Saturday, June 30, 2007

Bike commuting catches on in Maryland

Maryland bike commuterFrom The Montgomery County Sentinel (Maryland), 06.29.07:

More county residents commuting by bicycle
As fuel prices rise and more accommodations and resources are available to Prince George's cyclists, those in the cycling world say that more people in the area are commuting by bicycle.

"When gas prices first went up two years ago, people who already owned bikes were digging them out of the garage," said Jill Dimauro of Proteus Bicycles in College Park. "This year we've noticed people buying bikes that didn't own them before with the intent of commuting."

"There is definitely a big pressure to create more walk-able and bike-able communities. It is getting better," said George Branyan, pedestrian program coordinator with the D.C. Department of Transportation.

"It amazes me when I pass cars stuck into the traffic jam," said Branyan, who sees bicycling to work as a great way to save money and get exercise. He sold his family's second car when he started commuting by bicycling. "We should all be riding bikes. It's amazing how much it would save and help people's health." (Read more.)
A generally favorable article from suburban D.C., illustrating how improved facilities are a great encouragement to prospective bike commuters.

Image: Ken Fletcher/Montgomery County Sentinel. Maryland bike commuter Julie Wolf.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Bike station needed at MBTA?

Bicycles parked at Alewife MBTA Red Line stationFrom the Malden Observer, 06.29.07:

Thieves swipe bikes from Malden Center T station
A slew of bikes were allegedly stolen from outside the Malden Center MBTA stop last Thursday night, according to police and eyewitness reports. Two bikes were recovered, and officers took those bicycles into police custody at their downtown headquarters.

Gerard Teichman, a self-described Malden "bicycle enthusiast," is one victim of Thursday’s theft spree who said he doesn’t expect to get his bike back. "When I went to get my bike (Thursday), I noticed from far away that it wasn’t there. I had just put some money into it, so I was a little bummed that I didn’t get a chance to try out the new stuff. But I could see why it would be a target.”

Teichman, who owns other bikes but said he largely relies on the stolen one for transportation, said his bike had been locked with a "hefty" braided cable chain on the Commercial Street side of the station, on a bike storage rack on MBTA property.

"It was cut straight through, so these guys were really serious," he said. "They must have had the right tools. I feel a little bit like these people (who stole the bikes) targeted the T stop, and people who may be depending on their bicycles for commuting purposes. It's a loss in that sense. I'm kind of low income, so it's not so easy for me to replace it. I don't own a car." (Read more.)
Multimodal bicycle commuting--combining a bike and transit for longer trips--is more attractive when there is secure bike parking available. This is the major appeal of Bikestations, facilities that provide staffed secure bike storage and other services. Bike lockers provide greater security, and many systems have installed them at busy transit stations. Unsecured bike racks like the one pictured--at the MBTA's Alewife station in Cambridge, near Malden--are absolute magnets for bike thieves.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) last month announced: "The MBTA is moving forward with an aggressive multi-faceted bicycle program, developed in conjunction with the MBTA’s Bikes and Transit Advisory Committee, MassBike, and Livable Streets Alliance to improve access to public transportation."

This is an encouraging statement; it will be interesting to see how the "T" responds to the bike theft threat.

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

Friday, June 29, 2007

Dave Snyder: visionary velorutionary

Image of bicycle and transportation justice activist Dave SnyderI first encountered Dave Snyder following a Critical Mass ride in San Francisco in early 1995. At the event's conclusion in Yerba Buena Gardens, he was circulating through the celebratory crowd with a clipboard and membership forms for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which at the time had perhaps 300 members. How could I not admire an activist who spent his Friday night organizing?

Shortly after that night I joined the SFBC, and I would later serve as the organization's newsletter editor, committee chair, and board member--working closely with Dave. Snyder co-founded (or resurrected) the SFBC in 1991 and served as the organization's executive director until 2002, building the organization from a handful of members to a powerhouse of 4,500. More than almost any other single individual, Snyder deserves credit for the transformation of San Francisco into a more bicycling friendly city today. In recognition of his work, Snyder received the SFBC's Golden Wheel Award in 2003.

After leaving the SFBC, Snyder founded Transportation for a Livable City (now Livable City) and served as its chief executive for two years. He later served as the director of program development for the Thunderhead Alliance, promoting best practices in bicycle and pedestrian advocacy and planning, to strengthen local advocacy organizations throughout North America. He currently serves as Transportation Policy Director for the thinktank San Francisco Planning & Urban Research (SPUR), where his job focuses on improving public transit and promoting major expansion of the public transit system in the Bay Area.

I recently asked Snyder for his impressions of how San Francisco has changed for bicyclists in the past decade, on the 10th anniversary of the pivotal 1997 confrontation between Critical Mass and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, hailed by some as the "Stonewall of the bicycling movement." Less significantly, 2007 is also the 10th anniversary of my modest bicycle commuting tips website.

Bike Commute Tips: What is the biggest positive change you've observed for bicycling in San Francisco in the past 10 years? What were the factors that facilitated this change? Could this change have happened without advocacy? Can this change be replicated in other cities, or is it unique to San Francisco?

Dave Snyder: The obvious answer is: more bicyclists! Somewhere between double and triple the amount in the last ten years. Just getting more bicyclists on the streets is the single most important thing we can do. It strengthens the movement for more improvements; it improves motorist behavior as they get used to dealing with bicyclists on the streets and learn to respect us as they meet more and more of us at the water cooler. No, it could not have happened without advocacy, and yes, it can be replicated, almost anywhere.

Bike Commute Tips: What are the key social, cultural, or political factors beyond on-street infrastructural enhancements (bike lanes, sharrows, etc.) that have improved bicycling in San Francisco?

Snyder: It's dangerous to separate these factors from each other, as the physical infrastructure and the social and cultural factors and degree of political support all reinforce each other. In every case, some factors are more important than others.

Which factors advocates should emphasize will vary somewhat by community, but there are best practices we can learn from and a standard way to determine which improvements to emphasize in specific communities. The Thunderhead Alliance publishes a checklist to help advocates prioritize. Local bicycle advocacy organizations should be a member and will have access to it. In short, whatever bike adovocates do should both (1) improve the environment for bicyclists, permanently and substantially, and (2) build organizations into a stronger, richer, better known advocacy group.

When you advocate for a bike lane, be sure to recruit members, and thank your politicians who supported you, and build your organization's reputation in the media, and throw a party to celebrate. In this manner, you'll support the growth of bicycle culture in your community, and help elect a bike-friendly city council.

Bike Commute Tips: How has the perception of bicycling as a transportation mode changed in San Francisco? How mainstream has bicycling become in political or policy circles? Are policy makers viewing it more seriously? Is the general public receptive? What are the key factors for this shift, if any?

Snyder: Bicycling is mainstream in political and policy circles only to the extent that everyone knows they're supposed to think about it, but not in the sense that in the highest levels of the bureaucracy, where real power is wielded, bicycling is taken seriously. New neighborhoods are planned which don't apply bestpractices for bicycle planning.

