Nation's First Stationless Bike Sharing

weBike uses SMS texting to identify bikes and rotate lock combinations, minimizing bike share costs and the need for "stations." Photo credit: weBike.
I saw this on The City Fix today and is really awesome when you see grassroots programs for bike sharing becoming successful. This is about a small start-up near Washington DC that has started what it calls "the first stationless smart bike sharing program in North America." All it took to get the system started up and running was some bikes, U-locks, and mobile phones.

In the fall of 2007, Allie Armitage and three classmates at the University of Maryland decided to design a campus bikeshare program for their “Systems Thinking” course. Armitage says one team member, Vlad Tchompalov, had just seen the new bikeshare systems in Paris and Berlin and thought they could implement a smaller-scale version on their 37,000-student campus. They figured that a system with stations would be a huge step up from the communal “yellow bike” programs in places like Portland, Ore. that failed because the bikes were left unlocked and most were stolen. But when they approached the university about installing the bikesharing stations, they hit a wall – of bureaucracy.

To install the stations they needed approval from three department heads, and to even get their plans in front of them they had to get the support of everyone working under them. They went to their faculty advisor, Dr. Gerald Suarez, for advice, and he suggested, ‘Well, what if you don’t have stations at all.’ Following the advice from their professor, Armitage, Tchompalov and their classmates Yasha Portnoy and Brad Eisenberg developed software that lets users check out and return communal bikes with text messages – without having to use any sort of station. Operating under the name weBike, the team refurbished 12 bikes with the help of a local youth program. With these bikes they began a pilot program at the University of Maryland campus in September 2009.

How It Worked
The group locked the 12 bikes to various bike racks and posts around campus with standard combination-protected U-locks and then listed the bike locations on the weBike website. To check-out a bike, students texted the bike’s ID number to weBike and weBike generated an automatic text back with the combination to unlock the bike. The students could have the bike for up to 30 minutes before having to lock the bike back to a rack or post at a location on campus and text the bike’s location and ID number to weBike. If the bike wasn’t returned within 30 minutes, weBike’s system would text the user once an hour until the bike was returned. The weBike team would check in on the bikes and make needed repairs (though customers could text “damage” if a bike needed to be fixed) and periodically change the combinations on the locks.

Front Door Service
During the three months that the pilot program ran, more than 50 users logged a total of about 550 rides, or about 6 rides system-wide per day. Only one bike was stolen. Perhaps the best part: weBike only spent $2,000 to develop and run the program.

Despite the relative success of its pilot program, the University of Maryland never put out a bid for a full-scale program. But a student who used the weBike pilot program told Armitage that her apartment building, which is two miles off campus but lies on a bike path, might benefit from a bikeshare. Armitage contacted the Mazza Grandmarc apartments and a few months later, in September 2010, the apartments had 15 new Fuji Crosstown bikes locked to a rack in front of its buildings.
Webike creators pose with their bikes. Photo credit: weBike
Most of the Mazza Grandmarc’s approximately 600 residents are students and use the bikes to ride to campus or the grocery store. The Mazza Grandmarc owns the 15 bikes and pays weBike a monthly fee to run the texting system that allows users to check out and return bikes. Users have 24 hours to ride the bikes wherever they’d like before they return the bikes to the rack at the Mazza Grandmarc. An apartment employee changes the bike locks’ combinations twice a week and does routine maintenance, like pumping up the tires. A professional mechanic comes to the apartment once a month to do things like align the wheels and make sure the brakes and gears are working properly.

During its first three months of operation, the weBike station at the Mazza Grandmarc had more than 85 users take about 300 rides on the bikes. Two of the bikes went missing for short periods of time, but  were recovered. None of the bikes have been significantly damaged.

According to Armitage, weBike is planning to run a small 7-bike system on a boarding school campus in New Hampshire and has been talking with the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill about starting a system there, as well.

Bumps in the Road
Of course, a system like this does have its drawbacks. If the bikes can be parked anywhere, like in the University of Maryland pilot, then weBike must rely on customers to know where the bikes are located. To check out a bike, users must have the good fortune of spotting a bike or be able to go online. (Armitage did say her team considered installing GPS on the bikes, “but the cost-benefit analysis didn’t work out.”)

And unlike many municipal systems, like those in London and Montreal, weBike does not use special bikes that have limited parts to deter theft and reduce damage. Changing the U-lock combinations is also cumbersome, and users could potentially keep unchanged combinations and use the bikes later without checking them out. WeBike is working on developing its own lock that will automatically generate a new combination after each use.

Easy to Implement
Still, the weBike model has real advantages, especially for small communities and community developers who want to give another service to their residents. The need for little infrastructure is especially appealing: Armitage estimates that weBike’s up-front costs are only 15 percent of that of a station-based system.

“When assuming a cost of $35,000 per station, systems like Capital Bikeshare [in Washington, D.C.] run for around $4,000 per bike in total infrastructure costs,” Armitage explains. “Our station-less system, on the other hand, can be set up for $600 or less per bike.” (Armitage does stress that these are only estimates.)

This is not to say that weBike doesn’t have competition. The New York City-based Social Bicycle System, also known as SoBi, are developing their own prototype of a station-less bikesharing system.

