lafayette Garden Club, spoke about Lafayette's efforts for the statewide Cleanest City Contest. She announced that we won both the district and state levels, earning top honors just one week after Festival International, and thanked the crews who worked hard to clean the city. My favorite quote from her was, "Laissez faire is one of our mottos in Lafayette, but lazy is not fair! If you see litter, pick it up!"


Lafayette Consolidated Government is also cleaning up its front yard at City Hall, with the installation of a new awning and a fresh paint job. Lafayette native and world famous muralist Robert Dafford is painting a collection of murals on the exterior walls, telling the story of who we are and where we are. “Throughout Europe, people know who the local artists are, who their poets are, who their designers are because they have invested in their cultural economy. We are slowly learning in the U.S. that an investment in our artists is an investment in our economy,” he said during his speech.

Project Front Yard also announced a beautification event happening on 85 streets in North Lafayette tomorrow morning, with 300 volunteers expected to participate.

Read the complete Project Front Yard press release here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Finding a Sense of Safety While Riding Bicycles

On Monday, I wrote about some of the most common bike laws and shared a few safety tips. Helmets and lights are of course important safety tips, but I kept thinking, "But how can I really feel safe while riding?" How can I delve deeper into that sense and feeling of safety compared to the standard, almost-cliche' safety tips?

Riding bikes is one of my favorite things to do, but it seems like far too often, we read a tragic news story involving a cyclist, from hit-and-runs to other crashes, to more sinister situations. While cyclists have a right to ride in legal areas any time of the day, unfortunately sometimes others infringe on that right. What can you do to protect yourself?


I very rarely, if ever, ride by myself. I don't feel comfortable leaving myself vulnerable to things that can possibly happen. It absolutely sucks, because of course I would love to ride more often, either to the grocery store or to the gym, and maybe I'll work up to that level of defensiveness and confidence. But even though I'm always with my fiance' or a group of friends, I still watch out for my own safety.

I am constantly observing traffic, especially riding in higher-traffic areas like parking lot exits or residential cross-streets. Even if we have the right to cross a street or exit before a car does, that doesn't mean a car is going to automatically see us or stop. If I notice a car not looking my direction or like they're not going to yield, I simply stop and let them go. Better safe than sorry.

As a female rider, I feel better when I'm equipped with pepper spray. Knock on wood, I haven't encountered a situation yet, but I would rather have it than not.

Before you embark on a ride, always let someone know you are heading out. Document your most common routes and share them with someone close to you.

Always be careful in the dark. While traffic is usually lighter when it's dark, the drivers who are out can pose more of a danger. Bicycle lights may not always be effective. I cannot stress the usefulness of my fiance's LoudBicycle horn enough. While we use it in the city and not on back roads, it has helped to simply let cars know we are nearby.

I reached out to my friend April, a board member for Bike Lafayette, for her perspective on bicycle safety. She sometimes rides on her own, and often commutes to work via her road bike. She said her actions mainly depend on the time of day. During daytime, she'll ride alone more often, and be more likely to listen to music with her earbuds. At night, she's less likely to ride alone, and she will change her course so she rides down more well-lit neighborhood streets.


Beyond having bright working lights, April says to have reflectors on your front and back as well. It's important to be seen, especially at night.

Wear appropriate clothing for whatever time of day you choose to ride. Don't wear dark clothes at night. April told me how her father, living in a rural community, wears a legitimate reflector vest when he rides. It may be dorky, but it works, she says.

"No matter when I'm riding," April says, "I always work to communicate and make eye contact with drivers I encounter. I want them to know I see them, and I want them to see me and acknowledge when I have the right of way."

She also says that as a female rider, it's smart to be defensive, even if you're not alone. "Always be observant," she says, "And mentally create an escape plan. If someone would approach me, how would I get out of the situation?"

In that same vein, April also suggests traveling light and smart. When you ride, don't bring lots of important belongings, and keep your purse or backpack on you, rather than in a basket or pannier. (I'll share more tips on packing for a ride in next week's post on commuting!)

Look for routes that have space for cyclists, and try to avoid roads with little to no shoulder. Curvy rural highways are often more dangerous for cyclists, from encountering reckless to obnoxious to distracted to intoxicated drivers.

Because I do all of my riding within the Lafayette city limits, I reached out to my friend Donny, who is closer to Youngsville and those dangerous windy back roads. He explained how there's no bike lane or shoulder on Chemin Metairie, a road that leads to many neighborhoods, until you pass Highway 92, but there have still been a lot of accidents on the bike lane at the Savoy bend by the Youngsville sports complex.

"Beyond your normal safety measures, unfortunately you kind of have to throw out the rule book that says bikes have equal rights. You yield and constantly keep an eye out because the lack of lighting and car speeds on those roads are a dangerous combo," Donny told me.

When he rides for exercise, he avoids the larger highways with hazardous conditions and sticks to residential roads after dark. Sometimes you just have to adjust your routes to make them safer, from choosing better-lit roads to ones with sidewalks, bike lanes, or lower speed limits.

What are your suggestions or favorite habits for riding safely?

Up later this month, I'll be featuring a guest post from Monique Koll, veterinarian, badass, fox lover, and bicycle hit-and-run crash survivor.
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