Bicycling in the Secret City

To the question of to what degree safety improvements can trigger a rise in bicycling, I would like to add these thoughts based on my experience at the Secret City.

I spent nearly a year among 15,000 other people, mostly servicemembers, in a desert location. I went out every other afternoon to bicycle around the back of the airfield, fighting the north wind constantly. I would race the jets taking off on the runway just a couple hundred meters off to my left. Parking was a dream, with wooden racks placed in front of every destination. I even used a cable lock!

Bicycles were plentiful, mostly department-store mountain-bike models. Private motor vehicles were forbidden. All drivers needed additional layers of certification beyond a traditional US drivers’ license before they could get out on the road. Crashes were investigated thoroughly and those at fault were held accountable. It sounds like an idyllic paradise for bicycling, and in many respects, it was, except for mode share: there were never more than 5% of the people bicycling.

I think this can be largely explained by noncommissioned officers’ reluctance to let servicemembers move around without accountability, and part in the servicemembers’ reluctance to move around without being correctly accounted for. There was no command emphasis on bicycling as an alternative to being driven around in motor vehicles. But in the real world, outside the Secret City, where do the authorities actually promote bicycling instead of other means of transportation?

Nothing says ‘institutionally fresh’ like a new ball of napthalene

One of the things I miss about those secret-airfield-cities
was the way the smell of mothballs would substitute for the smell of
clean things.

Best secret-town pic, ever


I am really pleased with this nice blast-wall picture, which I took with my new replacement camera. It’s from secret-town no. 4, where I spent a day before flying out to New Jersey. Yes, soggy and freezing New Jersey. No more unidentified locations for me, or rather, just a couple days before I head over to the city that needs no identification, the archipelago at the mouth of the Hudson.

Stadium, statist-style, with flea-market stores underneath

Here’s a nice shot of the stadium here at the secret city. Can’t have a secret city without a sports complex, right? You can’t see the outdoor pool from here, but it’s behind the stands here.
Underneath the stands is a row of local-national shops selling luggage, bootleg videos, and sawdust-themed cigarettes. It reminds me of something out of that William Gibson novel where all the people are living on the Bay Bridge, in a community-theater-budget kind of low-key way.

Strong coffee indeed!

All the food has these calorie-and-salt labels at the refectory, but
it’s hard to believe them after seeing this one.
Somehow I’m not so thirsty anymore.

Tree in courtyard, larger and more magnificent than the building itself

I came upon this building taking the shortcut to the tent from the refectory last night after dark. The building has a courtyard in the middle, but look at the tree! It would be even better if the current secret-city administration had kept up the landscaping of the last tenants, but I doubt that landscaping is really their strong point.

Hescos on pallets

Lucky chance, I saw these Hescos still on pallets. In the closeup you
can see how the spirals are preattached to fill about six large-size

Half-dozen close-ups of Hesco fastenings, sounds dry as old dirt, yes?

The latest in this week’s series of Hescofotos. Focus of this set is how they are
attached to each other. Jean points out that the spiral sections are
used to hook the flat lattices together. I went to check on the
nearest row of them, and what it looks like is that they come in
multi-section sets, so that you can put down eight or ten or twelve in
a row all at once. If you want fewer, you just attack them with the
wire cutters and shorten the row before putting in the bags and the


‘Tis true: you don’t see single Hescos around. They’re always in rows.

Busted Hesco

Today’s Hesco snap: this one between the tent area and the street.
Perhaps something crashed into it on the street side.