The Transportation Agency director doesn't really think that bicycling will ever get more than a couple points of mode share and therefore doesn't allocate sufficient funds. The Health Department director doesn't calculate how much heart disease would be prevented if we hit our 10 percent mode share goal. So while all these powerful people pay lip service to the idea, they don't actually allocate the resources necessary to meet our goal.

The media like to say the Bicycle Coalition is so powerful, and among the general public based on conversations I have in numerous social and political circles, the conventional wisdom is indeed that the SFBC is powerful, but that supposed power hasn't been used to leverage attention to bicycling issues beyond the extremely marginal role it currently has. So the answer is, the politically correct class will tell you that bicycling is important, but they won't actually deliver on that statement.

Bike Commute Tips: You were involved in the founding of the Thunderhead Alliance, and later worked for the organization assisting local bicycle advocacy groups. What is the significance of the Thunderhead Alliance? Given the dominance of the oil-auto industries in national government, is progress for bicycling more likely to come at the local level? Is grass roots advocacy the key?

Snyder: The reason why strong local advocacy is key isn't the dominance of the oil and auto industries at the national level, which is certainly the case and undoubtedly a problem, but the fact that most transportation policy decisions are made at the local level. The oil lobby lost the fight long ago to restrict federal money to highways (with the passage of ISTEA in 1991); now, local communities can spend it how they want. But most local policy makers don't take bicycling seriously.

Thunderhead works to create, strengthen, and unite local and state bicycle and pedestrian advocacy groups, to give a voice and some power to our movement at the levels where it matters most. Thunderhead shares best practices in advocacy and organization-building, and should really be the first place an advocate turns to learn how to make a difference in their community.

Bike Commute Tips: In San Francisco, we have generally made progress in spite of, not because of politicians. In other cities--Portland, Paris, New York, Chicago--there seem to be politicians with more visionary inspiration or motivation. What is lacking in San Francisco? What will it take to move the political establishment to be more receptive to alternative transportation, and especially bicycling?

Snyder: What is lacking in San Francisco is the translation of the political support we actually do have into actual improvements. I disagree with your premise that we don't have the right politicians: we just haven't been strategic with our advocacy. If we asked the city to spend one percent of its annual transportation and capital operating budget on improving bicycling conditions, we'd win that fight, and it would quintuple our bicycle budget.

With that kind of money, the best planners and public relations consultants could be hired to plan and build support for the bicycle network the same way those people are hired to build major transit improvements such as BART to the airport. The SFBC should put that simple question on the ballot: "Should the MTA be required to establish a "Bicycle Transportation Account" dedicated exclusively to promote bicycling for transportation primarily through the construction of the citywide bicycle network and fund it to an amount not less than one percent of the MTA's annual budget for operating and capital improvements?" We would need exactly 50 percent plus one. It would get most of the endorsements. It would win.

Bike Commute Tips: What are the remaining challenges in San Francisco you would most like to see improved in the next decade? Based on your experience as a bicyclist and advocate, how optimistic are you that these challenges will be resolved?

Snyder: Delivering on the impression that bicycling is important in San Francisco with allocation of real resources. We've built a huge political consensus that we need to "complete the citywide bicycle network." (A recent poll of 400 registered voters found stronger support for that transportation improvement than any of five asked, including a network of transit-only lanes.) Despite this degree of support for a complete bicycle network, we don't have a plan that illustrates what such a network would look like nor what it would cost to build. The current draft plan does not come close to doing this. In a city with a $6.1 billion annual budget, including well over $1 billion for transportation capital and operating, we spend less than $2 million per year to improve bicycling! That's frankly embarrassing.

Almost everything we set out to do when I started the SFBC in 1990--17 years ago--remains to be done. I do appreciate how far we've come, but for all those who say we've come a long way relative to where we need to go, I say "phooey on your impoverished vision of a bicycle-friendly city!"

The means to get our mode share to 10 percent of all trips (up from three percent today--that's the average of what the SFBC says and what the National Household Transportation Survey says) are well known, simple, affordable, and politically feasible. It bears repeating: we know how to triple bike mode share, and there's political support for it. We can do it in ten years. I don't want to wait another 17 years only to come as far as we've come in the last 17 years, which is to say not very far.

The reason I'm so impatient is that I never envisioned bicycling as the most important urban agenda; I've wanted it to go on auto-pilot so that so many of the effective bicycle advocates can work on other issues, and in my opinion it will go "on its own" once we hit 10 percent of all trips by bicycle. With admittedly no evidence I believe that that's the threshold at which no transportation-related plan is made without assuming that bicycling is important, with or without advocacy.

The Netherlands has a 40 percent bicycle mode share with an advocacy organization one-third the size of the SFBC. Advocates really aren't needed there; the important role of bicycling in planning has made itself evident, and that day can come here. I want to see that day before I die, but if progress continues at the same pace, I won't. In another 17 years I'll be 58 years old so we have to make much more progress in the next 17 years than we've made in the past 17!

You asked if I'm optimistic, and the answer is 'yes.' The political support we enjoy is much stronger now than it was in 1990. I am working to get the city's Bicycle Program an extra few million per year to spend. That should necessitate another plan, which might seem a little silly to some considering we will have just approved a plan, but if people just appreciate that the current draft plan was written with extremely limited resources and necessarily focused on setting priorities for our current paltry budget for the next five years and not a realistic assessment of what it would take to get to 10 percent mode share, they should be happy to support the development of a new plan looking ahead 20 or more years.

Image: Dave Snyder.
Visit: Anna Sojourner: The city on two wheels
Visit: Sunday Interview: Two Wheeled Revolutionary - San Francisco Chronicle, 08.10.97
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pharma corp encourages bike commuting

From the Journal News (White Plains, NY), 06.27.07:

PEARL RIVER — It took Thierry Bonnaire more than two hours to commute to work yesterday, and he wasn't even stuck in traffic.

Bonnaire rode his bicycle 35 miles from his home in Lower Manhattan to Wyeth in Pearl River as part of the company's first Bike or Walk to Work Day.

The research scientist was joined yesterday by 51 colleagues--34 bikers and 17 walkers--who commuted from as far away as Highland Mills in Orange County. Plenty of Rockland residents also took part.

The event was part of GreenWheels, a commuter program Wyeth introduced to its Pearl River complex in October to assist some 3,200 employees there.

"Coming by bike is so pleasurable," said Bonnaire. He said it sometimes takes him close to two hours to get home, or about 15 minutes less than on his bicycle. (Read more.)
The publicist for this pharmaceutical firm deserves a raise for this favorable ("greenwashing"?) story placement.

Still, in a country where most employers happily provide parking lots for their staff, it's encouraging to see a major firm recognize the PR benefits of promoting alternatives. Of course, with 3K employees at this facility, the 51-person yield needs improvement. Speaking of healthcare and corporate America: I'm looking forward to seeing Sicko.

