Tag Archives: Bicycling

No rules?

Quite by chance, I encountered an advocate of “shared space” and had a conversation with him at the start of a ride I undertook to illustrate the concept. The advocate expressed that there are “no rules” in this kind of space, which is dominated by pedestrians. Do you agree?

How many people would go to the trouble?

Christmas Eve, and the temperature outside is 17 degrees Fahrenheit.That’s 7 degrees below zero Celsius.

I am wearing trousers over sweatpants, a flannel shirt over a T-shirt, and a watch cap. That way, I am comfortable with the thermostat in our house set below 60. Church, with Christmas Eve service, is 1 1/2 miles away. There is a good, reliable car in the driveway.

I put on a fleece jacket, and over that a parka; my cycling shoes, which I bought a half-size large so they would fit over two layers of wool socks; I tuck the cuffs of my trousers into the socks; I don my bicycle helmet. reflectorized legbands and vest, lastly fleece-lined leather mittens.

I disconnect the battery for my bicycle lights from its charger and carry it out to the garage. I slip it into a pocket of the touring bag on my Raleigh Twenty bicycle, and plug it in.

The streets are almost empty. I am comfortable and warm except for the parts of my face that are not covered by my beard or eyeglasses. The exercise feels great. In 12 minutes, I am at church. I park my bicycle against a railing right in front of the door.

It took me about ten minutes to get ready for this ride. I could have gotten into the car and been at church just as soon, even counting the extra walk from where I would have had to park.

Nobody but me, of the 60 or so people at the service, arrived at the church on a bicycle. How many people would go to the trouble to take a short trip like this on a bicycle in the cold and the dark? Well, there’s your answer, for now.

As for me, why did I? Certainly not to save time. I do reflect on the irony of a worship service which makes such a contribution to use of non-renewable resources and environmental degradation, but as one among 60, I’m not doing much to turn the tide on that. I did win on comfort — I was warm from the indoor heat when leaving my home, then from exercise inside all those layers of clothing. If I’d dressed for the cold in the car, than I’d have been sweaty once the car warmed up. Mostly, though, I rode my bicycle because outdoor exercise is the only way I know to beat the winter blues.

Cold weather is not conducive to long bicycle tours, because feet might get cold, because there’s no way just to sit down and rest comfortably on a park bench or a stump by the side of the road; because most social activity happens indoors.

On the other hand, winter cold poses little problem for short cycling trips. Summer heat and humidity are much worse — ever notice how in hot countries, people switch from bicycles to motor scooters as soon as rising income makes that possible? In cold weather, though, motor scooters really lose out.

A hot climate is a serious impediment to transportation bicycling; cold weather needn’t be, as long as the streets are clear. In winter, there’s no sweat, and no need to freshen up or change clothes on reaching one’s destination — only strip off the extra layers.

Getting ready does take extra time, though, and for shorter trips this can be a concern.  Ice and snow in the streets also certainly can be a problem, though there were none on that Christmas Eve. I do have studded snow tires for one of my bicycles, though I haven’t taken the trouble yet to install them. The streets get cleared soon enough here that there are only a few days each winter when I would need them.

For me, the feeling of physical well-being justifies the extra time getting ready. Yet, often I pass people at bus stops who spend more time waiting than I did getting ready for my ride, and who are stomping their feet to stoke up the warmth that I get automatically from cycling.

When I get where I am going, some people marvel at how I could brave the cold, to which I reply: people go to Vermont to ski down mountains. I’m getting as much exercise as they do, with much less wind chill!

I enjoy riding in winter, and maybe I can encourage you to give it a try if you don’t do it already. But I don’t expect to attract a massive following. Come to think of it I have read that Boston’s Hubway community bicycle program has shut down for the winter — which makes sense, I suppose, as a business decision.


The Six-Way in Rush Hour

Here’s another video showing conditions at the six-way intersection of 16th Street, U Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW in Washington, DC, where special bicycle facilities have been installed.

Also please see my earlier post about this intersection, with another embedded video.

Guest posting: Ian Cooper on Euro bicycling cultures

Note from John Allen: Ian Cooper originally wrote the following essay as a counter-argument against the idea that there has never been a European bike culture, based on observations that did not extend beyond typical urban cycling on heavy, black bicycles.

I cycled throughout Europe in 1984 and 1985. I spent a year and a half there and covered 10,000 miles. I cycled through 13 countries, often together with locals.

