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Sunday, December 31, 2006

San Diego Bike Advocate Interviewed

Image of Kathy Keehan, executive director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition
From Voice of San Diego, 12.30.06:

"I think [our activism] is growing. We've gone from being a fringe organization, you know, 'those crazy bicyclists.' Now people are starting to realize that, when you walk down the street and meet your neighbor, they're bicyclists too. Here are some stats: 58 percent of the people in the county own bikes ... and 29 percent have ridden in the past 12 months. That's a huge number of people in San Diego who are out there riding right now. Because we're so small and inconspicuous, people don't realize how many bicyclists are out there. But they're starting to realize. (Read more.)"
Congratulations to Kathy Keehan and the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition for this media coverage. I doubt any city in North America has better climate for bike commuting than San Diego. Especially as January looms, brrrr.

The most amusing aspect of this interview for me was the lingering anxiety about the "aggressive tactic" of Critical Mass, a famed San Francisco innovation. Locally, Critical Mass has declined in political significance as the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has gained effectiveness. The ride in San Francisco this past Friday was largely a festive, well-humored holiday celebration with hardly any overt political expression.

But the fear of an enormously disruptive bicycle coincidence striking a city remains potent.

Image: Kathy Keehan, executive director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition
Visit: Out-of-car experiences: Biking to work in San Diego, San Diego News Network
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Wider berth for bicyclists sought to cut road deaths

Image of bicyclist being overtaken by vehicles
From the Sacramento Bee, 12.18.06:

A Santa Barbara assemblyman is fighting to change state law--by 36 inches.

Democrat Pedro Nava, in memory of a 21-year-old bicyclist struck and killed by a trailer truck on a narrow Santa Barbara road, is pushing for a 3-foot buffer zone for bicycles that are passed by cars or other motor vehicles.

"It's from your nose to the end of your fingertip," Nava said. "It's an easy distance to remember. And I think it's the least we can do for bicycle safety."

Violators would be subject to base fines of $250, rising to about $875 once local fees are tacked on. Motorists could be charged criminally if a bicyclist were killed or seriously injured. (Read more.)
This bill has been kicking around for at least two sessions. A crash involving a bicyclist and an overtaking vehicle is indeed the scariest and most dangerous kind of collision. Fortunately, it is the one of the least common kinds of bicyclist-vehicle crashes; collisions at intersections are far more frequent.

Will this bill improve safety for bicyclists? I doubt it, frankly. Motorists routinely violate most traffic laws. AB 60 will increase penalties for motorists who do strike bicyclists, and that is a good thing. However, most drivers are unfamiliar with or unconscious of the details of the entire traffic code. They base their driving behavior on road conditions, traffic, prevailing speeds, visibility, and time considerations--not legislative mandates.

Sadly, California bicyclists have minimal strength and lobbying resources in the state capital. I would prefer that those limited resources be deployed in pursuit of greater state funding for bicycling, which could include street enhancements (complete streets), public awareness campaigns, bicycle safety education, safe routes to school and transit, and other programs to encourage bicycling. Nothing improves safety for bicyclists like the abundant presence of bicyclists.

Punitive legislation aimed at motorists is popular among some bicyclists; however it is unnecessarily antagonistic to the auto-lobby and generally yields minimal real improvement for cyclists. Funding for bicycling is a far greater and more important challenge. I would prefer the "bike lobby" not waste scarce resources on "feel good" bills that offer scant improvement.

Should California bicyclists support AB 60? Of course. Should we make it our top legislative priority? Absolutely not. Show me the money!

Individual bicyclists can do a great deal to improve their personal safety by riding effectively, using mirrors, and traveling on less busy streets. As a group, bicyclists gain more by working as advocates for streetscape improvement to better accommodate bicycling.

Image: Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton
See: Assemblymember Pedro Nava
See: California Bicycle Coalition
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Businesses show transportation vision

From the Burlington Free-Press, in Burlington, Vermont, 12.17.06:

Stark Mountain Woodworking in New Haven got 13 of 14 employees bike commuting with a $1,000 incentive. The results? Productivity up. Morale up. Sick days down. Pollution cut. Owner Skimmer Hellier says this "health plan" is a cash-positive investment. (Read more.)
These results sound consistent with those in Odense, Denmark, the Scandinavian city that is a national laboratory for bicycling. When U.S. employers see the light and start working proactively to promote bicycling.

Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Who needs a trunk?

Image of two bikes with fully loaded pannier basketsMy wife and I did some shopping this weekend, and of course we did not use a car. (We don't have one; Enterprise is kind enough to rent us a vehicle when we need it.) As I say on my bike commuting tips pages, with a little ingenuity and a few elastic cords, you can carry a great deal on a bike.

This was a light shopping day. I use a pair of permanently installed Wald rear folding baskets. My wife uses a pair of removable Nashbar "Townie" folding baskets. If we had needed even greater load capacity, we also own a Cycletote trailer and a BOB trailer.

We visited many crowded stores on the weekend just two weeks before Winter Solstice/Christmas holiday. We enjoyed lots of fresh air and exercise with traveling through San Francisco's festive retail districts, the Ferry Building Farmer's Market, and along the waterfront Embarcadero. And we dealt with none of the stress of all those motoring shoppers fighting parking, traffic, delays, and abundant road rage.

Image: Paul Dorn
Visit: Seven days of groceries on two wheels--Shopping by bicycle,
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Friday, December 15, 2006

Advocacy works for bicyclists

Oklahoma cycling blogger CycleDog writes this week:

There were a couple of (bicycling articles) with the usual ‘you can’t ride ABC Street because it’s too dangerous/too fast/too narrow/too whatever’. Many cyclists think this way and too many of our alleged advocacy groups encourage them to do so. They hype the danger of riding in traffic because their agenda calls for bike lanes on every street and roadway in the nation. Never mind if this is good for the community, good for cyclists, or good for the taxpayers. It’s VERY good for the organizations involved. Thunderhead Alliance, Bikes Belong, and sadly, even the League of American Bicyclists endorse such projects.