Image: The Journal News
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Worcester: Pedal to the metal

Image of bike commuter near Worcester, MassachusettsFrom the Worcester Telegram & Telegraph, 06.26.07:

Riding bikes to work is joyful and healthy
Paul Kelly, 56, a teacher at Bancroft School in Worcester, said his colleagues assume he rides his bicycle to work for his health. He doesn't. "It's totally to save greenhouse gases," he said. "Any job I've ever taken I've located close enough to work so that I could bike or walk. I’ve pretty much kept to that," he said.

"I've had cars, but I pretty much hate them," said Matthew Caswell, who doesn't own a car and bikes four miles from his house on Normal Street in Worcester to his job in multimedia services at Worcester State College. "I've always had a bike. It's a form of exercise and a way to negate the car culture," he said. (Read more.)
This general bike commuting article includes interviews with several local bike commuters, and comments from spokespeople from MassBike and the League of American Bicyclists.

As a Massachusetts native--and, yes, that means I'm a Red Sox fan--I know that many areas of the state are outstanding for bicyling, especially the Pioneer Valley, Cape Cod, and the Islands. And that much of the suburban Boston area can be very challenging for bicycle commuting. Lots of narrow colonial era roads carrying too much traffic.

Image: Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Monday, June 25, 2007

David Takemoto-Weerts: The collegiate cycling environment

The bicycle coordinator at the University of California, Davis since 1987, David Takemoto-Weerts first became hooked on cycling while an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz in the late 1960s. Takemoto-Weerts has also worked in the retail and wholesale sides of bicycling and is a League of American Bicyclists (LAB) certified cycling instructor. He is the District 3 representative for the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, has served on the LAB board of directors, and is hoping to establish a bicycle museum in Davis. An amateur astronomer and an eager student of aerospace history, Takemoto-Weerts also enjoys sharing his zeal for all things space-related with others in his role as a JPL Solar System Ambassador. I recently returned to UC Davis employment, and reconnected with Ambassador Takemoto-Weerts to get his perspective on the challenges of bike planning in the "bicycling capitol of the U.S."

Bike Commute Tips: You are involved with the planning for the Walk Bike California 2007 conference, which will be presented in Davis on September 11-14. What inspiration can Davis offer the broader movement for bicycling-friendly communities?

David Takemoto-Weerts: Davis earned its (still unparalleled) "platinum" status as a LAB bicycle friendly community through its pioneering efforts to promote cycling beginning in the 1960s. I think Davis can be an inspiration to others as an example of what is possible. There were no bike lanes in the US prior to Davis' initial street striping in 1967. That was visionary and bold.

City officials and activist residents had to jump through many bureaucratic hoops to make that happen, including getting state legislation enacted to allow such a radical change to be established--not just on a few streets, but on virtually all arterials and collectors throughout the city. Bike lanes are commonplace around the US now, but we have some other facilities and policies that are unique or rare.

Bike Commute Tips: I've heard it said that you don't intend to retire until you've eliminated all the "wheel-bender" concrete blocks that pretend to be bike parking at UC Davis. There are a variety of bike racks on campus, reflecting the different eras of campus development over the decades. In recent years you have favored the Stanford racks designed by John Ciccarelli. What are the advantages of this rack? What are some of the problems with the other common racks at UC Davis (coat hangers, bar-hoop)?

Takemoto-Weerts: I first came to Davis as a grad student in 1971, and the concrete blocks even then were called "bike pods"--and they constituted almost all the bike parking on campus and in many city locations as well.

The Stanford rack, now known as the "Lightning Bolt" by its manufacturer, Creative Pipe, has the following desirable qualities: 1) it allows the cyclist to easily secure the bike frame and front wheel to the rack using any kind of common bike lock (U-lock, cable, chain). 2) The wheel channel at the bottom prevents the wheel from sliding to the side, helping to maintain the bike in an upright position, and 3) it's relatively "low profile", a feature favored by many architects.

The "coat hanger" rack, also made by Creative Pipe and others, is just as good at securing one's bike, but it lacks the lower support so you do see more "fallen down" bikes in those racks. It also has a higher profile. We have a few "inverted U" racks on campus, which are good for security but not great at supporting the bike (and are less space efficient). In addition to the aforementioned wheel-bending, hard-to-impossible-to-secure-to bike pods, we have a dwindling few "Park-Rites". They are difficult to secure to, don't hold the bike well, and can also cause rims to bend.

Bike Commute Tips: What is your best estimate of the number of bicycles on the UC Davis campus during a typical day during the academic year? How serious is the bike theft problem at UC Davis?

Takemoto-Weerts: We estimate, based on past surveys, that there can be between 15-20,000 bikes on campus on any given weekday in the fall or spring quarters when the weather is nice. We collect abandoned bikes year-round. I don't keep a close count, but at our two annual bike auctions, we always have more than 400 bikes at each. Knowing that a certain percentage of impounded bikes are returned to their owners, we must be impounding more than 1000 bikes a year.

Bike theft is definitely a problem on campus and in Davis generally. It's hard to get a real handle on the problem because so many thefts go unreported. I'd guess at least half the thefts are not reported, even when the owner has licensed his/her bike and can report that info to the police, who then enter the license and serial numbers into a statewide database of stolen property used by law enforcement across California. I hear of many unreported thefts because when we pick up abandoned, licensed bikes and then contact the owners, they often tell me that their bike was stolen and they never filed a report.

Bike Commute Tips: What are some of the most common locking errors you observe on the UC Davis campus? (I see a lot of bikes with only the front wheel locked to a rack.) What suggestions--besides the California Bicycle License mandatory on the UC Davis campus--do you have for theft prevention? What locks are most difficult to defeat?

Takemoto-Weerts: I think the most common error is not using a lock that is of sufficient quality and security relative to the value of the bike. For example, many students lock relatively nice bikes with cable locks, and, frankly, any cable lock is easily defeated with simple tools. U-locks, especially newer "bic-proof" ones, are still the best for most bikes.

One should always be aware that any lock can be defeated by a knowledgeable and persistent thief. Using a nice bike for regular commuting around Davis (or anywhere else) is risky. We're fortunate to live in a community whose topography, bike facilities, and short home-to-work-or-school distances combine to promote commuting on very simple, low-tech, and inexpensive bikes.

Bike Commute Tips: Davis attracts students from all across California and around the world. They often arrive with little prior cycling experience, or with poor skills, or with little understanding of vehicular cycling. Some international students come from countries where traffic goes on the left. What challenge does such a diverse mix of cyclists pose to a bike planner?

Takemoto-Weerts: In an attempt to get as many butts on bike saddles as possible, there's sometimes a temptation to build bike facilities geared to the lowest common denominator. I hear people ask, "Can my eight-year old bike on that street?" Well, often the answer is "no", and to try to make all roads and paths idiot-proof is a losing and expensive proposition. Just because an 8-year old can legally bike on a road (but can't drive a car on the same road), doesn't mean that it's feasible, practical or cost-effective to try to make it so.

In Davis, especially on campus, we do have a very diverse cycling population from many different cultures. Some students come from countries where utility cycling is much more common than here, yet those same countries have virtually no bike traffic enforcement and limited adherence to what we think are sensible rules of the road.

