Archive of ‘activism’ category

Bike-friendly driving

Seeing a bike on the road in Nashville is still a relatively rare occurrence. One of the most frequent comments I get from people when they find out I cycle for transportation is that they just don’t know what to do when they encounter a bike on the road. Generally I’ll mention a few of the most frequent car offenses (veering ahead of me just to turn right; dooring), and say that an easy rule of thumb is that they should behave as they would if the bike were another car—or a tractor or other slow-moving vehicle.

But. If you or someone you know is a driver who’d like further instructions on how to behave when you encounter a cyclist, this article from the blog of the UK site Car Buzz is an excellent resource (just be sure to swap “left” for “right” since they drive on the other side of the road). It urges drivers to put themselves in the cyclist’s place as the more vulnerable road user and informs them of instances where accidents between cyclists and drivers are most likely to occur (which makes it a good read for new cyclists, too).

Posted just yesterday, the article has been making the rounds on bike blogs. It’s refreshing to see a site that focuses on helping people find cars treat cyclists as legitimate traffic and not a nuisance. My favorite tip:

Get on a bike!
Not until you experience what it’s like to be a cyclist on a busy road will you truly be able to empathise with them and realise how careless drivers can be at times. Cyclists can too be careless, but it usually ends in them getting hurt, not you!

Not to get too touchy-feely on a Friday, but the world could use more instances of people being willing to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.

 

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The automobile trap

Last week I had to go to a friend’s house that I couldn’t bike to after work. There was a drizzle, it was rush hour and the maybe 10-mile drive took more than half an hour. By the time I got there I was doubly ready for that glass of wine (and I know a lot of people have longer commutes than that). It made me grateful to have the option of cycling or even walking to work, and sad that it’s something so many people don’t have. This feeling was only intensified by reading an article on Time’s website (via), that went beyond the psychological effects of commuting to explore the financial impact. It was an interesting read in the wake of my recent flirtation with a car-free life. The article, in a nutshell:

The study estimates that a family earning $50,000 to $60,000 per year pays around $10,000 annually in automobile costs—including gas, insurance, and other related expenses. According to the Department of Commerce, that family is paying more for transportation than health insurance or taxes.

Author Brad Tuttle goes on to explain how this happened and why, unfortunately, there’s not much the average American can do to change their situation. Many people chose to live in communities outside the urban core in the days of cheap oil because houses were more affordable, or because the schools were better. Now the current economy, job and real estate markets make it nearly impossible to move closer to where you work or work closer to where you live. Public transportation? Sure, if you’re in one of the 10 or 12 cities in the country where comprehensive public transportation exists. If not, you either don’t have the option at all, or exercising it would make your commute even more difficult. The only flaw in this article was that he didn’t mention the option of bicycles as transportation—but the things that keep people from using public transportation are often obstacles to cycling as well.

And that’s if you even want to try, or are willing to acknowledge the financial impact of driving. Most people look the other way exactly because of this catch-22 situation. Or because driving is, quite simply, the most convenient way of getting around for probably 90% of the population. Or because they just hate thinking about money, and figuring out the exact cost of owning a car is a complicated thing. I actually love road trips and I have a sentimental attachment to my current car because my dad rebuilt it for me. But having the option of whether or not to drive it, at least on a daily basis, is so valuable to me. Much is made of the equation of car=freedom, but how much freedom has the automobile culture given people when it comes to choosing their mode of transportation? Maybe economic pressures are finally going to make that start to change.

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Video: Biking in a Protected Lane

A couple of weeks ago, I shared photos of my bike ride through Chicago’s first protected lane on Kinzie Avenue. I love this lane, so now I’m sharing the experience with all of you. Sorry for the jumpy video – the ride is more peaceful than it looks, but Chicago’s streets are bumpy and I was holding the camera in my hand.

Enjoy!

