New York Times' Battle of the Bike Lanes

new york bike lane photo
I am traveling during the holidays, so I am just now catching up on some of my reading. Just before Christmas, the New York Times hosted an interesting five-way debate on the Bike Lanes of New York. It is about New York, but the issues really are universal.

Sam Staley calls bike lanes A Subsidy for the Few:
The hard, cold December reality of bike lanes in U.S. cities is that they will inevitably be a small part, even tiny part in most cases, of America's solution to congestion and mobility. Bike networks represent concentrated, subsidized benefits for a small portion of the commuting public.
Right. And roads, police enforcement, defence of international flow of oil and externalities like 40,000 killed in cars every year get no subsidy at all. But fortunately it gets better:
bike lane new york photo
Alex Marshall thinks there are Better Ways to Help Bike Transit.
Promote biking on regular streets, and thus avoid "ghettoizing" cyclists into bike lanes. One problem now is that the bike lanes are usually put on larger streets and avenues, which means that cyclists are mixing with higher speed traffic and higher volumes of traffic. One solution is to make clear that bikes are appropriate on most city streets, even those without bike lanes.
public bikes launch image
Robert Sullivan sarcastically points out The Car Culture's Blind Spots:
On the idea that bikes ultimately can't coexist in a city with trucks and traffic, that restaurants and stores can't get goods: Too true! Moreover, what are we doing allowing those concrete swaths in that area between where cars drive and where the buildings are? Sidewalks, I think they call them. People really slow things down. Can they be put underground, or some kind of special lanes?
Caroline Samponaro claims that bike lanes are Creating Order Out of Chaos.
Last year, more than 75,000 motor vehicle crashes occurred on city streets and fewer than 4 percent involved a bicycle. Bike lanes make streets safer for pedestrians and drivers. It's the streets without bike lanes that New Yorkers should be worried about.
Felix Salmon, who is becoming one of my favourite writers, asks, Can We Please Be Patient?
Take a New Yorker, put her on a bike in Berlin, and she'll behave perfectly well, stopping at lights along with everybody else, and riding in the right direction on the street. It's not the people who are the real problem, it's just how those people behave when they're on the streets of New York.

Eventually, given time, New Yorkers will learn that a bike lane is not a convenient empty spot in which to park a baby. Cyclists will learn that it's unacceptable to ride the wrong way down the street. And drivers will learn to look first, before they turn left across a bike lane. But getting there from here is bound to be awkward and painful for many.
More in the New York Times

New Strap Lighting

lbl bike lights rear photo

Continuing my research on new safety features, and in this case bike lights, I turn my attention to the LBL (or Led by Lite). Unlike the recently released Fibre Flare and Bike Glow, the LBL, whilst also strip lighting, does not use a tube through which light is directed. Instead it comprises four straps of silicone encased light emitting diodes (LEDs) for each of the bicycle's forks. The fledging company, who plan to start selling their lights in early 2011, reckon their system is the first 360° light systems for bikes.

lbl bike lights closeup photo Nine red LEDs on each rear fork is partnered with 12 white LEDs on each front fork, and when seem from a distance the two light straps merges together giving very noticeable illumination fore and aft. Led by Lite claim that light is cast 60ft to the front and 40ft sideways.

Power is provided by 12 volt battery pack with options of rechargeable lithium (to retail for about  $145, or via a AA battery array, which is expected to cost $100).

The straps fit onto clips which are velcroed to the forks, and the battery pack mounts under the bike seat/saddle. It looks like it might be a tad fiddly to remove all the various components, if you lock your bike to public bike parking for any length of time, to overcome theft. But maybe it is easier in real life than suggested by watching the promotional video.

The silicone encased LED straps are waterproof, but I'm not sure about the battery pack assembly.
However, the LBL looks like a bicycle lighting system worth keeping an eye on.

Bike/Ped Culture is Thriving in the Steel City

This video by StreetFilms gives an excellent overview of Pittsburgh's bike culture and infrastructure. Having only visited there several years ago, and because Pittsburgh isn't as well covered by the national media, I had no idea that it was so vibrant and healthy. It's a nice surprise! Make sure to check out Bike Pittsburgh (become a member, or at least say "hello" on the message board). Pittsburgh has a growing movement for better bicycling and more livable streets. Among the cool things you’ll see…
  • A newly renovated and pedestrianized Market Square, where two cross streets were eliminated to create a better place for people. The experts at Project for Public Spaces helped consult on the project.
  • A morning commuter breakfast with the folks at Bike Pittsburgh, where they got to talk to cyclists about what they like about their city, and what could use some improvement.
  • An unusual bike parking facility that uses retro-fitted shipping containers and is operated by a public-private partnership. For just $100 you can safely park your bike indoors for a year.
  • The Over the Bar Cafe — a unique bicycle-themed restaurant serving great food and drink, and a frequent meeting place for rides and advocacy events. The walls are filled with cycling memorabilia and adorned with murals.

Munich Using a Marketing Campaign to Improve Bike Usage

Munich proves, not only by providing more bike lanes, a positive campaign will improve bike usage. Check the video:

Zip Tie-Snow Tire Chains!

diy winter biking tie wraps photo

Since I ride predominately in Florida, and definitely not in snow, I have never thought too much about the implications of riding on snow and ice. I saw this post on Dutch Bike and had to share it. One of the cyclists at Dutch Bike Co was caught without studded tires when it started snowing in Seattle, but no matter, that's nothing that a box of zip ties can't fix! This MacGyver trick isn't new, but now that winter is here, it's worth bringing up once more.
diy winter biking tie wraps photo

Fritz Rice, the DIYer on these photos, says that while the ties look "completely ludicrous", they work "beautifully":
I can accelerate, brake, and corner with aplomb, even on the vile snowpack/sheet ice mix the plows leave in the bike lanes. The zip ties dig nicely into the hardest packed surfaces, but they're thin enough not to bounce the bike around at low speed or on short pavement sections.
diy winter biking tie wraps photo

diy winter biking tie wraps photo

As you can see on this last photo, the tie heads as position so that they give extra grip when you are cornering, but they stay out of the way when going in a straight line. Just make sure you have enough clearance on all sides.