So, how do you deal with that group? Frankly, it's challenging enough to deal with young American adults, most of whom know traffic rules and that they apply to cyclists, too, but choose, for whatever reason, to ignore them the minute they transition from behind the steering wheel to behind the handlebar. I don't have any easy answers to this, but our program is going to be emphasizing bike education (not just safety, but cycling skills and knowledge, too) in the future. We'll see if that helps.

Image: Web capture. The much-loathed concrete "pods" at UC Davis.
Visit: Cycling in Bike-Friendly Davis
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Bikes on rails

From E/The Environmental Magazine!:

Making Room for Bikes on Trains (and Everywhere Else)
The movement to promote bicycle commuting in conjunction with train travel is growing all over the nation, but fighting for bicycles remains a guerrilla action in car-crazy America. While the U.S. has the highest per-capita bicycle ownership in the world, according to the League of American Bicyclists, automobiles are used for more than 95 percent of our trips.

Only three million Americans say they ride their bikes "frequently," meaning more than 14 or 15 times a year. According to Alex Campbell, a spokesperson for leading electric bicycle maker Zap, as many as 120 million bikes sit forlornly on flat tires, waiting for riders. In the U.S., bicycles are overwhelmingly used for recreation and exercise, not for commuting. (Read more.)
This commentary is a general appeal for greater multimodal train access for bicyclists, especially in the metropolitan New York area. The article's broad focus cites examples of bicycling successes from San Francisco and elsewhere.

One obvious solution for individual cyclists facing transit shortcomings is a folding bike.

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

Telluride: Bike Week shifts to big ring

Image of dog with parked bicycleFrom the Telluride Daily Planet, 06.25.07:

Like dogs, bikes are everywhere in this town. There’s your shaggy mutts--the cushy cruisers clanking down main street, and then there’s the pure breds--top-of-the-line machines like Santa Cruzes, Moots and Specialized. With a surrounding system of top-notch trails and scenic roadways, it’s no wonder bikes are so prevalent.

For many locals, biking means commuting--to and from work, errands in town or late-night rides home. A convenience for certain, bike commuting also serves as an eco-friendly alternative. For this reason, the Telluride Bike Week coincides with the official Colorado Bike to Work Day. (Read more.)
This article details Bike Week in Telluride, Colorado, an annual event designed to strengthen the local cycling community.

Image: Web capture. Dog in Copenhagen, not Colorado. But hey.
Visit: Bicycle Colorado
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Denver: Ride a bike back to health

From the Denver Post, 06.22.07:

Fed up with traffic jams? Feeling tired and stressed? Maybe it's time to put your foot down--literally. June is Bike Month in Colorado, a celebration of sanity and fitness that culminates in Bike to Work Day on Wednesday. It's a great opportunity to put your mettle to the pedal and begin the journey back to a healthier, happier you.

As one doctor noted, the mental and physical benefits of exercise are so powerful and wide-ranging that if they weren't God-given, they'd have to be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

The simple fact is that the human body, honed through thousands of years of evolution, is not designed for the way most Americans live today. Driving to work, sitting at a computer all day and then driving home to sit in front of a television is an invitation to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and a host of other ailments. (Read more.)
This editorial makes a persuasive argument for bicycling on the health basis. The U.S. Census recently identified Denver as among the top ten large cities for bicycle commuting mode share. I'm puzzled: Most of the U.S. marks Bike Month in May. Why is Colorado's celebration in June?

Image: Web capture. Stencil at Salvagetti Bicycle Workshop, Denver.
Visit: To Be Bike Elite, We Can’t Talk The Talk, We Must Climb On And Pedal The Path, Washington Park Profile (Denver)
Visit: Bicycle Colorado
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Vehicular crime and perceptions

Image of red light running cars impeding bicyclist with the right of way"These noble motorists are entering the intersection well after the signal has turned. Note how they are blocking the path of the bicyclist, who has the green light." San Francisco bicyclist Jeffrey Baker spent some time photographing vehicular misdemeanors in the city. Earlier this week, he wrote to the SFBike listserve:

(Motorists) console themselves with the thought that...bicyclists are outlaws, and can't be permitted into civilized society. I set out to document the ridiculous nature of this claim on May 4th, during the height of the Critical Mass hatemongering by the Chronicle. On a single 30-minute walk home I photographed so many traffic violations by motorists that I ran out of storage on my camera.
How many of us have encountered sentiments like these from a forum at the Seattle Times: "I never see bicyclists come to a complete stop at stop signs....they just drive right through. On average, bicyclists violate more traffic laws than drivers ...mostly running stop signs."

This pervasive perception that bicyclists are rampant rule breakers--a misperception encouraged, or certainly not discouraged, by a media culture addicted to oil and automobile advertising dollars--has consequences. Especially if an injury collision involving a bicyclist leads to litigation with a jury comprised of motorists.

For decades government policy has privileged driving and encouraged anti-social behavior by motorists. Drivers routinely roll through stop signs, drive at excessive speed, run red lights, fail to yield to pedestrians, block fire hydrants, double park in bike lanes, drive under the influence, and use horns excessively. Only a fraction of this vehicular crime is punished. Each and every year motorists kill more than 42,000 people, hospitalize hundreds of thousands more, and cause billions of dollars of property damage. Motorist endangerment is so ubiquitous that even the Vatican has issued 10 commandments for drivers. And yet the perception in the U.S. is that bicyclists are the greater miscreants?

Of course this is nonsense. As I wrote in an earlier blog post: "Bicyclist behavior is entirely consistent with traffic behavior in general. Excessively 'abnormal' behavior is most punitive to the bicyclist; the rider most endangers him- or herself by reckless or unsafe cycling. It's the bicyclist who assumes the primary risk; unlike the motorist who creates a danger for others. Treating stop signs as yields allows bicyclists to maintain momentum, and done with caution is much less dangerous than rolling stops by impatient SUV-driving motorists."

My best advice to any bicyclist encountering such bias is to vigorously push back. Bicyclist behavior is entirely consistent with traffic behavior in general. Which transportation mode poses the greatest danger? Which mode offers the greatest social benefit?

Image: Jeffrey Baker
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Friday, June 22, 2007

More inspiration from Denmark

Image of bicyclists near the Copenhagen train stationFrom the Valley Advocate (Easthampton, MA), 06.21.07:

Free Sport: The Wheel Deal
In Denmark, dedicated bike lanes and free loaner bikes make transportation easy on the environment and the pocketbook.


In the U.S., bike paths fill up on weekends with Lycra-clad recreationalists, but are often much less used during commuting hours. In Denmark, one sees relatively few cyclists obviously using bikes for pure recreation. Danish cyclists have to get to work, so they're pedaling in suits or dresses, even high heels.

The Danes use their bikes to go out to dinner, see a movie, or visit relatives across town. So bikes in Denmark are equipped much differently. The seats are broad and comfy, not styled as a tight vee. On the back there is a sturdy welded rack, capable of easily accommodating a passenger in a pinch. Then there are the lights. The vast majority still favor the old dynamo style that grinds against your tire to generate electricity for the back red light and front headlamp. (Read more.)
American bike advocates can take much inspiration from Europe, where bicycling is treated as a serious transportation mode. Don't you wish more U.S. journalists, like the non-journalist author of this article, would travel abroad and pay attention?