These bike lane proponents claim to have the needs of cyclists in mind when in fact their projects are mainly beneficial to motorists. (Read more)
CycleDog is one of a shrinking number of old-paradigm bicyclists who spout such "straw man" nonsense. ("Bike lanes on every street"? Which groups call for that?) Sigh. This "paint-n-path" versus "effective cycling" argument is soooo very tiresome.

The sad reality is that bicyclists in much of auto-centric America face hostile street conditions. How should bicyclists respond to a hostile streetscape? Alternative #1: Change the streetscape to a create "complete streets" more amenable to cycling, walking, transit. Alternative #2: Cope with bad streets; teach bicyclists how to adapt to hostile streets, through bike safety education programs. Change or cope.

CycleDog condemns organizations ("they only want your dues") which favor Alternative #1. However, changing streets to better support bicycling is imperative, which is why the most effective bike advocacy organizations pursue Alternative #1. This means serious political organizing, agitating, advocating, coalition building, campaigning. And this is what has worked in San Francisco, which is the only city in the US to have seen a doubling of bicycling for transportation according to U.S. Census Bureau.

Alternative #1 (change streets) is positive, empowering, and effective. It works to increase bicycling presence, power, and participation, and nothing improves safety for cyclists more than the abundant presence of bicyclists. It is proactive, working to shape future street development and reshape existing public space. It is expansive, reaching out to improve communities through bicycling.

Alternative #2 (education to better cope with road hazards, apparently favored by CycleDog) is demoralizing, defeatist, and ineffective. It leads to even further marginalization of bicyclists on public streets, as unopposed auto interests create streetscapes even more hostile to bicyclists. It is reactive, working to adapt present "square" cyclists to "round" streets.

As a League Cycling Instructor (#1237) I support bicycle education. But it is no substitute for advocacy. Nor is it universally effective; note the "success" of motorist education--42,000 deaths a year and counting. And education is more than simply bike-handling and street safety clinics: media outreach, street signage, bike lanes, "sharrows", public service advertising campaigns--all serve to educate motorists, bicyclists, and public officials.

In reality all cyclists do both, change and cope. They cope with existing conditions as they endeavor to change them. But clearly the path to a more bicyclist-friendly U.S. is to pursue change.

Image: Tony Eason.
See: Bicyclists winning a war of lanes in San Francisco, Christian Science Monitor, 09.12.06
See: Cycling supporters on a roll in S.F., San Francisco Chronicle, 08.21.06
See: League of American Bicyclists
See: Thunderhead Alliance
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Arcata Eye: For traffic's sake, create bicycle boulevards

Image of bicycle boulevard pavement marking in Berkeley, California
From the Arcata Eye, in Arcata, California, 12.12.06:

Five million dollars per year.

That is what California appropriates for bicycle infrastructure. It might sound like a lot of money, but not when you consider that Caltrans is working up the Environmental Impact Report for a frivolous $60 million project to save motorists 60 seconds on their trip to Eureka.

Compare that with $5 million for bicycle infrastructure spread over the most populous state, a state that has plenty of dangerous places to bike, and you can see the imbalance in our transportation policy. (Read more)
The $5 million dollars referred to here is the Bicycle Transportation Account (BTA), administered by the California Department of Transportation, affectionately known as Caltrans. This beloved agency has done more to uglify California than any other entity since the Gold Rush mining era, having only two aesthetic principles: 1) horizontal slabs of concrete, and 2) vertical slabs of concrete.

Some might suggest that Caltrans has changed in recent years, allegedly becoming more responsive to community demands for alternatives to driving. Others, such as this author from Arcata, continue to believe that Caltrans gives non-motorists only a healthy dose of lip service. Like noted atheist Richard Dawkins says, we are waiting for evidence.

The shameful pittance allocated to the BTA--$5 million is a rounding error on most highway construction contracts--is indeed a disgrace, as this writer suggests. More disgraceful is that the BTA was once a few crumbs bigger at $7.2 million. The legislation creating the BTA had a sunset provision which reduced the fund by $2.2 million, unless the sunset was lifted by new legislation.

To its credit, the California Bicycle Coalition did get legislation to continue the status quo $7.2 million BTA funding--no increase to meet unfunded demand, merely stay-level in non-inflation adjusted dollars--through to Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar's desk in 2005. The Governator vetoed the bill, SB523. Yes, Mr. Fitness and Health Arnold killed the bill. And clearly he was advised to do so by Caltrans. And this was mere prelude to the massive highway pork of Proposition 1B, passed this November at Arnold's urging and lacking any funds for bicyclists or pedestrians.

Happily, the BTA is not the only source of government funding for bicycle facilities. Many local organizations, notably the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, have been effective at finding creative ways to squeeze money out of reluctant government agencies.

Image: Web capture. A bike boulevard in Berkeley, California.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Amtrak Capitol Corridor celebrates 15 years

Image of the train station in Davis, California
Amtrak California's great Capitol Corridor service between San Jose and Sacramento--with connections to San Francisco, Chico, Reno, and other cities--is marking its 15th anniversary this week:

Fifteen years ago, Amtrak and Caltrans began a new passenger train service connecting the Bay Area and Sacramento with three round-trip trains a day. The Capitol Corridor trains quickly drew standing-room crowds on some trains and prompted some predictions of a rail renaissance.

Today, the rail service runs 16 round-trip trains between Oakland and Sacramento, including seven of those that go as far as San Jose and one that goes to and from Auburn. A total of 1.3 million passengers rode the Capitols in the past 12 months compared with 273,000 in the first year of operations.