Ian Cooper with the massive black bike

Ian Cooper with the massive black 'family bike' he borrowed

There were three bicycling cultures in Europe at that time – as there have always been since at least WW2. There’s the culture of the family bike, there’s the culture of the hobby bike, and there’s the commuter bike culture. The family bike crowd kept their dad’s and mom’s bike in the basement – often it was heavy, old, cranky and rusty. It worked – barely, but it got them out doing errands every week or so when the family car wasn’t available. The ‘bike as a hobby’ culture used mid- to high-end bikes for weekend outings and tours. Then there was the commuter, and he needed an everyday bike that could go faster and had more gears than the family bike because he was on it every day for a good amount of time – so he chose the mid-range racing bikes too.

I have been a cyclist for 40 years – since I was 8 [in 1971, more or less]. In 1979 or 1980 I started commuting to work on a mid-range Peugeot road bike. This was in England. I was not a bicycle enthusiast – I was just a commuter, and as a commuter I needed a bike that was light, fast and maneuverable, and one that could get up hills. I did that for 4 years, 250 days a year, rain or snow.

My European trip started as a walking tour to Istanbul. In Holland I pulled a muscle in my foot and couldn’t go on. I met a family on the border between Holland and Germany and they loaned me a bike – a massive black thing (I still have a picture of it) and the family and I went for a ride – at 4mph through the Dutch countryside. Even though it was slow, it showed I could continue my journey because my foot could pedal without pain.

Now, I spent time with about 15 families during my tour. Most of them were like this one – they owned an old cranky ‘family’ bike but their main transportation was their car. I stayed with three families who owned at least one mid-range or high-end bike. They all owned a car too, but they were the ‘hobbyists’. I didn’t stay with any bike commuters that I remember – one may have been.

I set out for Cologne and sought out a bike shop. I asked the owner for a good touring bike for under $300. He steered me to a Motobecane Super Mirage (I still have a few pictures of it). Then I set off to Istanbul.

Ian Cooper in Kozani (Macedonia) with the Motobécane

On my way (and on my way from Istanbul to Granada, and back to England again) I met very many cyclists, some on day trips, some foreigners like me on tours. But the local cyclists I met were much the same as the ones we see today on bike trails, some vacationing commuters with racers and some hobbyists with touring bikes (I don’t remember many mountain bikes back then – some Americans and Australians used them). I rarely saw the heavy bikes on the tour routes because they were used by families pretty much purely for shopping. When I did see them they were in the towns.

If you didn’t tour by bike you wouldn’t see many quality bikes, because their owners spent little time in the cities. If you did tour, I can’t imagine how you could miss all the local tourists and commuters with their middle and high-end Motobécanes, Peugeots, Raleighs, etc. The Dutch family I first met certainly did not have a mid-range or high-end bike in the house, and if I had turned around and gone home at that point, I might be agreeing about the lack of a bike culture in Europe in the 1980s. But I went on and found the bike culture. It’s not in the towns and it’s certainly not in most European homes. But it is in evidence along the tour routes and I know it DOES influence the transportation scene. The problem is, it doesn’t influence it as much as the family bike culture, which is much the same as it is here – scared of cars and wants bike lanes. This is essentially, I believe, because it is not really a bike culture – it’s a car culture in which the car is often stranded at the main breadwinner’s work, so the rest of the family get stuck having to use the family bike. It’s obvious who these people are in Europe – they all ride those heavy and nasty Dutch bikes. But here [in the USA], the family bike, the hobby bike and the commuter bike all look pretty similar, which makes it hard to sort the family bike folks (who aren’t really cyclists) from the true bike culture.

Anyway, I fear I’ve started rambling, so I’ll shut up and just post my thoughts. Hopefully they make sense to someone besides me.

Guest posting: Alan Forkosh on community bike systems

Vélib bicycles, Paris, France

Vélib bicycles, Paris, France, September, 2009

This guest posting is by permission of the author, Alan Forkosh, who writes:

Here are some observations on how the Vélib community bike system in Paris works.

My thoughts on the issue crystallized after a trip to Paris in the fall of 2009 and stemmed from 3 observations:

  • The heavy use of Vélib and the high density of Vélib stands;
  • The lack of Vélibs parked in the wild;
  • The fact that the common way of obtaining a Vélib was to swipe an authorized Navigo transit pass at the stand holding the bike.

By the way, I have some pictures of Vélibs and other bikes online.

