Category Archives: Holland

You Want to Join this New Group in Holland

“Eighth Street! It’s terrible! You have to wind through the parking lot of the vacuum store and across the gravel through that other parking lot, and then sit there for ten minutes to cross over into the Russ’ driveway…!”

If you know what I was saying in that quote, then you bike my city. It describes a particularly ugly stretch of street just beyond our award-winning downtown, the hidden non-infrastructure that everyone who bikes this way knows. It’s also a route that I ride four times every weekday on the school run, and sprang up as a topic of discussion as the first meeting of people of the Holland Area Cycle Coalition wound down.

Like me, all the people around this table want things to be better. A diversity of riders represented that night – yes, road warriors, but also commuters, year-round riders who brave the ice and snow and brutal cold, and even a few other family cyclists. One doctor who commutes through the snow expressed concern for the guys he passes on the road mid-winter, who were not represented this time around. “This is a choice for me, but for them it’s not. We need to make things better for them, too.”

We need you – your voice, your thoughts, your experiences. Our second meeting is tomorrow, Wednesday, October 22 at 7:00 p.m. at Skiles Tavern in downtown Holland. If you can come, please do. If you can’t but like to ride bikes, Like the Facebook page for the Holland Area Cycle Coalition to stay up-to-date and voice your thoughts there. And if you know anyone who rides around town on a regular basis, please invite them to join us as well. The more voices, the better!

Our series on the stories we tell will continue later this week or early next.

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What You Need to Know about Life, Death, and the Stories We Tell

Ghost bike placed in memory of South Christian High School teacher Rod VanDyke.
Photo: Karen Dunnam. This is a ghost bike, placed in memory of Rod VanDyke. Do note that this is only near the site of the accident – there was no sidewalk where he was hit.
Rod VanDyke was killed doing what he had done many times before: biking in to school for a day of teaching. In spite of Mr. VanDyke having lights on his bike and being in a highly-visible position on the road, the driver of a car coming up behind claims not to have seen him and hit him from behind at speed. What caught my eye, and made my heart sink, was discovering that the man who had been killed was part of my broader community, a colleague of my once-roommate’s husband. The headline read, “Police: Teacher killed in crash had lights on bicycle, was wearing dark clothing.”

Any child of God deserves to have his life treated with dignity, to have the story of his life – and of his death – told with integrity. But this doesn’t always happen. It’s time for us to have a conversation – about life, about death, and about the stories we hear and tell.

Telling a story well can be uncomfortable. So can hearing a story well. Rather than receiving the story as it’s told, we may need to look a little more deeply into our own souls and re-examine what are sometimes ill-considered knee-jerk reactions. This is all the more essential when the “characters” in our stories are flesh and bone.

An excerpt from the story mentioned in the headline above:

A South Christian High School teacher who died after he was hit by a car as he rode his bicycle early Tuesday morning was wearing dark-colored clothing but had lights on his bike, Ottawa County sheriff’s officials said.

Rod VanDyke, a math teacher and girls varsity golf coach, was riding southbound on 36th Avenue near Jasper Drive in Georgetown Township when he was struck from behind by a 1999 Acura also traveling south. The crash occurred shortly before 6 a.m. Oct. 7.

Sgt. Steve Austin said investigation showed VanDyke was riding in the road, more than 8 feet from the edge. He was wearing black and gray clothing, and his bicycle had lights on the front and rear. Deputies found an MP3 player and headphones near him at the crash scene, Austin said. He was wearing a helmet.

***

Last year, a similar tragedy happened when a teacher on his way to Hamilton High School was killed in a collision with a a semi outside the Tulip City Truck stop. His name was Josh Hoppe.

The crash was described this way:

Hoppe was driving about 6:20 a.m. south on M-40, south of the I-196 interchange, when police say a truck pulled out into his path from Tulip City Truck stop.

He died at the scene after his 2009 Ford Fusion hit the trailer, near the cab of the truck driven by 54-year-old David St John of Wellston.

As the community grieved over Joshua Hoppe’s death, the public conversation was quickly filled with anger and determination. People called MDOT, filled City Council meetings, demanded traffic studies, reminded the powers-that-be that others had died here, too.

