Does size matter?

One of the barriers to encouraging bicycling as a mode of travel in the US is the perception that cycling is not “safe”. The fear of injury, and the insecure feeling of being run off the road by cars is one of the main factors many people cite as the reason they won’t take up bicycling on the streets. They certainly won’t ride to work, or even just a mile to run an errand.

When I was a kid, we played in the street all the time. Basketball, baseball, tag, or whatever game we were into at the time. We ran around in front of our houses with little fear of being run down – we knew to pause and let cars pass – but in general, it wasn’t a huge concern.

I think the same thing applies to cycling. When I was a kid, I regularly rode my bike from my house to my best friend’s house which was six blocks away. I never worried about the safety of the ride, nor did my parents really, (as far as I know). But these days when I ask friends who tell me they would like to ride, but won’t because they don’t feel safe, what do they report that feels unsafe?  It’s cars and the feeling of the inequity of sharing the road. It’s a mismatch when you are on street: just you versus a multi-ton vehicle. I wonder, what’s changed since the days of my youth on the streets of Portland, Oregon? For one thing, the size of the cars and trucks that crowd the streets now. And the 60′s and 70′s are well known for  gas guzzling muscle cars, and big luxury cars like the Buick Electra “Deuce and a quarter”.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/theblacklightstudio/2870951930/

I recently reflected on this when I borrowed a full-size pickup to pick up a load of mulch and to make a run to the transfer station, or the dump as we used to call it.

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This truck is a Toyota Tundra. It is incredible how large this thing is. It’s at least six and half feet off the ground, and is probably two feet longer than my old Toyota mini-van which was huge in its own right.

And it’s not my imagination: take a look at this picture of the Tundra next to an older truck at the Transfer Station. It’s mammoth in comparison to this good old Ford truck that was big enough for the same kinds of jobs 30 years ago, and still is today.

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When these giant vehicles pass you on the street, on your  bike or on foot, the sun is blocked out momentarily. It’s ridiculous how over-sized they are and surprising how ubiquitous they have become on our streets. Giant pickup trucks and massive SUVs are everywhere across American cities. People use them as “commuters”. Nutty!

It’s no wonder new cyclists feel unsafe. Imagine being 10 years old riding a bike in the street to school while one of these squeezes past. It’s incredible that we have allowed this to happen.

But that is where we are in America. What makes you feel unsafe on the street?

Elliott Bay trail nears completion!

ImageThe work on the Elliott Bay bike trail is nearly complete. Tonight, the south-bound portion was open which is pretty exciting if you’ve been riding through the crazy construction zone for the last few months.

I expect the north bound section will open in a the next day or two.

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This is going to be a very nice, safe improvement for people who ride from the south end into Pioneer Square.

The biggest improvement is with the north-bound section: bikes will continue from the current bike lane straight through onto the new section. It keeps you out of the way of trucks pulling onto the new overpass near the Bertha Big Dig. It’s been pretty unpleasant for the last few months, crossing a few lanes of truck traffic, threading your way onto the bike path. It’s been downright dangerous at times as noted elsewhere

SDOT is really making room for bicycles and people on our streets, a sign that things are improving here in Seattle. This is also a very nice improvement for pedestrians walking to and from Pioneer Square.  Another reason to enjoy living here!

 

 

Bike Share coming to Seattle this summer

Puget Sound Bike Share is coming this year – in September – just in time to miss the usual, wonderful summer weather!

Personally I think it will be great to be able to grab a bike to run quick errands around town during the day, or as a way to safely navigate place to place in our various wonderful neighborhoods around town. I’m sure we’ll all figure out a way to make it work even with our stupid helmet laws in place. There have been complaints raised by people in other cities about how well the system works (see Citi Bike complaints from the BikeSnobNYC guy about availability of bikes and parking), but generally it is fantastic idea. I was in London and Paris over the holidays and saw tons of people using the bike share bikes there, even in the cold winter weather.

What are your thoughts on how this might work out?

April 2014

500 bikes, coming right up!

Wondering why you haven’t heard from us for awhile? We’ve been busy pulling together all the pieces for a 2014 launch! That’s right – by September of this year, you will be able to get around Seattle via 500 bikes docked at 50 stations in Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, Downtown and the U-District. Some details about our plans moving forward:

Who will be supplying the equipment?  
We will be purchasing our station equipment from the newly formed 8D/Alta Bicycle Share joint venture partnership. An order for bikes will be placed with a well-known global manufacturer later this month.