A community bike sharing program is not about the bike: it’s about overcoming the shortcomings of the mass transportation system and making it better serve the users without increasing congestion. The problem with mass transit is that unless you are very lucky, it doesn’t quite serve your needs. The inefficiencies in waiting for trains or buses, waiting for transfers, and not going exactly where you want to go add up. In many cases, you get very frustrated just attempting the trip. A community bike system alleviates that by giving you an almost instant way to cut the delays and straighten routes to go from place to place without the intra-system delays. You go to a bike station near your origin, swipe your pass, and take the associated bike. When you reach your destination, you click the bike into a stand and are done with it. The grid is dense, so that these stations should be no more than 1000 feet from the origin and destination (I think that Vélib stations are spaced no more than 300 meters [about 1000 feet] apart).

In Paris, it is rare to see an unattended Vélib away from a bike station; the stations provide more convenient and secure parking than trying to manipulate the lock provided on the bike. Also, if you leave the bike unattended away from a station, you are responsible for it; once you secure it to its post at a station, you’re done with it. Note that Paris is only about 6 miles across and there is no extra charge for a Vélib for the first 30 minutes. So you should be able to complete almost any trip without charge. I’d be surprised if there is any measurable keeping of a Vélib over 30 minutes.

So, the intention of the program is mobility: the bike is only an instrument to promote that. The bike should be used when it makes sense to travel that way. You don’t need to plan. This idea would fail if the user were required to provide any bulky personal equipment (helmet, gloves, etc.) to use the bike.

Examples of Sidepaths in National Parks

A commenter on the Washcycle blog where I first read of the mandatory sidepath provision in the Transportation Bill had the following to say:

In most parts of the country NPS, BLM and other stewards of Federal land are the furthest things imaginable from builders of bike paths

It only takes a little research to prove that statement incorrect.

Consider the Cape Cod National Seashore.

I happen to have posted an article with photos of the Province Lands paths (near the tip of the Cape), so you can see what kind of path we’re talking about here.

The Nauset path near the south end of the park also parallels a road. These paths in the National Seashore were built long ago to a very low design standard. Roads paralleling these paths now have Share the Road signs, reflecting the reality that many bicyclists prefer to ride on them. The roads also are more direct, and serve some trip generators which the paths do not. With the proposed law, the NPS would have to take these signs down and replace them with bicycle prohibition signs, and the park rangers would have to busy themselves with chasing bicyclists off these roads, reflecting a prohibition which is inconsistent with traffic law elsewhere in Massachusetts.

More examples:

Yosemite National Park

Valley Forge National Historical Park

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Grand Teton National Park:

And quite a number more, I’m sure. Just search under the activity “Biking” on the page


Transportation Bill Includes Draconian Mandatory Sidepath Provision

Concerning the transportation bill currently making its way through the U. S. Senate committee process, please see this analysis on the Washcycle blog.

The bill has adverse effects on funding, and also it contains the most draconian mandatory sidepath provision I’ve ever seen. Get-bikes-off-the road provisions like this one were deleted from the laws of most states which had them in the 1970s. This is on Page 226 of the bill:

(d) BICYCLE SAFETY.­The Secretary of the appropriate Federal land management agency shall prohibit the use of bicycles on each federally owned road that has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour or greater and an adjacent paved path for use by bicycles within 100 yards of the road.

The Washcycle comments on this:

Even if the trail is in very bad shape, and the road is perfectly safe, the Secretary will have no leeway to allow cyclists to continue to use the road if a trail is available. This is very bad policy. Among other things it would end biking on portions of the Rock Creek Parkway where the speed limit is 35 mph.

Note that this applies not only to roads in parks but to any Federally-owned road. If there’s a trail within 100 years of a road, then to get to a destination on the other side of the road this law would require you to lug your bicycle through some environmentally-sensitive area in a National Park, or through private property, or swim across a river. If the trail is covered with snow but the road is clear, you would still have to use the trail. The legislation does not even state that the trail has to serve the same destinations as the road, or refer to any standards for design, etc. Excuse me. The conclusion the states reached in the 1970s is based on a simple principle: let bicyclists decide. If the trail is better than the road, they will use it.

Furthermore, the Federal Government does not have jurisdiction over traffic laws. The states do. The predictable outcome is dozens of court battles which will be an embarrassment to the Congress. There also is liability exposure in restricting bicyclists to a substandard path.

I am sending a version of this message to my Senators, John Kerry (D-MA) and Scott Brown (R-MA). Both, by the way, are avid bicyclists.