What has been missing from all the deserved celebratory coverage of the Capitol Corridor is bicycles.
Image of bicyclist racking bike on Amtrak Capitol Corridor in California
The train serves the bike friendly communities of Sacramento (bronze level Bicycle-Friendly Community Award), Davis (the most bike-friendly community in North America), Berkeley (home of cycling university students, bike boulevards, and the Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coaliton), and San Francisco (gold-level Bicycle-Friendly Community Award.)

As the image above of the train station in Davis suggests, hundreds of intermodal bike commuters use the Capitol Corridor every day. Each passenger car of the Capitol Corridor has space for three bikes, or usually a 12-bike capacity per four-car train. Many cyclists leave their bikes locked at their departure station.

More can be done to encourage these intermodal cyclists. In Sacramento, for example, there is little secure bike parking. Just outdoor racks. A secure, staffed bike station similar to those at the Berkeley and Embarcadero BART stations or the Palo Alto and San Francisco Caltrain stations, would attract dozens of additional bicycling rail passengers.
Image of Amtrak Capitol Corridor locomotive near Hayward, California
Charging more for vehicle parking--most Capitol Corridor lots are free--would encourage passengers to shift from cars to bikes. Adding more secure bike parking facilities, such as the Bike Tree or bike lockers, would also attract additional cyclists.

The success of passenger rail in car-crazy California--two of the three most successful Amtrak routes are the state's Capitol Corridor and Pacific Surfliner--should encourage every alternative transportation activist in the U.S. And bicycling passengers are a significant factor in that success.

Top Image: Web capture. Train station in Davis, California, built in 1913 by Southern Pacific.
See: Capitol Corridor riding high, San Francisco Chronicle, 12.13.06
See: Capitol Corridor rail service chugs into 16th year, Contra Costa Times, 12.08.06
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Ain't no jaywalking happening here

To amplify a point I made in an earlier post about stop signs, I offer this fascinating video from 1906. It's a trolley ride down Market Street in San Francisco, just days before the devastating earthquake and fire. This video is shown at San Francisco's Market Street Railway transit museum, where it is explained that the frame skips are unavoidable. And the motor cars you see were hired by the filmmakers to circle around, giving the impression that San Francisco--which had only 200 cars in the city at the time, sigh--was "modern."

Despite the far greater numbers of bicycles then in use in the city, there are actually few bicyclists shown in this footage, which may be understandable considering the cobbled pavement of this street. Other streets were more bike-friendly dirt.

What is relevant to observe here is how freely pedestrians, carriages, and trolley passengers move about. Without the potential high speeds and threats of automobiles, traffic regulation is nonexistent. No stop signs, no red lights, all travelers respectful of each other, a smooth flow, vibrant life everywhere. It's the heyday of the "naked streets" concept that many would like to reintroduce. There is no concept of "jaywalking," since pedestrians are free to exercise their fundamental right to mobility.

Sadly, within a few years of this video the vibrant pedestrian life was pushed out of the streets, replaced by the deadening traffic of automotive monopoly. The privilege granted to motorists superseded the mobility right of pedestrians, bicyclists, and kids at play.

We should be mindful of this historic inequity when motorists condemn stop sign running by bicyclists. Motorist use of the road is a privilege; they have duty of care for the risk they introduce into the public realm. Encouraged by government policy, media images, and automotive marketing to feel a sense of entitlement to exclusive use of streets, motorists generally forget this.

Bicyclists likewise have a responsibility to operate safely. However, the risk bicyclists create is minimal. As vulnerable riders lacking the protection of two tons of steel, the possible harm we might cause would impact us as seriously if not more seriously than others in the streetscape.

Again, when someone gripes that "bicyclists don't respect traffic laws," retort that "motorists don't obey traffic laws." And then hope that a broader discourse might occur that would illuminate the dangerous spaces our streets have become.

Visit: San Francisco Market Street 1941,
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Monday, December 11, 2006

The "bikes at stop signs" thing, again...

From the Charlotte Observer, 12.10.06:
DR. TRAFFIC: Bicyclists have rights--and responsibilities

"Q. I often hear complaints from drivers about bicyclists not following traffic rules, not stopping at signs, etc. How big a problem is that and what can be done about it?"

"The percentage of cyclists who do that, I believe, is relatively low. But it only takes a few to raise the ire of the motorists. And when I talk to motorists -- which of course is all the time -- that's the most frequent complaint, that the bicyclists aren't conforming to the rules of the road, so why should they deserve the respect of the drivers? And I think the drivers are absolutely correct, and it's an embarrassment.
This is the most tiresome complaint motorists routinely toss at bicyclists. That we don't "stop" at stop signs. Groan. My response is usually: "Neither do motorists."

It's instructive to spend a few minutes watching traffic at a 4-way intersection regulated by stop signs. I often do this at an intersection near my home, as I walk my aging dog. My admittedly non-empirical observation at this intersection and others suggests that the majority of motorists do not come to a complete stop, but rather do the infamous "California stop." They slow to 5 MPH or so, before proceeding through the intersection. Most stop signs are simply treated as yield signs. And generally motorists aren't enthusiastic about yielding to a pedestrian with a slow-moving 14-year-old dog.

So why are bicyclists held to a higher standard? My experience suggests that many persistently motoring Americans--encouraged to feel entitled by decades of automotive marketing and government policy--don't really want bicyclists competing for space on city streets. They refuse to accept bicyclists as co-equals, and don't recognize the benefits of bicycling travelers for all community members, including drivers. ("One less car--competing for parking space!") They also refuse to acknowledge the greater danger their 3,000 pound or heavier vehicle poses to the community than the biker's mode. Indeed, the stop sign and much other traffic regulation didn't exist until automobiles--and the threat they pose--became a pervasive menace.

