Thursday, September 29, 2011

Close Call

I had a bit of a close call on the bike last night on the way home from work. Details of the encounter are below, but it involved me and one of these Hop On Hop Off DC Double Decker sightseeing buses. I'm including a screenshot image from Google Maps of the place where the encounter occurred.

Click for larger image

I felt threatened enough by it to know instantly I wanted to report it to the company. I did my best to read out and remember the license plate number and stopped to enter it into the notepad on my phone as soon as I could safely get off the road and do so.

So, here's the message I just sent to the company that operates the buses. (Text/format is based on a sample e-mail I'd seen shared one time for contacting Metro or other local transit agencies to report dangerous bus driver behavior.)
To Whom it May Concern,
I would like to document a bus driver (from your company) who passed me, while I was on my bicycle, with only about 1 foot of clearance, nearly running me off the road into the curb. Please note that DC law requires three feet of clearance for safe passing of a bicycle by a motor vehicle. The following are the details of the incident.
Bus license plate: Maryland tags 01P 237 (or 01P D37) I did my best to remember the license plate number and write it down as soon as possible given the circumstances.
Time/date: Approx 5:40pm yesterday, Wednesday, September 28.
Location: East Basin Dr SW near the Jefferson Memorial. (see link for Google Map view of the site of the incident: 
Incident: I was riding in to the right side of the lane on E Basin Dr SW where it forks right away from the entrance ramp to 395. Driver passed me unsafely by passing within my lane and much closer than the legal 3 feet of space. I estimate it at approximately one foot. I was honestly worried that the rear end of the bus was going to brush me if not worse. The driver's maneuver forced me all the way to the curb. I had no extra room to maneuver. 
I request that the driver, and all drivers (if not already standard training) be informed of the 3 feet passing rule and all laws related to sharing the roads with bicycles.
I am an experienced bike commuter, having traveled to work by bicycle along this route almost every day for the last two and a half years. At the time of the incident, I was following all road rules and operating my bicycle in a safe and predictable manner. 
The driver could have waited a few seconds until the the drive becomes two lanes wide to change lanes and safely pass me with more clearance. Instead he chose to pass dangerously close. I appreciate your help in making the roads safer for all parties concerned.
So that's what I sent. I really was worried for a second that the rear end of the bus was going to hit me. In a contest between a bus which ways many tons and a cyclist on a 25 pounds of bike, the bus will always win. The driver literally would have had to go the 15 mph I was traveling for another five seconds before the road widened and he could have passed safely.

He did all this only to come to a stop to drop off passengers Either the driver didn't feel that he needed to afford me a little room and not almost run me off the road to pass or he has an increedibly poor sense of the size of the bus and the way it handles around corners. Either way, something needs to be done. A driver of such a vehicle in a place with crowded, realtively narrow streets and lanes, like DC at rush hour, should know better.

I'll be curious to see what kind of response I get from the company. I'll be sure to post updates on this situation as they develop.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sad Day in the World of Cartoon Cycling

Yehuda Moon is no more...
Part of my daily routine is to hop over to the best comic strip I've ever read, Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery.

Or shall I say, it was part of my routine for a long time. Sadly today, that time has come to an end. The strip had taken some time off the last couple weeks, but I remained confident it would be back. Instead of a cartoon, I was greeted by the image above when I opened the site today.

The authors of the comic, Rick Smith and Brian Griggs have posted that the strip is being discontinued. I'm gonna miss following the strip and the good storylines. It was also full of great commentary on being a cyclist. Before the site goes down (assuming it will), I urge you to go take a peek and read some of the strips. I may try to download all of them before the site goes eventually down, so I can have an archive of my own to refer to -- it was that good.

In any case, the end of the Yehuda Moon is a sad day. Now we'll never know if Yehuda made it to Interbike in one piece, or the fate of the Grow Bike. I'm glad at least I got to see into Yehuda's past when he was an architect/planner. I liked that bit of his bio, especially given my own current course of study.

Yehuda, Joe, Ghost of Fred, Sister Sprocket, et al. You will be missed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bicycle Traffic Report

I regularly have the radio on at work in the background, usually NPR, occasionally sports talk radio. A feature common to all types of stations is the rush hour traffic report. I've never driven to work more than a handful of times a year in DC, and that's usually been on weekends. So selfishly I find these reports annoying. If nothing else, they take away from time that could otherwise be devoted to more informative or entertaining programming.