Has all the needed funding been secured?
It sure has! Over the past few months, we’ve confirmed a number of additional supporting sponsors as well as a local presenting sponsor. Stay tuned for our big announcement with the Mayor next month!

Drumroll please…

In May, we’ll be unveiling the official program name and logo along with the bike color, and we’re certain you’re going to love it. Chances are, these bikes will soon become an iconic fixture around our City.

Help Others Stay Informed!

With so much exciting news on the way, encourage those you know to sign up for our mailing list and help your friends and coworkers stay informed.

We want your input

Weigh in via the online map

Now live, this public input tool is an opportunity to tell us where you think a bike share station would work best in your neighborhood. Navigate through pre-approved station locations and vote for those you feel are most suitable for that particular area.

We look forward to your suggestions!

Attend a planning workshop

Throughout the month of May, we’ll be hosting neighborhood planning workshops. These workshops are an opportunity for the public to learn more about the program’s launch timeline, functionality, installation, ongoing operations, membership, etc. and most importantly, to weigh in on station locations. Workshop dates and times to be announced soon.

Cyclists: Striking fear in the hearts of drivers everywhere

I was thinking about going out for a bicycle ride this morning when I saw this article by Seth Norman on the opinion page in the Seattle Times: Cyclists strike fear in a driver’s heart.

Peace man

As one who rides a bicycle to my workplace every day, and who rides longer distances for recreation frequently, the title grabbed my attention. It is heartening to read that Mr. Norman is fearful of the violence and damage that can be caused by an automobile and is cognizant of the inherent dangers of driving. I agree that riding a bicycle in traffic on our shared public roads can be potentially hazardous.

He writes:  “Fear: Yours really should run rampant, I think, but here I refer to the trepidation of drivers steering massive machines that — mishandled in one moment — will leave you crippled, maimed or dead.”

I don’t feel fearful most of the time while riding my bicycle but I do appreciate when people who are driving cars are empathetic to others they encounter.

And “…you are so fragile, a slow antelope pacing an elephant herd.” This is an inapt analogy: in the wild, antelopes can easily outrun a herd of elephants. But with cars and bicycles it is the opposite. Common sense, as well as countless traffic research studies, show that slower mandated speeds for auto traffic is far safer for all users of the road. Lower speed equals less death, and fewer injuries when there are crashes. But this isn’t the reality on our streets.

He says, “You trust that I’m not oblivious, distracted, half-tanked or a full-blown sociopath eager for sport. Your faith bewilders me, frankly. While I don’t challenge your legal or moral rights to ride, sometimes I wonder about your sanity.”  I find it disturbing that Mr. Norman assumes that drivers behave so poorly, choose such risky behavior, and are so misanthropic that running people down with a car is considered “sport”, and then finds that people who ride bicycles are the ones who are insane.

What I find insane, is that in the US, there are over 30,000 people killed yearly in car crashes, and that auto drivers frequently are not held responsible when those crashes involve  pedestrians and people riding bicycles. In a list of causes of death worldwide compiled by the World Health Organization, death by automobile is in the top ten, just behind diabetes. 

I think that we should all be held accountable for following traffic laws. And while I feel that the laws of the road should be modified to better accommodate more than just automobiles, I still feel you need to be safe no matter how you use the road.

Mr. Norman cites the frustration of sharing the road with others and describes how he breaks the law in order to be a considerate and safe driver. He asks for forgiveness for, “grinding my molars when a pair of cyclists pedal side-by-side on this stretch or a club outing spreads out four deep.”

Many of us purposely move into the middle of lane because it not only doesn’t feel safe, it isn’t safe. There is nothing worse than having a car try to slip by you in a space that really is too narrow to squeeze through. If that cyclist were a car, or an immoveable obstacle like post, most would not risk it. If there are more than two riders abreast, these riders are not following the rules of the road and he should alert the proper authorities. See your local Driver’s Manual for details.

He also hates it when a cyclist darts out of  a bicycle lane. This is a new complaint by motorists. Typically it is that cyclists routinely blow through stop signs. I am more upset when someone driving a car runs a red light scattering startled pedestrians in their wake, but to each his own.

I hope that Mr. Norman will continue to channel his rage-now-turned-to-fear, and push for safer streets for all of us – people walking, people riding bicycles, and people driving – so that he can enjoy his choice of transportation without grinding his teeth, and without fear. That’s all any of us can hope for.