The community honored his life and demanded an accounting for his blood. What they didn’t do was question his decisions or character.

Incidentally, the community’s efforts were successful. MDOT is planning to make safety improvements to the road in 2016.

***

In researching this story, I read over a hundred media reports of car crashes involving bikes and pedestrians. I was encouraged by how many of them were neutral, including only the clear facts of what had happened.

But many were not. Too many followed a predictable script, script that reinforces our desire to believe our world is fair and orderly, and that tragedies like this are either inevitable or crushingly just. But this script quietly argues for a status quo that sees valued members of our communities and families unnecessarily killed every day – and then blames them for dying.

We don’t need to accept a script that far too often condemns the dead. On the contrary, this is a script that needs to be rewritten, and we have a right to insist that it is.

This is the first in a series on the stories we tell about the people who use our common roads in ways that our culture considers unconventional. Next time, we’ll look at how to identify the specific scripts we hear so we’re better able to push back against them when appropriate.

Three Easy Ways to Fix the Streets around the College

For a few more precious weeks, she sits in front of me as I ride her home from school. The bleary-eyed days of babies screaming the house awake two hours before dawn are being replaced by mornings I consider serving the kindergartener a cup of coffee before school.

Today, though, this last baby chatters about the “app-ohs” she had for snack, asks if dragons are allowed in our house, and repeatedly demands chicken nuggets for lunch.

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We cut through Hope College’s peaceful campus to take advantage of their leafy sidewalks, but a wrong turn this week brought us down one of the streets directly adjacent to the school instead. It was lined with parked cars on either side, and we enjoyed the slow pace of the street, a pace that matched our own. A car pulled out behind us as we rode that street, glided past us as we turned the corner. Two blocks later the driver pulled into a driveway, safely home.

American to the core, the student appeared to have driven five meager blocks. And this is our culture: we drive as a default, as a reflex. We drive because it feels like an indulgent waste of time to spend those precious minutes on a walk. We drive because it’s easy and we’re promised parking on the other end – and sometimes because it freaks us out to cross that one road. Most of us have done this, myself included.

But this student’s journey suggests a set of solutions to the questions our city is facing this season.

Front page in the local paper last Tuesday: Record enrollment at Hope College has huge impact on Holland.

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The two big issues are parties and traffic/parking.

The college has and maintains 998 total parking spaces, said Tom Bylsma, Hope College’s chief financial officer and vice president of business. Students must have permits to park and earlier this month, a total of 955 had been sold. It is standard to leave a small cushion of spaces for snow piles in the winter, he said.

“That should be enough,” Bylsma said, adding that historically, about one-third of the students have a vehicle.

The car-lined streets in the Hope College Neighborhood is a concern mentioned numerous times by people who live there.

Homeowners on 12th Street said if there is practice or a game at the soccer stadium, it is near impossible to get in or out of driveways.

Yet Hope officials have not had any formal discussions about a parking structure, Bylsma said, but added they would be open to conversations about it with city leaders.

“We want to be good neighbors,” Bylsma said. “No matter what college or university you go to there will be parking challenges. We feel the parking is sufficient.”

The real challenge is parking behaviors of people, he said. People tend to want to park as close and conveniently as possible to where they want to be “and often people park where they shouldn’t,” he said. “And often times that is what creates the problem.” (Emphasis mine.)

“I see the biggest problem is going to be parking,” City Councilman Wayne Klomparens said Wednesday, adding it was a problem when he went to school there.

Councilman Myron Trethewey suggested allowing parking on only one side of the roads in that neighborhood to help ease congestion.

I rode through campus again today to see how all those parking lots are looking, and I bet you’ve guessed it already:

Hope College - parking lotb

Tom Bylsma, quoted above, nails it: we want to park as close to our destination as we possibly can, and will only choose otherwise if there is a compelling reason to do so.

In addition to all the dedicated student parking lots, there is free street parking everywhere in the city during daytime hours. Much of this parking is blocks closer to the classroom buildings than the parking lots. The streets by the college are, indeed, lined with cars for much of the day.