Many motorists are hostile to bicyclists, period. These unrepetant slaves to internal combustion won't feel more kindly toward bicyclists even if there were absolute universal compliance to traffic regulations. Nobody obtains equitable treatment on streets or elsewhere by "playing good." Rights (and privileges like driving) to use public space aren't contingent on group behavior, granted only when every member of the group complies. One wonders why American motorists--who kill and injure more people than almost anyone--are "deserving of respect."

It's unfortunate the bicycling advocate interviewed in this article doesn't challenge the assertion that bicyclist behavior is abnormal. 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. I'm not suggesting rampant law-breaking. However I do trust bicyclists to use their judgement to assess their risk and act accordingly.

The advocate interviewed in this story does call attention to the auto-domination of American society. In other nations where motorists feel less entitlement there are experiments with "naked streets," which have no regulation at intersections. It appears to work in those cultures that treat all modes as co-equals. Which makes me doubt it would work in our inequitable car-dominated society, where decades of government policy has privileged driving and encouraged anti-social behavior by motorists.

As Dr. Traffic asks, what can we do about bicyclists not stopping? The same thing we did about "white only" water faucets and other inequitable laws: Change the law to better reflect the actual threats posed by respective travel modes.

"I don't always obey the traffic law, but I always obey the law of traffic."

Visit: Why cyclists should be able to roll through stop signs and ride through red lights,
Visit: Survey finds bicyclists and motorists ignore traffic laws at similar rates,
Visit: Risky cycling rarely to blame for bike accidents, study finds, The Guardian
Visit: Stop signs don't work for bicyclists, Sustainable Life
Visit: Wreckless Riding, SF Streetblog
Visit: Moralism vs. Utopianism–of Red Lights, Helmets, Bike Lanes and…,
Visit: The naked streets, BBC News
Visit: The Myth of the Scoflaw Cyclist, TheWashCycle
Visit: Stop, Limited Warren T (outstanding video.)
Visit: Stop signs with marketing pizazz, Bike Commuting Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips

How bike friendly will Austin become?

From the Austin American-Statesman, 12.11.06:

How bike friendly will Austin become?
"Portland pointed the way, but it will take action on planned projects, leadership and money to make cycling a priority here"

"Austin ought to be one of the best bicycling cities in the country. We've got rolling hills to train on, a climate that invites year-round cycling and a population that puts stock in keeping fit. The world's greatest cyclist even calls Austin home. But we've got a long way to pedal before we can coast."
This report also includes a related video featuring an interview with Annick Beaudet, project manager of the City of Austin's Bicycle Program. Most salient quote: "Biking--it's not a problem, it's a solution," (Mia) Birk (of Alta Planning + Design) says. "Obesity, congestion, air quality, cost of gas, economy--they all point to cycling."

Centerpiece of Austin's planned improvements for bicycling is the six-mile Lance Armstrong Bikeway through downtown, which will form the spine of an enhanced bikeway network of paths, lanes, and routes. The city is looking to famously bike-friendly Portland, Oregon--approximately the same size as Austin--as a model. "In Portland, bike ridership doubled after the city put in about 165 miles of bike lanes, mostly on arterial streets. Austin, by contrast, has about 70 miles of on-street painted bike lanes."

Helmets off to the Austin American-Statesman for providing such substantial coverage to bicycling. And congrats also to the efforts of the Texas Bicycle Coalition, which I suspect has helped push these bicycling enhancements in the Texas state capital.

Image: Jay Janner, Austin American-Statesman. Man, I hope that dude is planning a left turn soon.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Friday, December 08, 2006

Governing Magazine: Pedal Pushers

From the November 2006 issue of Governing:

Pedal Pushers: Fair- and foul-weather cities alike are gearing up to make it safer and easier for commuters to bicycle to work.
Chicago can be stiflingly hot during the summer and rain-chilled in the spring, and its wind-whipped winters are the stuff of legend. So when the subject is “bicycle commuting,” Chicago is not the first city that springs to mind. But it’s becoming a hot bike-to-work town. In the next decade, it plans to expand its network of bike trails to 500 miles, and has set a goal of putting a bike path of some sort within half a mile of every city resident.

This article offers much to be encouraged about. However, it fails to discuss what I think is the biggest challenge to increased bicycle use for transportation: Sprawl.

The writer offers many examples of U.S. cities working successfully to encourage cycling, such as New York, Portland, and even San Francisco. However, it also mentions the failure of cities like Houston and Atlanta to realize their dreams of bike-friendliness.

A key to making a community more amenable to bicycling is keeping it compact, keeping destinations close to one another. If the workplace, school, or supermarket is less than a mile away, then bicycling is an attractive option. If these destinations are spread out over a sprawling community like, say, Phoenix, then a car becomes the more likely option.

You can have miles and miles of bike lanes on expansive streets in sprawling communities with almost no bicyclists. There aren't any destinations in close proximity.

Image: Web capture. Beautiful bike lane in sprawling community, but no shade, no close destinations, and no bicyclists.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Bike Parking: the missing factor

Image of bikes piled high on street, locked to one poleOK, admittedly this is an extreme situation. The cyclists who left these bikes all know each other--we can only hope--but this image illustrates an important point.

On the street pictured here we see many cars, taking up approximately 200 square feet (10 feet by 20 feet) of space each. (And certainly many more cubic feet.) You could transform one--just one--vehicle space into a bike parking area that could accommodate this entire stack. And clear the sidewalk so cyclists aren't unnecessarily antagonizing pedestrians.

Many casual, recreational or competitive cyclists would consider biking to work, but are understandably anxious about where to leave their often pricey bikes. As I write on my bike commuting tips site:

Many employers show no hesitation about creating enormous parking lots, at a cost of $15-25,000 per space, for their workers' cars. It's amazing--and sad--that these same employers vigorously resist creating bike parking areas. One automobile space could be converted to create parking for 10-12 bicycles.