SoBi Bikes in New York City. Credit: The Social Bicycle System.
SMS-Based Bikesharing at your Fingertips
The basic concept is the same: bikes are locked to normal bike racks or posts and riders use their mobile phone to reserve a bike. The difference is that SoBi has its own lock and sends users a unique PIN number to unlock the bike. The bikes also have GPS to track their locations. SoBi says it will do a public testing of its system this spring in New York City. Its first full pilot program will be implemented at Indiana University next fall.

Another competitor is viaCycle, based out of Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Ga. Like SoBi, it has developed its own lock and uses GPS to keep track of its bikes. On-board technology is constantly monitoring for maintenance needs or unauthorized use. ViaCycle says that in about a month it will finish its latest prototype and launch a 40-bike pilot at nearby Emory University.

Armitage is aware of these competitors but thinks weBike is a step ahead because “getting on the ground is really critical.” weBike already tested and implemented its system and has a paying client. It has dealt with technical malfunctions (the first day the system was running at the Mazza Grandmarc, a person actually had to sit there and text users,) university bureaucracy, missing bikes and client payment plans. In the real world, having a person to deal with problems like these is just as important as the technology.

New Rearview Camera for Bikes

rear video image
In my push for greater safety for cyclist, I have come across some interesting innovations in gear and electronics. A new product from Cerevellum called the Hindsight 30 could be the solution for keeping better tabs on cars coming up behind you. Designed by industrial designer Evan Solida after he suffered a run-in with a car in 2007, the rearview video setup is a video system that allows cyclists to see what's behind them, and it includes a "black box" system that will record any accident that might occur.

One might ask why not just use a cheap, light rear view mirror to see cars coming up behind you while you're riding. I've seen, experienced, and heard of some fairly horrifying incidents between drivers and cyclists, both intentional and completely accidental. Something like this camera could help by providing a little more than just a shaky, blurry rear view mirror. By recording any accidents, people can understand when it's the cyclist or when it's the driver who is at fault.

Hindsight 30 has a rearview video camera that mounts to the seat post, a 3.5 inch LCD video screen that mounds to the handle bars, and it is powered by a lithium-ion battery. The screen is transflective, so it can be viewed in direct sunlight. According to Gizmag, there is an even more sophisticated model coming out soon -- the Hindsight 50 will have front and rear cameras, GPS, cyclometer functions and it will continuously record a loop video. However, when its G-sensor detects a sudden shock, like what happens with an accident, it will stop recording after 10 seconds in order to preserve any video of how the accident occurred.

The 30 is expected to be available for purchase in September for $249, while the 50 will go for around $549, depending on the cyclometer options selected.

Facts Don't Lie and Prospect Park Successes Spur More Improvements

DOT wants to make a little more room for Prospect Park West pedestrians by installing raised medians, like on Eighth Avenue, but their data show that the basic redesign worked. Image: NYC DOT.
My interest in New York's bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure continues, as they proceed in making New York and its surrounding boroughs bike/ped friendly. After living there this summer and experiencing it first hand, I believe that these type of design solutions can be a model for any of our cities. These solutions may not be perfect fits for every scenario, but they do show that they have been successful in the most extreme urban conditions.

The city has released its final findings on the redesign of Prospect Park West [PDF]. With the data showing it a success by most any objective measure, DOT is recommending a few tweaks to further improve the design.
The proposed modifications should make the new Prospect Park West even friendlier to pedestrians. At intersections, the tan paint marking the pedestrian zone of the median will be replaced with raised islands. That should keep parked cars from intruding on pedestrian space. Along the bike path, DOT wants to install “rumble strip” markings to alert riders that they’re approaching an intersection. DOT also suggests rearranging the loading zones at 9th Street and narrowing the bike lane buffer at the very northern end of Prospect Park West in order to better transition into Grand Army Plaza.

Those changes should put the finishing touches on a project that’s shown huge results on the street.
  • Under the new design, total traffic crashes are down 16 percent.
  • Even more important, crashes that cause injuries are down 63 percent.
  • Under the new design, there have been no reported injuries to pedestrians, from either cars or bikes.

Prospect Park West users are so much safer in large part because traffic has been slowed down:
  • Before the redesign, three in four drivers traveled over the speed limit. Now, only one in five speeds.
  • The average speed on the old Prospect Park West was 33.8 mph. On the new street, the average is 26.6 mph.
But cutting down on speeding doesn’t mean that Prospect Park West is mired in congestion. Just as many drivers can get where they’re going, with little to no impact on travel time:
  • The two-lane Prospect Park West carries 7.8 percent more motor vehicles in the morning than the three-lane configuration did. The number of cars on the road in the evening stayed the same.
  • It takes essentially the same amount of time to drive the length of Prospect Park West as in the past: a few seconds longer in the morning and a few seconds shorter at midday and in the evening.
  • Driving times also dropped by a few seconds on nearby Eighth and Sixth Avenues, though they increased by a few seconds on Seventh Avenue.
While the street continues to serve drivers well, it’s done wonders for cyclists.
  • On weekdays, the number of cyclists on the street nearly tripled, jumping 190 percent.
  • On weekends, when bike traffic was already higher, the number of cyclists more than doubled, rising 125 percent.
  • By serving all those new cyclists, the capacity of Prospect Park West was increased by the redesign. The street now carries 11 percent more commuters during the morning rush and six percent more during the afternoon, counting motor vehicles and bikes.
  • The new lane has also empowered cyclists to ride more safely. Whereas before, just under half of all weekday cyclists rode on the sidewalk, now only three percent do so.
The facts don’t lie: the Prospect Park West redesign is keeping people safe, making room for more New Yorkers to get to work, and encouraging cycling.