Via DutchBikeCo

New York Bike Counts Continue to Grow

cycling growth new york city image
Another year, another double-digit increase in New York City’s cyclist count. NYDOT estimates that the number of cyclists riding into the center of the city jumped up 13 percent in 2010, continuing a three-year pattern of rapid growth [PDF].

In terms of absolute growth, 2010 marks the third-largest increase in the number of cyclists counted since DOT began counting in 1986. Only 2008 and 2009 showed larger gains, according to DOT, of 32 and 26 percent respectively. This year’s 13 percent jump is on top of that rapid growth. In total, the bike count is up 88 percent in the last three years.

So what has changed in the city that would spur this growth? I would hypothesize that the city's investment in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure has been the most determining factor. According to Streetsblog, "As the city continues to build out its biking network and add a bike-share system, we are certain that more New Yorkers will choose this affordable, healthy and non-polluting form of transportation."

In Toronto, the new Mayor thinks roads belong to trucks and cars, and thinks bike lanes slow them down. He calls bike lanes and streetcars a "war on the car." In fact, in many cases, a person on a bike might otherwise be taking up road space in a car. Car people often preach that bikes are a hazard, that they don't pay their way and that they should be licenced, and their riders should be insured, just like people in cars. In London, Peter Walker of the Guardian explains why this would be pointless and counterproductive.
First, Walker explains the benefits of cycling, not for cyclists but for society in general:
Cycling and cyclists are good for society; good for everyone, in fact. You might not like our funny, Lycra-wearing ways, but it's an undeniable truth. If 50% of a hypothetical city's car drivers abandoned their vehicles overnight for bikes it would slash pollution and congestion (for the remaining drivers, too), also bringing less wear to the roads and better health for the new cyclists. It would additionally, at a stroke, dramatically cut the numbers of people killed or badly hurt on the roads, saving millions of pounds and - more importantly - reducing the number of lives lost or devastated through grief or grave injury.
He then points out that any impediment to cycling is going to reduce the number of people who do it.
Cycling's appeal is that it is gloriously simple and impulsive, a habit usually acquired in childhood. It's been shown time and again that even compulsory helmet wearing reduces cyclist numbers. Imagine what would happen if you introduced a registry of bikes and riders, which you'd need to make any licence and insurance scheme viable. Only the truly committed would trek to the test centre, fill in the forms for number plates and screw them onto the frame.
So in the end, if you want fewer cars on the road slowing you down, lower taxes for road maintenance, and reduced health care costs, what you want to do is build more bike lanes, promote cycling, subsidize bike share programmes and stop complaining about cyclists getting a free ride.
When asked "What came first, the bikes, or the bike lanes? Do bike facilities encourage people to bike? Or are they a response to increased demand after there are more bikes on the road?"
One good image from an newspaper article was posted at Modern Mechanix, showing that bike lanes existed in 1928. Below is this cool video telling the history of bike lanes, which explains how they date back to Napoleonic times.

The film explains that there were not a lot of roads in the Netherlands; the primary means of transport was by canal boat. Road building was tough in the soggy soil. Napoleon build a network of roads, but they deteriorated rapidly. When the bike came along, the Napoleonic roads were narrowed and given over to bikes. By 1905 there were strong rules to keep cars and carts off the bike lanes, and soon trees and hedges were planted between the bike paths and the new roads being built to accommodate the car.

So in fact, the bike lanes did come first. Copenhagenize posted a great series of historic photos showing masses of cyclists from the 30s into the 70s. While there was heavy bike traffic even on streets without bike lanes, it’s clear Copenhagen had bike lanes and sidepaths even in the 1930s.

Added Bike Lane Improves Safety, Increased Use, and Sped Up Users

New DOT data shows that the Prospect Park West redesign doesn't only improve safety, it enables more people to use the street to get to work. Image: NYC DOT.

After visiting New York this summer, I have tried to keep my finger on the pulse of what is happening up there. One interesting project to me is the Prospect Park West redesign in Brooklyn, which adds bi-directional, protected bike lanes, narrows the travel lanes, and moves/removes some on street parking. New DOT data shows that the redesign has not only improved safety, it has enabled more people to use the street to get to work. As you can see in the findings above, both bicycle and motor vehicle traffic increased after the addition of the protected bike lane. In the graphic below, the findings are pretty conclusive that the redesign actually sped up trips on that street, as well as on some parallel roads. It is just more ammunition to show that traffic calming and making streets livable for all users, makes streets better for everyone.

Brad Lander’s survey shows that a whopping 78 percent of interested Brooklyn residents want to keep the traffic calming Prospect Park West bike lane, DOT has released still more data [PDF] showing that the new street design keeps New Yorkers safer and helps them get where they’re going. With two more months of data collection since DOT last released its Prospect Park West numbers, the fundamental facts about the redesign remain. As DOT found in October, while three-quarters of cars were measured speeding before the redesign, now only one in six drive over the speed limit. The number of cyclists roughly tripled on weekdays, and doubled on weekends. There are some slight variations in the December numbers — the more recent data show slightly higher speeds in the morning and slower speeds in the evening, for example — but these effects are looking like they’re here to stay.

The December numbers add new evidence that, contrary to opponents’ claims, the narrower Prospect Park West has not caused congestion. Looking at travel times, DOT shows that even though speeding is down, a trip down Prospect Park West actually takes a few seconds under the new design. Travel times are slightly down on Eighth and Sixth Avenues as well, though a bit up on Seventh. Even during rush hour, the effects on vehicle speeds are negligible, with morning peak car trips taking a few seconds longer and evening peak trips taking a few seconds shorter.

Finally, DOT has now released a count of the total number of commuters using Prospect Park West. By turning one vehicular lane into a two-way bike lane, they were able to increase the number of people using the street. The combined count of motor vehicles and bikes increased by 11 percent in the morning and six percent in the afternoon. It’s a perfect illustration of a concept that’s central to PlaNYC:
We’re going to need to prioritize sustainable transportation for one million more New Yorkers to fit on our crowded streets without making traffic even worse.
The Prospect Park West redesign actually sped up trips on the street, as well as on some parallel roads. Image: NYC DOT.

Inspirations for Winter Riding

Cold days commuting, like today, make me have to think of all of those hot, Florida summer days of riding. Luckily temperature can be manageable with proper attire. It feels like you can't have enough layers on with these winter commutes. The sweaters, gloves, and ear warmers are a must!