It will be a better day for everyone when safe, secure bike parking is as ubiquitous as vehicle parking throughout our communities.

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

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Starlet plays bike messenger, badly

Image of Jessica Simpson as a bicycle messenger in the film Blonde AmbitionThis is an image of Jessica Simpson, on location for her new film, Blonde Ambition. Apparently, she plays a young woman climbing the corporate ladder, beginning as a bike messenger. I mean, obviously. What could be a lower career rung than bike messenger, right? You can see more images on her blog. Yes, it's abundant with self-indulgent hype.

Judging by this photo, I have to wonder: What universe allows a messenger to bring a bicycle into an office building? Where are the beefy security officers with the aggressive tackle? Especially in this paranoid post-9/11 era. Or maybe the officers are looking at something else (a little T&A anyone?) and ignore the bike. Perhaps it's explained in the plot; or maybe it's just an unrealistic fantasy universe.

While I'm always hopeful that Hollywood might produce more films featuring bicycling characters--and there by encourage more bicycling--this Blonde Ambition project doesn't look promising. For one thing, they cast Jessica Simpson. And these pics suggest that this could be the silliest and most unrealistic bike messenger feature since the unintentionally hilarious Kevin Bacon vehicle, Quicksilver (1986). It's also a shame that Trek or Specialized wasn't involved with product placement--I have no idea what brand of bike that could be.

Full disclosure: I've never seen a film featuring Jessica Simpson. Perhaps I'm wrong and she's the new Meryl Streep. I suspect not.

Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Another fun lighting product

Image of Planet Bike BRT strapOn Sunday, my wife and I attended the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's annual Winterfest, perhaps Northern California's greatest bicycle party. After perusing the various booths and auction items, we acquired a Light Planet Bike BRT Strap. This is a smart LED leg/arm band, which is a great thing to have for dark winter night cycling. It has a flashing and steady mode, and is reflective when the lights are off. The package says it will run for 200 hours. It also adjusts up to 18 inches, meaning it can also work as a dog collar.

In general, I find much to admire with Planet Bike's product line, and I appreciate the company's support for bicycle advocacy. I also found a similar product, the L.E.D. Marker Band, marketed by Night Ize.

As I've written before, if you ride at night, get lights! With advances in LED technology, there is an abundance of affordable and bright bicycle illumination options.

Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Some commuters dump the car

Associated Press article posted by Asbury Park Press on 12.04.06:

Six years ago, Bruce Wilbur did what most Americans wouldn't dream of: he got rid of his car. And his minivan, too. He started taking the bus to work — not a common sight in Rochester, N.Y. — and loved the switch. More recently, he's been biking to work.
Can you imagine?!? A commuter in America who doesn't drive! How exotic. Sigh.

This wire-service article has been around for a while, seemingly initiated by author Chris Balish's book, How to Live Well Without Owning a Car, which was published earlier this year. But it's interesting to see the story continues to find print. The main topical hook is increasing gas prices, which dipped a bit prior to the election and are now rising again. (I'm not suggesting a conspiracy by the oilmen in the White House, but...)

Full Disclosure: Yes, I'm among the cyclists quoted in Balish's book.

Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

This can’t be true progress

From the Albany Democrat Herald in New York 12.04.06:

People in China are repeating one of the mistakes that human beings keep making in the modern age. They are getting rid of a simple transportation device that costs little and are replacing it with one that is more comfortable but also costs much more and has to be replaced more often.

The capital, Beijing, is spreading out to accommodate millions upon millions of new residents. Because of longer commutes, and because they want to be modern, residents are buying cars as fast as they can and abandoning their bicycles. The result, already evident, is impenetrable gridlock, a vast accumulation of air pollution and a huge rise in traffic deaths. About a thousand Beijing bicyclists reportedly died in collisions with cars in 2004.

The American media are typically enthusiastic about calling attention to the misguided policies of other nations, especially when the critiqued nation is emerging as the primary rival to U.S. global hegemony. A little Sinophobia anyone?

One wonders if the Albany Democrat Herald will be as inspired when local bicyclists demand removal of parking spaces in Albany to create a bike lane. Still, the rapid erosion of bicycling in China is disappointing, and this article does provide a heartfelt case for "thoughtful progress." When will human beings of all nationalities smell the petrol fumes and wake up to the possibilities of life beyond vehicles?

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Bikes, China's icon, thrive despite car invasion, Associated Press
Visit: Bicycle Kingdom (slideshow), MSNBC
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Friday, December 01, 2006

Sickening situation in Illinois

Woman is sentenced for bicyclist's death:

[Matthew Wilhelm]...a University of Illinois mechanical engineering graduate working for Caterpillar in Peoria, died on Sept. 8 from head injuries he received Sept. 2 when Jennifer Stark hit him with her car because she was downloading ring tones to her cell phone instead of paying attention to driving (emphasis added).

Mr. Wilhelm was bicycling north on Illinois 130 east of Urbana when he was struck from behind about 7:15 p.m. Stark was so far off the road that she hit Mr. Wilhelm from behind with the driver's side of her car. He was wearing a helmet.

Murder a bicyclist or pedestrian, get a slap on the wrist. "Six months of conditional discharge, a form of probation...a $1,000 fine and traffic safety school." Disgusting. This is a real failure of law enforcement in Illinois. The 19-year-old offender, Jennifer Stark, had three prior convictions for traffic violations, including a speeding conviction just five weeks before she killed Wilhelm.

Did the police blow the investigation, missing something that damaged the prosecution's case? Hey, it was only a bicyclist, not anyone who matters. Did the State's Attorney, Julia Rietz, opt for an easy plea bargain rather than a difficult case? Fortunately, Wilhelm's parents aren't sitting back, and are campaigning for stricter laws against driving while using a cellphone.:
The Wilhelms hope lawmakers plug the hole next spring, passing a new "Matt's Law," creating a charge for distracted drivers that would fall between the petty offense and reckless homicide.

