Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Davis commemorates 50 years of bicycling

Image of a bicyclist at the train station in Davis, CaliforniaFrom the California Aggie (UC Davis), 02.28.07:

Davis commemorates 50 years of bicycling

Even in a town reputed for its love of bicycles, Ted Bhueler (sic) stands out. On Monday night at the Varsity Theatre, Bhueler attracted a popcorn-munching, generation-spanning full-house audience that came to see a presentation based on the master's thesis Bhueler developed as a student at the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies. Entitled "50 Years of Bicycling in Davis, California," the thesis represents the culmination of two year's worth of interviews and studies, according to Bhueler.

"I was really surprised when I got here five years ago that so little research had been done on biking in Davis," said Bhueler's adviser Susan Handy, who explained that Bhueler's ITS- and CalTrans-funded project was intended to fill that gap.

In conducting his thesis, Bhueler claims that he found biking in Davis to be on a decline. Between 1990 and 2000, Bhueler found an 8 percent drop in individuals biking to and from work. This drop was partly attributed to a rise in the number of people commuting from out of town during that same period, and partly to new families moving to Davis. (Read more.)
I was among the crowd that packed the Varsity Theatre in Davis on Monday night for Ted Buehler's presentation. Davis has a well-deserved reputation as the most bicyclist-friendly city in the U.S.

However, many in Davis, including Buehler, feel the city has been coasting on its reputation. Following the completion of several large projects in the late 1990s, Davis has lagged in developing innovative new infrastructure to enhance bicycling. Other American cities, notably Boulder, Colorado, and Portland, Oregon, have made great strides this decade towards great bikeability. (And San Francisco--which pioneered the "sharrow" among other things--hasn't been a slacker either.)

Buehler was effective at demonstrating the importance of citizen advocacy in establishing the bicycle friendliness in Davis. "Why Davis and not some other city," Buehler offered, as the primary question of his research. It wasn't simply favorable climate, flat terrain, and abundance of university students. In 1960, according to Buehler, Davis had rates of bicycling mode share comparable to other college cities such as Corvalis, Oregon, and Chico, California. However, pushed by community activists, Davis made great strides by pioneering bike lanes, bike paths, and other cycling amenities, often pursuing changes in state traffic law to facilitate bicycling infrastructure development.

Having made numerous improvements--with a few failed experiments, having few precedents to draw upon--Davis today boasts admirable bicycling infrastructure. But have cyclists in Davis taken these conditions for granted? Is Davis' bikeability in jeopardy as the city grows and traffic increases? Will pro-bicycling residents react and reclaim Davis' reputation as the leading national innovator for bike facilities?

In his persuasive presentation to more than 300 people Monday evening, Buehler sounded a clarion call for renewed bicycling advocacy.

Image: Cottergarage
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Winter cold no obstacle to bike commuting

Image of Madison bike commuter Kathy RasmussenAs the winter (hopefully) winds down, there have been several inspiring recent stories from newspapers in northern states about hardy, year-round bike commuters.

From the Hartford Courant, 02.27.07:

Pioneers Commute By Bike
Piles of frozen snow stick out into Franklin Avenue like deadly icebergs, but Kevin Sullivan pedals on. He's got to get to work.

Sullivan is one of a handful who have said to hell with his car in favor of year-round biking to the office--and part of a national movement proving this is actually possible.

Even stodgy Hartford is now adding bike lanes when it repaves streets. Soon distinctive red bike racks will be installed downtown. Republican City Councilman Robert Painter says there's a plan for a bike path along the Park River and talk of another under the elevated I-84 that snakes through the city. (Read more.)
The article includes a quote from Connecticut native Chris Balish, author of the helpful guide, How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage Out of Life.

The Monroe News (Michigan) 02.26.07:
She puts her mettle to the bicycle pedal in any weather

When winter strikes with a vengeance, Melissa Phelps doesn't worry about gas-line freeze-up, dead batteries or scraping windshields.

She doesn't have a car. Instead, she uses alternative fuel: Muscle power. She gets around on her 10-speed Free Spirit bicycle, even on inclement days.

"I use it to go wherever I need to," she says. "But, sometimes, I get a ride." The weather doesn't seem to break her bicycling habit.

