Archive | April, 2012

Get Moving, Richmond!

23 Apr

This is hardly the first time I have posted on the health benefits of cycling as transportation, but I recently came upon some statistics that really drive the point home for the city of Richmond specifically.  The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps project ranks Richmond 125th (!) out of 131 counties and independent municipalities in Virginia (information for four counties/cities was not available).  The rankings are based on a wide range of factors including statistics on the actual health of the population and clinical care, but also the physical environment and social and economic factors.

A couple of statistics really stand out for someone interested in bicycling and walking:

• The rate of adult obesity in Richmond is 31%, compared to a state average of 28% and a national benchmark of 25%.

• The percentage of adults over 20 in the city who report no leisure time physical activity is 28% for Richmond, compared to a 24% average for Virginia and 21% for the U.S.

There are plenty of other troubling statistics there, but having nearly one third of our adult population qualify as obese is a serious problem in all kinds of ways.  I am a bit wary of the second statistic because it excludes physical activity not associated with leisure (like, say, riding your bike to the store or to work).  That said, the kind of physical activity most people do outside of leisure time is work-related, and if such activity is of short duration and not sufficiently aerobic, it won’t produce the health benefits of biking, walking, or other activities.

Obviously biking is good for everyone, but how can we convince people who are not active to become more so in this way?  A crucial piece of the puzzle is getting kids moving early, and what better way to do that than to have them bike or walk to school?  Check out these numbers from the Safe Routes to School Guide:

• In 1969, 48% of children 5 to 14 years of age in the U.S. walked or biked to school.  By 2009 that number had decreased to 13%.

• And although the percentage of school kids in grades K-8 living with a mile of their school has dropped from 41 to 31% since 1969, the percentage of those kids living close to school who walk or bike has plummeted from 88 to 38%!

Safe Routes to School is a program that since 2005 has provided funding to localities to install infrastructure conducive to walking and biking to school.  Unfortunately, it still has an uncertain future: Congress has still not passed a long-term transportation bill, and the original House bill totally eliminated funding for the Safe Routes and other bicycle- and pedestrian related programs.  I’ll be sure to post updates and information on how to get involved when the debate starts up again.

In the meantime, consider participating in the first-ever National Bike to School Day on May 9!  Even better, contact your principal and talk to her/him about promoting the event school-wide.  Check out this site for more information.

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Bike Week Begins

21 Apr

Organized by RideRichmond with help from VCU and others, Bike Week gets off to a great start today with a couple of rides in conjunction with Earth Day festivities in Richmond.  Go by RideRichmond’s table down in Manchester, and join them for a family fun ride at 4!  Click here for a full calendar of Bike Week events through next weekend.

Look for updates coming soon on National Bike Month (May) in Richmond too.  In case this seems confusing, Bike Week is held before Bike Month because by May the college students in the area are in the throes of final exams.  Here’s a little taste of what’s coming:

• Richmond Bike Commuter Challenge — participants who register and bike to work in May will be entered in a drawing for a new bike!

National Bike Challenge — May through August.  The more you ride, the better the prizes are.

• National Bike to Work Day Rally May 18 in Monroe Park

National Bike to School Day May 9 (if you know of any activities being held at your school, please let me know, or consider getting some other parents and kids together to ride yourself!)

Your City is Your Canvas

18 Apr

Here is a totally fascinating way to think about streets and cycling: creating images using a GPS device and your movements on a bicycle.  As Grist points out, it’s sort of like turning your city into an etch-a-sketch.

If you don’t need or require GPS or an artistic motive to ride, you might nevertheless be interested in doing so in a city other than the one you live in.  As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, bike share programs are becoming quite numerous and popular in U.S. cities, and our own VCU and University of Richmond have instituted their own programs.  Some innovative folks in NYC have come up with yet another way to get a ride on a temporary basis: peer bike sharing.  The idea is identical to that of car sharing sites that have recently emerged: on Spinlister, you can offer or find a bike for rent.  Although the site can also connect you to regular bike rental shops, renting from an individual (especially if you want something for a few days or weeks) may be more practical and less expensive.  Right now the site has listings only for NYC and San Francisco, but it looks as though the list will expand soon.

See the full article here.

Film Festival and Clean Bikes!

16 Apr

There’s so much cool bike-related stuff going on in April and May it makes me giddy.

If you’ve checked out the schedule for Bike Week, you know this already, but just in case, one of the events is the Bicycle Film Festival to be held at the Byrd Theater.  On Sunday April 22 starting at 5 p.m. and on Friday April 27 at 11:59 p.m. you can see a great range of films for just $5 (free with VCU student ID).  If you check the list of other cities on the festival’s tour, it might even make you feel a bit smug about living in Richmond.  We’re in good company.

Another event I just learned about via fellow Richmond bike blogger RVABikeCommuter is the Clean Bike Carnival coming up on May 5.  With help from Ellwood Thompson’s, Richmond Cycling Corps is offering cleaning and tune-ups as well as food, beer, games, and music to enjoy while you wait.  It’s also a nice opportunity to check out the Corps’ digs in Scott’s Addition if you haven’t done so yet.  Admission is FREE, but you do need to get a ticket prior to the event.

Whether you go to one of these or other events planned for Bike Week or National Bike Month, or just get on your bike more often, try to get out and show your support for cycling in Richmond.

Driver Education

14 Apr

One of the most important things needed to make Richmond (or any other city) truly bike-friendly is changing the attitudes and behavior of motorists.  Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of drivers in the Richmond area who drive carefully and respectfully around cyclists.  But it doesn’t take many aggressive or careless ones to make biking in the city less than enjoyable and keep the less adventurous among us off the road entirely.

