Archive | March, 2013

Cycling into Spring

31 Mar

Despite the rain today I think (hope) it’s safe to say that spring is finally really here.  Of course that means better biking weather!  It also means that more cycling-related stuff is happening.

• The folks at Ride Richmond are gearing up (sorry for the worn out pun) for Bike Week.  Events include a festival of short films focused on cycling.  Submissions are invited until 4/15, and those selected will be screened 4/27 at Movie Loft, a new film-screening space in downtown Richmond (yay!).  Also coming up is the annual Bike Swap at the VMFA on 4/21.  See this Ride Richmond post for more details.

• Yet another Bike Week event is a screening at the Byrd of Reveal the Path, a new documentary.  The film’s web site describes it thus:

Reveal the Path is a genre-defying adventure film that contemplates what it means to live an inspired life using the bicycle as a mechanism to explore, dream and discover.  Regions explored include Scotland’s lush valleys, Europe’s snow capped mountains, Morocco’s high desert landscapes, Nepal’s rural countryside and Alaska’s rugged coastal beaches. Ride along and get lost in the wonders of the world… Meet the locals living modest yet seemingly fulfilling lives, leading us to question what it means to live an inspired life – however humble or extravagant. Filmed across four continents and featuring Tour Divide race legends, Matthew Lee & Kurt Refsnider, this immersive film is sure to ignite the dream in you.

Proceeds will benefit Ride Richmond.  See the event Facebook page for more details.

• As noted in my previous post, this spring is also bringing a new, full-time bicycle and pedestrian advocate to Richmond.  RVA News has now published an interview with Max Hepp-Buchanan, the recently hired director of Sports Backers’ BikeWalk RVA initiative.  I’m encouraged by what the piece reports as Hepp-Buchanan’s recognition that bike lanes and sharrows are not enough to get most people who don’t already bike onto the streets.

• Spring in Richmond also apparently brings the birth of new bike blogs!  In addition to the recently-launched Ride RVA, we now have Pedal RVA.  The blogger describes it as follows:

Kicking and screaming, Richmond, Virginia is slowly but surely being transformed into a bicycle-friendly city. We will document the transformation by riding and reporting on the changes we see. It might be a slow start, but the people of RVA are energized and ready to make it happen. Witness it here.

Just like the city’s various cycling organizations, Richmond’s bike blogs have overlapping interests but distinctive approaches and areas of emphasis.  Perhaps it’s getting to the point that we need a single site from which people can access all cycling-related information and blogs in RVA.  Even more ideally, it could be the site for an umbrella group that would bring together the city’s bicycling organizations together as a more effective lobbying and organizing force.

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A New Advocate for RVA

21 Mar

A few months ago Sports Backers — the folks who bring you the Moonlight Ride and a lot of the running events in Richmond — announced that they would be throwing their hat into the bike-ped advocacy ring with an initiative called Bike Walk RVA.  Here are the basics from a January update I posted:

Supported by a grant from the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, Sports Backers will hire a Bike Walk RVA Director who will be tasked with trying to encourage and coordinate regional efforts around cycling and walking, and coordinate support for annual events focused on these activities, among other things.

Well, Sports Backers managed to lure someone all the way from Seattle to head up this effort!  Max Hepp-Buchanan served for the last two years as Advocacy Programs Manager for the Cascade Bike Club, the largest club of its kind in the country according to the press release.  In this position, Max “acted as the lead on the Seattle Bike Master Plan, served as the co-chair of the Seattle’s Bicycle Advisory Board, and created the Advocacy Leadership Institute to train interested citizens to be grassroots advocates.”

It certainly won’t hurt to have an experienced, well-trained (he has an M.A. in urban planning), full-time advocate in the area.  I look forward to seeing what Max and Sports Backers can do!

Meeting on “Dead Bikes” Tonight!

18 Mar

From RVA News:

The Public Safety Committee will discuss the proposed bike attachment ordinance and revisions to the registration ordinance at 5:00 pm today in the Police Academy (1202 W. Graham Street).

The “bike attachment ordinance” is basically about two things: how the city should deal with “dead bikes” (remnants of stripped bikes left locked to signs and racks), and about the problem of people locking their bikes to trees (not a good idea for a couple of reasons).

