Tag Archives: League of American Bicyclists

I get a hug during CyclingSavvy instructor training.

I have operated my bicycle essentially as a driver since 1978, when I read an early edition of John Forester’s book Effective Cycling. Since 1982, I’ve been an Effective Cycling Instructor, more recently called League Cycling Instructor, in the League of American Bicyclists educational program, which got its start with Forester’s work.

In the 1980s, Forester’s instruction about road use was state-of-the-art. Over the years, there have been changes to teaching techniques and content, some for the better and some for the worse, some from inside the League’s program and some by individual instructors, but I think that it is fair to say that there has been no systematic revision and upgrade to the content about bicycle driving.

On the weekend of March 3-5, 2017, I took instructor training in a different program, CyclingSavvy, in Orlando, Florida.

CyclingSavvy Instructor Training, March 4, 2017. Instructor Trainers keri Caffrey and Lisa Walker debrief instructor candidates following a "feature" -- a ride through a demanding stretch of roadway.

CyclingSavvy Instructor Training, March 5, 2017. Instructor Trainers Keri Caffrey and Lisa Walker debrief instructor candidates following a “feature” — a ride on a challenging stretch of roadway.

CyclingSavvy is a program of the American Bicycling Education Association, with an emphasis on urban cycling. In my opinion, CyclingSavvy classes are more focused and effective than the classes in the League of American Bicyclists program.

A CyclingSavvy class can be difficult for long-time League Cycling Instructors, in part because we have, well, ingrained ways of doing things. I took a CyclingSavvy class in August, 2011, in Portland, Maine. It was a bit of a rough experience. There were misunderstandings, especially on a group ride before the class: about lane use — at one point I asked “what are we doing this for?” and about the purpose of the ride. (My video camera setup is important enough to delay the ride start?) I came off that class with a lukewarm endorsement at best to work toward being an instructor.

In the years since then, I’ve been privileged to develop a closer relationship with CyclingSavvy, by reading materials online, attending two conferences and working on a CyclingSavvy edition of my Bicycling Street Smarts booklet (still awaiting publication as of this writing).

I’ve learned quite a number of things from CyclingSavvy that were new to me. To name some:

  • more assertive lane positioning;
  • group lane changes from the rear;
  • how to instruct novice cyclistss so they will ride as an organized group;
  • waiting for the green light to turn right, so as to turn onto an empty street;
  • Turning into the destination lane for a left turn immediately on turning right;
  • plotting strategies for lane use with Google Maps;
  • teaching techniques effective in effecting behavior change;
  • time management when teaching.

I got a solid recommendation to go for  CyclingSavvy instructor training last October — studied up — it’s demanding! — and took the training, March 3-5.

At one time during the parking lot session of the training, I said: “I’m humbled with what I’ve learned that’s above and beyond what I already knew.”

Which is true.

Trainer Lisa Walker then  came over to me and gave me a hug.

I’ve been asked to describe what led to the hug. And this has been my explanation.

The takeaway from my experiences: I recommend that League Cycling Instructors, especially long-time ones, take special care to familiarize themselves with the differences between their practices and those of the CyclingSavvy program. That study can be illuminating, and can make the difference between failure and success in the CyclingSavvy program. You might get a hug too!

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Building bridges?

There’s lots of material about Boston in this League of American Bicyclists policy document about bridge access:

http://www.bikeleague.org/resources/reports/pdfs/bridges.pdf

I regard the document as good in its recommendations on advocacy strategies. It does overemphasize separate bikeways over shoulder and bike lane treatments — less expensive, sometimes no-cost solutions, and more suitable for use through winter — though they often accommodate only bicyclists and not pedestrians.

But — see pages 7. 11, 12, 18: Praise is heaped on Livable Streets, which is not a bicycling organization, though it is listed on the League’s Web site and is presumably, then, as of recently, a League member organization. There is no mention whatever of Massbike, which has a 35-year history in advocacy, which has been involved in the same bridge advocacy efforts, and whose President is on the League’s Board of Directors.

What message is League President Andy Clarke trying to send?

Bob Mionske on “Driver Sues Family of Deceased Cyclist”

In a Bicycling Magazine blog posting, Bicycling attorney Bob Mionske describes an appalling situation: a motorist driving over 80 mph in a 45 mph zone struck and killed a teenage bicyclist in Connecticut. The bicyclist’s family sued the driver — but then, the driver countersued the family, claiming that the bicyclist was negligent in not wearing a helmet.