As much as it irks me, I’m not surprised that a lot of people drive too fast and not very carefully, including around cyclists.  Our culture and infrastructure encourage it.  Our streets are not really designed as shared spaces; they’re designed mainly for cars and sometimes have “accommodations” for pedestrians and bikes.  And we’ve come to expect that we can get most everywhere we want to go quickly.  For various reasons (here again I’m drawing on Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic, and no, I have no financial interest in the book!), most of us also tend to overestimate our skills as drivers and underestimate the dangers of driving.  On top of that, drivers are not that strongly encouraged to see bikes as legitimate road users (and unfortunately some of those cyclists also act as though they’re not legitimate users too).

I first started thinking about this post when I asked myself what drivers are taught in Virginia about interacting with bicycles on the road.  Here’s what the official Virginia Driver’s Manual says:

Bicycles are considered vehicles and have the same right-of-way as motor vehicles.  Bicyclists are also expected to obey the same traffic rules and regulations as vehicle drivers; however, many are children who may not know or obey the rules. Slow down when you approach bicyclists. Give them plenty of room when passing and be prepared to stop suddenly. Look for bicycles on all public roads. It is against the law to operate a bicycle or any electric power device such as assistive mobility devices, toy vehicles, and bicycles on any interstate highway.

So bikes get one paragraph in 35 pages of text.  Not much.  It’s hard to know, of course, what is actually taught in driving schools and classes, but my guess is that it doesn’t go much beyond this, if it’s even this much. At the same time, if all drivers actually followed these suggestions, life would be pretty good for cyclists.

So how do we change driving culture and habits so that these things become the norm?  It’s not easy.  We need more and better education for drivers on the subject of sharing the road, and more cycling education for everyone.  Hopefully we’ll see more PR campaigns in Richmond too.  In the meantime, here’s a couple of things you can do:

Ride your bike.  There is (greater) safety in numbers.  Cities with higher rates of cycling actually have lower rates of cycling injury and death.  The safety of biking (and walking) in New York City has actually increased as the number of riders has increased (see #3 here), and even in European cities where helmet use is less common but cycling more common, the rates of injury are lower (see the second post down here).

Be a good example when you drive.  Slow down, and give cyclists plenty of room when passing (VA law currently says 2 feet, but 3 or more is better).

Talk to friends and family (especially new drivers) about how to drive safely around cyclists.

Get involved in advocating for better driver education as well as better bicycle infrastructure.  Let your city council representative, the mayor, and your state representatives know that you support efforts to make bicycling and walking safer.  Richmond has some momentum with installing bike infrastructure, but it’s still important that they know you support it — and perhaps even more ambitious facilities such as greenways and buffered or separated bike lanes.  This will be especially crucial if and when there is any opposition to setting aside money and space for this infrastructure (see this recent Bicycling piece for some information on the battle over bike lanes in Brooklyn).  And at the state level, if and when a bill requiring 3 feet of space when passing a cyclist is introduced again, encourage your representatives to support it.  20 states have passed such laws, but advocates in Virginia have faced repeated opposition from lawmakers in key committee positions.

Any other ideas?

Way to Go VCU!

11 Apr

I was just getting ready to post about VCU recently being recognized as a Silver level Bicycle Friendly University by the League of American Bicyclists, and then got an update from the Virginia Bicycling Federation on that very topic!  Nice job VCU!  At present the only Platinum level BFU is Stanford University, with UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara as the only Gold level institutions.  Unless I missed something, it looks like only two other Virginia institutions of higher ed. have received an award: George Mason got Bronze level recognition, and UVA an honorable mention.  No doubt VCU’s new bike share program (see also my earlier post) and Bike Week (coming up very soon!) played a role in VCU receiving the Silver level honor.

The League, which recently announced it will be combining forces with Bikes Belong and the Alliance for Biking and Walking, also recognizes Bicycle Friendly Businesses and Bicycle Friendly Communities.  Richmond has not yet applied for recognition as a BFC, as far as I know, but I can only assume that the new sharrows, bike lanes, and bike racks slated to be installed very soon will put the city in a good position to apply next year.  Check the League’s Bicycle Friendly America page for more information on these awards.

Dead Bikes and Spare Parts

9 Apr

An image from the site "You Found a Dead Bike."

The community blog Fan of the Fan recently featured a post on a really creative new project called You Found a Dead Bike.  Those abandoned bicycles or remnants thereof that you see locked up around town are documented and in some cases “shrouded” with a large black cover with the message “Here lies a dead bike.”  Here’s how the project site explains the idea behind it:

To continue an individual’s memory beyond their life, we build monuments and tombs. By shrouding these dead bicycles, we show our appreciation and love for bicycles and hope that they’ll get their second life.

Within the city limits you will occasionally find a bicycle, locked to a pole or tree, stripped of its valuable pieces and left to rust. Even without these components, the bicycle still has value and could be saved for a minimal cost.

What does this say about our respect for a machine we spend so much time enjoying? Does the loss of a lock key merit the abandonment of the entire bike?

The intent of this project is to bring a renewed appreciation for bicycle culture and awareness to a community willing to leave their friends behind.

There has been discussion in the Mayor’s Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Trails commission about adopting a policy on abandoned bicycles now that the city is planning to install a lot more racks.  Along with wasting a good bike, abandoning one also takes up a good parking space!  Hopefully there will be a way for an organization such as the bike co-op being organized with some help from RideRichmond to reclaim these “dead” bikes (after they’ve been officially determined to be abandoned) and bring them back to life.

On a related note, folks who have not abandoned their bikes but would like to swap them (or bike parts and gear) should attend the Bike Swap being held April 22 at the VMFA, presented by he VMFA and RideRichmond as part of Bike Week II.  And if your bike is not yet dead but seems a bit sick after sitting in the garage all winter, check out these three simple tips posted by Amy, also at RideRichmond.