Some inspirations that I use to face the cold are the images that Copenhagenize posted this week. They are experiencing "real winter", and not just cool mornings like we have here in Florida. I also enjoy viewing some of the videos from the Netherlands that show some of the best ridership and infrastructure in the world. As the videographer in one of the video describes in their video description,
This is what a real town looks like. I love Groningen so much because the people ALL ride bicycles and the infrastructure for bicycles is best on Earth. No comparison to anywhere else.

Metros Using Bikes to Increase Ridership

The last thing that most people would consider using to raise Metro use in urban areas, is cycling, but Washington D.C.’s Metro is looking to boost ridership by boosting cycling. Officials at the transit authority have noted that, while Metro’s ridership is growing, there isn’t enough room around most of its stations to expand parking. More bicycle-to-train trips will mean more commuters can board at those stations while reducing Metro’s vehicle storage costs. And compared to a system where driving and walking are the only options, a system that encourages biking to the train will improve overall access for commuters to Metro stations.

A recently completed study of pedestrian and bicycle access [PDF] at Metro stations outlined strategies for increasing the percentage of passengers who arrive by bicycle, with the goal of doubling the rate over 10 years and quintupling it over 20. David Alpert at Greater Greater Washington pulls out some juicy details:
While walking almost entirely depends on the number of housing units or jobs within a short distance of the station, bicycling has the potential to replace a number of short auto trips to Metro parking lots, freeing up spaces for other people to drive to the station without having to build more parking.
Parking garages cost Metro $30,000 per space to build, while a secure bike cage costs only $1,000 per space, and bike racks cost far less. Therefore, increasing bicycling for riders who live 1-3 miles from stations is the cheapest and best way to improve access for those riders.
In a survey, 67% of riders said they would consider bicycling and 55% would consider walking. The distance from home to the station was the top factor barring walking or biking, but #2 was “uncomfortable crossing conditions at intersections” and #3 was “high traffic volume and speed.” 25% of the respondents said they drive instead of walking or biking because they “do not know a safe walking or biking route.”
As part of its campaign to woo cyclists, Metro is planning to improve and expand bike parking facilities at its stations. I also read that Metro might add a Bicycle Program Manager. If so, I assume that their highest priority will be to add visible, accessible and connected bicycle facilities to their stations. By creating a connected network to the system, providing bike parking at the destinations, and increasing the comfort level of the riders, it will most definitely be successful.

Bicycle Safety May Be Added to New York Driver Education Classes

P1000241One of the "5E's" of the Bike League's Bicycle Friendly Communities is Education. Education includes teaching cyclists of all ages how to ride safely in any area, from multi-use paths to congested city streets, as well as teaching motorists how to share the road safely with cyclists. New York City has been balancing between adding a multitude of new infrastructure facilities and public policies. Zachary Kussin from CUNY reported in The Local edition of the New York Times, how a new law may be introduced that would require bicycle safety instruction.

Jasmine Herron’s died in September after she was hit by an opening car door which knocked her off her bike and into the path of a city bus. The death of Ms. Herron, a 23-year-old art-school graduate and barista, prompted State Senator Eric Adams to introduce Legislation S. 8487 to the New York State Senate. Senator Adams’ bill, which would require bicycle safety instruction as a part of the state’s mandatory pre-licensing driver education course, is designed to ensure that future motorists are aware of the potential dangers to bicyclists on the road.

"The menace of serious injury or death from accidents between bikes and motor vehicles is a reality that every cyclist faces, but it is imperative that we take every feasible action to increase bicycle safety,” Senator Adams said in a press statement.

The bill currently awaits approval in the New York State Senate. For now, it remains in the Rules Committee. After the legislative session begins in January, the bill will enter the Senate floor for a vote. If approved, the Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner David Swarts will take lead to develop the bicycle safety curriculum. Senator Adams has indicated that bicycling advocates and enthusiasts will be consulted in the bill’s development.

The most recent New York City accident report issued by the New York State DMV shows a total of 21 bicyclists died in street accidents in 2008, four down from the previous year. So far this year, Transportation Alternatives, an organization that I have mentioned in previous posts that advocates bicycling, walking and the use of public transit, has reported three “dooring” deaths in New York City, including Jasmine Herron’s.

Paco Abraham, chairperson of Transportation Alternatives’ Brooklyn Committee of Volunteers, said Senator Adams’ legislation is a step in the right direction.

“If it works, it’s a model pilot program,” said Mr. Abraham.

The creation of more new bicycle lanes is also necessary to increase safety for bicyclists, he said. The city’s Department of Transportation has added over 20 miles of bike lanes in Brooklyn since spring to tackle the issue of sharing road space. These lanes separate bicycle traffic from cars by at least four feet, which gives bicyclists extra space to ride and to avoid open doors. Still, many streets in Brooklyn don’t have bike lanes.

“The infrastructure needs to be there,” Mr. Abraham said. “In a perfect world, every street is safe for all users.”

Even as the Department of Transportation has encouraged more bike traffic to help ease street congestion, tensions between drivers and bicyclists over sharing road space have increased.

Transportation Alternatives offers some tips for cyclists in “Biking Rules: A New Streetcode for NYC Cyclists.”

Keep clear of car doors: Ride four feet away from parked cars, even if you end up taking up a whole lane of traffic. If you get doored, file a police report. Section 4-12 of the Rules of the City of New York says the motorist is at fault.

Be big in intersections: Transportation Alternatives says intersections are where most crashes occur. To avoid a crash, say out of drivers’ blind spots, make eye contact, and use a bell and lights to be noticed. To avoid a turning conflict, mix with cars and make the same turn they make.

Use hand signals: Extend your left arm or right arm to indicate which direction you’re turning. Left arm means left turn, right arm means right turn. To indicate a stop, hold your right arm out at a downward 90 degree angle.

The Look: Wear a helmet to prevent serious head injury. Attach a mirror to help with switching lanes. Use a pant clip to keep your right pant leg from getting caught in the bike chain.