Job Creation By Creating Bike Lanes

building bike lane impact image
Estimating the Employment Impacts of Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Road Infrastructure
Here are some interesting, and unsurprising, data from a study found via the Infrastructurist: building bike lanes creates twice as many jobs per dollar spent as does fixing roads. It makes sense; it is labour intensive rather than equipment intensive.
bike lane repair data
The author of the study, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, writes:
Why do the employment impacts differ? Two major sources of variation in project costs cause these differences: labor intensity and the relationship between engineering and construction expenses. First, the labor intensity of the projects varies. That is, some projects are more labor-intensive; a greater proportion of the overall expenses are spent on labor versus materials. More labor-intensive projects will have greater employment impacts. Second, the ratio of engineering costs to construction costs varies across projects. Engineering is a more labor- intensive industry than construction, and therefore has a higher employment multiplier. Projects with higher engineering costs (as a share of total project expenses) will therefore have greater employment impacts than projects with a smaller share of engineering costs. These two sources explain the differences in our job estimates presented above. Projects such as footway repairs and bike lane signing and painting are labor intensive - they use a high ratio of labor to materials in comparison to projects such as road repairs, which spend a greater proportion of their total project budget on materials.
Now I'm not saying that we shouldn't fix our roads, but would make the point that if the purpose of a stimulus program is to create jobs, then the last thing you should be cutting are bike lane projects.

Download the pdf report: Estimating the Employment Impacts of Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Road Infrastructure

Ban Kids From Bikes?!!!

Banning Babies On Bikes photos
I saw this from A.K. Streeter and felt like I had to share the absurdity of this.

The upsurge in urban cycling in the U.S. has for the most part had positive results for society. Cycling helps keeps fight obesity, reduces stress, and the building of new bike infrastructure has even helped create jobs.
For every positive benefit biking has brought about, however, there's also been inevitable backlash from the forces in society that don't want to share the road.

Oregon's House Representative Mitch Greenlick is proposing a state law (HB 2228) that would make it illegal to transport children under the age of six by bicycle. Greenlick says his bill is justified if the law would save just "one child's life."

Of course it's hard not to have an emotional response when reading about saving (or losing) a child's life. Greenlick has said in press accounts that he based his idea for a bill in part on a recent Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) study that found that of 962 Portland commuter cyclists surveyed, 20% had had a 'traumatic event' (injury of some sort) and 5% had required medical attention for that injury during a year of commuting.

That seems like a lot of injuries. From an interview with one of the doctors involved in the study in the Portland Mercury, here's a closer definition of 'traumatic event':
"You had to actually be injured. It could just be skinning your knee or spraining your ankle, but it couldn't just be a near miss. I think it was surprising. We were expecting fewer injuries." - Dr. John Mayberry
It is interesting that in the OHSU study, riders' skill and experience with riding didn't change the number of injuries or events. The studies authors also concluded that it was the cycling environment, rather than riders' skill, that contributed most to injury events.

As Mia Birk, former bicycle coordinator for the City of Portland who recently published a book (Joyride) about her efforts at improving Portland's cycling infrastructure noted, however, the OHSU study doesn't offer any statistics about cycling injuries to children, only to adult cyclists.
Motor Vehicle Death Chart graphic
If you look at data for leading causes of death to children aged one through six at the Center for Disease Control database, the top killer is classified as"MV Traffic," numbering 618 fatalities in 2007, the latest data year provided.

For the "Pedal, Cyclist, Other" category, five deaths are recorded. In searching for the largest single cause of injuries to kids under six, the 'unintentional fall' (which theoretically could include falling from a bike) and the 'unintentional stuck by/against' accounted for the vast majority.

While these stats don't give a clear picture of the comparative death/injury risk for children from riding in cars versus riding on bikes (because U.S. children ride so many more miles in cars than they do on bikes) they do clearly show that motor vehicles by far constitute the number one killer.

So in the absence of better data (which is clearly needed), if Greenlick is truly concerned with saving childrens' lives, shouldn't he be outlawing kids riding in cars, too?

Boulder B-Cycle Gets Google Donation

boulder b-cycle photo

Looks like Google was feeling generous toward Boulder—and toward bike-sharing—this week. The company gave a $25,000 donation to B-cycle "as part of Google's commitment to support innovative ways for using Internet-based technology to reduce environmental impacts and improve the quality of life in the communities where it operates," Boulder B-cycle said in a press release. Google has an office in Boulder that develops revenue platforms for ads and digital online goods, Google Docs, Chrome, and Geographic projects.

Boulder B-cycle executive director Lewis Wolman said the donation will go a long way to help them reach their fundraising goal of $1 million by May. "It's also important validation when a company like Google gets behind a program like ours. We hope other Boulder-area businesses will be inspired to follow suit."

The program is expected to be up and running on May 20 with about 200 bikes at 25 docking stations. It'll work like other B-cycle (and similar bike-sharing) programs around the country—users buy a membership online or a 24-hour pass at any B-cycle station, and they're ready to start renting.