Hope college - 12th street

Much to the neighbors’ chagrin, there is no disincentive to driving five blocks.

This is actually not a problem that’s difficult on a technical level. It’s been addressed, successfully, in many other places. But it does require us to begin to think a little bit differently about when and how we use our cars in the city. With that said, here are some great options:

Option 1: Meters

This would be a fun experiment. Leave everything precisely the same as it is now, but meter the on-street parking at a reasonable rate (I’ll leave it to the experts to determine what’s reasonable, though parking guru Donald Shoup suggests setting a price that produces 85% occupancy). Given my memories of how far I was willing to walk in college to avoid paying for parking, this might solve whatever problem we have all by itself.

The powerful thing about this option is that it’s revenue-producing. Even though we think of providing street parking as a free service, it’s not. Our streets are built and maintained out of the big bucket of property taxes that we all pay into, so we’re subsidizing all this extra driving and parking as a community (city-wide, not just in this area). Although we could just use the revenue to offset the additional wear-and-tear from the weight of the parked vehicles, this would also be a great opportunity to improve our city’s bikeways as an additional step in solving the parking problem. We’ll talk a little more about that below.

Option 2: Parking districts

Chicago parking pass

Homeowners on the street might not be any too enamored with the idea of meters on their streets, but there’s a tried-and-true workaround here, too – the parking district. The sticker above is still stuck to the windshield of my car from last weekend’s trip to visit my adorable niece (and her wonderful parents) in Chicago. My brother has a resident sticker on his car, and can park anywhere in his neighborhood zone for free. This is a guest pass, which is good for 24 hours and cost them about fifty cents.

(As a side note, maybe someday I’ll tell you guys about how much car ownership costs in Japan. Seven years back, and I still can’t get over how cheap it is here in comparison!)

Option 3: Quality network of bike lanes

Putting a price on parking will deter students who drive five blocks, but presenting a viable alternative to driving is essential for those who live further off-campus. Replacing parking lanes with appropriately-sized bike lanes – ideally, separated from moving traffic – would respect the transportation choices that so many students are already making and be an economic win for the city as a whole, too. I’m hoping to talk about this in more detail in coming weeks, so I’ll leave it there for now.

Rainbow shoes

My friends tell me that the pigtailed toddler in rainbow shoes will be headed off to college before I know it. I hope the city of her choice, the school of her choice, will have set up systems that make active transportation easy. I hope that spending the inordinate amount of money necessary to own and maintain a car will be a choice for her, and not a requirement. I hope that someone has decided to make room for her on the roads if she chooses to travel on two wheels, as she does today. And let’s do the same for our neighbors kids.

Announcing… BIKES IN HOLLAND!!!

It give me great pleasure to announce this year’s spring event:

BIHposter - draft 2

I could hardly be more excited.

This spring, Professor Lee Hardy of Calvin College (my alma mater) will take us on a fascinating ride through the streets of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, two of the world’s leading cities for bicycling.

Professor Hardy
Professor Hardy

Professor Hardy’s inspiring multimedia presentation demonstrates how these cities make way for people on bikes and help them get around in a way that’s fun, easy, and affordable – for everyone!

After he answers your questions, we’ll turn our attention to our own community here in Holland, Michigan. Elisa Hoekwater, author of the greater Holland region’s new non-motorized plan, will offer a brief update on where things stand around here. Your input is welcome!

Delicious cookies and coffee from Simpatico Coffee will be available for you to enjoy.

The event will be held in Fourteenth Street Christian Reformed Church’s brand-spanking-new fellowship room. It’s cozy in the best kind of way, and you’re going to love it.

Join us on Saturday, May 10 at 7:00 p.m. to celebrate Bikes in Holland!

Tickets are $10 and are available online now!

Few things are ever accomplished by one person working alone.

