Archive | October, 2012

Bike Lanes are Key

28 Oct

A green bike lane recently installed on Market Street in San Francisco. Photo from S.F. Streetsblog.

At first this may seem like the kind of research that makes you say, “They got funding to confirm the obvious?”  But believe it or not, until recently there has apparently not been much solid evidence that bike lanes and off-road paths actually get more people to bike.  A recent study discussed by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post a little while back seems to confirm that this kind of infrastructure really does get more people out on bikes:

Buehler and Pucher found that the presence of off-road bike paths and on-street bike lanes were, by far, the biggest determinant of cycling rates in cities. And that’s true even after you control for a variety of other factors like how hot or cold a city is, how much rain falls, how dense the city is, how high gas prices are, the type of people that live there, or how safe it is to cycle. None of those things seem to matter quite as much. The results, the authors write, “are consistent with the hypothesis that bike lanes and bike paths encourage cycling.”

I look forward to seeing studies on the degree to which different types of lanes, paths, etc. encourage cycling.  Given the levels of cycling in European cities with extensive, separated lanes (as well as a culture in which cycling is not viewed as exceptional or crazy) and the sense of safety and legitimacy these encourage, it seems clear that this kind of infrastructure should be high on the list for any city that is serious about increasing cycling as transportation.

This leads me to my wish for Richmond.  We are not known for being “cutting edge” in most areas.  And when it comes to bicycle infrastructure, it’s way too late for Richmond to be at the forefront in comparison to larger cities like Minneapolis, Portland, San Francisco, and New York.  But we also don’t need to wait for years to begin putting in place something more ambitious than shared lane markings (“sharrows”) and standard bike lanes.  There are many places where those are appropriate, and they will be part of the mix.

I will be truly convinced of our leaders’ commitment to cycling, however, when they approve the first separated cycle track or bike boulevard.  Our recent designation as a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community recognizes our aspirations as much as what has been accomplished.  If Mayor Jones’ statements to the effect that he wants Richmond to be one of the top cycling cities on the East Coast are to be taken at face value, then a minimal or middle-of-the road approach is not going to do it.  Even smaller cities like Charleston, often looked to with envy by Richmonders, are well on their way.  It’s time to be bold, Richmond!

With this in mind I would encourage you to ask candidates for city council in your district whether they are committed to taking bold steps to make Richmond a truly cycling-friendly city.  There are still plenty of people who will no doubt dig in their heels when new cycling infrastructure involves any kind of inconvenience or significant change.  We’ll need representatives willing to push back.

Richmond is an Official BFC!

18 Oct

The League of American Bicyclists’ updated list of Bicycle Friendly Communities (BFC’s) is out, and Richmond is on it!  With a Bronze designation, this is the first time that Richmond has appeared on the list.  On top of VCU’s Silver award as a Bicycle Friendly University, this puts Richmond on the cycling map.  Click here for coverage on Richmond.com.

According to the LAB web site, “the Bicycle Friendly Community Program (BFC) provides incentives, hands-on assistance, and award recognition for communities that actively support bicycling. A Bicycle Friendly Community welcomes cyclists by providing safe accommodation for cycling and encouraging people to bike for transportation and recreation.”

I think it’s fair to interpret this award as recognition that Richmond has taken notable steps and has built some momentum with respect to infrastructure and other programs.  In other words, it is a sign that we’re going in the right direction — and should let leaders know that they should double down on these efforts financially and politically.

Aiming for the highest designation (Platinum) by 2015 might be a bit of a stretch.  At present only Boulder, CO, Portland, OR, and Davis, CA have it, and they’ve been working on this stuff for more than a decade.  But I think it’s quite possible for us to achieve Gold by that time if city leaders remain committed.  Let’s go for it!

While we’re on the subject of recognition, a person who has been very active in the efforts that have gotten us this far is Michael Gilbert, co-founder of Ride Richmond.  He’s included in this year’s Top 40 Under 40 issue of Style.  Click here for the profile.

Matters of Perception

11 Oct

You probably know someone who is really annoyed at cyclists in general.  Maybe one of them honked or yelled at you recently.  The kind of person who thinks bicycles belong only on sidewalks.

Just the other day I was sitting at a light — yes, I stopped — toward the left side of the right lane.  This helps to avoid the right-hook problem that can occur if you sit all the way to the right and want to go straight.  It also lets people who want to go right on red get past you.  I can’t imagine what my position could have implied other than that I was planning to go straight through the intersection.  A van pulled up on my right just as the light turned green and then braked suddenly as I started to pedal.  The driver yelled “Share the Road, man!” as he proceeded straight through the intersection.

Well, it’s also probably not a huge revelation to say that ideas of “bad” cyclists are a matter of perception more than fact.  Turns out that, according to a recent article on Slate, psychologists have some fairly specific ideas about why some people are convinced that all cyclists are jerks or scofflaws.  In simplistic terms, people focus — emotionally — on the negative.  All of the “good” interactions they have with cyclists make little impression, while a “bad” one that really ticked them off or scared them looms large in the imagination.

The piece also cites some studies that reveal cyclists to be pretty calm and law-abiding on the whole.  Unfortunately the prevalence of good riders does not have much effect — as we know — on the negative perception.  That negative perception also persists (and is applied more to cyclists than other drivers) because cyclists are “those people” — a minority, “not me.”