London's Bike Superhighways Are a Proven Success

In other words, London's bike superhighways are incredibly successful, as the front-page GOOD story remarks. According to the findings in study by Transport for London, there were 70% more cyclists out on the streets of London in October of 2010 than there were the previous year.
GOOD has more:
that means that the number of bikers on the streets pre-superhighways was 70 percent lower than it is now that the superhighways have been installed. That's some effective bike promotion, if I've ever seen it ... Will other cities see this information and start doing more for bike lane planning than simply laying them on the side of the street?
That's right -- bike use everywhere jumped, not just on the superhighways. The safe, elegant lanes evidently inspired more folks to dust off their old ten-speeds and hit the roads. It should also be pointed out that the spike in cycling also coincides with London's bike-share program, which I've previously written about.

This development is fantastic -- people want to ride bikes in cities. It's cheap, efficient, and fun. Portland, New York, and DC are also making strides in its bike lanes/trail infrastructure. If they work as well as London's, that's all it will take to push bicycle riding in the US to new heights.

Bikes Pay for Roads Too

I often hear the dubious claim that bicyclists do not help pay for roads. I have argued that since many of 57 million adult bicyclists in this country are also drivers, and that since much of the government’s transportation spending comes from property taxes, general fund allocations, bond issues, and fare boxes of transit systems, we’re all paying into the system. A new report is laying out the facts and numbers of where the money for roads come from.

The U.S. PIRG Education Fund recently released a report, called “Do Roads Pay for Themselves? Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding” that busts the myth that “user fees” paid by drivers pay for all road costs. The one-two punch of myth-busting boils down to these two points: 1. Gasoline taxes aren’t “user fees” in the way the phrase implies, and 2. highways don’t pay for themselves.
Do Roads Pay for Themselves
First, the user fee argument. A user fee implies a direct connection to the fee and the use, for example admission to a state park or a toll road. However, when you pay the gas tax, you may not ever use the highways or other transportation projects that the tax is helping to pay for. When the gas tax was first implemented to pay down the deficit and since 1973 the gas tax has been used to pay for many useful transportation projects beyond highways. It’s not a user fee.

Second, the highways-pay-for-themselves argument. The report explains that since 1947, expenditures on highways, roads and streets have exceeded the amount generated through the gas tax and other fees by $600 billion. The subsidy for highways is as significant today as it has ever been. Current “user-fees” pay for only about half of the costs of highway and road building and maintenance.
Sources of Highway Spending
The report concludes that the misconception that roads pay for themselves through a direct user fee distorts our transportation planning, by making roads look cheaper than they are. For cyclists, this is just another good reminder that all of us are paying into the road system, either as drivers or through general taxes. The roads belong to all of us.

Check out this post at  DC Streets Blog , for an even deeper look into where highway funds come from and are spent.

Floating Bike Lanes In Our Future?

floating bike path image
What happens when rising waters cover your cycling infrastructure from flooding, global warming, or just poor path location? Where can bike trails be placed when there is little room along the banks of waterways? Floating bike paths may be a solution for water logged trails or for when dry land is limited.

The Water Architect, Bart van Bueren proposes floating bike lanes. The architect submitted it to a competition called "nipped in the bud - New Bike Paths."
The competition is organized by the Cement & Concrete Centre and it was therefore the objective something sustainable and innovative to do with concrete. There were 58 entries in, ranging from concrete posts where cyclists while waiting for a traffic light on their feet and can put up with festive LEDs in the concrete bike path were processed.
Bart designed the bike path out of foamed concrete, that floats on the water but is stable."The jury will find this resource particularly valuable because of its applicability in the context of climate adaptation."

More at Water Architect

Toronto Seeks Segregated Lanes and the Debate Begins

Vancouver Hornby Street Bike Lanes
I saw this on The Urban Country's Blog last night, and thought it was pretty interesting that they are having the same debates that we are down here in the states, but they seem to be keeping their head down and making progress. Check out the dialogue between the concerned citizens, and the common sense responses that James D. Schwartz has for citizens of Toronto and really to anyone else that apposes infrastructure improvements for bicycles.

An article in the Toronto Star newspaper yesterday brought to light a plan to bring a modest segregated bicycle network in Toronto’s downtown core. This news would have been significant with Toronto’s previous mayor, the “bike-friendly” David Miller. What makes this news drastically more significant in 2011 is the fact that the plan is being brought by the Rob Ford administration – a mayor who has said that bicycles don’t belong on our streets.

Toronto is a city with tens of thousands bicyclists, but has an inadequate, poorly maintained, non-segregated, disconnected network of bike lanes and routes where bike lanes are often treated as temporary parking by delivery trucks and taxi drivers. The Ford administration is bringing forward a plan to bring Toronto its first curb-separated cycle tracks on downtown streets that either contain inadequate bike lanes, or nothing at all.