Smart Bike Data Shows Urban Cycling Is Faster Than Driving

lyon bike share speed photo

For all those politicians who think that roads are for cars, here are some interesting data from Lyon, France: bikes are faster. According to MIT's Technology Review (via Grist) the Lyon bike sharing program collects information on where each bike starts and stops, and how long it takes.
lyon bike share speed photo map

The data were analyzed by Pablo Jensen at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, who found:
Over an average trip, cyclists travel 2.49 km in 14.7 minutes so their average speed is about 10 km/h. That compares well with the average car speed in inner cities across Europe. During the rush hour, however, the average speed rises to almost 15 km/h, a speed which outstrips the average car speed. And that's not including the time it takes to find a place to park which is much easier for a Velo bike than a car.
One supposes that the rush hour cyclists are kind of more likely to rush, while the mid-day cyclists are a little more lackadaisical.

Another interesting finding that the bike-haters will pounce on is the fact that the cyclists didn't necessarily follow the same routes as the drivers.
The data also shows that bike journeys between two points are shorter in distance than the corresponding journey by car. There are no bike lanes in Lyon so this suggests that cyclists use other techniques to make short cuts, say Jensen and co. Their shocking conclusion is that cyclists often ride on the pavement, along bus lanes and the wrong way up one way streets.
However it might also mean that cyclists take direct routes, whereas drivers sometimes take longer routes that have wider, faster roads. This kind of information will be useful for urban planners. For the first time they have real data to show where to build cycle lanes and how well they will be used. We can expect to see more of this kind of analysis as data from smart bike systems in other cities becomes available too.

More at MIT Technology Review

Airbags for Bicycles?!

After several years of research and development a bicycle helmet unlike anything available on the market has been launched. It’s bicycle helmet called Hövding (chieftain) that does not even sit on your head. The founders and inventors Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin showed up world news at the Technical Fair in Stockholm.
"We wanted to develop a protection for cyclists that take account of the requests we got in our investigations. The protection would include preserving the sense of freedom and not ruin your hairstyle", says Terese Alstin which is one of the inventors.
Hövding is a discreet collar that the cyclist is wearing around his neck. The collar contains a folded airbag which is visible only at a collision. The airbag is designed as a hood that in case of an accident will enclose and protect the cyclist’s head. Release mechanism is controlled by sensors that register abnormal movements of the rider in an accident.
"The actual collar is the visible part of the invention. The shell of the collar is removable and available in many different styles and fabrics and will be launched in new collections. Hövding is a practical, handy accessory that is easy to carry, is stylish and unobtrusive in its design, while it saves your life", says Anna Haupt.
For six years, Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin have been working with the development of Hövding which is based on advanced technology and research. Both are trained industrial designers and it was during their degree project that they got the idea that laid the foundation for the development of Hövding. Today, twelve people work full time with Hövding.

The helmets, which will be sold in Sweden, will be available for about 3000 Swedish Kronas, or about US$450, beginning in 2011. Sweden is a member of the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), but I’m not familiar with the European standard. Some creative interpretation might be necessary if the makers want this to pass the US CPSC bike helmet standards testing.

New Electric Cars Are Still the Problem and Bikes Are Still the Solution

andrew sullivan bike vs car

An interesting thread of posts on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish includes a great quote from a reader about why electric cars are not as good a choice as a bike:
As a transportation-focused environmental advocate, it pains me to see all the fawning over electric cars and their buyers, while ignoring scores of innovations that make bicycling a viable choice for more trips: cargo bikes, folding bikes, bike sharing, workplace showers, secure bicycle parking, and so on. I suppose it's a good thing to make a car that doesn't require any oil, but energy use is only one of the problems with cars, especially in a "livable" urban environment. Show me a car that doesn't require a parking space, then I might be interested.
It is the reason electric cars never inspired Worldchanging's Alex Steffen who wrote:
The answer to the problem of the American car is not under the hood, and we're not going to find a bright green future by looking there...The best car-related innovation we have is not to improve the car, but eliminate the need to drive it everywhere we go.
The Volt and the Leaf don't do that, they take up the same amount of space, need the same pavement and parking and infrastructure. And as pointed out in the post that started the thread at the Daily Dish, (and on TreeHugger) they may not even reduce emissions all that much.
volt sticker

The story that started the thread was Chris Korbus's complaint that the Chevy Volt is really a coal-fired car, and that the MPG ratings are meaningless and even fraudulent:

Here's where the fraud is perpetrated: the electricity for those vehicles is being generated by mostly coal power plants that are only about 33% efficient (minus transmission losses and losses from charging). Coal plants are off-site power generators (whereas car engines are on-board) and are totally ignored in the EPA rating.... The EPA is purposely comparing apples to oranges, conveniently hiding the fact that you are simply displacing gasoline usage with coal. The fact that you don't have to directly throw coal into your car doesn't mean you aren't using any.
Mike made the same point in his discussion of the MPG of the Volt and the Leaf:
The problem with this approach is that while a gallon of gasoline is a gallon of gasoline (depending on the source, the impact can be higher or lower, but there's still a clear range), the electricity used to charge the LEAF's battery can come from a wide variety of sources with a HUGE range of environmental impacts. If the LEAF is charged from a coal plant, it might not be much better than a gasoline car (and maybe even worse if it's a very old and inefficient coal plant).
John Laumer made the same point three years ago when the Tesla was launched in A Vote For Electric Vehicles Is A Vote For Coal:
Like the coal-powered 1873 Bollee Steam Car pictured here, every plug in hybrid dream and every all-electric car prototype sold in North America currently endorses a dirty-coal-fired, climate-destroying future. With over half the electricity currently produced in the US generated by coal... no intellectually honest observer can look at the all-electric, rechargeable Tesla car and see good odds for reduced climate risk.
If we are ever going to reduce our carbon footprints and get off foreign oil (since not every car will be electric for a long, long time) we need to promote dense, walkable communities, good, safe and clean transit, and bikes, lots and lots of bikes.

Switching Gears: More Commuters Bike To Work

This morning on NPR's Morning Edition, Allison Aubrey reported about how several of the US's largest cities have tripled their number of bike commuters. She specifically documents National Geographic in DC, and how DC has grown a strong bicycle culture and they have noticed the positive changes in the past few years.

National Geographic Society CEO John Fahey talks to Dan Westergren, who is also an avid cyclist.
One way National Geographic staffers in Washington, D.C., can get to know their company's CEO is to take him up on his long-standing offer: to go for a lunchtime bike ride.