Never mind the fact that, barring major accidents, they just announce the same bottlenecks and backups over and over and over day after day. For all I know, they've been running the same report recorded two years ago every day. Being a DC traffic reporter reminds me of jokes about how hard it must be to work as a weatherman in San Diego. Weather today? Sunny and 78. Weather tomorrow. Sunny and 78. Weather the next day. 78 and... Traffic in the DC area today? 95 south slow from 14th St Bridge all the way to Occoquan. Tomorrow: 95 south slow from 14th St Bridge all the way to Occoquan. Next day: 95 south... Well, you get the point.

Since I hear these traffic reports so often, I like to imagine what what a bicycle traffic report would be like as I ride home. I think it would go something like this:
Radio Program Anchor Joe: And now for the latest bicycle traffic report we turn to our very own Roland McCogs. Roland.
Roland: Thanks. Well, we've got a few reports of roving groups of tourists on and around the Mall walking five abreast blocking the entire path near the Washington Monument, so you're looking at a slow ride from Constitution Avenue down to the Jefferson Memorial.  
The Mount Vernon Trail is a smooth ride. That rider with a flat near the 14th Street Bridge we reported earlier has courteously moved his bike to the the side of the trail for repairs. You might encounter a minor delay of if you or another rider asks to check and make sure the affected rider has everything he needs to get going again. Delays are five seconds or less.  
Capital Crescent Trail is heavy near the trailhead in Georgetown, but conditions improve as you get closer to Chevy Chase. Beware the joggers with their headphones in, though, who can't hear your bell as you approach to pass. There seem to be quite a few out today.
The sun is bright, but there aren't any sunshine delays heading west on the Custis Trail through Arlington, since the Custis is pleasant and shaded unlike those wide, but still congested, interstate highways.
Should be a nice ride home, everyone. Remember to keep your smug smile on the inside as you speed past the motorists stuck in traffic on the bridge.
Back to you, Joe.
Joe: Thanks, Roland.
It's kind of a fun to pretend anyway...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bike Commuting Statistics

The League of American Bicyclists' blog had a post on Friday highlighting data from the Census Bureau regarding bicycle commuting. While the data is by no means new and has been hashed and rehashed in lots of blogs, I wanted to delve into the numbers a little myself. This is by no means an exhaustive examination of the numbers, just a couple things that jump out at me. From the post:
more than half of one percent of American workers use a bicycle as their primary mode of transportation to work [...] this number represents nearly 40 percent growth since 2000.
The growth in percentages is good, and I suppose given the tendency in the US to sprawl and build less than bike-friendly roads, even 0.5% isn't too shabby. But, as they point out, lots of work remains to be done to make "our communities truly welcoming to bicyclists".

There is a healthy mix of communities in the top ten or twenty. Davis, CA comes in at 22.4%, by far the highest in the country. Davis is blessed with relatively flat terrain, good weather year round, and some great infrastructure, so it's not a surprise. It's been tops on these kinds of lists for years as far I know. Other cities in the top tier of the rankings may be more surprising to you... places with less hospitable climates like vis-a-vis Davis like Cambridge, Massachusetts; Madison, Wisconsin; Iowa City, Iowa; Missoula, Montana; and Boise, Idaho sprinkled among the top dozen or so and all coming in with over 5% bike commuting rates, with the exception of Boise, which is still at a very respectable 4%.

So, what about the cities in the DC area? Only DC proper makes the list of the 70 largest cities. It comes in fifth nationwide with 3.1% of workers using a bicycle as their primary mode of commuting. Of these 70 biggest cities, it's had the 6th highest percentage growth in bike commuting mode share over the period from 2000 to 2010.

This coincides, probably not by accident, with a commitment from the DC government to expand cycling infrastructure during that time. Miles upon miles of bike lanes have been designated (most visibly the Pennsylvania Avenue lanes, but others as well), new trails have opened (namely the Metropolitan Branch Trail from Union Station eventually to Silver Spring) , Capital Bikeshare was launched, and other experiments like some contraflow lanes and the cycletracks are underway. Several of the items mentioned above weren't completed or implemented until the last year or two, so I would expect that number to grow even more in the coming years as that new infrastructure, particularly CaBi helps to make bike commuting a realistic alternative for many.