I called States Attorney Julia Reitz, who indicated that she pursued her case in full compliance with what the law allowed. There was no plea bargain. "The Illinois State Police did an investigation and concluded improper lane usage, which is a petty offense." She added that the State Police conducted a sobriety check on Stark, and that she admitted her cell phone distraction at the scene.

Reitz explained that her office reviewed the case and pursued the prosecution that obtained the maximum possible penalty. Reitz added that she is presently working with Illinois State Representative Bill Black on legislation to fill a gap in existing law. In contrast to the "Matt's Law" proposed by Wilhelm's family, which only deals with cell phone use, Reitz' proposal would expand the legal definition of recklessness, to sustain reckless homicide or reckless driving. Representative Black is convening a "distracted driving task force."

And the perpetrator, Jennifer Stark, how is she coping after negligently causing the death of a promising young college student? My colleague, Jym Dyer, wrote on the SFBike listserve: "The driver/killer is so upset and persecuted-feeling that she can barely find the time to squeal about her dating life on MySpace. But hey, Jesus is on her side."

I encourage Illinois bicyclists and friends to contact their legislators. The danger posed to all road users--bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists, by "distracted drivers" is only going to grow worse.

Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sonoma County's visionary bike advocates

Image of bicyclist on Santa Rosa Creek TrailCyclists' trail-rail vision not over yet:

At times, bikes seem a much smarter way for rubber to meet the road. As morning commuters jammed highways entering downtown Santa Rosa, I sailed by. I was pedaling down the Joe Rodota Trail. This smoothly paved, bike-and-pedestrian route offers a 5.5 mile straight shot from Sebastopol, right into town.

If the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition's vision is achieved, this type of muscle-powered transit will be replicated, not only through the county seat, but across its 1,500 square miles of rural area.

Image: San Francisco Chronicle

Has the tide turned in our favor?

Americans drive less for first time in 25 years
Higher gas prices cut not only sales of SUVs, but also time spent on the road:

HOUSTON (Reuters) -- High gasoline prices not only slowed fuel demand growth and cut sales of gas-guzzling vehicles in 2005, they also prompted Americans to drive less for the first time in 25 years, a consulting group said in a report Thursday.

The drop in driving was small - the average American drove 13,657 miles (21,978.8 km) per year in 2005, down from 13,711 miles in 2004 - but it is more evidence that the market works and prices help control consumption, Boston-based Cambridge Energy Research Associates said.

Is the so-called "American Love Affair With the Car" coming to a close? Can we expect the messy and emotional breakup? I suspect that many motorists would welcome an alternative, such as bicycling. Other modes, such as intercity rail and commuter trains, are also showing increases. People want options, clearly.

If we build it, they will come. Every bike commuter provides a model, a mentor, and an inspiration. Or a nuisance. In my office during the minutes before a meeting officially begins and there's time-killing idle chatter about weather and such, I'm usually the one who asks: "Just what does a gallon of gas cost these days, anyway?...Really, how bad was the traffic backup?...Huh, how far away did you have to park?"

Yes, and the donut crumbs come flinging at me.

Bicycling beats petrol dependency

Koren cartoon Oil Addiction Treatment CenterThis cartoon appeared as part of Chevron's "Will You Join Us" campaign. Greenwashing?

Image: Edward Koren.

So, like, who's Jim Morrison?

Image of sticker on bike rack at Rainbow Grocery in San FranciscoPhotographer Jym Dyer writes: "A sticker somebody made and put on the bike racks at Rainbow Grocery: 'Warning to Bicyclists: Getting Doored by a Car May Result in you Joining Jim Morrison. Check Windows and Car Mirror for Occupants as you Pass.' Scrawled in pen underneath, 'Yeah right! Better: Don't ride in the door zone!'"

Of course, many younger cyclists locking up will ask: Who's Jim Morrison? "Dunno, wasn't he that guy on 'Scrubs' or somethin'?" No, you're thinking of the dude who played with Dave Matthews Band. "Yeah, maybe."

C'mon baby light my fire, yeah!

Image: Jym Dyer. Of course, Rainbow Grocery pales in comparison to the Davis Food Co-op, in the cycling capital of North America, Davis, California.
Visit: It's not just a bike, it's a statement, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Get out of your car and onto a trail

Image of bike path in Mill Valley, CaliforniaFrom the Marin Independent Journal, 11.28.06:

"Marin County has $25 million to spend on traffic congestion by building a network of walking and biking trails. The problem is that county officials and bike advocates have at least $100 million worth of ideas to achieve that goal.

"We totaled the infrastructure costs back in 2001 and came up with $100 million. And we've come up with a number of new projects going forward," said Deb Hubsmith, advocacy director for the 1,500-member Marin County Bicycle Coalition.

"The pilot program will pick the projects most suited to our long-term goal, which is to create a bicycle and pedestrian network that gets people out of their cars," she said."

Cyclists in Marin County are so lucky. Sure there's lots of low-density sprawl and plenty of traffic. But they have great weather, great scenery, great bicycling facilities, and the incredibly effective Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC).

Early this decade, the MCBC successfully lobbied Congress for federal funding to support a pilot Safe Routes to School program, which the coalition used to leverage additional local and state funding. The MCBC's Safe Routes to School pilot program has inspired hundreds of communities to create similar youth cycling education and enhancement efforts.

And the MCBC built on its Safe Routes success, obtaining a $25 million grant--one of four in the entire U.S.--in the 2005 federal surface transportation bill to support Marin’s Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program.

The future is bright for bike commuting in Marin County. It never hurts to ask your Congressperson what they can do to improve bicycling in their district.