"Anyone still downstairs? OK, so we ready to go, guys?" National Geographic Society CEO John Fahey asks a group of about 20 employees.

Fahey, an avid biker, says he's just trying to encourage a little exercise — and he wants the opportunity to get to know folks informally. As the group makes the 15-mile trek to Hains Point along the Potomac River and back, Fahey makes a point of chatting with everyone, staffers say.

At National Geographic — which is a hub of outdoorsy, adventure-seeking types who think nothing of biking busy city streets — lots of the staffers who join Fahey for the lunchtime rides also use their bikes to get to and from work every day.

"I've been riding in for 19 years," says senior photo editor Dan Westergren, adding that he has definitely noticed the boom — especially as bike paths and bike lanes along city streets have improved.

Westergren's commute is a combined 12 miles to and from home. And he says, given all the biking he does, he doesn't need a gym membership to stay fit.

"Really, to build it into your daily routine by commuting for me has just been the best thing," he says.

Cycling Culture
If you bike to work in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Chicago or San Francisco, you're part of a boom. Cycling has at least tripled over the past two decades in these — and other — big cities across the U.S.

"It's almost like a snowball effect," says researcher John Pucher of Rutgers University. "People see other people cycling and they say, 'Wow!' " As part of a three-year research project for the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pucher has completed a preliminary report that documents the increase in biking in nine major North American cities.

"It's almost become a cultural phenomenon," Pucher says. "It's become the 'in' thing to do." For many city dwellers, it's a money saver, a time saver and a way to sneak in daily exercise.

Research shows that the extra physical activity that people get from walking and biking to work or school is not offset by less recreational activity.

"[Active commuters] actually double the amount of their total physical activity," says Pucher. And as a result, Pucher says cities with lots of "active" commuters tend to be healthier. The most recent evidence comes from a study Pucher and his colleagues published in the American Journal of Public Health.

They found that the U.S. cities with the highest rates of walking and cycling to work have obesity rates that are 20 percent lower and diabetes rates that are 23 percent lower — compared with U.S. cities with the lowest rates of walking and cycling.

Just 'Hide The Bike Grease'
There are, of course, a few daily obstacles. Take the weather. "In the winter it's just gross sometimes with the ice," staffer Julia Yordanova says. And there are also the dangers of traffic. "It's the cab drivers," says Jonathan Irish.

Not to mention the need to try to fit in a shower at the office. "You just try to hide the bike grease on your calf as you're sitting in a meeting," says Barbara Noe, an editor at Travel Books.

But hey, if the office culture tolerates a little sweat on the brow — or grease on the calf — take it a sign of good health. That's the way Pucher sees it.

Pucher says, "Most people understand that walking and cycling is healthy. They don't think as something they could integrate into their daily lives."

Power of Perceived Safety

While working in New York this past summer, I always noticed the window washers from my office window and thought, “who on earth would sign up for that job?” The reality was, the person washing the window was standing on a tethered platform, and had a second tether attached to themselves from the rooftop. There were three cantilevered arms over the building, two for the platform, and one for the worker. Though you do hear of deaths of plunging window washers, the reality is very rare, and considering the number of skyscrapers around the world and the amount of cleaning needed, the accident rate is extremely low. So why wouldn’t you or I choose this job? Quite simply, the perception of safety is so low that the idea of taking the responsibility is left to a small “fearless” minority. Would a major education campaign detailing the true safety of window washing, and citing the rarity of accident rates improve the number of window washers? Possibly, but by numbers so low as to be little worth the expenditure and effort. Some label the fear of bicycling in traffic as “Cyclist Inferiority Complex”, and tend to berate the population at large for having this wholly natural human vs. car concern.

In the 1960′s, the Netherlands and Denmark had developed their “car-first” infrastructure, and saw precipitous drops in bicycle modal share. By the 1970′s, efforts were made to focus on “people-first” planning, and to develop extensive bicycle infrastructure. This clip from Contested Streets details that switch, and shows areas in 1965 Copenhagen that look very much like Orlando now. The battle the planners faced was the assumption that “we’re not Italians, we’re Danes…we have no culture for walking”. Similarily, businesses fought the infrastructure tooth and nail, claiming traffic congestion and a drop in visibility. The reality is both cultures are now known as bicycle meccas. One would assume it’s always been that way when visiting, but according to planner, Jan Gehl, it’s only occurred within the last 30 years. Portland, Oregon would have never thought itself the bicycle capital of the US only 15 years ago, but the city’s massive redirection toward people first planning, changed the area in very short order.

Realizing the importance of the “perception of safety”, planners went to great lengths to make bicycling irresistable. Because of these major changes in Europe, statistics show massive increases in ridership for all age groups when compared to the US:

Women are more sensitive to safety than men, so separation of transit modes was a major push made by European planners to enhance the perception of safety. Because of this, Denmark and Germany have nearly 50/50 travel rates between men and women, and in the Netherlands, women actually exceed men in ridership:

This change in planning goes well beyond enhancing the “perception of safety”, and goes to great lengths to increase the overall safety by focusing on “people first” road calming. Soren Jensen’s study of cycle track installations showed increased ridership by 18-20%, and Peter Jacobsen’s study of safety increasing with the number of riders. What’s more telling is the fatality rates when compared to the US:

Between 2005 and 2007, bicycle trips in Amsterdam officially outpaced car trips. From 1990 to now, ridership has increased 36%. The only things changed infrastructure wise from then to now were increases in bicycle infrastructure and restrictions in parking measures. To see changes of that magnitude in the US, we’ll need to make similar adjustments to our road systems to place people over cars.

Globetrotting Layovers Provide Glimpse at Euro Facilities-Paris

One of the perks with working at an international company, is the vast number of projects that can send you across the globe. These kind of travel trips also create layovers in foreign cities for sometimes a day or so. Some recent such trips created stops in Paris France and Hamburg Germany for a few of my coworkers. Below is a recap from what they saw in Paris and the Hamburg post is in the works.