According to a longer piece on Richmond.com, Councilman Parker Angelasto is spearheading this, picking up where former council member Doug Conner left off.  The committee wants to hear what you think, so try if you can to get to the meeting or send input to Mr. Angelasto.

Two Must-See Videos

14 Mar
Bicycle rush hour in Copenhagen.  Photo by Jeff Peel, League of American Bicyclists: http://blog.bikeleague.org/blog/2009/09/copenhagen_ideal/

Bicycle rush hour in Copenhagen. Photo by Jeff Peel, League of American Bicyclists: http://blog.bikeleague.org/blog/2009/09/copenhagen_ideal/

Watch it and weep…  That was the original title that came to mind as I planned to share this video (via Virginia Bicycling Federation) of bicycle rush hour in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Those would be tears of joy, mind you.  Maybe it’s an effect of the etherial music, but watching this just makes me hopeful.  All kinds of people wearing everyday clothes getting around by bike.  You also see plenty of cars, but it seems pretty clear that the motorists know how to deal with the cyclists.  Of course it helps that the cyclists a) have good infrastructure and b) are a major presence on the road.  I have no doubt that there are still occasional accidents and conflicts, but it makes a big difference when everyone gets the message: bikes belong as much as any other vehicle.

To me it doesn’t seem so far-fetched to think that Richmond could become like this in 10 or 15 years.  Richmond city is a very bikeable size.  And keep in mind that Copenhagen was not always like this.  Bikes were as scarce there in the 1950s and 60s as in the U.S.  But after the oil crisis of in the 1970s city leaders acted, and they’ve continued to do so.

Fast forward to the U.S. in 2013.  I take this second video as another hopeful sign, if also as a reminder that we have some distance to go.  It’s a public service announcement that came out of a partnership between the League of American Bicyclists and the American Automobile Association.  Yes, you read that correctly: if the AAA is supporting cycling, we must be doing something right.  The message is simple: cyclists are people too.  Hopefully someday we will not have to remind people of this simple fact, but for now, it’s a powerful and necessary message.

Meeting on Forest Hill Avenue Project Tomorrow

12 Mar

Plans have been in the works for some time to widen the section of Forest Hill Avenue between Hathaway Road and the Powhite Parkway.  The city’s stated aim is to reduce accidents and improve traffic flow as well as drainage.  The widening will make room for some left and right turn lanes as well as a sidewalk and a bike lane.

There was a fair amount of debate about this project when it was first introduced, partly because the introduction of a median and turn lanes will probably increase speeds even while the design includes little in the way of pedestrian crossings.  The widening will also involve cutting down a large number of trees — something the city has been doing a bit too much of lately — and place sidewalks fairly close to some houses along the road.  One response of some residents unhappy about that has been to propose narrowing or eliminating the bike lane.

While it’s true that having a bike lane for this relatively short stretch of Forest Hill will not change things on either end, it’s still important for several reasons.  First, cyclists following the designated route along the south side of the river have to travel along this section of Forest Hill to get over the Powhite.  Second, it sets a very important precedent that any time a road is widened or altered that the inclusion of a bike lane be considered.  And finally, if a bike lane is not included now, there won’t be another chance in a very long time.  Changes may well come at either end of this section of road in the future, and the existence of bike lanes here would make it compelling to extend them.  So it’s important to ensure that the bike lanes stay in the plans.

So, if you are concerned about this sort of thing or have been following this Public Works saga, you should know that city traffic engineers will be presenting detailed plans for this project tomorrow, March 13, 5:30 to 7:30 pm at Southampton Elementary School, 3333 Cheverly Road.  The plans and other documents are available on the project’s web site.

About that Last Challenge…and the Science of Changing Behavior

6 Mar
kids-bicycles

Trying to convince yourself or someone else to bike more for transportation? For most people “baby steps” are the way to go because it’s too easy to give up before you’ve started if the goal is too big. Start with biking to work one day a week, or changing one trip on the weekend to a bicycling adventure. Photo from Bicycles and Bicycling: (bike-riding-guide.com).