However, the Toronto Star article comments contain some genuine ignorance (and opposition) toward segregated bicycle infrastructure. And as always, the disingenuous trolls were out there spreading deceitful rubbish. There seems to be five primary arguments against bringing segregated bicycle infrastructure to Toronto:

Argument 1: Bicyclists don’t pay for the roads

Some people genuinely seemed to think that drivers singlehandedly pay for the roads. Others were just trolling by calling for mandatory bicycle licensing, testing and registration to pay for bike infrastructure.
We all know that our roads are paid for by municipal property taxes – which are paid for by everyone – including bicyclists. And since bicyclists can only use a subset of the roads that their tax dollars are paying for, bicyclists are actually subsidizing motorists.
Star Article comments:
jonno492 - It's interesting:
there are some on this post who argue that the city should pay to have segregated lanes for bicycles and yet feel they should not have to license their bicycles to help pay for these lanes.
GMP - Roads are paid for by everyone?
I thought roads and highway infrastructure was paid by the high taxes that we pay on gasoline.
builder.m - Fair Share:
Tax air pump stations. Tax bike tires. Tax helmets. Tax accessories like bells and lights. Tax bike sales. Make insurance obligatory. Make biker-ed obligatory. Make lights, helmets and bells obligatory.
Snowbirds1 - license bikes for $20/$30 per year:
not only would this help offset the total cost ( the monies could also be used for additional bike lanes) but it could also help in an emergency situation, god forbid something happens but should a cyclist become incapacitated and not able to communicate with emergency services the license could be used. I also think our police should crackdown and ticket some of these cyclist who run red lights, stop sign, not wearing helmets...etc under the Hwy Traffic Act as per the act, the license could aslo(sic) be used for this purpose as they do for motorists and/or when proper ID is not available.
Uncle Cool - Bike registrations coming...:
If specific lanes are coming for cyclists, perhaps it's time they paid for their part of the roads.
Commenter Joe LaFortune made some great points on why licensing bicycles makes no sense:
Inevitably in these, um, discussions, there are those who call for cyclists to be licensed. Here is why it is not likely to happen: motorists are licensed because they operate large, heavy, fast vehicles with the capacity to kill and severely injure. Toronto alone regularly sees about 60 deaths involving motor vehicles every year with several hundred serious injuries and billions of dollars in property damage. They are a serious threat on the roads to all other road users. Cyclists ride relatively light-weight, low-speed vehicles that cause few collisions (approx 10-15% according to TPS annual figures) and cause very little property damage. In other words, they are not a serious threat. Most adult cyclists are already licensed and insured drivers. Licensing has not made motorists any more law-abiding or safer (960,000 tickets issued by TPS in 2009 vs 2,800 to cyclists). Roads are public space to be shared by all.

Argument 2: Segregated Bike Lanes Don’t Work

There seemed to be a variety of arguments against segregated bicycle infrastructure, but most of them seemed to be made by people who have never left Toronto and haven’t seen photos or videos of bike infrastructure in other cities:
Star Article comments:
leBloque – curbs for separate bike lanes:
“someone better think this one through a little further. The curb will become a hazard for the cars! They are difficult to see because they are so low and it is very easy for a car to "mount" the curb, becoming trapped”
Rossvegas – No, No, No.:
I'm both a biker and a driver, and this proposed system won't work for either constituency. 1. There will be a rash of cyclists getting "doored" on the passenger side of the cars, 2. How are these narrow paths going to be cleared in the winter time? and 3. There will be countless accidents from drivers making right hand turns (at both green and red lights) across the bike lanes.
rgibson2 - Curbs could make it worse for most cyclists:
Curbs to separate the bike lanes from the vehicles are a great idea, but only if the bike lanes are wide enough for cyclists to pass one another. Otherwise, only the slowest cyclist will be in the bike lane and the rest of us will be riding in the roadway. At the moment, most of the bike lanes are far to narrow for cyclists to pas each other and avoid the storm drains. In addition, Sherbourne St. should be repaved. It is a minefield of potholes and pavement seams and few cyclists use it because of its atrocious condition.
c9dxmo – And when it snows:
How's the snow going to get plowed away....Use your brains people...Why are 99.99999% of the people being annoyed by .000000000000001% of the people.
Guardian Aspect - This will only create problems:
... when cyclists, with an illusion of safety, zip into an intersection, right into the blind spot of a truck who was there first and was just about to turn right. Then it will be chalked up to the driver's carelessness, despite the fact that these kinds of accidents are entirely caused by poor design. In fact a study in Helsinki found that segregated bicycle lanes actually *increased* the rate of accidents! This dogmatic, impractical, ideological project is one gravy train that Ford needs to bring to a stop.
ADSAM – Curbs on Bike Lanes:
Curbs between bike lanes & driving lanes are a 'ridiculous idea'. In an urgent situation, emergency vehicles need close safe access to the sidewalks, as do vehicles stopping toa(sic) drop off, children, seniors or handicapped people who would need to negotiate an extra curb to get to the sidewalk. Snow removal & street cleaning too, would be slower & more expensive because the equipment & plows woulds(sic) need to Double Dip, roads, & bike lanes separately. Curbs will also jacks up the installation costs of new bike lanes.
First of all, segregated bicycle infrastructure needs to be wide enough to allow bicyclists to overtake other bicyclists - that is true. Montreal and Vancouver have segregated two-way bike lanes that allow bicyclists to go into the on-coming lane (when clear) to overtake a bicyclist (if there isn’t enough space). European cities like Copenhagen or Amsterdam typically have cycle tracks that are plenty wide enough to overtake another bicyclist.

To prevent “door prizes” when parked cars are present, a buffer zone should be built in. New York’s 9th Ave is a good example of how you can have a buffer zone beside parked cars – however, this requires more space.