Connecticut law excludes such claims. Mionske says that the Connecticut legislature, in its wisdom, excluded the claims because bicycle helmets cannot protect bicyclists in high-speed collisions with motor vehicles.

I seriously question Mionske’s explanation. The same exclusion exists in laws requiring seat belts and automotive child seats, which usually do protect their users in collisions. Also, bicycle helmets do protect bicyclists in many if not most car-bike collisions. Only a small percentage involve high-speed impacts. The bicyclist cut off by a crossing or turning vehicle, or sideswiped, may only be dumped onto the road or onto the hood of a car, and head injury may be survivable or even completely avoided if the bicyclist is wearing a helmet.

Any passive safety equipment — seatbelt, child seat, helmet — can sometimes prevent injury, but cannot prevent a crash. To allow the victim to sue the perpetrator, and to prevent the perpetrator from suing the victim, is a moral issue, not a technical one. This is even more important when a law is poorly understood and weakly enforced, as with bicycle helmet laws. Children often ride bicycles where parents can not monitor them. Distribution of helmets also is an issue, when a helmet can cost as much as a cheap bicycle. In states with contributory negligence statutes, it’s worse yet: a finding of 1% negligence on the part of the victim results in dismissal of a lawsuit against the perpetrator.

To my knowledge, I was first to raise the issue of the liability exclusion. Back in the 1980s, well-meaning safety advocates, most importantly Safe Kids USA, had begun promoting bicycle helmet laws. A law was enacted in Massachusetts, where I live, without a liability exclusion. As a member of the League of American Wheelmen State Legislative Committee, I campaigned for a better law, and it was enacted. The League’s Consumer Affairs Committee, on which I served, publicized the issue of the liability exclusion, and it was written into the laws of many states, including Connecticut.

The League remained neutral on the issue of helmet laws, as its members’ opinion on them was divided — also realizing that fighting helmet laws could look bad and might not succeed; but the League insisted that such laws include the same liability exclusion as other safety-equipment laws. To their credit, safety advocates responded positively, supporting laws with the liability exclusion and innovative penalty structures. Examples:

  • no penalty, but only a warning;
  • penalty waived if the violator purchased a helmet;
  • positive incentive, such as coupon for a free serving at an ice cream shop for a kid seen wearing a helmet.

The safety advocates also initiated helmet distribution campaigns for disadvantaged children. With time, the awareness became widespread that educational and promotional campaigns, more than laws, would be effective in increasing the rate of helmet use in the USA.

Helmets sometimes prevent injury and sometimes don’t — but that wasn’t the issue that propelled the campaign for liability exclusions. That a helmet would not have prevented injury could, quite to the contrary, point out the seriousness of a crash and make a persuasive argument that a bicyclist should recover damages!

Support petition candidates in League of American Bicyclists election.

Three League of American Bicyclists members are petitioning to run as candidates for the Board of Directors. They have asked me to post their message, and here it is. I have signed their petition and I suggest that if you are a League member, you also do.

Did you know that by next year, nearly half of the LAB Board (7 of 15 members) will be appointed? This means that seven board members will not feel a commitment to be responsive to members. The League board changed the Bylaws this July — without asking members whether they approve of having their influence weakened.

We think this is unacceptable in a membership organization. Please help us protect the rights of all members. Support candidates who will work to make all Board members elected and responsive to members, and who will work to re-direct LAB to better defend cyclists’ rights and represent members’ interests.

In addition to appointing the unelected directors, the Board controls who can get on the ballot. They accepted only one reform candidate, Bill Hoffman, who is currently on the Board. This means John Brooking, Eli Damon and Khal Spencer must collect over 1000 petition signatures to get on the ballot.

We hope you will sign our ballot petition. You can sign online at http://www.PetitionOnline.com/0league0/petition.html
If you want more information and especially if you would like to help us collect signatures, please see http://www.labreform.org/campaign/

We apologize if you get more than one request to sign our ballot petition. Time is critical — we must receive all petitions by October 20 and we need many signatures. We are contacting affiliated clubs, cycling lists, cycling instructors and anyone we can. You can help by forwarding this message and the petition link to any LAB members you know.

After you have signed and returned the petition, please let us know so can verify that all petitions are counted.

And please remember to vote for us and for Bill Hoffman when balloting opens on Dec. 1.

Thank you very much for your support and vote.