Alexandria and Arlington are the only Virginia municipalities in the DC area that are listed in a longer list of 370 cities with over 65,000 residents and available statistics on bike commuting. Arlington comes in at 1.35% bike commuters, and Alexandria at 0.7% in 2010. I'm a little surprised that these municipalities came in as low as they did, since both are making strides to improve cycling infrastructure. But both are relatively well endowed in terms of access to public transportation with Metro running through the heart of both places. Based on the very large number of bikes parked at Braddock Road metro almost any work day I've ever been down there, I'd be curious to see how Alexandria or Arlington stack up in terms of multimodal commuting (e.g., riding to the train station and then taking the train downtown).

A fellow "bike commuter" I know at work would not be counted as such by this survey. She puts her bike on the front rack of the bus from near her house to the Pentagon, and then rides into work from there. For purposes of this survey, she would be counted as a bus/transit commuter, and her bike commute leg would be completely ignored.The expansion of CaBi along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington and perhaps into Alexandria next year will only help the bike commuting numbers. They are also likely to increase the multimodal share, which would not be reflected in these statistics.

Alexandria and Arlington stand up rather favorably to other Virginia cities, though. Only Richmond is higher than Arlington, at 2.2%. Norfolk and Virginia Beach are more or less on par with Alexandria in the ballpark with 0.8% bike commuting. Other Hampton Roads cities listed, with the exception of Portsmouth, were under 0.2%.

There are issues with the data to be sure, large margin of error being one. But overall, other factors tend to underrepresent bike commuting. As LAB points out:
*Results are based on a survey of a sample of the population. Surveys take place throughout the year. The journey to work question asks respondents about the previous week.
*The journey to work question asks about the primary mode of transportation to work. The wording of the question undercounts the actual amount of bike commuting that occurs. It does not count people who rode once or twice a week or people who bike to transit (if the transit leg is longer than the bike leg). [This goes to my point about multimodal commuting.]
So the numbers themselves may not be perfectly derived or representative, but they do provide some valuable insights and are fun to look at. The big takeaway... bike commuting is up nationwide, and more dramatically in certain cities, like DC. Let's work to keep the trend going.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

More CaBi Birthday Coverage

A few links to items about CaBi's one year birthday:

World Championships Coming to Richmond, VA!

Exciting news, everyone! As you may have already known, Richmond, VA had made a bid to host the 2015 UCI World Road Cycling Championships. Its only remaing competition was Muscat, Oman.
Well, Muscat has apparently withdrawn its bid, which means:
Richmond, remains the only host city with a bid on the table, meaning that the United States will be all but guaranteed to play host to the worlds for the second time in history. The UCI is expected to approve the bid Wednesday and an official decision could be publicly released by 17h00 Danish time.
(That's 11 AM EDT for those of you trying to do the math.)
So, it looks like I might have to try to make it to Richmond, VA in about three years! ;-)

Happy Birthday, CaBi!

Capital Bikeshare turned one-year old today.  Quite a milestone. And by all accounts, it's been a very successful first year. (WashCycle's done a great job from the beginning staying on top of CaBi-related news items. See his CaBi posts here.) They're even having a birthday bash!

In one of those neat little coincidences, CaBi had its 1,000,000th ride on the day of the one-year mark since it began operations. I read somewhere that's an average of between 3 and 4 trips per bike per day. Pretty good for a new system that's just getting going. 

I've got my own personal bike, which I love very much, and 99% of my rides involve my home in Alexandria, which doesn't have CaBi stations yet, so I never had occasion to buy an annual membership. I do account one of those 1,000,000 trips, though. I bought a one-day membership last winter to try out the system. I really like it, and the bikes are well designed and well built for their particular purpose. If I still lived in DC proper, or even if I lived in Arlington, I would almost definitely find it worth the annual membership fee.