Critical Mass in the News

Does Critical Mass help or hurt the cause of bicyclists?  This question is as rife with tension as the big helmet question.  Neither is a debate I’m interested in dredging up here.  Personally, I think Critical Mass in Chicago is great, but I can understand and respect arguments to the contrary, subject to the same caveat I have for any argument: that it be thoughtful and intelligent.

This week, some guy who wants to sell his book on “urban cycling” wrote a highly inflammatory post against Critical Mass, using the horrifying photo of a car driver crashing into (and killing members of) a group of cyclists in Mexico with the caption, “When is something like this going to happen in Chicago thanks to Critical Mass?”  The text of his post is as bad, with gems like this: “Critical Massholes are to fundamentalist terrorists what Islam is to cycling.”  That does not even make sense, but you get the idea.  His book cover is equally awful, a yellow and black graphic of a bicyclist plunging over a car.

I am very tuned in to Chicago’s bicycling scene, but I had never heard of this guy or his blog until today.  I’m not buying what he’s selling and I won’t link to his site from here, but apparently his distasteful publicity stunt is working, because he also got the attention of the press.

Earlier today, Chicago Tonight, a local PBS/WTTW news show that I watch nightly, had a discussion about Critical Mass, featuring this guy, along with Gin Kilgore, a Mass participant and creator of Bike Winter and all-around awesome woman, and Ethan Spotts of Active Trans.  Host Phil Ponce did a great job moderating.  Overall, I thought the segment was a positive piece for Critical Mass.  You can check it out for yourself below.  After the intro, jump ahead to 3:25 for the discussion.

I am not interested in starting a Critical Mass debate, but I do want to share this video and point out that there are ways to argue against the Mass with dignity and respect. It’s a shame for both sides when those who fail to do so get the attention.

Protected Bike Lane Love!

I recently biked along the city’s first protected bike lane. It happened to be the most direct route to get from work to the bar where I was meeting Ash for drinks. And it was amazing – all I hoped for and more.


These pictures really don’t do the lane justice. Most of the lane is next to the curb and separated from moving car traffic by flexible bollards and parked cars. It is wide and comfortable and felt totally safe. Not having to worry about how close drivers were passing on my left or watch out for opening car doors on my right was… I’m at a loss for words, I don’t know, it was pretty much the best thing ever. I biked this street a couple of times before the lane and the experience was extremely stressful and unpleasant. The difference the protected lane made is like night and day.

Here are two ladies who want more protected bike lanes:

Ash and Me

This particular stretch is only .5 miles, but the city plans to install 25 miles of protected bike lanes by May 2012 and 100 miles by the end of the mayor’s first term.  Cheers to Chicago’s new and growing bike infrastructure!

I plan to record a video next time I ride the lane, if I can tape my little digicam to my basket. You all gotta see this awesomeness in action.

The Loop’s First Bike Lane

The Loop is the very center of downtown Chicago, filled with courthouses, office buildings, theaters and shopping. Unfortunately, biking in the Loop anytime between 7:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. is very stressful. Bicyclists have to take the lane and haul ass. The wide, one-way streets are a free-for-all of buses, speeding cabs, personal vehicles of those with enough money to pay for parking, police SUVs, and pedestrians. I dislike biking in the Loop so much, When I have to go to court, I park my bike at my office and then walk the last mile into the Loop.

The complete lack of safe infrastructure is the reason biking in the Loop is so awful. No bike lanes at all, let alone protected bike lanes.

That is, until this month, when the city finally installed the first bike lane in the Loop on Madison.

I biked the lane on my way to an evening meeting and it’s a big improvement, in my opinion. Although cars passed closely, they did not drive in the bike lane, unless crossing over into the right turn lane, and they seemed more aware of the possible presence of bikes. The bike lane is to the left of the turning lane, which I liked, because the turning lane is usually jammed with waiting cabs and buses – I would not want to ride to the right of that mess.

Another improvement is that this lane extends into the intersection with dotted lines, which was never done in the past. Since the beginning of the summer, I have noticed several more areas where existing bike lanes have been extended into intersections like this whenever a street is repaved.