Few bicycling systems in the world have attracted more attention than the Paris’ Vélib, launched in 2007. With over 17,000 bicycles in circulation and a surprising degree of both permanent and provisional infrastructure, the Vélib is the crown jewel of European bicycle share systems, and has jump started a transportation revolution in this city of lights. But as fantastic and unprecedented as the Vélib may indeed be, the system is troubled by a number of distribution problems, and lacks the necessary scope of integral planning and infrastructure to make not only the Vélib, but bicycling in general a boundless success in Paris.

1. Success breeds mediocrity

The Vélib’s greatest success, and the baseline measure for any bicycle share system, is that it achieves critical mass. Quite simply, the bikes are everywhere. Stations appear every couple of blocks and often stock far more bikes than one might expect. Vélib’s system of 17,000+ bicycles and 1,200+ stations makes finding a bike, returning a bike, and enjoying a bike easy and carefree. Or at least, it ought to.

The Vélib, it seems, represents a strange case of success breeding mediocrity. Because such a critical mass of bicycles are in circulation and people actually use them to get around for short trips and errands, the system is plagued by a number of unprecedented problems. First of all, there is the inflow/outflow dilemma. During the day, there are a lack of bicycles in the perimeter districts (especially hilly areas) and an overabundance of them in the center- which makes parking a stressful and inconvenient affair. Since the Vélib is only free for the first 30 minutes, if you happen to arrive at your intended destination to find your station and the nearest one totally full, the result can be frustrating. True success could only be achieved if people in both the center and the periphery used the Vélib for all trips, long and short, constantly, or if bicycle redistribution were carried out so thoroughly that the the system could maintain its equilibrium- unlikely, though thought-provoking possibility. Secondly, as anyone who spends five minutes in Paris realizes rather quickly, walking is a great deal more pleasant than cycling in Paris, to take in the streets, smell, and architecture at a more relaxed pace.

2. Infrastructure…
What is in some ways more surprising than the Vélib, is the degree to which the city of Paris, has, within a relatively short span of time, established a tremendous amount of permanent and provisional cycling infrastructure. On-street painted bicycle lanes, asphalt-paved sidewalk lanes and separated, at-grade pathways make the frenzied center of Paris a more than adequate environment for bicycling.

As far as infrastructure goes, the city of Paris has employed several consistent strategies to accommodate cycling and make it a safer activity.

1. Permanent separated lanes - On several main boulevards and wider streets, Paris has built in permanent or provisional, separated cycle tracks. These are often paired with share stations at regular intervals and represent the crem-de-la-creme of the Vélib’s infrastructure.

2.  Painted lanes and logos - A mixed bag overall, the painted lanes with frequently stamped bicyclist logos in Paris reflect safe bicycling environments 50 percent of the time. Though frequent on street painted signage and lanes are a constant reassurance to traffic-dodging cyclists.

3. The Bike/Bus Lane - Nowhere more than Paris have I seen the bike/bus lane strategy employed. Basically, the city creates a dedicated bus lane (sometimes even in the center of the street, and often accessible to delivery vehicles as well) and stamps a cyclist logo onto it. The idea being, that in the process of facilitating public transport, the city also creates a safe, luxurious, and spacious route for cyclists. In reality, however, the city takes bicyclists out of the piranha tank and puts them in with the sharks. They are a less populous breed, but interactions can be daunting, uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous. In general, I find that these bike/bus lanes could benefit from a separate bicycle lane within the larger dedicated area in order to ease the potential space crunch and delineate space in the event of conflict.

4. The local/slow street - A more successful street prototype used in Paris is the local or calmed/slow street which is accessible to both cars and bicycles, but is separated from fast traffic.  These streets effectively separate bicyclists from heavy traffic and ease traffic by giving cars looking for parking a separate and comfortable space to do so. This concept is a familiar one used quite frequently in the Netherlands and helps to create a calmer space for bicycles, as well as a buffer between pedestrian sidewalks and heavy traffic.

4. Intersections - Where the bicycling infrastructure of Paris, and most other systems for that matter, falters is at intersections. Some would argue that an intersection in a cycling system serves the same purpose as a joint in the human body. Without the adequate articulation of these key pivot points, the skeleton loses its potential for connectivity and flexibility. Where cars, bicyclists and pedestrians come together and conflict, "That is the network." As much as Paris has succeeded in reassuring bicyclists of their place on the road and as part of the traffic hierarchy of the city, at its intersections (for bicyclists and pedestrians alike), the system fractures.
Though Paris has employed a number of interesting solutions in the realm of infrastructure, including checkered green painting at troublesome intersections, left and right turns remain treacherous and, at many junctions, bicyclists struggle to fend for themselves and must be quite aggressive. Of course, there is hardly a case for comparison between Paris and Amsterdam or Copenhagen in terms of urban scale, but the city needs to bolster their infrastructure at these busy intersections and roundabouts-with signals, signage, and color- to make the Vélib a safe as well as successful system.

3. Wayfinding in a city built for parades
Paris, like many grand European capitals, is a city built for parades, not people or traffic. This famous urban form, an amalgam of axial boulevards that meet at oversized roundabouts crowned by statuary and  pilfered obelisks, makes traffic planning and the creation of a better bicycling infrastructure a tremendous challenge. Unlike gridded cities in the United States or student cities of the Netherlands and Germany, the challenge for a capital on the scale of London, Paris, or Berlin is not only to create a more livable city for bicycles and pedestrians alike, but also to use these systems in order to enhance wayfinding/legibility and to clarify the city’s districts, main paths, edges, and nodes.

Bicycle signage has the potential to convey not only hierarchy and direction, but also structure. One critique of the Vélib, is that although the bicycle stations are generally paired to Metro Stations, there is no Vélib sign to indicate when a metro station actually has one nearby, where to find it from the station, or even a small V sign beneath the prominent and recognizable M. Additionally, though the ubiquitous green of the bicycle paths and logos in Paris is appropriately suggestive and easy to recognize, I would be interested to see whether or not the system could be more effectively paired with the metro line numbers, destination names, and colors, or have their own system cues involving colors, letters, numbers, and pictures. Since certain streets already have Vélib stations at regular intervals, why not give such streets a distinctive accent, so that those looking for parking know that such a path is a reliable Vélib parking route.