Image: Mill Valley Bike Path, courtesy Marin County Bicycle Coalition

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Safe bicycling video from LAB

This is pretty basic, and I might quibble with the road placement of some of the featured bicyclists (take the lane!). But it provides a good general overview of cycling safely for beginning bicyclists. Produced by the League of American Bicyclists and the National Highway Safety Administration.

Compared to driving, bicycling is safe. One concern I have with many bicycling organizations is that they emphasize safety concerns, while minimizing the fun of bicycling. Bicycling is safe, period. Bicycling injury statistics suggest that if you are over 20 and are not under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, your chances of getting killed while bicycling are much less than while driving. More than 40,000 people are killed every year on U.S. highways as a result of vehicle collisions.

Santa brings goodies to good cyclists, Part 3

Image of Santa Claus on a bikeTo conclude this week's discussion of holiday gift ideas for bike commuters, I'll offer a few suggestions for a few less expensive items.

Every cyclist needs good lighting, especially during the darker months of winter. I'm shocked by the cyclists I see without any illumination--especially when they're riding the wrong way and straight at me! Don't let your beloved bike commuter ride without adequate lighting.

There are many inexpensive lights available these days. I've written earlier about my admiration for efficient and bright LED headlights. Many companies make great, inexpensive LED headlights, including Cateye, NightRider, and Light & Motion. PlanetBike, which dedicates a share of its profits to bicycle advocacy, makes the great Beamer 3 and also a smart combo pack Beamer-1 and 3-bulb rear red blinky light. Similar LED headlight/tailight combos are also made by Cateyeand Topeak.

Bicyclists are just like any other commuter, except we take more pride in our travel mode. There are many ways to show off our enthusiasm for bicycling. There are bicycling lapel pins, cuff links, charms, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, ornaments, and other decorative items. One place to start is

There are many great bicycle calendars to hang in your office. Among the long-time favorites is the calendar featuring racing images by famed bike photographer Graham Watson. Or you could enhance your office and demonstrate your bike pride with a wall clock.

In earlier posts I talked about bicycling-oriented films that are available to please your household bike commuter. And you might also consider a lightweight portable radio that would entertain the bike commuter on their way home (use only one earbud, it's smart and it's the law.) And there are several books that aid the bike commuter, first and still the best is Dave Glowacz' comprehensive Urban Bikers' Tricks & Tips: Low-Tech & No-Tech Ways to Find, Ride, & Keep a Bicycle.

You might also consider giving your favorite bike commuter a gift membership to the League of American Bicyclists. Member benefits include a subscription to both Bicycling Magazine and the League's magazine American Bicyclist. And your contribution will help support critical advocacy to improve cycling across the U.S.

Whatever your winter solstice traditions or religious beliefs, I wish you a happy and safe new year of bike commuting. Happy holidays to all.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Santa brings goodies to good cyclists, Part 2

Image of Santa Claus on a bicycle
In yesterday's blog entry, I began a discussion of holiday gift ideas for bike commuters. The first post offered suggestions for those cyclists who are visited by an affluent St. Nicholas, or who have been especially good this year. Today I'll consider a few mid-range gifts for bike commuters. My suggested items are only a sampling of categories; your bicyclist might already have favorite brands or models. Hey, everything's subjective.

A pair of lightweight, hard-soled cycling shoes combined with clipless pedals will enhance your household bike commuter's pedaling efficiency by improving power transfer. I've tried many kinds of cycling shoes over the years. My present favorites are the Sidi Dominators. These are pricey, but worth it. They are durable and comfortable, and just ooze Italo-cool. I've had my current pair of Dominators since 2000, and they'll likely last another five years. Worth the investment. Of course, comfort and taste are subjective. Any high-end MTB shoe (Diadora, Shimano, Vittoria, etc.) will deliver similar benefits; and get MTB and not smooth-soled road shoes. Your bike commuter may need to walk around some, and will appreciate the MTB's sole.

Winter is a challenging season for cyclists. Make your household bike commuter happy with some warm and waterproof apparel. I'm a fan of Bellwether, among other reasons because until recently they are based in my hometown of San Francisco and have been supportive of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. I really appreciate my Bellwether Aqua-No Jacket, which combined with my Goretex® Pants keep my core pretty dry. Add some warm shoe covers or booties, a reflective waterproof helmet cover, and warm waterproof gloves, and your bike commuter is sure to return home each day dry and happy.

My wife Marianne and I have also had great success keeping dry with rainwear from Burley Design.

If your bike commuter regularly transports substantial loads (change of clothing, tools, office materials, etc.) then some kind of secure pannier is critical. Few panniers come any better than Jandd's Large Mountain Pannier. In addition to everyday commuting, these will be very appreciated if your biker has plans for touring.

If your bicyclist needs to carry dress clothes for the office, Jandd also makes a very nice Commuter Garment Pannier.. A similar product I've had good experience with is made by Two-Wheel Gear.

Riding a bike everyday means there will be a fair amount of needed bike maintenance. Your household bike commuter could do what I've done--acquire tools one at a time as needed which get lost amongst the other household tools--or you could spare him or her that nonsense (and expense!) by gifting a set of great tools. For decades, Park Tools have been the industry leader. Your biker will be delighted to receive a Park AK-32 Advanced Tool Kit complete with 35 tools to make almost any needed repair.

If Santa is in a generous mood, add the four-volume professional-level Barnett's Manual: Analysis and Procedures for Bicycle Mechanics and your bicyclist will be set for any necessary repair. (More likely, the amateur-level mechanic can get by with The Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance and Repair.)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Santa brings goodies to good cyclists, Part 1

This week brings Thanksgiving, traditionally the start of the holiday shopping season--though the Christmas goods started appearing at my neighborhood Walgreen's before Halloween.