Overall, I am happy about this lane as a very small but hopeful start. But this really could have been a fully protected bike lane, if installed on the other side of the street. I want the city to install some of those protected lanes on at least four Loop streets: north, south, east, and west. I hope that this is part of their long-term plan.

Check out The Grid Chicago for a detailed analysis of the lane and a great conversation in the comments section.

Do any Chicago readers out there bike in the Loop? What do you think about this lane and what do you want to see next?

Large Scale Bike-Sharing System Announced for Chicago!

Imagine my surprise when I visited the main page of the Chicago Tribune this evening and saw the big lead story: City to rent thousands of bicycles.  Apparently, city officials just announced plans for a large scale bike-sharing system.  Oh yes yes yes!!

Mr. Dottie uses Paris's Velib bike-sharing system

The system is still in the planning stages and a company has not yet been picked to implement it, but it’s expected to start in the summer of 2012, with 3,000 bikes at 300 stations around the city, most 1/4 of a mile apart in the most dense areas. By 2014, the city hopes to add 2,000 more bikes and 200 more stations.  The system will pay for itself with membership fees (only $75/year with the first 30 minutes free) and sponsorships, along with federal congestion-relief funding.

I love the messaging going out to explain the system.  The article starts thusly:

Transferring from a train to a bus stuck in traffic is often the most frustrating and slowest way to finish a commute, prompting Chicago officials on Wednesday to start the wheels rolling on a new “transit option.”

Discussing how the bike share system will be aimed at all citizens, even those who do not currently ride a bike, the new transportation director, Gabe Klien, says “We view it as a basic form of transportation, but also a fun way to get around.” The article also compares it to the beloved i-Go car-sharing system, which will help regular people understand how a bike-share could be useful to them.

The article’s description of the bikes made me chuckle, because it totally mirrors what’s so great about my Dutch bike.

‘The new bikes will have an upright seating position for riders, a step-through frame to make mounting and dismounting easy, wide tires and a built-in LED-lighting system,’ he said. Other features will include at least three gear speeds, cushioned seats, chain guards to keep lubricant off clothing and fenders above both wheels to prevent water on the pavement from splashing onto the riders.

I am so excited about this and what it means for the future of Chicago as a bike-friendly city. I used to be doubtful of the efficacy of bike-sharing systems, until I visited Paris last year. The Velib system is amazing and, of the huge number of bicyclists on the streets of Paris, at least half of them were riding Velib bicycles. I got the sense that the city was pushed to become more bike-friendly and install new infrastructure as a response to the huge amount of bicyclists resulting from Velib. Could that happen in Chicago? I’m going to say – YES!

Read Trisha’s account of our Velib adventures HERE.  Read the whole article at the Chicago Tribune HERE.  Highly recommended reading. A+ to the Chicago Tribune: the article relays the facts and avoids manufacturing any awful debates.

Do you think a bike-sharing system can change a city?  Would you like to see one where you live?

Today in Traffic News

I see things on the road that strain my credulity pretty regularly, but today’s traffic rudeness took the cake.

There I was: riding Kermit Allegra at a moderate pace in the bike lane in front of Belmont University, just around 5:30 in a misty drizzle that has a Pacific Northwest feel. As I approach the corner by the Circle K, I notice a car stopping for a ped a few car lengths up. I slow, even though the ped has plenty of time to cross the bike lane before I reach him, and as I do I see the car that had passed me a few moments before veer to the right, into the bike lane ahead of me, to go around the car that is stopped for the pedestrian.

This particular crosswalk was marked with signs like the one pictured at right a couple of months ago. Belmont is one lane in both directions, no passing permitted.

Traffic being what it was, the eager beaver driver was held up about a block later. I passed her in the bike lane. She was talking on the phone.

I am far from a perfect driver, cyclist or pedestrian, but incidents like this infuriate me. They are the exception. But this month I have had a car accident and a close(r than I’d like) call while riding my bike, so the possible negative consequences of moving around in the world are on my mind. My commitment to minimizing the risks I take while doing so has been reinforced, but I’m also more conscious than ever that there’s not much that can be done about the other people on the road. So there’s a combination of hypervigilance and “que sera” fatalism going on here, at least for the time being.