Part of the issue of a Vélib-type system is that unlike a subway, it allows users to move freely in all directions. As any Google map of Vélib stations will show, the system is the ultimate instrument of spontaneity and appropriately ascribes the situationist doctrine of derivé. But as much as this kind of freedom liberates, it also brings with it a strange, unknowable opacity that fails to suitably discern or guide not only how people bicycle through the city, but what might be the safest and least complex thoroughfares for them to use. After all, the Vélib offers a thirty minute ride, so in general, it is built for riders with a purpose.

The Vélib in Paris offers a sterling example of how a bicycle sharing system can change not only the perception of bicycling in a city, but also how bicyclists can move through and interact with an urban environment. As much as the Vélib should be emulated in capitals all over the world, the realities of bicycle sharing are limiting. In an ideal bicycling culture and environment, such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen, bicycle usage is widespread enough to render a share system redundant, relatively unnecessary or geared to tourists. As much as the Vélib has been successful, the regular Parisian bicyclist, whose pride for his/her old Peugeot is long-standing and mature, has hardly been afforded with more consistent parking at metro stations compared with the flashy Vélib. Bicycle sharing must in certain cases represent a transitional state that increases bicycling in the public imagination and encourages people to experiment with bicycle errands and commuting. Sharing concepts in general must also generate the interest of more niche markets and, as they are already, encompass a wider and more flexible range of vehicle types, including cars, mopeds, electric bicycles, segways, and cargo bikes.

As a final note, it must be mentioned that the Vélib, while successful and popular among the Parisian bourgeoisie, is not as widely accessible to the poor and immigrant classes, many of whom may not use a credit card, or may have never learned to ride a bicycle. This impedes the system from fully achieving its democratic aims and restricts user ship to a less-than representative cross-section of the Parisian population. Vandalism and theft, moreover, some arguably in reaction to these inequities, are all too common.

Cycling's New Rules of the Road-WSJ Article

Below is a great article by Tom Perrotta, from the Wall Street Journal.He highlights many of the issues that have been raised and explained on this blog. New York City's building boom of bicycle infrastructure has increased bicycling. This article covers the many viewpoints and growing pains associated with with this positive change. It is just refreshing to see that people are taking notice and that progress is occurring.

In the last three years, New York City has built 200 miles of bike lanes. Daily ridership is up—some estimates say it has nearly doubled since 2005—after years of tepid growth.

Some estimates say daily bicycle ridership in New York City has nearly doubled since 2005.

During each morning rush, thousands of riders cross the four main East River bridges. Bikes crowd the Hudson River Greenway and are on the rise along First and Second Avenues, where the city has installed lanes protected from traffic by rows of parked cars. The city's streets now include 482 miles of lanes and a total of 1,800 miles are planned by 2030.

What the city has discovered, though, is that remodeling its streets and increasing ridership is the easy part of building a bike town. It's a far greater challenge to change the habits of drivers, bikers and pedestrians in a dense urban environment with congested streets.

Drivers see bikers as a nuisance: "They think they rule the road," said Doru Rosca, a taxi driver from Astoria. "Are we supposed to stop because they are riding against traffic?" Pedestrians see bikers as faster, less predictable and more dangerous pedestrians. And cyclists, for all their gains in population and political clout, still feel besieged by cars and expect little help from the police. The result, as Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer witnessed last month, is often mayhem.

Bicyclists ride in a bike lane in New York City, a sight becoming more and more common as the number of cyclists continues to increase, creating safety concerns.

"We've got seniors who think bike lanes are walkways. We've got police cars using bike lanes as a quick way around town. We've got taxi cabs pulling up so close to the bike lanes that a passenger gets out and actually doors a cyclist," Mr. Stringer said in a recent interview in his office.

This fall, Mr. Stringer sent his staffers to the streets to document the chaos. The results, recorded over three days, astounded him: 1,700 total infractions by drivers, bikers and pedestrians, many of them egregious.

"We have to do something about it," he said.

To this point, the Department of Transportation has largely taken a "build-it-and-they-will-come" approach to cycling, much as other cities in the United States and throughout the world have done in the last few decades. Next year, it plans to beef up its awareness and outreach programs to alert New Yorkers to the new rules of the road.

"We have to step up our game on the education front," DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said in an interview last week. "There's a new street code out there and we need everyone to look out for one another and be safe."

In the next few months, DOT will unveil several campaigns for radio, television and billboards. One series of television ads will take aim at cyclists who ride on sidewalks, pedal through red lights and go against traffic.
The campaign, titled "Don't Be a Jerk," will feature prominent New Yorkers preaching bike etiquette. Mario Batali, the famed chef and restaurant owner, recently filmed a spot.

Biking in New York is safer today than during any time in the city's history. As daily ridership has increased (some estimates claim it has almost doubled since 2005 to more than 200,000 daily riders), the yearly number of cycling fatalities and injuries has remained flat or declined, and the percentage of riders who are injured while riding has fallen dramatically.

This year, however, the city will see a slight increase in the number of cycling fatalities and accidents in its year-over-year numbers, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from the New York City Police Department.

There were 19 cyclist fatalities in the city through October 31, seven more than in all of 2009. In the same period, 3,505 bikers were injured in crashes with motor vehicles, more than last year's total and up 20% compared to the first 10 months of last year. If the current rate of injuries continues, the percentage of daily riders who sustain injuries in 2010 will rise slightly.

Such fluctuations are not uncommon when a city retrofits its infrastructure for bikes. Neither is conflict. In Portland, Ore., considered America's bike capital by many cyclists, there are still squabbles, especially on pathways shared by pedestrians and cyclists, according to Roger Geller, the city's bicycle coordinator.
But Mr. Geller said several factors have contributed to improved relations and safety in his city: Increased biking, better education and improved coordination among city agencies, especially between transportation and law enforcement agencies.

John Pucher, a professor of urban planning and public policy at Rutgers University, praised New York City for its infrastructure gains. "The cycle tracks, the signage and so forth, I think it's fantastic," Dr. Pucher said.
But Dr. Pucher said other cities have accomplished more, largely because of better intra-government cooperation.

Next year, Dr. Pucher will deliver a study, financed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, of cycling and urban transportation in nine cities: New York, Portland, Vancouver, San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Minneapolis.

"All of these cities, without a single exception, are doing more than New York," Mr. Pucher said. "They have better and more promotional programs. They have more training and education programs. They have infinitely better bike-mass transit integration, and better enforcement." Those cities also have a larger percentage of women and elderly who ride bikes, a sign, he said, that cycling is seen as safe.