Image: Web capture. Bicyclists near the train station in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Bike racks are beautiful

Image of artistic bike rack in Burlington, VermontSecure bike parking is critical to encouraging the use of bicycles for transportation. As I've written before, bike parking is often neglected. But as this amusing rack from Burlington, Vermont illustrates, bike racks aren't simply practical, they can also enhance the streetscape. Bike racks can be artistic too.

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cities build new bike paths. Will cyclists come?

Image of Long Beach BikestationFrom the Christian Science Monitor, 06.19.07:

Long Beach, Calif.--Three to four times a week, Jayme Bassett rides her 20-year-old Huffy bike five miles from home to the local metro-train stop. She uses a magnetized key to open the back door of a free-standing, concrete-and-glass building with the word "Bikestation" painted on the front window. The modern structure is ensconced in palm trees and raised above a cement pond, all just yards from platforms to buses and trains.

"Biking is the life," says Ms. Bassett, a teachers' credit union employee who takes a bus or train to complete her trip. "With the price of gas shooting up, smog, congestion, and all the rest, why do we need more cars, SUVs, and Hummers on the road?"

It's a refrain being heard across the United States as advocates push for more bike paths--and cities begin to build them. (Read more.)
This article cites the efforts of several cities in the U.S. to encourage higher rates of bicycling for transportation. It also includes the contrary point that nationally, bicycle commuting has held steady at less than one percent. Many factors might contribute to this stagnation, including continued sprawl, shift in employment centers to suburban locations, off-shoring of jobs, and changing demographics.

Bicycles weren't the only alternative transportation mode showing no growth as a percentage of overall commuting in the U.S.: transit remained at 4.7 percent from 2000-05; car pooling fell from 12.2 to 10.7 percent. Despite higher gas prices, people continue to drive. This doesn't reduce our need to keep pushing for enhanced bicycling facilities. Eventually, the worm will turn.

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

LAB: Making the bike case in D.C.

Image of Andy Clarke of the League of American Bicyclists presenting Bicycle Friendly Award to Vancouver, WashingtonFrom the Politico.com,06.19.07:

Groups peddle bike-friendly legislation
The bike lobby's Tour de France is the reauthorization of the transportation bill. The 1991 Transportation Act designated $2.8 billion for transportation enhancements and nonroad transportation projects such as landscaping, walkways and bike paths.

About $895 million of the enhancements went toward bike- and pedestrian-related projects. The 1998 transportation bill reauthorized the enhancements program, granting $2 billion to bike and pedestrian projects.

For the 2003 round, the league joined advocacy groups and bike manufacturers to form the American Bikes coalition. Together, the group spent about $2 million lobbying Congress. The effort paid off: The 2005 federal transportation bill granted $4.5 billion to projects benefiting bicyclists and pedestrians. (Read more.)
This article on bicycle lobbying in an influential mainstream online journal of national politics profiles some of the personalities active in Washington D.C. (Curiously, it also features a quote from an "old paradigm" bike activist representing the views of about 100 malcontents, compared to the League of American Bicyclists' overall membership of 25,000.)

If American politics teaches anything, it's that you don't get any pork unless you have a place at the trough. Lobbying works; advocacy works. Certainly the highway lobby understands this, with remarkable success. I'm pleased that bicyclists--except for the "old paradigm" die hards--are getting this lesson. Congratulations to LAB on this recognition.

Image: BikePortland.org. Andy Clarke, League of American Bicyclists executive director, presenting Bicycle Friendly Community Award to Vancouver, Washington.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Anna Sojourner: The city on two wheels

Image of Anna Sojourner on her Rivendell AtlantisA native of Richmond, California, Anna Sojourner describes herself as "a human primate who has ridden a bicycle for transportation in San Francisco for a long time." I also know her as a geologist, open-water swimmer, baseball enthusiast, former member of the board of directors of the pedestrian advocacy group Walk San Francisco, and proud Rivendell Atlantis rider. The year 1997 was a pivotal year for bicycling in San Francisco, specifically the July and August confrontation between Critical Mass and Mayor Willie Brown. Less significantly, 1997 was also the year I started my modest bike commuting tips site. I recently asked Anna to reflect on the past decade for bicycling in San Francisco.

Bike Commute Tips: What is the biggest positive change you've observed for bicycling in San Francisco in the past 10 years?

Anna Sojourner: The biggest positive change I've seen is that motorists no longer constantly harass me. When I first started riding, I was verbally harassed and threatened nearly every time I left the house. Today I ride the exact same route I rode in 1991. In addition to having sweet bike lanes the whole way, and countdown signals, sharrows, and plenty of company, drivers seem less likely to view me as an obstacle, a crazy, or a social pariah in need of their 'helpful' suggestion to get the fuck off the road. Excuse my language, but that's precisely the style of comment I used to hear two or three times a day back then. Seriously. Do I need to explain why I loved Critical Mass at first sight?

You might wonder why I kept riding back then, given the harassment and the feeling of being in a war zone, but the bike took half as long as MUNI and I guess I just had a contrarian streak, even as a very young woman. People were telling me I had no right to take space on the road, and I just knew something was wrong with that.

When I went to the early Critical Masses, I could have cried. I found people who were much more vocal than me about the wrongs I couldn't quite name. What a relief. Today I feel like I don't need to belabor the idea that cars are a dumb transportation choice--sprawl and traffic congestion, not to mention parking, war, road rage, and gas prices--have finally made the point obvious to even the most die-hard drivers.

Things are very good for cyclists these days, in comparison, but we have a long way to go still.

Bike Commute Tips: Biking everyday to work is challenging in this culture, which is so dominated by car advertising and auto promotion. How has the cultural scene changed in San Francisco for bicyclists?

Sojourner: One major cultural change is that bicyclists are a known entity now. Some drivers still think of us in a derogatory way, but more often I meet people who have a conception that life is possible without a car, even if they're nowhere near doing it themselves. My statement "I don't have a car" is more often met with an accepting nod than a quizzical or pitying look. It's just another way of life now, and now it's one that counts.

The main cultural change in the bike world is that I no longer recognize most cyclists in SF, and I am no longer part of a small clique of City bike activists. I am now an irrelevant old-timer! There are flocks of young people riding fixies, hanging out in Dolores Park, riding together to go out for the night, riding to work, and not one of them cares who I am, knows who any of the bike activists from the 1990s are, or knows how hard we all worked to make this all possible. Isn't that great?

I even know cyclists who think the SFBC is too radical (!), which shows that biking itself has gone from fringe to mainstream, even if bike activism hasn't. I see people riding bikes now whom I'm quite certain, gauging by their cultural trappings, would have scoffed at me 15 years ago. I know women who commute to work who I'm sure would have been far too intimidated to try it five or 10 years ago.