Last week, with the temperature at 11, the wind chill in single digits, and mounds of snow still burying curbs, she was bundled up in a brown, hooded winter parka and gingerly walking her bike along the shoulder of busy Cole Rd. as cars whizzed by. (Read more.)
From the Wisconsin State Journal, 02.24.07:
Bicyclists wheel through winter

Everything feels stale. The snowbanks and naked trees seem to be permanent fixtures lining the streets of Madison. Days are getting longer, but winter goes on.

Kathy Rasmussen has found a solution--bicycle commuting. This Madison resident had long enjoyed her 30-minute ride to work during the warm weather months when she decided two years ago, with some inspiration from the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, to continue the habit year-round.

A casual biker who enjoys "occasional little jaunts in the country," Rasmussen, 39, said winter biking in Madison is very doable. She feels safe with her reflective safety vest and "clunky old mountain bike," and as a winter biker, she is far from alone. (Read more.)
This article includes some helpful tips for cold weather bicycling from the inimitable folks at Icebike.

Image: Wisconsin State Journal. Madison cyclists Kathy Rasmussen.
See: Cold weather doesn't stop bike commuters
See: In Chicago winter, hardy cyclists keep riding
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Monday, February 26, 2007

In praise of trees

Tree on Sanchez Street, at 14th Street, in San Francisco's Duboce Triangle neighborhood.
Trees are truly wonderful things. They create oxygen while sequestering carbon, alleviating global climate change. They provide habitat for wildlife, even in an urban environment. And they are beautiful, green enhancements to any streetscape.

Of course, traffic engineers are less fond of trees. Their motto is wider, flatter, faster. Trees impede traffic flow: shade and foliage impair the motorist's field of vision, so drivers slow down.

Trees are therefore a great traffic calming tool, demonstrated very well by this large specimen on Sanchez Street near my home in San Francisco. It sits squarely amidst a popular city bike route 47 between the Mission/Castro and Golden Gate Park, and slows traffic better than any speed hump or enforcement.

In addition to traffic calming, trees provide shady relief for bicyclists during warm days, a benefit unnoticed by motorists in climate-controlled vehicles. Bicyclists are therefore great enthusiasts for trees, for their traffic calming, cooling, and aesthetic benefits.

(I would be surprised if this particular tree lasts another decade. Its roots are causing great buckling in the street pavement, and it has the misfortune to be located close to a fire station, which doubtless wants a clearer path for its vehicles.

Image: Paul Dorn. Tree on Sanchez Street, at 14th Street, in San Francisco's Duboce Triangle neighborhood.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Times of London acknowledges "the stick"

Image of bicyclist in London, England
From the Times of London, 02.21.07:

In all the sound and fury about roads in the past few weeks, there can be few groups left that have not had their say, though the arguments of cyclists have quietly glided by. When London’s transport supremos launched the extended congestion charge zone this week, they noted in passing the dramatic increase in cyclists that the capital has seen. In the past five years, the number of people cycling in London has risen by almost 50 per cent. These people are not the mad, bearded loons of popular myth, their coat-tails flapping crazily as they pedal round the Elephant and Castle. The modern cyclist is making an elegant and intelligent response to pollution and traffic congestion.

Cyclist fatalities across the UK rose to three a week last year — the only form of transport to show an increase. Cycle lanes need to be better protected from motorists. There would also be safety in numbers. At 2 per cent ridership, London lags far behind cities such as Berlin (10 per cent), Copenhagen (20 per cent) and Amsterdam (28 per cent), where the cyclist numbers influence driver behaviour. (Read more.)
Supportive pro-bicycling commentary by mainstream news outlets is, thankfully, not that unusual anymore. Global climate change, high energy costs, expanding waistlines, pervasive traffic congestion--all are increasingly evident reasons to encourage bicycle commuting. Evident even to journalists.

What I found significant in this article is that it acknowledges the positive effect of "the stick": London's pioneering congestion charge for motorists in the central city has increased the relative attractiveness of the bicycling option. Policy makers in many communities in the U.S. are willing to offer "a carrot" to prospective bicyclists: bike lanes, secure bike racks, intermodal access. However, these same policy makers are reluctant to introduce any politically challenging "stick" (higher parking fees, speed reduction, traffic restrictions, road diets, etc.) that proactively discourages motorists. The balance of street conditions still heavily favors automobiles. Shifting that balance to encourage bicycling and walking will require not simply a few "carrots," but some "sticks."