With the long-awaited demise of the Tourmobile stranglehold on the National Park Service (NPS), there is new hope that Capital Bikeshare will finally be able to install a few stations on the Mall and on some of the smaller neighborhood parks in the District that are run by NPS. Even without that, the system continues to expand. It's helped to get lot more people cycling in the streets of DC, and slowly but surely, most motorists in the downtown area are getting used to the idea, too.

Boston and New York are also launching CaBi-like bike sharing programs. I hope that their systems meet the same success that CaBi has had and that bike sharing continues to to expand, not only inside DC, but into other metro areas around the country.

Congratulation to CaBi on turning one and having such a successful first year. 1,000,000 rides! Here's to millions and millions (or even billions and billions [0:30]) more.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The March of Municipal Privatization (AKA the Erosion of Local Government)

I just came across this video from the PBS series Need to Know. The trend discussed is scary and should be sounding alarm bells for everyone. 

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

I understand that cities need cash. In relatively difficult economic times such as these, there may be limited options for municipalities to raise revenue. But I just don't think this is the way to do it.

The primary function of government, be it national or local, is to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of its people. That phrase, "health, safety, and welfare" (HSW) has been interpreted time and time again by the courts and repeatedly upheld as the basis for so much of what local government does. HSW concerns serve as the basis for municipal zoning laws and land use regulations. Relinquishing control over parking infrastructure, regulations, and rates, as in many of these cases, for decades on end (with heavy handed contract terms for the city if it makes any changes that threaten the profit of the corporations involved) makes no sense. It compromises the city's very ability to effectively regulate elements of the transportation system or other vital municipal infrastructure that are critical to its performance of its primary function. And that's just plain wrong...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

VéloCity to Relocate: They Need Your Help!

I came across this this morning. This is the bike co-op that organizes the pedicab operation I pedaled for last summer, where I built up my lovely Surly Long Haul Trucker with the help of the volunteers, and where I've done too little volunteering myself. It's a great outfit, a great group of people, and a worthy cause. They've been in a great spot along Union Street near the water and right along the on-street portion of the Mount Vernon Trail in Old Town Alexandria. I know I have limited readership (to say the least) but if anyone sees this post and has any ideas, please help out Velocity Bike Co-op!

From their website:

Our warehouse home at 204 S. Union St. in Old Town has been sold, and we must move out by the end of January.

We have limited time, and need a short list of viable locations so that we can review options, make a decision, negotiate a lease, and relocate.  We can use your skills, knowledge, contacts, and ideas to help us find and finance a new location in Alexandria, Arlington, or DC that has:Close access to a bicycle trail or high-volume bicycle route

800+ square feet of open ground floor space
Bathroom and heat

Please spread the word; communityengagement and participation are what make this cooperative successful, and we are committed to our mission to support a vibrant and inclusive bicycling culture in the community!

Please direct suggestions/information/questions to:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chain Links (9/14/2011): Pedestrian Safety and Exxon Asininity

I routinely scan the RSS feeds for headlines from several other blogs and local media to see if anything catches my eye. Sometimes, an item will be enough to light the creative spark for a blog post of my own. Other times, I really just want to bring a few things to people's attention and maybe add a few of my own personal comments.

A couple items from blogs and websites I regularly look at caught my eye today and are worth a look. So, I thought I'd start occasionally using a blog post type common on bigger, more established blogs, a rundown of relevant and interesting links. I won't be doing this every day, but sometimes, enough items catch my eye to make me think I should share in this way from time to time. My tentative working title for these posts: Chain Links. Enjoy!
  • A very well justified rant (and I use that word without negative connotations here) in the Del Ray Patch this morning about pedestrian safety. The author, a mother of two very young children aged one and three, has some quite reasonable complaints about the lack of respect some motorists show for her and her family crossing the streets at crosswalks. This is my neighborhood. I've observed the same thing myself. That said, at least, the great majority of motorists driving through Del Ray are mindful of those trying to cross the street on foot. Sadly, it only takes a few bad apples...
  • Finally, is there really no one in Texas more deserving of a $5.2 BILLION investment than the one of the world's largest oil companies?! Exxon makes enough they should have to pay for the new road to their proposed sprawling corporate campus themselves if they want it so bad. (Over the last six years, Exxon has made at profit of at least $30 billion every year, with the exception of one year, when its profits were a measly pittance of only $19.28 billion). Of course, I wouldn't expect a company that makes its money off of selling gasoline to people to realistically consider any sort of relocation plan that would allow people to minimize automobile use, but it shouldn't get a new expensive highway built for it for free. On the bright side, being outside of Houston's second beltway, I am sure that there will be no need for anyone driving there to have to avoid any pedestrians using those pesky crosswalks that get in drivers' way all the time! If this is Rick Perry's idea of good government, my ranking of him on a scale of 1 to 10 just went from negative 100 to negative 5.2 billion!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Oh What a Difference a Lube Makes