Are bikes traffic?

Are bikes traffic? Off The Beaten Path recently published an interesting blog titled “Aren’t Bikes Traffic?” about whether or not bikes are considered part of our definition of what constitutes “traffic” based on road signs in construction zones. Despite clear legal indication that bicycles are defined as part of what we know as “traffic,”  construction signs are often not helpful in clarifying which road user is entitled to the road.  His photos of a few signs with unclear directives, such as “BIKES MERGE WITH TRAFFIC” where bicycles are already riding in traffic, has made me pay attention to similar signs I encounter on my bicycle rides around town. He’s right: bikes are obviously part of traffic. It would be clearer if the sign said, “BICYCLES HAVE RIGHT OF WAY. PASS WITH CAUTION.”

I came upon this sign blocking the bike lane on Avalon Way in West Seattle the other evening. I have to say that this bike lane is such a nice improvement from what it used to be like cycling up Avalon. But, here is a familiar bright orange diamond sign that signals caution. It says: CENTER LANE CLOSED AHEAD. The sign is directly in the bicycle lane. This  causes anyone riding here to have to veer into the car lane to get around it. The irony is that what this is announcing is that the center lane is closed to traffic. There are still two unimpeded lanes for car traffic to proceed in either direction, but the construction crews didn’t really even consider that this sign completely blocks the lane for bicyclists.

Blocked Bike Lane

I don’t believe that the workers who placed this sign meant to put people in danger, but examples like this, where non-auto modes of transportation are not considered a legitimate use of the road and are rendered invisible, are all to common.

Be careful of the safety infrastructure out there.

Staying warm while riding long distances in the winter

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Staying warm with layers

Riding in the winter is the Pacific Northwest is really fun. It’s nice to get outside as our winters are very dark and often wet. But when it is cold and you plan to be outside for a few hours in the wind, it pays to put on enough clothes that you can be warm, and comfortable.

This morning it was 37 F (3 C) and foggy here in Seattle, and still dark at 7:45 AM. Hardly a polar vortex, but it was just above freezing, with damp wet air. Bone chilling!  How did I stay warm? For me making sure I have enough core warmth helps make sure that my hands and feet will stay warm. So I layered up.

In the picture above, clockwise from top left Pair of lightly insulated, shell gloves. Just below that are thin wool gloves.

Next a wool cap and/or a balaclava. I wear the balaclava when I start out because I can cover my ears. To the right of that, thick wool ski socks. The thickest that will fit with my cycling shoes. Next, thin rain shoe covers to go over my shoes. This adds a little more warmth and if it rains, you are ready.

Below that, 3 winter weight wool jerseys – all the warm jerseys I own. I opted not to wear a coat since it didn’t look likely to rain. You can shed a layer or two and wear a coat, but I inevitably find that half way through the ride, it’s wet and warm under the coat and you are looking for a place to stop and shed the coat. Multiple sweaters work pretty well. Whatever feels comfortable.

Thick wool cycling knickers are next. If it is really cold, I might add a pair of cycling tights over the knickers. Above the knickers are arm warmers, which I wore under it all with a base layer jersey.

That’s it – and it works well. For multiple hours out riding in the cold, I basically dress as if I were cross country skiing. Enough layers to stay warm once you start working up a sweat, and enough breathability to make sure you aren’t in a self enclosed sauna. I don’t find it pays to barely wear enough to stay warm. That is when my hands and feet get the coldest, and that can be very uncomfortable.

So layer up and get out and ride.

Bike lanes in Port Angeles, WA, where bicycling is mainstream

On my way to Victoria BC this past holiday week-end, we passed through Port Angeles, Washington to catch the ferry across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria. Proof that riding a bicycle is becoming mainstream can be seen in the awesome new bike paths Port Angeles has installed through town. Port Angeles is not a super cosmopolitan, liberal seeming town. It is home to a small Coast Guard station, and a few functioning lumber mills. A pretty blue collar place from the looks of it.

But unlike in places like Seattle where bike lanes often seem to be an afterthought even with our awesome Bike Master Plan, in Port Angeles they took what was a three lane main street and installed bike lanes on both sides of the street. I’ve not seen this implemented before. It’s pretty cool and a good indication that riding a bike is beginning to be seen as a normal way to get around town, even in smaller cities like Port Angeles.

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