Another cultural shift is that I get far fewer people acting like I'm their social conscience or their personal biking coach. People don't come to me for congratulations when they ride to work anymore, they just mention it in passing "oh, I've been riding to work more now" and that's the end of it. It used to be more of a feat to go anywhere on a bike, now it's more of an option among many. A group bike ride is increasingly a social outing and less of an extreme sporting event, no matter who you're with--and the type of people I'm biking with recreationally now would never have been out there 20 years ago.

Bike Commute Tips: Many female visitors to my bike commuting tips site have posed questions regarding personal safety. What suggestions do you have? What techniques do you employ to avoid a possible criminal assault?

Sojourner: I'd say that cycling was central to ridding myself of the wholly irrational and controlling fear of strangers we spoon-feed young women in this country. How ironic! We make young women so fearful to leave the house with apocryphal stories of knife-wielding rapists that their every move into public is calculated and requires protection. But in fact, when women are attacked, they tend to know their attackers well, and the attacks usually take place at home. So obviously, women should get out on their bikes.

Taking the lane reinforced the lessons of self-defense classes to take space confidently wherever I go. Hanging out in parks drinking beer after Critical Mass changed my perception of parks and public space. Knowing I can go straight to my door at the end of the evening, rather than having to park blocks from home, is a great incentive to bike when going out for the evening (but I am extra vigilant watching for drunk drivers on weekend nights).

Bike Commute Tips: What are the remaining challenges in San Francisco you would most like to see improved in the next decade? Based on your experience as a bicyclist and advocate, how optimistic are you that these challenges will be resolved?

Sojourner: It's time for San Francisco to start taking road space away from cars and giving it to transit and bicycles, and it's time for San Francisco to vigilantly enforce traffic laws. We have to stop parking on the sidewalks, driving in transit lanes, and running red lights. San Francisco drivers were so polite to pedestrians when I was a kid. Today, they're a dangerous embarrassment. We need transit-only lanes and Bus Rapid Transit on Van Ness and Geary. We need to remove car lanes to make room for bike lanes. Congestion charging and free MUNI are my dreams.

I'm optimistic about all of these things except for the enforcement.

Bike Commute Tips: As a non-automotive transportation enthusiast, how are you viewed by your friends, coworkers, associates, family? How has this perception changed in the past decade? Are people you encounter more receptive to the idea of bicycling as a transportation mode, or is it still somewhat exotic to them?

Sojourner: These days, people seem to understand right away the concept of not owning a car, and I consider their offers of rides generous and non-judgmental (and sometimes I accept, if I am without bicycle at the moment). I have met Republican police officers, senior citizens, suburb-dwellers, my parent's friends, young people, my high school buddies, people my age of all social classes and backgrounds, people from overseas, and these days no one seems to have trouble wrapping their minds around what I do and why I do it. Most often they express envy of the simple, convenient, healthy, stress-free life I live. And while anyone could live more like I do, not everyone can live completely car-free yet, for a variety of reasons.

Not everyone enjoys living in a dense city the way I do and few people can afford to buy their own homes in the City. Shopping, in particular, is more difficult in a more suburban area, and it's hard or even impossible for people to break lifetime habits. I really think a lot of the obstacles people encounter to becoming car-free are just a way of masking laziness and the good old American sense of entitlement, and I am contemptuous of this. But I keep it to myself, because if people just cut down a bit on auto use, and if only a few people make the full transition to car-free, it still has a huge positive effect on all of us--even drivers.

Image: Courtesy Anna Sojourner.
Visit: Jon Winston: Bicycling parent and podcaster in San Francisco
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Monday, June 18, 2007

U.S. Census: 10 best, worst cities for bike commuting

Image of bicyclist in Portland, OregonAs posted earlier, the U.S. Census Bureau released its American Community Survey last week. Among the shocking findings: Americans overwhelmingly continue to drive alone to work. "The survey, gathered over the course of (2005), found that driving to work was the favored means of commute of nearly nine out of 10 workers (87.7 percent), with most people (77 percent) driving alone."

The survey hailed Portland, Oregon as best for bicycling mode share among the 50 largest U.S. cities. Nationally, only 0.4 percent of commuters use a bicycle. The top ten U.S. cities for percentage of bicycling commuters:

City / Percentage
Portland / 3.5
Minneapolis / 2.4
Seattle / 2.3
Tucson / 2.2
San Francisco / 1.8
Sacramento / 1.8
Washington DC / 1.7
Oakland / 1.5
Honolulu / 1.4
Denver / 1.4
The bottom 10 U.S. cities for bike commuting:
City / Percentage
Dallas / 0.2
Nashville / 0.2
Oklahoma City / 0.2
Charlotte / 0.2
San Antonio / 0.1
Omaha / 0.1
Wichita / 0.1
Indianapolis / 0.1
Memphis / 0.1
Kansas City (MO) / 0.0
Bicycle advocates always look at census figures with some scepticism. The U.S. Census consistently undercounts bicyclists; for example counting multimodal (bike/transit) as one "journey to work" mode, typically the longer mode. The Census also ignores non-work trips, which are the majority of all trips. And it generally undercounts low-income and immigrant populations, who may have higher rates of bicycling for transportation. (See the Census tables.)

I've been puzzling over these figures, trying to understand what they suggest. That the coastal West is generally more hospitable to bicycle commuting than the South? That compact, dense cities are better for bike commuting than sprawling, sparsely inhabited cities? That cities with diverse multimodal options beyond driving make bicycling more appealing? What do you think these results say?

Image: Web capture
Visit: The Top 10 U.S. Cities for biking (Slideshow, Poll), Huffington Post
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Vermont: Cycling safety 101

Image of bicyclist on the Burlington Bikeway in VermontFrom the Rutland Herald, 06.17.07:

A common complaint of new or infrequent road cyclists and commuters is that they feel exposed and squeezed by auto traffic. In the absence of an extensive system of bike paths and lanes, sharing the road is something that we all have to get used to. That means mastering the fear of auto traffic, and knowing how to ride safely and predictably as it flows around you.

Fortunately it's easy, though it may not seem to be at first. There are times when the real dangers of bicycle commuting become all too evident, most often when you are first starting out, and not yet desensitized to being among a bunch of 3,000-pound projectiles with nothing but a piece of foam on your head to protect you. In the worst cases, an afternoon ride down a country road can begin to feel like a game of Russian Roulette.

More bike lanes would be nice, but how can we justify them without an already healthy flow of bike traffic in the first place? You don't have to be a victim of fear, constrained to closed paths and driving your bikes to the place where you can ride them. Once we all become comfortable riding on the road, the inevitable expansion of bike paths and lanes will be icing on the cake. (Read more.)
This article by a bicycle mechanic and racer in Montpelier, Vermont features the standard useful advice of vehicular bicycling: be visible, be predictable, pay attention, wear a helmet. It concludes with a reprise of the bike advocacy "chicken or egg" question: Does an abundance of bicyclists create demand for bike lanes; or do bike lanes create an abundance of bicyclists? (*In this case "bike lanes" means "bicycling infrastructure" including lanes, paths, routes, etc.)