What’s the craziest—or most courteous—thing you’ve ever seen someone do on the road?

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A Sorry Excuse for a Bike Route

One of the most popular and vital bike routes from downtown Chicago to neighborhoods on the north side is Lincoln Avenue. I’ve read that 25-40% of the rush hour traffic on Lincoln is people on bikes. I certainly see lots of bicyclists along the way.

One day last week I decided to take this route to work, since I was on a tight schedule and Lincoln Avenue is by far the most direct and quickest route. Perhaps I have been spoiled by my super long and winding but super calm route of side-streets, but I was appalled by the situation on Lincoln Avenue. The cars sped from red light to red light, the huge intersections were like gladiator trials for bicyclists and pedestrians, car doors flung open left and right, buses heaved, and large trucks blocked the bike lanes on every block.

At one point, I was going straight through an intersection with a green light and a driver turned left riiiight in front of me. I looked at him in horror and saw that he was holding a document up in front of his face, reading it. What the what?!? And last Friday, my husband was side-swiped by a driver who veered into the bike lane. His pannier bore the brunt of the impact (with a big mark to show for it) and he was able to keep his bike upright. The driver had the decency to stop, apologize, and ask if he was alright, but maybe drivers could LOOK FIRST?? Pretty simple.

I don't *think* I'm invisible

Greg is definitely visible

All this on a popular marked bike route, which is a joke (on us bicyclists). Despite the fact that people on bikes make up a substantial amount of the traffic, all we get is a strip of paint dangerously close to parked cars and some sharrows.

Door zone

Our beautiful bike lanes

If Chicago is going to be anything near a world-class bicycling city, this key route from the northside to downtown must be improved. While a buffered or protected bike lane would be the bees freakin’ knees, I know that will not happen. I would be content with colored bike lanes that extend through intersections, bike boxes at stop lights, fewer potholes, red light cameras, enforcement of cars parked in bike lanes, and attention-getting signage*. Such improvements should not be an afterthought. If a street is not safely servicing up to 40% of its daily users, the street is a failure.

Until then, I’ll be on the side streets, getting to work 15 minutes later but in a much better mood. And here, hoping that loud complaints will somehow beget real change.


*Something like, ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO FLING OPEN YOUR CAR DOOR WHEN YOU HAVE NOT LOOKED TO SEE IF THAT ACTION WILL KILL ANYONE??????? I’m just brainstorming here, but you get the idea.

More Chicago News

Mayor Emanuel and I have something in common: we both took the Brown Line to work yesterday. I took it because threatening thunderstorms kept me off my bike and the Mayor took it to demonstrate how great Chicago’s public transportation system is.

“Got on the train and got to work in 30 minutes, short order. That is a competitive advantage for the city,” he said.

Next he should ride his bike to work. Would that be something? I think so! His people should call my people and we can work it out. (News story here)

Unfortunately, there was also tragic news yesterday.

A 30-year-old man, Fredrick Kobrick, was killed in a hit-and-run crash while riding his bike in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood Sunday night. Based on a photo of the scene, it appears he was riding in a bike lane. The man driving the car was apprehended and has been charged with reckless homicide, aggravated DUI, and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. (News story here)

Yesterday, an 86-year-old woman, Coral Kier, was killed in my neighborhood while crossing the street in a crosswalk by a left-turning cab driver. No word yet on charges against the driver. (News story here)

My thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims.

I chose to highlight these stories because I believe it’s important to recognize the good and the bad relevant news, and to recognize the victims, not to make bicycling or walking in the city seem especially dangerous. (Nearly every day, it seems, there are news stories about car drivers and passengers being killed in crashes.) I hope there will be justice for these senseless deaths, what little justice there can be, and further examination by the City of how it can make its residents safer.

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