All I see in the America Bikes document about the bill is about funding. I want confirmation that the lobbyists all of the America Bikes member organizations are working to have this provision deleted. I am a member of three of these organizations: the Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals, the League of American Bicyclists and the Adventure Cycling Association, and I need to know that they are supporting my interests. And, as a member of the National Committee for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) task force currently working on revisions to the Uniform Vehicle Code, I am especially concerned about this provision.

A Cyclist Signs Up for Advanced Driver Training

What was an avid cyclist doing in a place like this?

I like to ride my bicycle but sometimes I have to drive.

Over 40 years ago on dirt roads and snow in Vermont, I learned to steer into a turn; to manage the situation when a car loses traction, rather than to blank out or panic.

I shot the video above recently, in a class with hands-on driver training which goes well beyond that. All of the instructors are racers. They test the limits of traction at every turn on the racecourse. But here, they are teaching skills for crash avoidance on the road.

My son took the class with me. He had taken a conventional driver training course and already had his driver’s license, but he had no experience handling a car at the limits of traction.

The InControl course begins with a classroom lecture. Our instructor, Jeremy, explained that driver training is broken in the USA: that over 40% of new drivers have a crash within the first two years; 93% of crashes result from driver error and so, are preventable. He also explained that he would be teaching about steering, braking, hazard perception and avoidance.

Jeremy handed a quiz sheet with 16 questions to check off, true or false. We were told to hold onto our quiz sheets because we would review them later.

The most compelling part of the course is the hands-on practice. It is conducted under safe conditions on a closed course, in a huge, empty parking lot, in cars with a low center of gravity; an instructor is always in the car. As shown in the video, we did the slalom — at first with an instructor driving; then each student took a turn driving. We learned how great the effect of small increases in speed can be on the ability to maneuver. We practiced emergency stops, then swerving while braking; we had the backing demonstration and the tailgating test, as shown in the video.

To learn how to anticipate potential hazards takes time, and experience. The InControl class can discuss this but not teach this. A driving simulator like the ones used to train airline pilots would help to build that experience under risk-free conditions. Video gaming technology is approaching the level that it could do this at a relatively low price. Computers are up to the task, but they would need multiple visual displays and a special “driver’s seat” controller. Lacking that technology, I have traveled many miles with my son, both as a driver and as a passenger, coaching him. His many more miles of experience stoking our tandem bicycle were a fine lead-in.

What did I learn in this class, with my nearly 50 years of experience as a licensed driver? Several things of importance — among them:

  • Despite my decades of experience, I answered several questions on the quiz incorrectly. I’m not going to provide a crib sheet– go take the course.
  • There is a very significant advantage to having different tires for summer and winter use, due not only to snow but also to temperature difference. Winter tires have “sipes” — small grooves –to develop a “snowball effect” — actually picking up snow so it will adhere to other snow, and improving traction. Tires should be replaced when tread is still twice the height of the wear bars.
  • Side-view mirrors should be adjusted wider than I had been accustomed to — so their field of view starts where the windshield mirror’s field of view ends.
  • The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s standards for a 5-star safety rating are lower for SUVs than for passenger cars, as a result of industry lobbying (Any surprise?)
  • Importantly, that antilock brakes do more than allow shorter stops. They allow steering during emergency braking, and we practiced this as shown in the video.
  • Most importantly, to me as a cycling instructor, that learning to manage risks is essentially the same for bicycling as for driving a car. The attitude is the same, and hazard recognition and avoidance are similar. One important difference is that a well-trained cyclist’s brain is the antilock braking controller on a bicycle.

As I write this today, my son has driven himself to his classes at the local community college 12 miles away. Like any parent, I cross my fingers every time he goes out the driveway, but I am pleased to report that he has is cautious and calm as a driver and that his driving inspires confidence, with exceptions at a very few times.

I wish he didn’t have to drive. I don’t like the environmental burden it imposes, and I don’t like the risk. If public transportation were at all reasonable, he would be using it. If the college were half as far away, he’d be riding his bicycle at least on days with good weather. For now, his getting a college education wins out over those concerns…

Some Commie Kitsch

Commie Kitsch from Dero Racks

Commie Kitsch from Dero Racks

This bright red shirt — with a design like a poster in “Soviet Realism” style, a mock Soviet propaganda message, “Ride Your Bike for the People!” in fake Cyrillic type, and a portrait of Vladimir Lenin himself — was a giveaway from the Dero company, which makes bicycle racks. I picked up the shirt at a National Bicycle Summit — in 2007 or 2008, I think. The Summit is a national conference and lobbying event organized by the League of American Bicyclists. The event is funded by the rather high admission fee and a substantial grant from the bicycle industry’s lobbying arm, Bikes Belong.