As may be obvious to readers of this blog, I believe it's the latter, based on my experiences in San Francisco and Davis, where infrastructural enhancements have encouraged greater use of bicycles for transportation. As legendary septuagenarian cycling advocate Ellen Fletcher paraphrases "Field of Dreams": If you build it, they will come. And bike lanes are never "inevitable"; improvements for bicycling require advocacy.

What do you think? Do bicyclists create bike lanes, or do bike lanes create bicyclists?

Image: Web capture. Bicyclist on the Burlington Bikeway in Vermont.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Minneapolis: Don't bike, drive?

Image of bike racks on Hennepin Avenue in MinneapolisFrom the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 06.17.07:

Baby, you should drive your car
The city has rules, you see -- rules that don't exactly encourage energy independence.

As I got into my car to pick her up, I noticed a green piece of paper stuck under the windshield wiper. It was a notice from the Minneapolis Police Department -- Traffic Control Unit. There'd been a complaint and my car had been chalked as abandoned. After 72 hours it would be tagged and impounded. The notice had been filled out 48 hours earlier.

Here's what that implies: How could someone not drive their car for 72 hours? That's like three whole days. What kind of freak would own a car and not drive it for three whole days? Someone call the cops, quick.

In retrospect I'm lucky this is the first time my car has been tagged as abandoned. I live in south Minneapolis and work in downtown Minneapolis. If there's snow on the ground I walk to work (45 minutes); otherwise I bike (15 minutes). It's easy. I lived in Seattle for 15 years and biked to work there and Seattle has hills and constant drizzle. Minneapolis just has wind and an occasional fierce thunderstorm.

Almost every week, in other words, I'm breaking City Ordinance 478.250, because almost every week, Monday to Friday, my car just sits there, not using gas. How dare it? How dare I? Don't I know there's all this extra gas to be used? How selfish can I be?

We had National Bike to Work Day last month. Notices were passed out and I think they added some extra bike racks in front of the Hennepin County Government Center for a day and maybe a speech was made somewhere. I thought it was cute. Encouraging people to bike when they own cars and there's all this gas to be used.

In Copenhagen, 33 percent of commuters bike to work. In Amsterdam it's 40 percent. Embarrassed by their low numbers, these cities are trying to encourage more bike commuting by building parking facilities that can hold up to 10,000 bikes and increasing prison time for bike thieves.

That's the direction they're going in. The direction we're going in? Drive your car once every 72 hours or we'll take it away. Oh, and one day a year we'll have a "day" in which we "encourage" people to "bike."(Read more, requires registration.)
The reality in the U.S. is that even the most committed bicycle commuter occasionally needs a vehicle. I've been known to frequent the local Enterprise agency (and Enterprise is notable for locating offices in downtown areas; most car rental companies cater almost exclusively to the airport crowd.)

The dilemma faced by the author of this humorous and provocative article is common to many city dwellers. It's a great motivation for giving up car ownership altogether: no more anxiety about break-ins, vandalism, towing, tickets, collisions. Many cities in the U.S. are starting to see car sharing operations emerge, which provide short-term use of vehicles when needed. In San Francisco, for instance, there are three car-sharing firms: City Car Share (nonprofit), Flexcar, and Zipcar.

It's easier to make the bicycle your preferred transportation mode when there is a range of multimodal options, for those trips or days when you can't bike. It's not surprising that the U.S. cities with the highest percentage of bike commuters, are the same cities with high percentages of transit and walking trips.

Visit: Trading four wheels for two, Minnesota Public Radio
Visit: Bike commuting up in Minneapolis, Minneapolis Daily News
Visit: Making Minneapolis more friendly for two-wheelers, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Image: Bikexprt.com. Bike racks on Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Will We Ever Get Out of Our Cars?

From the Voice of San Diego, 06.17.07:

Traffic. It affects all of us, every day, either because we're wasting our lives away commuting on the concrete mausoleums we call freeways, or because our elected officials are squandering our precious "transportation" tax dollars on highway widening instead of investing more heavily in mass transit. What's it going to take to get us out of our cars? (Read more.)
This article by environmental attorney Marco Gonzalez is primarily directed to the local audience, dealing with specifics of the San Diego region. But the argument against auto-dependent transportation can be made in any community: highway construction doesn't ease traffic congestion, yet destroys habitat, encourages sprawl, and traps people in cars. My joke has been: Building freeways to fight traffic congestion is like building cemeteries to fight a pandemic disease.

Enhancing alternative transportation modes--like transit, walking, and bicycling--is the best strategy for fighting traffic congestion. Having these modes as the priority is also the best way to encourage more livable communities rather than sprawl.

The environmental and social costs of an automobile-dependent transportation are many. In addition to the to the costs indicated in this article, I discussed some other detrimental impacts of car culture on a recent episode of Radio Parallax.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: San Diego County Bicycle Coalition
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Santa Barbara: Be a Bike Commuter

Image of cruiser bicycles on waterfront near Santa BarbaraFrom the Santa Barbara Independent, 06.14.07:

Be a Bike Commuter
There Are Many Ways to Ride Two Wheels to Work


It’s an odd time to be on earth. We know peak oil is approaching, the planet is getting warmer, and human-generated greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to that. You’d have to be living in a climate-controlled cave to not be worried that life as we know it is in grave danger. And yet the vast majority of us continue to get in our cars and drive alone to wherever we need to go, day after day. And in the U.S., about 50 percent of those car trips are for distances less than two miles.

Santa Barbara County’s Traffic Solutions program recently conducted a commuter survey that revealed 70.7 percent of county residents drive alone to work. Biking, at 2.3 percent, is the least common commuting method. Though this is better than the national percentage of less than one, for Santa Barbara, the birthplace of Earth Day blessed with a nearly perfect climate and relatively calm roads, that number is inexcusably low. (Read more.)
This article provides an encouraging first person account, as the writer learns to "pedal and smile." Obviously she visited my Bike Commuting Tips site, as she includes a quote appearing there from cyclist Bruce McAlister, a tips site visitor who had emailed me: "Driving a car versus riding a bike is on par with watching television rather than living your own life." It's a great quote, I'm glad it's gaining currency.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Palo Alto: Bike-friendly, aiming higher

Image of bike sign on Ellen Fletcher Bike Boulevard in Palo AltoFrom the Palo Alto Weekly, 07.13.07:

Serious spinners
Palo Alto is certified as bike-friendly, but what will it take for more people to ditch their cars?


It's 11 a.m. on a Monday morning, and 78-year-old Ellen Fletcher hops off her bicycle on Bryant Street near Embarcadero Road and observes the fruits of her labor: helmeted and spandex-covered cyclists zipping down the bicycle boulevard that bears her name.

"Hey Ellen!" one cyclist shouts, waving to the former Palo Alto vice mayor as he pedals past Castilleja School in a pack of riders. He recognizes her from across the street, even though she is wearing her helmet. "My goodness, look at them all!" Fletcher says.

Those who ride past her--proving her theory, "You build it, and they will come" -- are among the many cyclists in Palo Alto who have benefited from Fletcher's 30 years of bicycle advocacy.