Vancouver’s Hornby bike lane and Montreal’s segregated infrastructure don’t have this issue for the most part because cars aren’t allowed to park directly beside the curb. In Montreal, where cars do park beside the curb, the curb is wide enough to create a buffer for car passengers to get out without impeding bicyclists.
Regarding curb visibility, drivers don’t currently have any issues avoiding the curbs on our existing sidewalks, so I don’t see how this will be much different.

Even if this was considered an issue, you could always use bollards (like they use in Montreal), fences or grass islands like they use in China, or parked cars like they use in New York City.

For clearing the bike paths of snow, Toronto already has small plows it uses to clear sidewalks and the waterfront recreational trail in the winter. There’s no reason why they couldn’t use these plows to clear segregated bike lanes.

Argument 3: Our climate won’t support bicycles year round

A common argument is that Canada has 4-6 months of winter. Toronto’s average high temperature is only below freezing for two months out of the year (January and February), and on average there are only a handful of days each year that it gets enough snow where riding a bicycle in the city is challenging. If you’re still not convinced, leave it to the Dutch to convince you that bicycling can be done year round – even through one of the worst winters the Netherlands has ever seen (2009/2010).
Star Article comments:
Sneaky Long – Good use of tax dollars?:
I understand the safety issue. Just curious if we know how many people actually use these bike lanes? During our 4-6 months of winter? Cover of Macleans "Stuck in Traffic" and how we spend 32 working days per year stuck. Sure more bike lanes will help with that. How much does all this cost?
bigbrother - Wow, thats(sic) dumb!:
What about snowmobiles, will they have a dedicated lane too? How will snow be removed from these tiny bike lanes? These lanes are nothing more than accomodating(sic) someones(sic) recreation, our climate does not allow bikes as a proper method of full time transportation.
westender - Sounds like a snow nightmare:
You guys are working on the assumption Toronto is right next to Miami Beach.

Argument 4: Bicyclists don’t follow the rules, don’t deserve infrastructure

This is the silliest argument: that all bicyclists don’t obey the rules, so we don’t deserve proper infrastructure. If this was a pre-requisite for building roads, then we wouldn’t have any roads, because many motorists break the rules every single day as well. In fact, on the highway, you would be hard pressed to find a single car that isn’t breaking the maximum speed limit. Furthermore, motorists breaking the rules can severely injure or kill other people, so if we are concerned about traffic safety, we should be trying to increase enforcement of motorists for breaking the rules.

Star Article comments:
busterx1 - Never in my lifetime:
If cyclists want access to more bike lanes with better protection they should learn the rules of the road FIRST. If I drove my car they way cyclists drive around the city I'd have my license taken away. Tax the bikers. Require registration fees, police MUST enforce the rules of the road and require licensing with testing just like cars. If I can't drive drunk or weave in and out of traffic at will then the cyclists should suffer the same fate.
DTR2 - No need for bike lanes:
bikers ride on sidewalks all the time. Yesterday I was almost hit by a madman at Bloor and Avenue Road. He was zig-zagging between cars and pedestrians.This happens every day all over TO, Cops do not seem to care.
Straight Shooter – Dumb:
This seems like a huge waste of cash, and cash is something that Toronto does not have. Why not just increase the penalties for motor vehicles hitting cyclists and also increase the penalties for cylcists(sic) driving like maniacs? If cyclists want respect, they need to stop driving with little reguard(sic) for any laws.
socialactivist - there are people riding bikes at night...with no lights or reflectors...:
I am just amazed regarding idiot bikers...who drivers to see them at night with no reflective gear...Time to change the rules for focus on safety.......on the road...

Argument 5: Bike lanes cause traffic congestion

Bike lanes “cause” traffic congestion, right? No, cars cause traffic congestion, not bicycles. The more people that drive, the more traffic congestion we have. The more people we get on bicycles, the more space there is on the roads for motorists. Bicycles only take up a fraction of the space that cars take, so as far as capacity is concerned, bicycles are far more scalable than automobiles. To make bicycling more enticing, proper infrastructure is important, and the more desirable bicycling is, the more room drivers will have for their cars on the roads.
Star Article comments:
Spliceit - Bike lanes in Montreal are a whole lane wide:
Toronto is not full of one way streets and taking away a live lane to accomodate(sic) a few bikes will cause more polution(sic) from cars idleing(sic) in the traffic. Just like those stupid HOV lanes, more polution(sic) is put in the air due to the traffic jams caused by taking a live lane out of the equation. The engineers/planners who thought that up should be fired.
tax to death - Change the traffic light policy not put more concreate(sic) in:
How about stop frustrating drivers, by timing the lights to make you stop at every intersection.(each light is connected to a centralized computer system with software designed for this purpose) It would make it safer for both Pedestrians and Cyclists. I go to cities where the lights are timed to facilitate the movement of traffic. People are friendlier drivers and less aggressive.
Johny Smith – Are you kidding me?:
Seriously?!? Enough with the bike lanes. Traffic is bad enough. If it's not more streetcars, it's more bike lanes... It's us drivers that pay for the roads, so when do we get consideration? They ruined Dundas St. E. and Eastern Ave with bike lanes. Traffic crawls and there's rarely any bikes...

London's Bike Rental Program is Gaining Ground

mayor bike photo

London introduced a bicycle rental scheme last year, officially called the Barclays Cycle Hire but affectionately called Boris Bikes after the mayor, Boris Johnson.