In Chicago, Dr. Pucher said, taxi and bus drivers are required to take courses on safe driving with cyclists.
In Portland, motorists ticketed for cycling-related violations can take education classes in lieu of paying a fine. Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, would like to see similar practices adopted in New York.

"Cycling is the fastest growing mode of transportation and there's virtually no access to education," Mr. White said. "Cycling has increased enough in New York to warrant a citywide institutional solution."

"I can't speak to what's going on in other cities," Ms. Sadik-Khan said. "We're working very hard to do as much as we can to improve the education that we're doing, to improve the outreach that we're doing, and to improve enforcement by working with our partners at the NYPD."

Lax law enforcement is a sore point among both pedestrians and cyclists. In the 19th Precinct, on the Upper East Side, dangerous cycling is the chief quality of life complaint among residents, according to the NYPD.
In Park Slope earlier this month, a biker in his 40s ran a red light and crashed into 6-year-old Sean Frost as he and his nanny crossed Seventh Avenue in the crosswalk at the corner of P.S. 321. Jackelyn Frost, a psychotherapist, came home to find her son with a black eye.

"The cyclist was knocked off his bike, and he just got back up and rode off," Ms. Frost said.

At the same time, cyclists and cycling advocates say the police don't do enough to keep bike lanes clear or to punish speeding and inattentive drivers who endanger them.

The police department recently received a $150,000 federal grant to increase enforcement against drivers who speed and fail to yield to pedestrians and cyclists who violate traffic laws. The NYPD issued more than 29,500 summonses for bicycle infractions through October 31, up 7% from the same period in 2009.
But NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said there was no crackdown in the offing, either against cyclists or motorists who interfere with cycling.

"We're down 5,000 cops since 2001 and we've just been told that we have to get rid of 350 civilian places that were created to put cops who handled administrative duties on the street," Mr. Browne said. "That's a long way of saying, 'Yes, we want to do more in this area, but a grant of that size is not going to make a significant difference.'"

Cycling advocates say a lack of enforcement breeds contempt for the law.

Michael Green, the president of the Century Road Club Association, the largest bicycle-racing club in the country, explained by recounting the recent comments of a friend. "Her attitude was, 'The laws that protect cyclists are never going to be enforced, so why obey rules that aren't going to be used to help you?'" Mr. Green said. "It's amazing the people I see riding and not obeying traffic laws. It's across the board, from teenagers to 65-year-old women.''

The lawlessness Mr. Green and others described is easy to find: Pedestrians who routinely jaywalk and stand in bike lanes; a woman pushing a man in a wheelchair down the protected bike lane on Broadway; a bike messenger racing through a red light on Sixth Avenue; cars that use bike lanes as passing lanes; wrong-way cycling along the protected lane on First Avenue.

But there are signs of change, too. Ian Dutton, a commercial airline pilot and a member of Community Board 2, said his own behavior, and the behavior of fellow riders, has improved.

"I used to ride a lot more aggressively because I felt unsafe," he said. "When I'm in a protected lane, I feel like I can take my time. I say hi to people.''

A recent evening presented a sign that there's hope for a friendlier future for all commuters. At dusk, a food deliveryman stopped at a red light on Madison Avenue, despite no approaching traffic in the cross street. He was smoking a cigarette—and wearing a helmet. His bicycle even had lights. When the traffic light turned green, he rode off.

"We can do it," Mr. Stringer, the Manhattan Borough president, said. "Paris does it, Copenhagen does it. There's a way for all of us to get things right."

ThinkBike Workshops-Hit Miami

As I posted yesterday, the Dutch have been evaluating the American bicycle infrastructure, or the lack there of, for the past few months. They were in DC earlier this week and are in Miami this morning. The Consulate General of the Netherlands actively supports bicycling in South Florida and we are grateful to them for bringing three experts on traffic engineering and planning (which in their country includes bicycles) to meet with their counterparts here in the States. Below is the report from the South Florida Bike Coalition. They had the privilege to ride around the City of Miami with them today, pointing out difficult intersections, corridors and related challenges to bicycling here. The idea is to bring them back in the Spring and host a symposium and workshop with our local Department of Transportation, municipal planning and capital improvements offices and advocates to get everyone to ThinkBike.

It was a great ride and Herbert Tiemens of Houten took many more photos and geotagged them. Here’s the fun one:

They got a friendly welcome from a concerned City of Miami Police Officer. The exchange went something like this.

What are you doing?

We’re leading a bike tour.

uh… [pause, confused look] Well, you need to be careful. You’re riding in the street.

Yes, Officer. Where should we be riding?

Well, okay. Okay. Just be careful. There are cars behind you and they have to slow down.

Yes, Officer. Thank you.

Learning From the Dutch
In the Netherlands, traffic engineers don’t hire consultants to work bicyclists into plans – they themselves plan for bicycles. Every street, every development is planned with people in mind and pedestrians and bicyclists receive equal respect, if not priority. People bicycle all the time because it’s fun and healthy and green, of course, but also because it’s so easy.  In Houten, a city built up about 50 years ago (like so many of the developments in Florida), planners and engineers made sure that it was easy to get anywhere by bike. This is where Herbert is from and he has documented this bicycle city’s infrastructure and use here:
Our friendly experts listed some ‘Dutch Solutions’ for improving streets for bicycling. They include
  • Mixing traffic everywhere but highways and reducing speeds to reduce the speed differential.
  • Remembering bicyclists move like water – we wish to take the fastest, most direct route to where we are going and should be accommodated accordingly.
  • Two lane one-way streets can easily become: One Lane One Way for cars plus a contraflow lane (two lanes, both directions) for bicycles.
The Dutch support bicycling because it make economic sense. Government statistics in the country cite that following statistic:
  • Every mile by car costs $0.40
  • Every mile by bike gains $0.19
People who commute to work by bike tend to take 10-15% less sick days, they have reduced health care costs and have an increased life expectancy of 3 years. They experience less disease and as young people, significantly greater levels of confidence, independence and healthy weight.

For more obvious but positive information (in English), backed up with studies and statistics, visit the Dutch Center of Expertise on Bicycle Policy online.