With approximately 1,700 Palo Altans--5.6 percent of the working population -- choosing two wheels instead of four for their daily work commutes, Palo Alto has almost five times the percentage of bike commuters as that of Santa Clara County as a whole. The city's ratio is 14 times the proportion of bike commuters in the United States, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2000. (Read more.)
The tireless bike advocate Ellen Fletcher cited in this article is familiar to viewers of Ted White's excellent 1992 film, Return of the Scorcher. The article indicates that Palo Alto aspires to raise its "gold" level Bicycle Friendly Community recognition to "platinum," a distinction presently enjoyed only by Davis, California.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site
Also posted at Cycleicious.

Oregon: Portland top city for bike commuting


From the Oregonian (Portland, OR), 06.14.07:

Portland ranks first in nation for biking to work

A larger share of Portlanders commute by bicycle than in any other large city in America, eight times the national average, according to the director of the U.S. Census Bureau, who took note of the statistic during a presentation Wednesday at City Hall.

The city's love affair with bikes is not new, but it's nice to be noticed by the nation's top people counter. "It's like a Swiss city, clean, with trains and bikes everywhere," said Louis Kincannon.

The survey found that 3.5 percent of Portland workers commuted by bike in 2005. Ranking second was Minneapolis at 2.4 percent, then Seattle, at 2.3 percent. The national average for cities with more than 65,000 population was 0.4 percent.

"It's not surprising" that Portland ranked No. 1 in bike commuting, said Scott Bricker, policy director for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Portland has been ranked the nation's top cycling city in national cycling magazines in recent years.

Bricker said Portland has been working to improve cycling in the city for the past 10 or 15 years, and it has really paid off in the past two or three years. "This isn't peaking," he added. (Read more.)
Congrats to Portland for this progress. The article also quotes Jonathan Maus of BikePortland.org.

Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Census, bicycling has apparently stagnated in San Francisco, remaining at two percent. Census figures consistently undercount bicyclists; for example counting multimodal (bike/transit) as one "journey to work" mode, typically the longer mode, and ignores non-work trips. But it undercounts in every city, not just the city by the Bay.

In any event, Portland is clearly on the ascendant for bicycling, while business leaders in San Francisco try to increase parking for cars. San Francisco's mayor's office is sorely lacking in vision.

Video: StreetFilms.org
Visit: BikePortland.org
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Maine: Bike commuting makes sense

Image of bicyclist John Brooking, of Westbrook, MaineFrom the Portland Press-Herald (Maine), 06.10.07:

With the longest day of the year fast approaching, it's really time to think about bicycle commuting. If you're ever going to ride your bike to work, now's the time.

Don't worry, I'm not going to preach or proselytize. I just thought I'd share some tips from seasoned bike commuters, pass along pointers and give some resources, just in case you need a little push to get started, and you missed National Bike to Work Day in May.

It makes sense, after all. The economic (what are gas prices now?), health and environmental benefits are hard to ignore. And odds are, if you're reading this, you're interested in biking or, even more likely, you're already a recreational bicyclist. (Read more.)
This article features tips and suggestions from John Brooking of Westbrook, Maine (my brother and his family live in Westbrook!), who organized a bike commuting Meetup group with some 80 members. In our car-dominated culture, a supportive community is a great aid to persisting with bicycle commuting. Meetup is a great online tool for finding that community.

Image: Portland Maine Bicycle Commuting Meetup Group. Image of bike commuter John Brooking.
Visit: More Mainers Are Choosing To Bike To Work, WCSH-TV
Visit: Kicking the Car Habit, Maine Switch
Visit: MaineToday.com Bike Blog
Visit: Bicycle Coalition of Maine
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Bike commuting tips site turns 10

In 1997 I launched my not very creatively named Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips site. I don't exactly recall what month, but I'll claim May--National Bike Month--as the birth month of the site, modestly launched without venture capital, publicity, or fanfare. It was essentially a class exercise, with no great ambitions beyond the ability to say: "Hey Mom, I have a web site."

From my "About" page:

In the mid-1990s I was working at San Francisco State University, where, among other things, I had responsibility for maintaining a webpage for the College of Creative Arts. The university offered many web design workshops for faculty and staff, as well as technical assistance for basic web design. I was an eager participant, and began "hard-coding" HTML.

San Francisco State University also provided space on its server for individual employees and students, and encouraged us to create personal pages as a way to facilitate our understanding of the rapidly emerging cyberspace revolution. As I was taking my Internet workshops, maintaining my college's site, and considering my personal webpage, I wondered: "What could I offer that might be of interest to anyone?" (Read more.)
In the decade since, this modest site has attracted more than 400,000 unique visitors, many of whom have helped to improve the information by making suggestions and asking good questions. Visitor response was one motivation for creating this blog, as a complement to the bike commuting tips site.

Despite continued bicycling-discouraging sprawl development, a plague of SUV motoring, and seemingly interminable oil wars, I'd like to think we've made progress toward a more bicycling-friendly nation in the past 10 years. In San Francisco--the city I'm most familiar with, having been involved in advocacy with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) for more than 10 years--the progress is very evident:
- The SFBC has gone from fewer than 600 dues-paying members in 1997 to more than 6,000 today
- Valencia Street had a road diet treatment to create bike lanes, reduce accidents, and enhance pedestrian conditions
- Bike lanes and traffic calming have improved Market Street, Howard Street, Folsom Street, Arguello Boulevard, San Jose Avenue, and other streets too numerous to mention
- The city introduced the innovative "sharrow" and painted them on many streets
- The city's transit agency, MUNI, has bike racks on almost all coaches
- The Embarcadero BART Bikestation was launched, and soon the Warm Planet Bikes facility will open at Caltrain
- One block of Duboce Street was transformed into a car-free bikeway, with a landmark bicycling mural
- The blight of the Embarcadero Freeway is long gone--and not missed--and San Francisco has recovered its spectacular waterfront from AT&T Park to Crissy Field
- The lamentable Central Freeway was demolished and replaced with the community enhancing Octavia Boulevard
- Visitors to Golden Gate Park can now enjoy car-free space all weekend, and not only on Sundays
- Legislation was passed requiring secure valet bicycle parking at events like street fairs or outdoor concerts
I could go on, but the point is clear. San Francisco is a more bicycling-friendly community today than it was 10 years ago. We've been making progress nationally as well, with the emergence of organizations such as the Thunderhead Alliance (created 1997) and Bikes Belong (created 1996), the continued work of the League of American Bicyclists, and the leadership of key bike industry figures such as John Burke of Trek.

In the next few weeks I will present interviews with bicyclists in San Francisco and elsewhere, reflecting on progress made in the past decade to improve bicycling conditions, create complete streets, and promote more livable communities.

With rising fuel prices, increasing obesity and related health issues, growing concern with global climate change, and endless traffic congestion, the future is bright for bicycling as a transportation mode. As I've indicated on this blog, effective advocacy is the key. Advocacy worked in San Francisco, and it can work elsewhere.

What do you think? Is your community more bicycling-friendly today than it was a decade ago?

Image: San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority
Visit: Anna Sojourner: The city on two wheels
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site