There Goes the Neighborhood

We live down the street from a major hospital, and over the years we’ve watched that hospital tear down out neighborhood to pave it with parking lots.

Now that four and a half blocks have been taken down, they want to tear down another entire block.

This video illustrates the history with archived aerial photographs and satellite images.

North-South Corridor: The Road Proposal that Will Not Die

Over twenty years ago, there was a proposal to build a new highway connecting downtown La Crosse with Interstate 90 and the northern suburbs. City residents wanted nothing to do with the “North-South Corridor”, as it would degrade urban livability and encroach on a beloved and ecologically important marsh. So in a 1998 referendum, La Crosse rejected the road by a 2-1 margin.

I remember the DOT presenting traffic studies predicting horrible gridlock in twenty years unless we built a road. But here we are, twenty years later, and traffic armageddon has failed to materialize. Now the DOT has returned with a series of new proposals, insisting that we will suffer horrible gridlock twenty years from now if we don’t “increase the capacity” of our local roads.

There is no reason to believe the DOT’s ominous predictions are any more accurate today than they were twenty years ago, and for La Crosse to allow North-South Corridor 2.0 to be built would be a horrible mistake. Read on

The Limo – Bikepacking on a Tandem Recumbent

bikepacking: backpacking by bicycle; traveling long distances by carrying overnight gear and camping along the way.

As long as RoZ and I have known each other, we’ve wanted to go bikepacking. Since we moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin in the mid-90’s, we’ve had easy access to a premier network of bike trails. Most are part of the “rails to trails” movement: reclaimed rail beds with gentle grades far from highways and traffic. With plenty of places to camp, our part of the world is made for bikepacking. Read on

A New Bridge… At Least Ten Years Too Late

I went to a ribbon cutting today. A new bridge for bicyclists and pedestrians finally opened on the north side of La Crosse, connecting neighborhoods on one side of a railroad yard with workplaces on the other. But this was a celebration that was many years overdue.

HendricksonBridge

The new “Bud Hendrickson Bridge”, seen from its eastern approach, spans the BNSF rail yard to connect the north side of La Crosse to the the industrial park and a bike-friendly route to Onalaska.

Read on

The Bridge Gallery

A newspaper we read online occasionally puts out a call for photos on a particular theme.

One such “assignment” was for “The World’s Best Bridges”, and it was enough to motivate me to dig thru our bridge pictures. The assignment description said that they weren’t looking for “iconic” bridges (though we have some of them, too), but for those that “make the business of crossing … an experience unlike any other.” I take that to mean “quirky”, and quirky is what we do. Read on

A Second Line for Red (aka Christoper Vogts)

Red (aka Christopher Vogts) 2006Red was a guy whose life overlapped with ours for a period in the late 2000’s. In the gang of activists we hung out with at the time, he was the energetic bike freak with the fiery red beard.

As a student at UW-La Crosse, he helped start a program that reclaimed and rebuilt discarded and abandoned bicycles. While helping us with the last Spokes’n’folks parade in 2006, he connected us with the eight-foot trailer that eventually became ours.

He delivered the trailer with a double-decker bike he had recently built, and took a little time to ride it around in the alley behind purplearth world headquarters.

In March 2010 he hosted us at Nottingham Co-op during one of our visits to Madison. He was happily working at a local bike shop, and the last time we saw him was when he walked with us to the bus stop, carrying our bikes in a cart he built from recycled bike parts.

Since then, Red continued to work in that same bike shop, and embarked on frequent cross-country bike tours. It was on one of these tours that his life ended. On his way to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, Red was hit by a van on a highway in Mississippi and he died at the scene.

Being 150 miles from Madison, we couldn’t get there for the memorial (like Red, we don’t have a car), but we thought we’d share the video above, the images below, and links to his obit and a story done by a Madison TV station.

What’s Wrong with Traffic Engineering

They say a picture can tell a thousand words, but this one graphic encapsulates my thoughts on traffic engineering better than I could articulate in many thousands of words.

 A short history of traffic engineering

From copenhagenize.com, hat tip to Tom Vanderbilt

Windstorm Closes Bike Trail

We had plans to spend the weekend bikepacking overnight from La Crosse to Sparta and back (30 miles each way, camping in Sparta). The weather forecast looked good… the muggy upper 90’s would give way to dry air in the mid 80’s, with little wind. But it’s always the transition from hot to not-so-hot that creates trouble.

Friday night (July 1) a strong wind blew through the house before we could get windows closed. Fridge magnets and the stuff under them were blown all over the kitchen. A large crystal was blown off a window sill. We later learned our area had experienced winds up to 80 mph. It started hard and suddenly, then died down after a few minutes. It started to feel like deja vu from the tornado we had in May, and it lasted about the same amount of time.

We finished packing for our ride, and early Saturday afternoon we set out for the edge of town and the state bike trail, oblivious to the situation left behind by the storm. We went about 5 miles and found this…

A downed tree blocks the city bike trail on the north side of La Crosse.

A downed tree blocks the city bike trail on the north side of La Crosse.

We spoke with some people coming from the other direction, they told us that there were lots of trees down blocking the trail, all the way to Sparta. Some were large and others were small. “Too many to count.”

Just to get across that first large tree, we would have had to take the bike trailer off the bike and then find a way to finagle everything over the tree. That’s not so hard on a regular bike, but it’s nearly impossible with a loaded 10-foot bike, plus a loaded 3-foot trailer. If there were just one tree we could probably deal with it, but knowing there were a lot more of them down, we decided to turn around and go home.

Weirdly enough, we didn’t get any rain, just lots of wind and lightning. It did cool everything off though, and that’s a good thing.