I admit it. I was mildly negligent of my bike the last several weeks. Apart from putting air back in the tires, I hadn't really done much of anything in terms of maintenance or cleaning. In some ways that's a good thing. It means everything's running trouble-free. But neglect things for too long and that is no longer the case.

One of the things that I try to do with a little more regularity than I have of late is cleaning the drivetrain (chain, chainrings, cassette, derailleurs). I'd given them a good cleaning about a month and a half ago before I went on my overnight bike trip out to Harpers Ferry and back. But I hadn't really touched it since then. Part of this was just that it had been dry and the chain hadn't really had an opportunity to pick up much nasty sand, grit, dirt, etc. (Last week's heavy rain and some trips through muddy puddles changed that.) The other part of it was a combination of laziness and being otherwise busy.

I got out of class a little early last night, so when I got home, I took advantage of the extra few minutes in my schedule to clean up my bike's neglected drivetrain, especially since the shifting was getting a little less responsive and there was some visible build up of gunk on the rear derailleur in particular. I mixed up a weak solution of Simple Green and ran the chain through a rag soaked in the solution. I then took my Park Tools brush, and with the bristles wet with the same Simple Green solution, spun the pedals backward using the brush to scrub off the rest of the gunk that had built up on the chain, the cogs of the rear derailleur, as well as the rear cassette and chainrings. I ran the chain again through a dry part of the rag to dry off the chain. Finally, I applied a drop of Finish Line wet lube to each link of the chain and tweaked the shifting with a small turn of the barrel adjuster on the rear derailleur. Voila! All done. The whole process, from making the solution to cleaning up and putting everything away, took maybe ten or fifteen minutes.

It's easy to forget about cleaning and maintenance items like this when everything's working the way it should. It's even easier to miss small changes in performance or to ignore some of those small, barely perceptible noises that start when you haven't properly cleaned everything for a while. On this morning's commute I was reminded of how much a difference a few minutes of work can make, though. The bike was as quiet as a mouse. Little noises I'd started the hear the last few times I'd ridden vanished. Shifting was smooth and precise. I think the bike was happier for it. I know I was. And my wallet will be, too, since proper cleaning and maintenance of the drivetrain can help to extend the life of the chain and the cassette.

So, one of these days, before you just get on your bike and ride, think about a little preventative cleaning and maintenance. It can really go a long way!

(Sorry about the lack of illustration of the process. I didn't think to take any before pictures when I started, but I may add some demonstrative pictures of the process and some after shots here in the next couple days if I get a chance. Stay tuned.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

MLK Parking Update

A couple weeks ago, I posted about the lack of bike parking at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opening here in DC.

I am glad to see that they're making progress. 

This from a few days ago on WashCycle (yeah, I fell a bit behind in my blog reading).  Parking for 16 bikes (i.e., 8 inverted-U's) has has been installed near the memorial. It was still fenced off, but it's good to see it will be available (presumably) soon.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

When Cycling Gets Political...

...and I don't mean battles on Capitol Hill over transportation budgets or motorist rants about cyclists running red lights or any of the myriad other types of trite political arguments that revolve around the nexus of cycling. I don't even mean professional riders and teams protesting a stage of a race over a ban on the use of team radios or the safety of the race route.

I am talking about geopolitics and political protest. A new professional race in Italy called the Giro di Padania had its opening stage Tuesday. The controversy is over and the affiliation of the race with the Lega Nord political party and over the name of the race. Padania is apaprently not a recognized geograhical term, rather it's a name given to the area around the Po River by the Lega Nord, which wants autonomy for the region.