John Brooking

Eli Damon

Khal Spencer

Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC: Incredible Shrinking Bike Lanes

A showcase example for  Federal promotion of special bicycle facilities in the USA has been laid down on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, with bike lanes extending between the Capitol and the White House.  It’s quite a show, but it didn’t turn out exactly as planned.

Well, on with the show. On June 7, 2010 — as described in a press release and videos[Revised version as of 2016 without photo but with link to photo gallery] [Article announcing the event] [Version of article as of August, 2016] [Press release] League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke, Representative James Oberstar (D-MN), NBA basketball star Caron Butler and the Crown Prince of Denmark were out on Pennsylvania Avenue expressing their enthusiasm for the bike lanes, riding bicycles supplied by Specialized, a major American bicycle supplier. Why the Crown Prince? American bicycle facilities advocates hold Denmark up as an example. Why industry involvement? Because the industry sees special facilities for urban cycling as the key element in propelling the next wave of bicycle sales. Why politicians? Because public funding would have to pay for the facilities. Why Caron Butler? I don’t know! [Update: the blog post and press release indicate that Butler funded a bicycle giveaway program for children.]

Lone bicyclist on Pennsylvania Avenue bike lane in early morning; buses queued in background

Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes, May 11, 2010

But, in its press release, the League of American Bicyclists borrowed a basketball expression, describing the Pennsylvania Avenue project as a “slam dunk.”

This wasn’t the first praise for the project. A month earlier, on May 12, the photo at the right appeared in a message sent to an e-mail list of the Alliance for Bicycling and Walking (a consortium of state and local advocacy groups) among other lists. The iconic bicyclist is riding off into the sunrise, toward the Capitol. In the background, tourist buses queue for their first run of the day. Accompanying text, by League of American Bicyclists board member Tim Young, reads:

I was just in Washington and rode the new Pennsylvania Ave Bike Lanes, so fun the paint was still drying. Awesome to ride from the White House on one end to Congress on the other, and have such huge dedicated space for bikes. You have to ride it!

Center lane was an unexpected design for me, but it works if you follow the signals and signs. Its casual riding, so much room and buffer, and the road is not that busy for its size, I understand about 30,000 ADT. You can see from this photo the massive bus use, so the curb lane is full of conflicts. The center rides fine. The only unhappy campers were taxi drivers wanting to make U turns mid block.

Photo: Mike Tongour, Bikes Belong lobbyist, rides towards Capital Hill.

(Bikes Belong is a bicycle industry lobbying organization which, among other efforts, lends substantial financial support to the League.)

Young may, however,  have spoken too soon about the ample width of the bike lanes. They had been installed over the weekend of May 1 and 2; promptly on Monday, May 3, the Mid-Atlantic division of the American Automobile Association issued a press release  suggesting that they would worsen traffic congestion. (That press release is no longer available on the AAA Web site, but I have made it available.) It has in turn been widely criticized by bicycling advocates, for example here and the criticism has been echoed in some media outlets, for example, here and here. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association, the local bicyclists’ advocacy group, asked its members to support the lanes, here.

Bicycling advocates pointed out that Pennsylvania Avenue was already relatively lightly traveled, as the blocks nearest the White House had been permanently closed to motor traffic following the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. An AAA poll, cited in the press release, indicated that only 20% of members would feel compelled to become bicycle commuters if traffic congestion worsened. The bicycling advocates turned this finding on its head: 20% is a higher bicycling mode share than in any US city. Copenhagen’s bicycle mode share is hardly any larger, though its bicycle-to-work/school mode share is around 37%.

On May 20, the Washington Post reported that changes in the lanes were in the works. A quote:

Gabe Klein, director of the Department of Transportation, called to clarify that the delay in the opening of the bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue might not result in the lanes growing tighter.

Klein disclaimed bowing to any pressure and said the lanes needed to be “redesigned” to enhance the safety of bicyclists.

The article also described a Bike to Work Day rally to be held the next morning in support of the lanes and to be addressed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland, Oregon).

Two weeks later,  on June 7, Clarke, Oberstar, the Crown Prince and NBA basketball star Caron Butler were out in the bike lanes for their media event. Clarke returned to his office to describe the project as a “slam dunk.” In the light of the proposed changes, this event can be construed as support of the project in the face of a threat.

Slam dunk indeed. It turned out that bicyclists were slammed, and dunked.