Granted that the holiday season has become an orgy of crass consumerism and that many people have spiritual traditions not involving mistletoe, holly, and decked halls--and regardless of my own religious non-belief, which is slightly beyond that of Nietzsche--there is an undeniably pervasive tradition of year-end gifting to loved ones. Nearly every culture has some commemoration of the winter solstice, often involving some gesture of affection.

If you do have a current or prospective bicycle commuter in your household who has behaved well this year, and if you do exchange gifts in December, you might want to consider adding a few bicycling items to your gift list. As I describe on my bike commuting tips site, my own bike commuting is due to an inspired winter solstice gift from my wife. (Like most American males, I stopped biking the moment I got my drivers license, and only smartened up and recovered cycling 18 years later.)

I'll spend some time this week looking at the gift options for the bike commuter in your household. Here are a few suggestions that might enhance your cyclist's commuting experience:


I can't imagine any cyclist who wouldn't be enormously excited at the sight of a new bike under the tree. Perhaps your present or prospective bicycle commuter has a road or mountain bike, but not a dedicated commuting bike. Your favorite cyclist's enthusiasm for biking will be enhanced with options, one bike for weekdays and another for weekends. Variety is the spice of life and bicycling.

A bicycle is a high-ticket item, so your biker will need to have a spotless year of good behavior. Here are some suggestions on two categories of bicycles popular for everyday travel: commuter and folder.

Famed mountain bike pioneer Joe Breeze shocked the bike industry a few years ago when he shifted his company, Breezer Bikes, into an operation that only offers commuting bikes. No kid's bikes, no mountain bikes, no touring bikes--just smart, practical commuting bikes, inspired by the utilitarian bicycles of Europe. Many thought Joe Breeze would be bankrupted quickly. "There's not enough demand for commuting bikes."

However, Breezer Bikes is still around, still making only commuting bikes, and has inspired bike industry titans Trek, Specialized, and REI to introduce commuting bikes.

Another exciting bike trend is the broader availability of folding bikes, which are designed specifically for intermodal bike commuters. Folding bikes compact down to smaller size, allowing the rider to board any train or bus to continue their trip. My present commute is three-miles sans transit, so I don't have a folding bike in my stable. My wife has a Bike Friday, which is a great bike, but more suited to travel rather than everyday commuting. Among the available options, I like the Breezer Zig Zag folding bike, and the famed English folding Brompton.

If your gift budget can accommodate it, a new commuting-specific bike would assure another year of good behavior from your household bike commuter. My bike commuting tips pages have additional considerations for buying a bike. My best suggestion is to visit a trusted local bicycle specialty retailer and consult with the staff.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Bicycling sound systems

Image of Sony SFR-M37V FM/AM/Weather/TV
Why should motorists be the only ones with audio entertainment as they travel? Over the years, there have been manufacturers producing bicycle radios, such as those sold by Sunrise Cyclery, Bicycle Revolution, or Active Tunes. Often these include horns or lights. I haven't been very impressed by the sound quality of any of them, plus they take up scarce handlebar space. I also think riding with a high-volume speaker is possibly dangerous and also kind of inconsiderate. Maybe the pedestrians you pass aren't as enthusiastic about Rufus as you might be.

In most states, it is legal to listen to a portable audio device, as long as you use only one ear. There are a number of earphones or earbuds that work with helmet straps, including my favorite, the Sony MDR-J10headphones. I suggest that you keep your left (traffic side) ear open, to hear approaching traffic, sirens, screaming pedestrians, fast approaching dogs.

Most days I bicycle with my Ipod, having downloaded audio programming from various sources. Some days--say, if there's a baseball game on during my ride home--I use my Sony SFR-M37V FM/AM/Weather/TV radio (pictured above). Reception is very good, it's durable, lightweight, clips on a belt or fits easily in a pocket, features button lock-out, and is reasonably inexpensive. Don't use the headphones it comes with, shown in the picture. It works with any earbuds or earphones you might already have.

Boogie while you bike!

Get on your bikes, the green Prince of Wales tells staff

Bicycles parked in London
From the Telegraph, 11.16.06:
"The Prince of Wales is urging his staff to help fight global warming by providing bicycles for them to make short trips around the capital instead of taking cars or cabs. As part of a new 'bicycling to work' scheme, bikes are available at Clarence House for staff to borrow rather than using gas-guzzling cars."

Being a committed small "d" democrat more inclined to Jacobinism, I'm not generally a fan of royalty. However, Britain's Prince Charles is a committed organic farmer and the UK's most prominent environmentalist. My wife, Marianne, born in Uxbridge and holder of a British passport, will take pride in this environmental initiative from the Prince of Wales.

It will be a great day for American bike commuters when the U.S. government finally takes global warming seriously. Maybe then we'll get a fair share of federal transportation investment.

Image: Bikes parked in London, photo by Rob Norwood

Clean-up made easy with latex

Image of latex glovesImagine. You pull over to change a flat tire. Reaching into your pannier or the back pocket of your jersey, you pull out the most critical item needed for the repair: latex surgical gloves. Your cycling pals make jokes about prostate exams as you snap them on.

You make your repair, set up your inflated tire, and put your wheel back on your bike. You roll off your latex gloves inside out, containing the dirt and grease neatly, and put the soiled gloves into your pocket or pannier, because you are a conscientious cyclist and don't litter. "I'm cleaned up, ready to go," you state, as your pals' chuckles turn into amazement. That's smart, they say. You smile.

It's a drag if you have to make a dirty repair (tire change, chain link repair, etc.) out on the road, far from a washroom sink and degreasing soap. Latex gloves make clean-up a snap. I carry a pair on all cycling outings, usually in a small plastic prescription bottle. They are inexpensive and available at most local drug stores; get the ones without powder.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Grease Monkey wipes, Cyclelicious
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site