The logic, and for that matter the question of good taste, with the Commie kitsch on this shirt baffle me. The JFK Library here in the Boston area is about to hold a panel discussion on the 50th Anniversary of Cuban Missle Crisis. Living in a world that included the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was scary —

– while Dero is very squarely situated within the seriously capitalistic U.S. bicycle industry.

The bicycle industry has more recently inverted the Bikes for the People slogan with its PeopleforBikes campaign, but that’s another story. I certainly can be thankful, though, that here in the USA, I can comment about “People’s” movements which actually serve some other constituency, without being hauled away in the middle of the night to some Gulag, or worse.

Anyway, I have adopted the appropriate stern expression and raised fist for the photo, in keeping with the spirit of the shirt.

Scaling up and scaling down

New York bicycling advocate Steve Faust has stated that some ways of accommodating bicycling do not “scale up” — that is, they work with small numbers of cyclists, but less well with larger numbers.

His central complaint is that use of roadways with no special bicycle facilities, according to the conventional rules of the road, does not scale up well.

I might put that a bit differently. After all, more cyclists need more room. Mass rides such as New York’s own 5-Borough Tour avoid special bicycle facilities and occupy the entire width of Manhattan’s multi-lane avenues. Motor vehicles are excluded while these rides pass through. Interaction within the group of many thousands of cyclists is for the most part according to the conventional rules of the road, and falls short only in that many of the participants are inexperienced.

On roadways carrying both cyclists and motorists, cyclists inconvenience motorists when the motor traffic could go faster — that is, when there are many cyclists and few enough motorists that they could travel unimpeded, if not for the cyclists. Motorists inconvenience cyclists when motor traffic is congested, and stopped or traveling slower than cyclists might want to go. Level of service always declines as a road becomes more congested, and it declines faster when vehicles have differing speed capabilities.

On the other hand, there also are situations in which operation as intended does not scale down to smaller numbers.

Motorists are more likely, for example, to yield to a crowd of pedestrians than to a single pedestrian.

Another example is the leading pedestrian interval: the walk signal goes on a couple of seconds before motorists get the green light. The leading pedestrian interval is intended to get pedestrians moving out into the intersection before motor traffic can begin to turn across a crosswalk, encouraging motorists to yield to the pedestrians. The same approach is used sometimes on bicycle facilities, for example on the Boulevard de Maisonneuve bicycle sidepath in Montréal, Québec, Canada. But a leading interval only works if there is someone waiting to cross when the signal changes. With smaller numbers, so the first pedestrian or bicyclist reaches the crossing after the motorists get their green light, the leading interval’s only achievement is slightly to reduce the capacity of the intersection.

The same issue can occur with any “conflict zone” with poor visibility as users approach, including the “bike box” or bicycle waiting area ahead of the stop line for motorists at an intersection. Once one cyclist is in a “bike box”, a motorist is unlikely to move forward, because that would require running over the cyclist. Therefore, the bike box is then safe for the entry of other cyclists, at least into the same lane in which the first cyclist is waiting.

The”bike box” works as intended when there are large numbers of cyclists so the first one arrives well before the traffic signal turns green.

If there are few cyclists, so the first one is likely to arrive just as the traffic signal turns green, then there is the potential for a right-hook collision, or a motorist’s colliding with a cyclist swerving into the bike box.

Safety requires that there be enough cyclists that early-arriving ones block the way of motorists, or at least alert the motorists that others may arrive. This safety factor does not scale down to small numbers.

Research in Portland, Oregon shows that only 5% of bicyclists swerve into the bike box when they are first to arrive; about 35% if they arrive later. The reluctance of the first-arriving cyclist reflects risk avoidance to some extent, due to not knowing when the traffic signal will change, but also that the swerve lengthens the cyclist’s trip — none of the Portland bike boxes are designated for left turns. The later-arriving cyclists are to some degree protected by the arrival of the first one, but also they either have to wait behind or move over to the left of that cyclist, into the bike box.

“Safety in numbers” claims become rather interesting when such issues are considered.

The design challenge is to achieve efficiency and safety of all travelers, regardless of whether numbers are large or small.