RoZ adjusts gear on The Limo after we turned it around at the down tree blocking the city trail on the north side of La Crosse.

RoZ adjusts gear on The Limo after we turned it around at the down tree blocking the city trail on the north side of La Crosse.

Obbie adds: This bike trail is a major connection to La Crosse for users of the state bike trail system. I wonder how long a local highway – or even a minor street – would be allowed to remain impassible due to a downed tree.

Egrets, Geese and Cranes on La Crosse River Marsh

We’ve said it before, that one of the great things about living in our part of the world is the bird population. Our favorite bike route is the La Crosse River State Trail, and the first few miles from the Medary trailhead would be a birder’s paradise.

Canada geese are overabundant around here, but at this time of year you can see them out with their babies.

Two families of Canadian geese on the La Crosse River Marsh, as seen from the nearby bike trail.

Two families of Canada geese on the La Crosse River Marsh, as seen from the nearby bike trail.

We’ve been noticing sandhill cranes for the past two years now, and we see them on at least half our rides.

A family of sandhill cranes forages for food in a young cornfield near the La Crosse River Bike Trail.

A family of sandhill cranes forages for food in a young cornfield near the La Crosse River Bike Trail.

This pair of birds was chattering to us while we were taking a break as we approached West Salem. We’re not sure what they are, so if you can help identify them we’d appreciate it.

A pair of small birds pose for photographers along the La Crosse River Trail near West Salem.

A pair of small birds pose for photographers along the La Crosse River Trail near West Salem.

We see a lot of great egrets and great blue herons, but the herons haven’t posed for us yet. The birds are related and look very much alike. The link below opens a three-second video. It’s a 6-frame burst of a great egret landing on its perch overlooking the La Crosse River Marsh as seen from the bike trail.

The video will load in a new window or tab. If you have trouble viewing it, make sure you have QuickTime extensions installed.

Egret on the Marsh

Judge Nix and the SpokesnFolks Parade

We got word today that we lost an old friend.

Judge Nix addresses the crowd at the 1998 SpokesnFolks Parade and Festival.

We knew Edmund Nix as a municipal judge, a lawyer, and the father of one of our good friends. Before we knew him, he was a federal prosecutor and a Democratic congressional candidate, among other things.

RoZ and I first met Judge Nix in the courtroom, on separate occasions shortly after we moved into the area. Even though he found both of us guilty, that didn’t stop us from becoming friends.

We won’t talk about my case, but RoZ’s has a fun backstory.

Once upon a time, RoZ was part of a motley band of local activists that took a “Critical Mass” bike ride during rush hour on a Friday afternoon. The constabulary followed in their cars for most of the ride – some could say the riders were “escorted” – and at the end of the ride ten riders were detained and issued tickets for “obstructing traffic.”

The “La Crosse Ten” contested their citations in Judge Nix’s courtroom. After all the evidence and arguments were presented, he handed down his verdict. “You did obstruct traffic, so I have to find you guilty.” Then it got interesting. “Sometimes, I have to be innovative in sentencing, so what I want you to do… I want you all to do something legal and creative to promote your cause. Write letters to the editor, call in to radio talk shows, have parades and demonstrations – LEGAL demonstrations – and report back to me in 60 days on what you did, and I will likely waive any fine.”

As the accused and their comrades in the gallery approached to greet each other, one activist exclaimed in his flamboyant voice, “I don’t believe it! He sentenced you to be ACTIVISTS!” We heard the word “parade” in the judge’s list of suggestions and latched onto it. So on a rainy Saturday in September, 150 people marched in the first SpokesnFolks Parade (which always included a festival in the park afterwards), and Judge Nix declared satisfaction that the sentence he’d handed down was served.

It wasn’t long after that that Ed Nix retired as a judge, which made him available to join in on the fun. The SpokesnFolks Parade used prizes to motivate floats and colorful costumes, and we needed a judge to fairly determine whose efforts deserved those prizes. Judge Nix was more than happy to put his black robe back on and be a part of our parade/festival. One year, when it came time to hand out awards, he opened his remarks with, “Never have I been treated so well by people I found guilty.”

Obbie and Judge Nix confer on rewarding prizes at the 1998 SpokesnFolks Parade and Festival.

He totally enjoyed standing on the curb in his black robe, watching the parade pass before him. I’d stand by with a clipboard while he’d point people out. “I want to give that person a prize… and that one over there…”

Over the years we got to visit with the judge quite a few times. He knew that he could call me if he ever needed to talk to a computer guy, and we knew that we could call him if one of us ever needed to talk to a lawyer. Fortunately, we stayed out of trouble so he probably got the better deal out of that arrangement, though he did help us with some routine personal legal paperwork.

As a person and as a judge, Ed Nix was everything you could ask for. He was fair, reasonable, thoughtful, rational, and (most importantly) innovative. The SpokesnFolks Parade and Festival was an annual event for about five years, but it might have never happened at all without Judge Nix’s “innovative sentencing.”

We miss him.

Mayor Medinger, Santa Clause (Earl Grunke), Judge Nix, and Obbie Z at the press conference announcing plans for the 1999 SpokesnFolks Parade and Festival.

Update 12/2 5:30pm: Just found this interesting little tidbit here:

In 1961 [mobster Carl] Caputo was indicted for income tax evasion. He had reported income totaling $721.56 and had actually earned $31,000. This garnered him a 30-day jail sentence and two years of probation. U.S. attorney Edmund Nix had prosecuted Caputo. Ironically, Nix had once worked in a tavern owned by Caputo and was paying his way through Wisconsin-Madison Law School as a bartender.