The other significant point in this article is the recognition that increased presence of bicyclists and pedestrians is, in itself a traffic calming effect. (Thanks to Peter Jacobsen of Sacramento for his great research on this.)

("Mad, bearded loons"?!? Maybe we're not fully there with the mainstream media.)

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bicycling on transit in Sacramento

Image of a bicycle on a light rail train in SacramentoOn Monday, a friend and I boarded our bikes on Sacramento Regional Transit and traveled to Folsom, to enjoy a scenic return ride to Sacramento on the famed 32-mile-long American River Bike Path.

Intermodal travel
--combining bicycling and transit--greatly facilitates bike commuting. Especially for those making daily trips longer than 3-5 miles each way. Many transit agencies across the U.S. have recognized the potential revenue growth to be gained from attracting bicyclists, and have installed bike racks on buses and built parking lockers near transit hubs.

San Francisco's MUNI, for instance, has made great strides in recent years toward a more bicycle-friendly system. Nearly every bus in the city's fleet now has a bike rack. However, MUNI continues to discourage bicycles on its light rail trains. Sacramento has this ingenious system on its trolley service, mounting bikes vertically to save space. A lesson for San Francisco?

Image: Paul Dorn.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bike theft threat real, and preventable

Image of bike wheel locked to pole, evidence of theft of bicycleBike theft is a real bummer. Any lock can be defeated with enough determination on the part of the thief. No lock provides absolute protection. (For every higher wall, there's a taller ladder.) Two articles this week in Northern California publications illustrate the challenges of defeating bike thieves.

On Wednesday, the San Francisco Bay Guardian featured "Chasing my stolen bicycle" by Justin Jouvenal:

Bike theft may seem like petty street crime, but it's actually a humming illegal industry. Consider this: thieves steal nearly $50 million worth of bikes each year in the United States, far outstripping the take of bank robbers, according to the FBI. And in San Francisco's rich bicycling culture, thieves have found a gold mine. About 1,000 bikes are reported stolen in the city each year, but the police say the actual number is probably closer to 2,000 or 3,000, since most people don't file reports.

"It's rampant," Sgt. Joe McCloskey of the San Francisco Police Department told the Guardian. (Read more.)
The article's author explores the seamy underworld of stolen bikes: chop shops, fencing networks, steal-to-order thieves, addicts, poverty. Police claim they don't have the resources--or the interest--to aggressively target bike theft. So bikes are easy to steal and exchange.
"Bikes are one of the four commodities of the street--cash, drugs, sex, and bikes," (bike guru Victor) Veysey told me. "You can virtually exchange one for another."

In the wide world of illegal activity, bike thievery seems to occupy a criminal sweet spot. It is a relatively painless crime to commit, and city officials do little to stop it. As McCloskey readily admitted, bike theft is not a priority for law enforcement, which he said has its hands full with more serious crimes.
If bike theft is rampant in a major urban area such as San Francisco, it also plagues bicyclists in smaller communities such as Davis, California. Also on Wednesday, the California Aggie at UC Davis published "Bike theft: what to do if it happens to you":
With more than two bicycles for every resident, Davis has often been dubbed the bicycle capital of the United States. For locals, biking is not only a mode of transportation; it's a way of life. Yet hundreds of bikes are stolen from Davis residents each year, making the frustrating reality of bike theft a serious problem.

(UC Davis bicycle program coordiantor David) Takemoto-Weerts said he thinks the number of bicycles reported stolen is not representative of the real number missing.

"I'll bet in terms of the actual number of bikes stolen on campus annually, it's probably somewhere between [600 and] 700 and 1,000 bikes," he said. (Read more.)
I've been fortunate (knock wood) so far. I've had parts stolen, but never lost a bike in 15 years of everyday riding in San Francisco. I agree with the suggestions for bike theft prevention in both these articles, and offer similar advice on my bike commuting tips website. My own technique is to use a relatively low-value bicycle for everyday commuting--the famed "urban beater bike"--and lock it securely, usually with two locks.