On the next day, June 8, the Post published an article describing the planned modifications. Travel lanes that had been converted to bike lanes were to be restored, and the bike lanes moved to the median (growing tighter, in spite of what Mr. Klein had said). The article reports that the AAA applauded this change, while the Washington Area Bicyclist Association expressed concerns about conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians.

The changes were made. On June 22, the lanes officially opened. On July 3,  independent journalist Matt Johnson rode the lanes and took photos. He wrote an article and posted his photos on Flickr. He gave anyone permission to use them, with attribution. I thank him.

The title of the article, “Pennsylvania Avenue Bike Lanes Still have a Few Flaws“, suggests that the lanes had been improved. The contents of the article and the photos show quite the opposite.  The space for bicyclists had been significantly reduced, and bicyclists were thrown into conflict with pedestrians at intersections.

Here’s a photo of the bike lanes, looking west across 9th Street NW, taken in mid-May. The layout is already rather strange, with turning bicyclists — including right-turning bicyclists — directed to merge left. The right-turning bicyclists have to  re-cross the stream of through-traveling bicyclists to get to the crosswalk which they are supposed to use.

Bike lanes at 9th St. NW, mid-May, 2010

Bike lanes at 9th St. NW, mid-May, 2010

Below is another photo which Johnson took at the same location on July 3. (You may click on either photo for a larger view.)

Bike lanes at 9th St. NW, July 3, 2010

Bike lanes at 9th St. NW, July 3, 2010

The space between the two lanes of opposite-direction bicycle traffic is gone — the available width is indeed tight if the lanes are to carry any substantial volume of bicycle traffic. But the intersections are weirdest of all. Through-traveling bicyclists now ride up and over the median refuge where pedestrians wait. The bike lanes are now immediately adjacent to the black, handlebar-snagging bollards that protect the traffic-signal poles. Turning bicyclists have it stranger yet: they are aimed straight at the traffic signal at the center of the median.

The one change that anyone could contend is a safety feature is the row of flex posts between each bike lane and the adjacent travel lane, intended to keep motorists from encroaching into the bike lane. Safety feature? Well, maybe. A flex post is harmless to a car, but it can easily take down a bicyclist.

A search of the League’s e-mail blasts and blog turned up blog posts responding to the AAA press release [version as of August, 2016, without photo] and reporting on the opening celebration [version as of August, 2016 without embedded photo but with link to photo gallery] for the reconfigured bike lanes on June 22, as well as the “slam dunk” post and a couple of others featuring the Crown Prince, but no mention of the redesign. Comments on the redesign turn up several times in a record of a live online chat with Washington Area bicyclist Association Executive director Shane Farthing. (Search on “Pennsylvania” inside the post to find them.)

Enough for now. This article is intended as a brief history. I’ve addressed technical issues only to the extent necessary to move the history along. I’ll be addressing them in detail in another post.

[Update: I have posted a video of a ride on these bike lanes, with narrative description. It addresses technical issues]

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Review of New York Times article of June 5, 2007

This is a review of the article Cars and Bikes Can Mix, When the Rules of the Road Are Clear, which appeared in the New York Times on June 5, 2007 and is available online.

That’s a good headline, except that the problem is usually with behavior, not the rules of the road. The author is an all-too-typical bicyclist who has not learned or been taught good information, and the article has a number of significant errors. It isn’t up to the Times’s standards.

The article mentions the League of American Bicyclists “Share the Road” campaign but without identifying it. The author would do well to attend a League Bike-Ed class.

The article leads with what bleeds, descriptions of fatal crashes. Fear factor is clearly at work here.

Pictures of crash types show them but not how to avoid them — useless information.

And now, I’ll comment on some specific statements in the article.