A protest was organized to block the race route. I assume the protest was intended to be civil and peaceful. However, among other things, several protesters tried to slap riders and in the fracas a police officer "was struck by a race car and taken to hospital." Race car in this instance, of course, means a team support vehicle and not a Formula One Ferrari.

Some news coverage of the story:

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Original Rails to Trails?

Now that's what I call riding the rails! (from Strange Cosmos)

A novel approach to cross-country bike touring!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

You're in Trouble, Little Girl!!! (a follow-up and a bigger perspective)

In my last post, I brought up a case that's been receiving some national attention involving a young girl riding her bike to school. I posted a link to my entry on Facebook and a somewhat lively, though civil, discussion ensued in the comments to that post with a good friend of mine, who is from east Tennessee herself. 

I thought it brought out some interesting additional information, so I thought I'd share some of that here in the interest of fairness and a more complete view of the story. Feel free to draw your own conclusions about this case. What follows are mine.

Before we move on, though, let me make clear I'm not out to get east Tennessee by pointing out this story. I have known some lovely people from those parts over the years. If this had happened in California, my comment would have read "messed up situation in California." So to all my friends from Tennessee, I still love you.

I found this local news piece that provides a little more backstory. With this additional context, this situation makes a little more sense, but only a little.

No one, even the police officer who took the girl home, has made any contention that city ordinance was violated. It all relies on the judgment of an officer. And I am very reluctant to just take that judgment at face value without at least questioning the facts a little. I have no doubt that the officer's intentions were good and his interests were for the girl's safety, probably much in the same way that I've heard of cyclists in Alexandria (and other jurisdictions) being told by law enforcement they need to ride on the sidewalk to be safe, even if said sidewalk cycling is a violation of city law.

I'll assume the fact that no one is alleging a violation of the law includes the passing maneuver made the first day. The officer had stopped his car and put it in park behind a stopped school bus. If the bus was stopped long enough to make a police officer put his cruiser in park, I assume the bus was stopped with its flashers on. School buses don't generally stop in random places along the road for that long for purpose that wouldn't entail putting out the stop sign. If the bus was stopped and there is no median, this means that all oncoming traffic should also have been stopped. To me, this means that the car that "stop[ped] to avoid running her over" wasn't really stopping for the girl on the bike, it was stopping for the stopped school bus, or at least should have been.

From the news story:
The next day, the officer saw that girl again.

BAILEY: "He sees the child crest the hill, she starts over the top of the hill on Cedar Avenue, a car comes from behind her and has to swerve over."

Bailey says this time the officer stopped the child, put her inside his cruiser, and drove her home.
Again, no one should have had to swerve to avoid this girl traveling with traffic. A speed limit is not an absolute number. Because a road is posted for a certain speed limit road doesn't mean you're legally required to maintain that speed. With some exceptions on interstate highways a speed limit is a maximum speed limit, not a minimum. If a driver can't see around a corner or over the crest of a hill well enough to slow down for and safely navigate around a slower vehicle or debris, including a bike, a tractor, a fallen tree, or a deer just to name a few, (s)he should probably not be going that fast to begin with. Just as a driver should slow down and exercise caution when ability to see up the road is limited by fog or other inclement weather. So, in this case, the driver who swerved was likely either driving while distracted or simply going too fast. There is no other explanation for having to swerve.

To the extent that any of the facts in this story demonstrate poor cycling practices on the part of the young girl, this story demonstrates the need for better education in school about how to properly ride a bike. Drivers education is offered in high school. Presumably, any manner of look both ways before you cross the street kind of messages are delivered in elementary school health and safety curricula, even if Eric Cantor wants that stripped from the budget (hyperbole but probably not far off the mark). So, why not incorporate proper cycling safety education into elementary school safety curricula too? (And by proper I mean developed by law enforcement AND the relevant state/local cycling advocacy organizations). This is common practice in other countries where cycling is widely regarded and accepted as a legitimate and safe road use.

Such education could be combined with a public information campaign to educate motorists about the rights of cyclists on the road. Such efforts would go a long way towards helping motorists and  students (in all likelihood future motorists themselves and hopefully future cyclists as well) to understand that cycling is a legitimate road use. It would make incidents like I had the other day near my apartment less likely. In that incident, a driver came up behind me on a street marked with sharrows, which should make my right to be on the road as broad as daylight. Instead he honked his horn angrily and passed me way too close for comfort. He did all this only to have to slam on his brakes for a red light just up the road. At the light he rolls down his window and yells at me "You're not supposed to be on the road! Get on the sidewalk!" This is not the first time I've had this happen. And again, all of this in a city where sidewalk cycling is a violation of city law.