I need YOUR help! Here’s what you can do:

  • E-mail a friend today. Take just a second right now to copy this link – http://wp.me/p2MikN-BQ – and send it to a friend. It will bring them to this page, so they can read about this great event for themselves.
  • Join the Event Team. There’s still plenty to do, from publicity to event set-up to considering ways to help these ideas gain traction in our community.
  • Put us in contact with potential sponsors. I would still like to have a few more sponsors to help underwrite this event. Our primary sponsorship levels range from $50 to $250, and we also have a low-cost ticket sponsorship option.
  • And of course, buy your own tickets right away! Here’s the link again:
  • Contact me at tulip.lane@outlook.com with any questions or for more information. This is going to be so much fun – I hope to see you there!

    It’s Coming… But Not Yet. Friday Teaser!

    So you remember last week, how we talked about that winter bird singing through the snow and how we can sing against the odds, and then I told you that this week I would have a really! exciting! announcement! to make?

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    Ahem.

    The good news is that the planned announcement has nothing to do with tortilla chips that were surreptitiously smashed into my sofa. The less-good news is that these chips represent an extra-chaotic week, and the full reveal is just plain not ready.

    I’ll just go ahead and assume you weren’t planning your WHOLE week around this announcement and save the kleenex for another time.

    But how about a little hint to tide you over?

    Springtime… sweets… and…

    Doesn't this look FUN?
    Doesn’t this look FUN?

    Any guesses?

    Full reveal coming soon, I promise. In the meantime, step outside this weekend, find yourself something beautiful, and enjoy some good winter fun.

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    Why the Winter Bird Sings and How You Can Too

    Sometimes all we need is a reminder of just how free we are.

    It’s early on the second day back to normal, after that endless streak of snow days at the beginning of the year.

    “Mom, can we go to the playground?”

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    The playground…In the dead of winter?

    Well, I guess I could blog about it. Sure, let’s go.

    We go potty (or “go potty”) and don 27 pieces of outerwear (I count), some more than once, before crunching down to the end of the block. The temperature is in the mid-twenties, which feels unbearable in November but by January makes hats and mittens seem overdone. I can feel the beginnings of sweat at my hairline as I pull Mae across the squeaky snow and over the street-edge snowbanks in her bright new sled. I tell the five-year-old who doesn’t like to walk, the child who requested this trip, that when I was her age I walked to school every day all by myself.

    She isn’t impressed.

    The park we are going to is right in our neighborhood, only four or five blocks away. It takes up most of one city block and has a playground, a gazebo, a big open field and a ball diamond. After fighting the shifty sidewalk snow and a recalcitrant preschooler all the way here, my legs are ready for a break. I breathe a sigh of relief as we walk up…

    …and see that, of course, the sidewalks in the park haven’t been cleared. Wearily I gaze across the field of unbroken snow and contemplate turning right back around to go home.

    I’ve been hooked by the idea of winter cities, places that embrace their climate and celebrate life through every season. I can picture a miniature sledding hill in the middle of this park, sidewalks shoveled to the playground, kids playing on the playground and making snowy igloos in the baseball diamond.

    Someday. Today is… different than that.

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    Abigail is suddenly inspired and leads the way, powering her way through the snow with her strong little legs. She stops in the gazebo, where the snow is shallower, and lays down for a minute before plowing on to the playground.

    In the meantime, I have Mae in the sled and am trying to stay upright as I gracelessly drag her through this impenetrable snow bog. I’m scarcely twenty feet off the sidewalk and am beginning to wonder if we’ll even make it to the playground at all.

    “WANT OUT! WANT WALK!”

    Ignoring her requests is ineffective as she attempts to launch herself out of her wee chariot. So out she comes..

    But the snow is “doo deep.”

    “WANT UP!”

    What have I done? What am I doing here? It’s the middle of winter and we walked to the playground?? What kind of crazy was this? I’m plowing through knee-deep snow carrying a two-year-old who has ever been in the 98th percentile for both height and weight, dragging the sled in which she now refuses to ride. Those prickles of sweat at my hairline have turned to droplets in a hurry. I stop and take a breather.

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    The sky is feathery gray and blue and has that heavy, steely look it does in winter. It’s like its colors have been put on mute for the season. There are birds flittering around the tree beside me. I can’t tell what they are, but I hear a bluejay across the park.