  • “Thanks to the proliferation of designated bike paths and the growing use of helmets, deaths among bicyclists have declined to around 600 a year from about 800. Still, 600 is 600 too many, as are the approximately 46,000 annual injuries that cyclists suffer in crashes with motor vehicles.” Bike paths don’t have a significant effect on the fatality rate; most riding is on streets. The 600 to 800 figure is about right for the USA, but the article confusingly makes several references to New York City. Cyclist fatalities per year have declined substantially since the 1970s, but largely due to a decline in cycling by children. There has been a small uptick in cyclist fatalities, along with other traffic fatalities, in the past few years.
  • “Prompted by organizations like Transportation Alternatives, the city has created hundreds of bike paths on or near city streets.” The facilities on streets are bike lanes, not bike paths. Hundreds of miles, I think, not hundreds of facilities. Paths adjacent to city streets, with few exceptions, should not be described as a safety improvement, as they have a poor safety record due to crossing and turning conflicts at intersections.
  • “Bicycles are legally entitled to use most roads, though they must ride on the shoulder when the speed limit exceeds 50 miles per hour.” Bicyclists are required to allow other traffic to overtake when safe in all states, but are required specifically to use the shoulder only in Maryland, Alaska, New York and Colorado. Each of these states has exceptions to the rule, for example to turn left or if the shoulder is not usable. See Paul Schimek’s guide to traffic laws.
  • The author advises motorists: “[w]hen turning right, signal well ahead of time, turn from the middle of the intersection rather than across the bike path, and make sure no bike is on your right before you turn. Do not pass a cyclist if you will be turning right immediately after.” Again, the author confuses bike lanes with bike paths. Her advice for motorists to turn right from the left lane is contrary to law, which requires that motorists merge into the bike lane. “[A]nd make sure no bike is on your right before you turn.” This is a problem when turning right from the left lane — the look to the rear can distract motorists from the traffic situation ahead in the intersection; and the bike lane can give bicyclists a false sense of security in moving forward into motorists’ right rear blindspot. Bicyclists best avoid this by merging left, or not advancing to the head of the bike lane when a vehicle is waiting there.
  •  “More than half of collisions occur when cyclists and drivers are on perpendicular paths,” Poorly stated, inaccurate and misleading. The expression “Perpendicular-path” collision apparently is an invention by the author. Most car-bike crashes occur due to crossing and turning movements — not necessarily perpendicular, for example if a motorist overtakes a bicyclist and turns right. What the author doesn’t say, apparently because she doesn’t understand it, it that only about 7% of car-bike crashes are the widely-feared rear-enders.
  •  “Signal all turns and stops and make full stops at stop signs.” The author gives rote advice which fails to convey the purpose of signaling. Bicyclists need to signal to indicate the desire to merge when preparing a turn, to overtake stopped vehicles and in many other situations. The law in most states exempts bicyclists from signaling when the hands must be on the handlebar for control. There is in any case no need to signal once in the position to turn — the bicyclist’s position makes the intention clear. Bicyclists can’t signal when using handbrakes. But there is generally no need to signal when slowing or stopping, as a following driver can see past the bicyclist, who is usually going slower anyway. The purpose of a bicyclist’s slow signal is generally to indicate to a following driver that it is unsafe to pass.
  •  “Never ride on the sidewalk – sidewalk crashes are 25 times as frequent than crashes that occur on major streets. Safest are streets with bike lanes.” The 25 times figure is from Moritz’s survey of adult bicyclists. Some other studies show sidewalks to be, whew, only 4 or 5 times as dangerous. The Moritz study shows streets with bike lanes to be slightly safer than others, but no study makes a valid comparison with all other things (available width, traffic volume etc.) being equal. In addition, there are certain particular hazards in bike lanes of which bicyclists should be aware — right-turn conflicts, car doors etc.
  • “Ride in a straight path. If you must pull out into the lane used by drivers, turn around first to be sure the coast is clear.” No, not “turn around” — look back, signal if necessary to get a driver’s cooperation, then look back again to be sure you have it.
  • “If you are stopped at a light or stop sign to the right of a car or truck, the driver might not see you.” Don’t go there. Stop behind the first vehicle. Stopping next to the front of a vehicle can be deadly, as the rear wheels can sweep across your path if it turns right. This is especially so with long trucks and buses.
  • “Try to make eye contact with drivers before you change lanes or turn left.” It helps to see whether the driver is looking toward you, if possible, but the real test is to make sure the driver has yielded to you.
  • “Wear brightly colored clothing in daylight (though I was wearing an electric blue running suit when I was hit and the driver still failed to see me);” She probably had positioned herself out of the driver’s view, or in a direction the driver wouldn’t normally look, or else the driver was lying.
  • “If you cycle at night, you are supposed to have a white headlight and red taillight (preferably a blinking one) so drivers can see you.” Not “supposed to” but the law, which in most states requires a rear reflector and/or steady taillight (though blinking ones work too) and in many states, requires additional reflectors. Additional reflectors are a good idea in any case.
  • “Scan the road 100 feet ahead for possible hazards.” Why 100 feet ahead? Scanning distance depends on speed, road and traffic conditions.

Whew.