So I ended my last post with a “challenge” to find a trip this week that you might have done by car but could choose to do by bicycle… Given the way the weather looks out there right now, I can only say, “No excuses!”

But seriously, maybe that challenge was a bit premature in terms of the weather.  It won’t be too long, however, until the weather is perfect for more biking!

The message still stands, though (and this is meant for those you might try to convince if you’re already an shining model of cycling for transportation): you don’t have to get rid of a car or commit to a bike-everywhere lifestyle to make a difference for yourself and in general.  Baby steps are okay!  That’s how it works for most of us.  Sure, some people just dive in and change everything at once, but most people change their habits gradually.

This seems like common sense, but it’s something that people who are trying to change behavior — and that’s what bicycle advocates are partly out to do — sometimes forget.  I’ve been thinking about this after stumbling onto a slide show from Stanford University’s Persuasive Tech Lab called “Top Ten Mistakes in Behavior Change.”  What I take away from this is: it works better to offer short-term, do-able, concrete, rewarding actions that over time could change habits over the long term.

With cycling the biggest thing is to nudge people’s thinking in the direction of “I can bike to get somewhere I want to go and I will feel really good when I do that.”  Don’t get me wrong, cycling for fun-excercise-recreation is great, and that might be a first baby step too.  But I think the biggest hurdle for most of us in this country is thinking of a bicycle as a normal means of getting around.  Unlike regular hurdles, however, you don’t have to take this one in one big leap.  It can be surmounted with, say, a step ladder of small changes.

Maybe one of the ciclovia events coming up this spring and summer will be that for some Richmonders.  In addition to changing the ever-powerful environment (if only temporarily) by closing streets to cars, this kind of event allows us to say, “Hey, why not come to this fun event with me?” instead of “Why don’t you ride your bike more?”

I’ll be sure to post more details about these events as they become available.

What to do Next: Ride!!

2 Mar

My previous post delivered the sobering news that only one of several bills that would contribute to cyclist safety passed the General Assembly this session.  The Virginia Bicycling Federation has posted a recap that has generated some discussion about how we can try to get more cyclist-friendly legislation passed next time around.  It also includes a very comprehensive list of links to reports and editorials about the bills that were defeated.

Aside from joining an advocacy organization, writing and calling legislators, and showing up to the Bike Action Day ride/rally next time around, what can we do?   It’s sort of cliché among cycling advocates, but one of the most important things we can do is — drum roll, please — ride our bicycles more and encourage family and friends to do so.  The more of us there are riding to get places, the more visible we are.  And the more visible we are, the harder it is to dismiss cyclists as just a bunch of lycra-clad jerks, which is apparently a widespread perception.

If you’re trying to convince yourself or someone else to hop on the saddle more often, consider this recent story that ran on NPR about kids not getting enough exercise.  It’s no longer news that we have an obesity problem in the U.S.  A combination of factors has made it difficult for kids to get the recommended amount of physical activity: school cutbacks on physical education, sprawling development that makes getting around in a way other than by car difficult, and overbooked schedules to name a few.

Kids that do get a good amount of exercise, as the NPR story suggests, ironically often have to be driven around by their parents to do so.  You can tell that the L.A. mom in the story is really stressed trying to ferry the kids to different practices and games.  Cut to another family that lives in Portland, Oregon, where physical activity is just an effect of getting around: they chose to live in a neighborhood (not unlike some in Richmond) that has parks, shops, and other amenities within walking or biking distance.  And of course there’s the issue of making the choice not to drive to those things anyway (a larger number of car trips in the U.S. are very short, under 2 miles).

Richmond is no L.A., although our suburbs are not that far off.  And the city is not Portland, either, although we have some very walkable and bikeable neighborhoods and an ongoing effort to improve bikeability.

So my challenge to you is this: is there a trip you made this last week or weekend that you could have made by foot or bike but didn’t?   If so, why not try it this week?  Ride to the restaurant for brunch, maybe?  To the drugstore a few blocks away?  To the park to play?   Okay, if it’s snowing or frigid outside, wait a week or two, but soon it’s going to be perfect biking weather!