That would presumably be a positive effect of a larger mode share: the more of us there are out there, the less we’ll seem less like exotic rascals.  That doesn’t mean that biking safely doesn’t matter, just that good behavior alone won’t change most drivers’ minds.  For that reason I would have revised the title of a recent Richmond.com piece called “Ten Reasons Drivers Hate Cyclists” as “Top Ten Ways to Bike Safely.”

Skewed perceptions also affect views of safety.  A recent New York Times article discusses helmet usage, specifically in relation to bike share programs.  The problem is that if you require people to wear helmets to use these bikes (or to cycle in general), usage goes way down.  But isn’t that a fair trade-off for safety?  Well, it turns out that we judge danger and safety on a very emotional basis too.  People assume, for example, that more deaths are caused in the U.S. by tornadoes than by asthma.  The latter is much more deadly, but it’s not as dramatic.

It turns out that we do all sorts of mundane things without helmets or other protection, like crossing busy streets as pedestrians or climbing ladders, that are equally if not more dangerous than riding a bicycle in traffic.  You don’t hear anyone proposing that everyone who walks around downtown wear a helmet!

We also tend to misjudge what cycling situations are the most risky: a big truck coming up behind you is much less likely to leave you hurt than a right or left “hook” at an intersection, not to mention a fall from the bike that has nothing to do with a motor vehicle.  Getting really good at handling a bicycle and riding safely are much better insurance against injury than a helmet is because they help you avoid the crash in the first place.

That’s not to say that a helmet is a bad idea.  But it’s probably not really justified to feel righteous indignation toward someone who chooses not to wear one.  And relative to the miles traveled, driving a car puts you in just as much or more danger than riding a bicycle, even if it doesn’t make you feel as vulnerable.

Honoring Bud Vye

9 Oct

Photo by Alan Cooper.

From the Richmond Area Bicycling Association listserv:

A bench was dedicated this morning representing Bud Vye’s tireless advocacy of the Virginia Capital Trail. With drizzle and temperatures below 50 degrees, it wasn’t the best day for a ceremony or a bike ride, but a good crowd showed up anyway.

Given what Bud has done for the Capital Trail and cycling in Richmond in general, he deserves something more monumental, but this is certainly a fitting way to honor him.  Thank you Bud!!

The Tour

8 Oct

The RTD and Richmond.com have some nice footage and photos of Saturday’s Tour of Richmond.  By most accounts it was a very successful inaugural event.  Five hundred riders, about half of the total — yours truly included — did the 102-mile course through Richmond City and Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, and Henrico Counties.   It was a beautiful day and the law enforcement folks did a great job of keeping the course open.

The Times-Dispatch also published a nice profile of one of Richmond Cycling Corps‘ young riders participating in the Tour — in this case the first young woman in the group to complete a century!

The Tour of Richmond has been touted as one of many events and efforts aimed at amping up enthusiasm for cycling in the area with an eye toward the 2015 championships.  On a very practical note, it’s going to be an incredible logistical feat to move thousands of visitors and support staff around the city for nine days.  Even if Richmond has a bike share program by then, it will likely be fairly modest in size.

Enter Spinlister, a peer-to-peer bike rental web site.  You list your (extra?) bike and other equipment you can provide, and someone who needs a bike while visiting your city finds you and pays you through the web site.  The site also takes care of the liability and “insurance” issues in case the person who rents from you crashes or damages your bike.

Urban Velo recently reported that Spinlister is going nationwide after some initial success in New York and San Francisco.  If Richmond isn’t on the initial list, we should lobby to get on.  What better way — with all of the new bike infrastructure we’ll hopefully be able to show off by then — to move a bunch of guests around the city and put a little extra cash in the pockets of Richmonders at the same time?

Cycling Advocates Rock

1 Oct

That’s the gist of another commentary by the Times-Dispatch‘s Tom Silvestri from Sunday, along with a call to give us what we want.  Yeah!

We rock mainly because, based on Silvestri’s impressions from the recent Public Square event, we are passionate but also reasonable.  We actually have concrete (no pun intended) solutions to the problems we raise.  And we’re truly committed to making the city a better place.  I couldn’t agree more.  Now if we can get a few more folks with money and political pull to share Silvestri’s enthusiastic and articulate support of the cause, we’ll be set.  So far Mayor Jones has talked the talk and to started to walk the walk, but I’m waiting to see how strong his commitment is when tough decisions have to be made — decisions that might upset traffic engineers or some constituents.

Click here for an edited transcript of the aforementioned Public Square on Richmond’s bike-friendliness.

The RTD also recently posted Goochland County’s response to questions about its current and future plans for bicycling infrastructure etc.  Given how rural Goochland is, I wouldn’t have expected a whole lot.  As with many of the responses from the counties, the intentions appear to be there but detailed plans are not.  There is a lot of “we will consider” and “when we eventually reengineer that road…”  How about some Share the Road signs on popular rural routes, at least?  (I specifically mean the ones that show a bicycle and a car on the same road; otherwise motorists are tempted to understand the message as “cyclists should share the road with me and get out of the way”).