Now into its sixth month, survey results on who uses the scheme have been released. It turns out that it works--brilliantly. With 20,000 trips a day being made, people are switching from using buses and subways to cycling. Six out of ten of the users are new converts.
sticker barclay photoMost users of the scheme are just like the Mayor: white, well-paid professional men. According to a survey of 3,700 people, carried out by Transport for London in their Travel in London report, the average user is white, male professional and aged 25 to 44. Six in ten earned more than £50,000 ($78,000) a year. Only 5% earn less than £20,000 a year. Approximately 88% of the users are white British or Irish.

More than 100,000 have taken out subscriptions to use the bicycles (at £3 a pop) and more than 80,000 of those people live in London.

However many live outside London which shows that commuters are using the bicycles for the last leg of their trip to work. The biggest switch in use has been to bicycle use from subway or buses. Some 35% of the users had switched from taking the Tube (subway) and 23% of bicycle trips were made by people who had previously taken the bus. This may be a reflection of the economy and the impact of rising transit fares. Another 29% of the users are biking instead of walking.
switch bikes photo

The great thing is that the scheme has attracted people who were not previously cycling in London. Six in ten of the users had taken up cycling since the scheme started and have replaced transport usage with bicycle usage.

The most common reason for hiring a bicycle was to travel to and from work (67% of respondents) so the majority (86%) of trips are made on a weekday. Most trips are between 10 and 30 minutes in length (the system is free for the first 30 minutes).

Other reasons for use were cited as leisure at 38%, meeting friends and family at 30%. Shopping was in fifth place (26 per cent).

Don't Forget That Cycling is Fun!

kids on bikes photo

Cyclists and bike advocates can get very sensitive about how they are perceived—and rightly so. It's not at all uncommon to see commercials, skits and op eds mocking cycling as a less-than-serious, perhaps even a childish, transportation choice. But while some folks may campaign to have such anti-cycling ads taken down, it's worth remembering that cycling can also be childish in the best sense of the word. Because after all, cycling is fun!

Peter Walker, of the Guardian's bike blog, reports on a survey of adults and children regarding cycling. According to Walker, the results emphasize the strong contrast between how kids see cycling, and how their parents do. It doesn't take a genius to guess which group cycles more:

While 66% of parents think of "fun", slightly more associate it with health and fitness and around a third make a link with environmental benefits or with road safety worries. In contrast, for kids it's all about the fun (named by 89%): the other top seven notions are "exciting"; "good for me"; "makes me healthy"; "fast"; "stunts"; "wheelies"; and "skids". I know safety is of paramount importance, but wouldn't it be good if more adults looked at a bike a thought "Wheelie!" rather than, "Oooh, a bit worthy"?

This particular insight is not exactly new, but it is important to remember. While we should continue to explore everything from separated bike lanes through efforts to eliminate truck blindspots, we should also utilize cycling's fun factor to our full advantage.

Whether it is bike contrails bringing color to the city, or stunning bike stunts that make your jaw drop, let's not forget to celebrate the joyous side of cycling too.

High Gas Prices, Aging Population, and Lack of Livable Transportation

As someone that rarely drives, and even rarer to fill a car up with gas, my recent trip back home was an eye opener on how high gas prices have gotten of late. In December, gas prices hit a 2-year high nearing the $3/gallon mark, and experts are expecting more increases with speculation of $4/gallon by summer and, according to former CEO of Shell $5/gallon by 2012.  It was only two years ago that we hit the $4 mark and LYNX experienced it’s highest ridership levels ever.  People who live in cities that have developed in a compact fashion with most needs in walkable/bikeable distance will be less impacted by the increases, while Orlando and other sprawling cities will feel the pinch.

Though it’s not ideal, higher gas prices allow us to reevaluate our development patterns and create a need to look back at how cities were originally developed for greater access, use, and livability. This year we will see the oldest of the baby-boomer generation turn 65 (BB’s make up 26% of the population) , with 10,000 expected to retire per day for the next 19 years.  As this generation ages, it will drive and spend less. High energy prices can and will expedite the need to reevaluate sustainability and quality of life. An opportunity exists for us look to the future and develop based on smart growth principals. 2011 holds much promise for our city if we can rapidly develop infill solutions and move away from larger roads and structures.

The AARP released a poll whose findings noted that Americans ages 50+ are trying to move away from car transportation as a result of high gas prices, but their attempt to go “green” is challenged by inadequate sidewalks and bike lanes. The full article is located here.

Traditionally, losing one’s ability to drive has meant an end to freedom and self sufficiency.  When my grandparents were told to stop driving in their 80′s, they soon became prisoners in their own home until someone was able to chaperon them to the doctor or grocery store.  Though they was able to walk for another 10 years, acquiring something as simple as a gallon of milk became a burden. Had they lived in an area that had livable transportation, they would have been able to comfortably walk out their door and down the sidewalk for their needs. Our seniors are a key component to a healthy community, and when they are marginalized by life at the outer edges, a neighborhood loses its “eyes on the street” and the natural trade of information that occurs when older generations are allowed everyday contact with youth. In 2011, we should all work to make a city worth growing up and growing old in.

Portland Looking for Bold Moves to Increase Ridership

Only Bike Only Bike road sign photo

While the debate rages on about whether New York's bike lanes are working right or hardly working at all, I just saw that on the west coast, in Bike City, U.S.A. (aka Portland, Oregon), there's a different question to ponder. Portland has moved ahead with thousands of sharrows, miles of new bike paths and some friendly neighborhood greenways. Yet even though they'd like to take back the No. 1 bike town crown stolen by Minneapolis, they aren't exactly galloping ahead in the innovation department. To really leap frog ahead of other bike-friendly cities, perhaps Portland needs a bolder move, like some bike-only boulevards.