    I pause. You can’t see the birds in this photo but a flock has hidden itself in these trees, dancing through the branches and singing their little hearts out in the middle of this Narnian season, free birds who “leap on the back of the wind,” however cold it may be.*

    Their song baffles me. Don’t they know how cold it is? Don’t they long for the spring, iwth its gentle breezes and plentiful food? I think that I might sit huddled on a branch, waiting for the season to change.

    And I wonder… am I waiting for an easier season, too? Don’t I wish there were fewer clothes to put on, fewer mittens to find, beautiful clear sidewalks to walk down? Don’t I wish for fewer dishes to wash, fewer early-morning wakings, beautiful little rooms that stay clean once I clean them?

    Have you ever put your life on pause until spring? I have.

    Maybe life is just too HARD right now. We lower our heads and hunker down, wishing for the storm to pass and waiting for an easier season to venture out.

    But there’s beauty in the storm.

    How much do we miss if we confine our dancing, confine our singing, to the days when the sun shines warm on our faces? How much of life passes us by if we flee indoors to escape the blowing snow that needles our cheeks?

    Abandoning the sled in the gazebo I press on, feet sinking deep into the dense snow.

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    The playground was amazing. The slide that the girls normally fly off at top speed, landing on the hard ground in a crying crumple, is nearly snowed in. They slide down and then off the end on an invented luge run that extends the ride by a good fast four feet. Abigail faces her nemesis, the monkey bars, now plopping painlessly into the snow when she loses her grip. Every snowdrift is a little fort, piled up around slides and stairs, ready for hideouts and playing bad guys.

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    Getting there was arduous, but oh, was the journey worth it.

    So much of this life is in how we face it. Whether it’s a dark night of the soul, the winter of our discontent, or a polar vortex, we’re birds in a cage with an open door. And sometimes it takes some doing, but gathering our courage and being willing to endure discomfort can make all the difference in how we experience this cold season.

    The trip back goes faster. We’ve already broken the trail out to the playground, so getting back to the sidewalk is much more manageable. Over the snowbanks we clamber, cheerfully kicking aside snowplow-flung chunks of ice to arrive back home, to the favored lunch of hot tomato soup and Sunbutter sandwiches.

    That thing you’ve been waiting to begin, that thing you’ve been waiting to be over with… will you settle into it this week? Take a little leap into the storm, put on a coat and find a spot of beauty in it? Will you decide this week to sing a song of freedom?*

    I’d love to hear. Feel free, as always, to leave a comment or email me at tulip.lane@outlook.com. And stay tuned for an exciting announcement about an event that you will LOVE coming up next week!

    Because livable places are better.

    *I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

    Listen

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    I’m sitting in my kitchen on the millionth snow day of the year, Christmas CD turned high enough to drown the sound of the child who will NOT accept that quiet time is part of her life. The snow on the garage over the fence is piled in drifts, swirling off the peak like a vanishing aura. The paint is white, and green, and peeling. It looks like it used to be pretty.

    Peeling paint. Broken roads. So much to be done, so few resources. I look around my own house – at the dishes, at the laundry, at the children – and hardly know where to start. Multiply that a thousand times over and we’re looking at a community that’s beginning to crumble. Just a bit. It’s still a great place; better than ever in some ways. But what the tourist can’t see, we can.

    So where do we start?

    Got me.

    I have a million and one ideas. But are they the right ones? Will they work? How do we know?

    Listen.

    This year, Traversing Tulip Lane will strive to be a collector of voices.

    We’ll be listening to the guy on the bus wearing the old Pistons jacket, and the smiling brown-haired lady who works at the hospital and gets off at my stop. To the family whose street was just widened and the dad in the pick-up line as exasperated as I am with so much reckless drivers around the school. To small business owners and decision-makers and the guy I passed in a snowbank this week walking his malamutes before bed. To writers and talking heads and experts of all stripes.

    To you.

    If you’d like to participate or have someone in mind you think I should talk to, please leave a comment below or e-mail me at tulip dot lane at outlook dot com.