The facts pointed out in the news story go to show that there is more to a story than catchy headlines. I have devoted several paragraphs here to interpreting this particular news story as I see it. I'm sure others will see the facts differently. Cases like this should help us to have a civil, rational public discourse about road safety in general. That's not always what happens. Sadly, things being what they are, this often devolves into cyclist vs. motorist mudslinging. (When that happens, naturally I sling mud from the cyclist side of the battlefield).

But for me another important part of the "more to the story than the catchy headline" of this incident lies is a much bigger and more deeply rooted issue facing our society. It's about the underlying social and physical infrastructure that has developed in our country as a result of favoring individual motorized transport to the detriment of public transportation, cycling, and walking. It's about the myriad of skewed zoning and fiscal policies that have been around for decades which have given us sprawl, environmental damage, and over-reliance on fossil fuels. It's about communities where it is difficult, if not downright dangerous, for someone to get around by any means besides a car. And that, in my opinion, is wrong. And that's part of why I think urban planning and advocacy issues will be an important staple of this blog and why I hope to eventually try to start reversing some of these huge problems that we've created for ourselves in work as a practicing planner or smart growth advocate.

Until then, ride safe, walk safe, drive safe, and be good to your fellow man (or woman) and have a happy holiday weekend!

Friday, September 2, 2011

You're in Trouble, Little Girl!!!

A fifth-grader in Tennessee was recently taken home by the police. Was she lost or hurt? Was she caught with drugs? Had she TP'ed a house? Painted graffiti? No. Why was she picked up by the police and taken home then? She was riding her bike to school!!!

From Bike Walk Tennessee (the blog of Tennessee's statewide advocacy organization): 
...the mother was informed that she was breaking the law by allowing her daughter to ride/walk to school.
Say whaaaaaaa?

By way of providing a little more background information, the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) futher explains:
The student trying to get to school really doesn’t have a lot of options to riding the mile from home to school on the road – her neighborhood has no sidewalks; there aren’t any alternate routes; her mother can’t drive her; the police didn’t really help her with a solution; the school bus isn’t an option. Besides, riding is a good option – it’s quicker and healthier; the streets are pretty quiet; many ten-year olds are quite capable of riding in that environment; and her mom shouldn’t have to drive her.
This situation is wrong on so many levels. Mostly, though, it illustrates to me the incredibly misplaced emphasis on motorized transportation that has dominated American life for decades. This emphasis clouds the judgment of law enforcement and people who should know better to the point that they threaten to hold the mother criminally negligent if she lets her daughter ride to school again. It's simply absurd.

How can allowing a ten-year-old to bicycle to school on quiet residential streets be criminally negligent when allowing this to happen is not?

The average American child spends between four and seven minutes playing outside per day.
This little girl's behavior should be encouraged, not criminalized. Her mother is a hero in my book for not simply rolling over to authority and for actually questioning the logic and legal reasoning behind the statements, determinations, and threats of the police and the mayor.

The situation also speaks to the need, as pointed out by LAB to fight for the Safe Routes to School Program in the Transportation Budget. Republicans in Congress are intent on cutting it from the budget even though it helps to "build sidewalks and trails to schools; to add bike lanes, signs and markings on roads around schools; to deliver critical bicycling and traffic safety education to students; to support bike trains and walking school buses; and even to begin to tackle bigger issues of school siting and access." 

<sarcasm>But I suppose keeping taxes low on the rich is more important, as is making sure huge corporations like GE continue to have zero tax liability.</sarcasm> How have our nation's priorities become so misplaced?!?!?!?!

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I leave you with one of my all-time favorite Yehuda Moon cartoons, which touches on this issue. For the uninitiated, the bearded man in the strip is Yehuda, co-owner of a bicycle shop and a very outspoken advocate for cyclists. (I highly recommend the strip. It's very entertaining, insightful, and has a compelling storyline.)