Car-centric advocates aren't going to like talk of turning over an East-West and a North-South city street (one set on both sides of the river) to strictly human-powered transportation. Home and business owners along the routes will probably balk. It is bound to have some negative ramifications (such as tighter parking on the side streets that would intersect bike-only boulevards). It may even intensify the bad biking behavior (i.e. cycling too swiftly for conditions and abandoning common courtesy) that many people complain about in Portland, and that this blogger says is beginning to reach a tipping point.

They should do it anyway, and here are three reasons why:
1) Neighborhood greenways are great...they are just not enough. Portland's traffic has outgrown its infrastructure, and Portland's Bureau of Transportation thinks the best way to get more people out of their cars and on bicycles is to make biking seem less scary. O.K., so far, so good. The city has 15 different "neighborhood greenways" (formerly called bike - but not bike-only - boulevards) where traffic calming measures (see the video above) and painted sharrow symbols are supposed to do the trick. I'm all for neighborhood greenways, but it is not quite enough. The same people that were biking before are biking now, and anyone left in the city that doesn't bikemust only not ride because of them being nervous about riding on the streets. Those "interested, but concerned" cyclists (an estimated 60% of city residents) need a road where they feel like they don't have to battle cars.

2) Ciclovías have proven to be the best thing since sliced baguette. Bogotá, Columbia, originator of the Ciclovía, now has approximately two million people (cyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders, etc.) using the more than 100 kilometers of city streets closed to car traffic each Sunday. Every other city that has done some variation of the Bogotá original has seen people swarm to the streets. The reason ciclovías are popular is for the exact same reason that a human-powered boulevard would be - they make people feel safe enough to come out and use the streets.

3) They've got a big goal to achieve, why not try something wild and crazy? Current bicycle mode share in Portland is 7%. It's the best in the U.S., but the goal for nine years from now (2020) is 25%. How do they nearly quadruple the number of people (and especially, women, children, and people of color) that ride bikes? Streetsblog found that interested but concerned prospective cyclists are out there. Portland needs to show them, instead of just telling them. Cicolvias demonstrate the fun in walking and cycling. But then don't translate into increased walk-to-school and bike-to-work numbers the day after they are over, because of the safety issue. If they really want Safe Routes to School and lots of commuter cyclists, testing out a bike-only boulevard (with sidewalks dedicated to pedestrians) is a way to make every day a ciclovía. Could it hurt to try?

If the Amish Aren't Scared Why Are the Bikers

I have been away to visit my family for the holidays, and it always surprises me to go to rural areas of our country where riding a bike on the road is very taboo. I am from Kentucky originally, and even though cities like Louisville are making great strides to increase ridership, many of the rural areas just don't have any momentum to get people to ride. The roads are perceived as dangerous because they are winding, hilly, and even though posted speeds are 55, most locals drive 65+ on the narrow 2 lane roads. If there was a shoulder or somewhere to get out of the way from speeding semis, I could see more people riding there in the pretty, country landscape, but just the thought of getting creamed by a vehicle topping a blind hill or corner doesn't appeal to many. I do remember as a teenager riding my mountain bike on some back roads, but I also remember getting honked at while riding slowly up a hill. It does feel good to get back to civilization and only have to worry about being doored, sideswiped at intersections, and verbally abused by impatient drivers.

Riding in Kentucky is not much different than riding here in Florida, other than the amount of people that do it. When I think of slow moving vehicles on the rural roads, there are plenty. On any given day, the state highway that passes in front of my parent's house could have farm machinery, livestock moving from one farm to another, and Amish horse and buggies all using the road. You do occasionally here of an automobile hitting a tractor, a cow, or a buggy, because someone wasn't paying attention, but as soon as these objects are known to be traveling down certain roadways, people start looking out for them.

I love Amish buggies, because they are a good example of simple transportation, and are good tests for roadway safety for bikers. A road bike can pass an Amish buggy like it was standing still, so the speed of the buggy has no bearing on its ability to travel on the road safely. The size of the buggy is pretty noticeable, but it is painted black so a distracted driver could plow into the back of it as easy as a peloton of brightly colored, Lycra clad cyclists. As soon as a group of Amish moved into the same area as my parents, the DOT posted yellow highway signs warning drivers that Amish buggies may be in the area. Ironically I don't think that the Amish argue that they are being considered a second class citizen by getting a yellow warning sign instead of a sign that states they can "Use the Full Lane", they are just happy to have a sign.

I have hopes for my old stomping ground. There are cycling clubs starting up all around and it is only a matter of time before they strike out on the rural highways for their weekend warrior rides in the countryside. Then they will start to have people calling the police to tell them they don't belong on the road, and they may be even lucky enough that the state enacts laws that forces them to ride in bike lanes if they are present. Of course they will have to get some bike lanes first to have to worry about that.

Wherever you may ride your bike, the sacrifices to ride are always greater somewhere else, and the biggest advocacy that anyone can do is to just get on their bike and ride. Showing other people that it can be done gives them a little bit more confidence and encourages them to try it themselves.