I have no illusions. I've been very lucky to avoid bike theft. But no locking technique is completely, absolutely secure. The best you can do is reduce your risks. And the suggestions in these articles are very helpful.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Monday, February 12, 2007

Chicago Critical Mass protests car show

Image of Chicago Critical Mass participants
From the Chicago Tribune, 02.11.07:

Pedaling protest takes on car show
Bicyclists use satire to drive home point


Dressed as polar bears and Santa Claus and towing signs that read "True Patriots Don't Burn Oil" and "Be a Hero: Drive Less," a group of bicyclists gathered Saturday in front of McCormick Place to protest the Chicago Auto Show.

"We feel there are enough cars in Chicago," said Dan Korn, a lead organizer. "You can't get away from the sights, smells and sounds. And here comes the auto show glorifying it."

For 99 years, automakers have brought hundreds of their most modern cars, trucks, SUVs and other vehicles to the city for the show.

And for the last eight years, Critical Mass, a group of bicycling activists, has protested, saying there are too many autos on the streets already, Korn said... The protesters chanted `No thank you' about the products being marketed inside.

"We already have an auto show every day," Korn said. "Everywhere we go there is an auto show."(Read more.)
Yes, I'm a fan of Critical Mass. I'm also a big fan of the irreverant advocacy organization, the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, which consistently reminds people that bicycling is fun. (As opposed to more sober advocacy groups, who emphasize safety only.) The creative minds at the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation were also behind the great Bob Fuller Roadside Memorials public service announcements.

Image: Web capture. Chicago Critical Mass.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Cold weather doesn't stop bike commuters

Image of winter cyclists in Boulder, Colorado
From the Campus Press (Boulder, CO), 02.12.07:

Despite snow and slush, bikers push through
Winter weather no obstacle for some with the right gear


Ryan Cheney, a Full Cycle employee, hopped on his bike for the commute to Boulder, only to find two popped tires. The weather stopped his ride.

Winter difficulties include terrible road conditions and chilling temperatures. However, setbacks have not stopped the Boulder residents who depend on biking for transportation.

"Boulder does a lot for bikers, plowing roads and keeping them in good condition," said Peter Roper, transportation program manager for (Colorado University). (Read more.)
As a former resident of Davis, California, I'm proud of that city's status as the only platinum-level winner in the League of American Bicyclists Bicycle Friendly Community Program. However, after reading this article about cyclists in Boulder--perhaps Davis' closest rival for supremacy as the premier U.S. bike town--I have to tip my helmet to Colorado's hardy cyclists. Slush? Road salt? Not part of the cycling environment in Davis.

Image: Colorado University student unlocks her bike.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Catching up on recent bicycling news


From the Ann Arbor News, 02.05.07:

Infrastructure alone won't lure bicyclists

The city's vision, as stated in the report, is "to establish a physical and cultural environment that supports and encourages safe, comfortable and convenient ways for pedestrians and bicyclists to move throughout the city and into the surrounding communities.'' The ultimate goal? A city with "individuals freely choosing alternative transportation modes (walking, bicycling, mass transit, etc.), which will lead to healthier lifestyles, improved air and water quality and a safer, more sustainable transportation system."(Read more.)
The issue in Ann Arbor seems to be safety. Many prospective bicyclists are fearful of traffic, and infrastructural improvements are proposed as a solution. This will certainly help. But as the article's title suggests, infrastructure is only part of the solution.

From the Honolulu Star Bulletin, 02.05.07:
Transit factors into plan for bikes
The city revamps a 9-year-old effort to improve commutes for cyclists islandwide

Not much has been done with the current (Honolulu) bike plan, but on this issue, residents are leading the way and forcing the city to act. In November, voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the City Charter that would make it a priority for Honolulu to be a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly city. (Read more.)
In warm Hawaii--even while many of us shiver elsewhere this February--the planning emphasis appears to be on improving intermodal access for bicyclists. Intermodal commuting has also been a topic recently at Cleantech Blog and WorldChanging.

From the VC Reporter (Ventura County, CA), 02.01.07:
The constant cyclist
Improving health and the environment are two reasons some locals use pedal power everyday

Ventura is seeing a new breed of bicyclist lately. Not just the occasional pedal pusher or weekend jock, these folks are everyday commuters who prefer to bike instead of drive everywhere — to market, to work and even to entertainment and social events. They prefer to use bicycles for a combination of reasons, including concern for the environment, desire for personal fitness and wanting to escape the cost of driving a vehicle. (Read more.)

Image: Bicyclists in Hawaii, in shorts. Lucky cyclists.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site