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Should bike sharing address only “the first and last mile problem”?

May 21, 2012 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Toyama, Japan bike share

No.

Bike sharing should be as useful to a transportation system — to a city — as it can possibly be, and that means we should use it for short trips, long trips, medium trips, extremely long trips, work trips, pleasure trips, exercise trips, and every possible reason under the sun, imagined and otherwise.

Said another way, public bike share systems (PBSs) should not be thought of as only a complement to an existing transport system — they should be seen as the hopeful and probable replacement of some, most, or all existing motorized components of an existing transport system. To put it more succinctly, walking and biking should be the core components of every transport system on earth — they should represent the #1 and #2 dominant mode shares, respectively.

So, bike share will both complement and compete with transit and every other mode of transport — including walking, private bike biking, busing, training, and driving - studies have already shown this to be true. Needless to say, I disagree with the conception in that blog post that bike sharing should only or primarily be considered a ‘first mile/last mile‘ solution, or that a bike share system is only ‘designed well’ if it fits into an existing transport system. I would say it is true that all motorized transport systems should feel threatened by bikes and bike sharing, but I believe the greater threat to train lovers are BRT and BRT supporters (who are often public transit detractors), people who believe that only in recent years are cities being forced to live within budgets (“in these budget-constrained times”, etc.), and people who believe that public transit belongs below ground (to keep the streets free for cars). But don’t worry — there are some proven ways to make motorized mass transit work.

Why should we encourage the replacement of our existing transport systems with biking (and walking, of course)? Because biking is awesome, for the myriad reasons we know it to be awesome. And regarding competing transportation alternatives, biking is relatively clean and sustainable, incredibly efficient, relatively easy for most people to participate in (if we allow them to), it is ridiculously inexpensive, etc.

In short, it is difficult to imagine a scenario that would make us, as a society, want to unnecessarily constrain the role of the bicycle, and public bike sharing. Yet that’s exactly what we continue to do.

We know the myriad ways that we artificially limit the role of the bicycle — the primary one being that we build physical infrastructure that does not safely and comfortably accommodate cycling, sometimes destroying any infrastructure that could prove to be complementary to biking — but how are we limiting bike sharing?

There are many ways — from artificially-short ‘free period’ time limits (30 minutes, 45 minutes, etc.), to insufficient bike/station supply, to high membership/use costs, to privatizing the systems, to forcing the systems to pay for themselves, etc. But the core problem is not these particular issues, which can all be addressed — the core problem is the conception of bike sharing as a solution to “the first and last mile problem” only.

First, where did this idea come from, that either biking in general or bike share bikes should be used only for the first/last mile of a trip? I actually have no idea. I’d venture to guess that the apparent power of this idea has a lot to do with the existing infrastructure in the US — primarily, almost exclusively, designed for car travel, often times seemingly designed to limit or outright prevent any other mode of travel — and this just puts most Americans into an intellectual straightjacket where they are incapable of imagining such a radically different world — one which does not require a car to take care of one’s daily needs. But that’s just a guess and I think it only really matters as an intellectual exercise — it’s interesting, but not particularly important.

Regardless of the roots of the “limit bike share” idea, to limit biking for whatever reason is a bogus idea — there is nothing to be gained from limiting biking or bike share — unless you’re a member of some type of motorized transport interest group — auto and bus makers primarily, but also trains and motorcycles and another other form of motorized transport. All people and organizations with an interest in maintaining the dominance and continued spectacular growth of motorization have a strong interest in making sure places do not ever become walkable and bikeable. I’m not privy to documents inside General Motors and Ford and TheCityFix and WRI, but I suspect they are more than happy with this idea that bike share should be limited to the first and last mile of trips.

To talk more about these matters I hit up a couple of email lists with all sorts of bike and transport experts, and through a bunch of back and forth and with insights from people who actually know something about bike sharing, I was able to figure out that this conception of bike sharing as a short haul/short trip-only mode was, indeed, dominant, and that it wasn’t just the auto and bus industries (they are different but have a very symbiotic relationship and are sometimes the same company) that conceived as bike share this way but also bonafide ‘bike heads’, sustainable transport people, etc.

I long had a sneaking suspicion that the bus and auto companies were funding bus rapid transit (BRT) public relations outfits, like TheCityFix, and sponsoring videos with folks like Streetfilms, to influence public perception about BRT — particularly transportation advocates, but I never actually thought to myself, “Hmmm….there are other people out there who think biking in general or bike share bikes should only be used for short trips” — it just never occurred to me.

So, what should we do? How should we fix this?

Well, the specific policy prescriptions are besides the point for this post, though I’ll suggest a few in a minute — the main point of this post is that we should get people to think of bike share bikes as being suitable for any type of transport they might wish to pursue — short trips, medium trips, long trips — especially long trips (because they are most likely to replace motorized trips) — exercise trips, joyriding trips, etc.

Once we open up the door to the possibility that bike share bikes are not strictly for short trips, or that they’re not to be used only for work-related utilitarian trips, then a whole new world becomes possible — a world which could legitimately see the bicycle, once again, as a major mode of transport for society — I believe it can, and must, become the  most dominant mode of transport, right after walking.

So, specific policy proscriptions for how to make the most of your bike share system:

  1. Increase the supply of the bikes. If you are running out of bikes at some stations during peak hours, then add more bikes to those stations and at all stations. That’s somewhat obvious. If you have a system driven by profit instead of maximum public benefit, this may be difficult to do, but that importantly helps us to understand why these systems should be under public, not private, control.
  2. Increase the length of the ‘free use’ time periods. Current periods seem to typically range from 30-90 minutes, with 30 and 45 minutes being the most common. Increasing these initial ‘free’ time periods will allow people to start using the bikes for more and longer trips, in part, because they won’t have to rush around, nor feel rushed, and they won’t have to plan their trips out carefully before they take off — they can just hop on and go.
  3. Implement decongestion pricing during peak use periods. Do this instead of applying the same-rate-at-all-times-of-day pricing scheme now in effect (e.g. Free use for 30 or 45 minute periods, various per-30-min penalties thereafter, etc.). Decongestion pricing will probably be necessary for any type of transportation system in place over the next 20+ years, particularly because our transport systems have been so distorted by corporate interests, etc. This goes for roads, public motorized transport like trains and buses, and yes, it is probably even necessary/helpful/useful for non-motorized public transport like public bike share schemes. We can look at a) increasing rates from free to some minimal charge for using a bike during a peak time, b) shortening the free use time limit/period during peak time (e.g. from 45 minutes to 30 minutes), c) decreasing off-peak pricing or increasing off-peak free use time limit/period, etc.
  4. Change the ‘overtime’ pricing scheme to a per-minute charge. Charging based on blocks may be somewhat easier to calculate, but we have computers — we should use them. For example, we can charge 5 cents per minute late instead of $1.50 for the entire 30-minute late block of time. By doing this you will actually encourage people to return bikes after they are late instead of holding onto the bikes since they’ve already been charged for the entire half hour overtime block.
  5. Change the ‘overtime’  pricing scheme to one that is less punitive. Instead just encourage people to return bikes when they are no longer truly needed — so that the bikes may be used by people who do truly need them — do this with a simple overtime pricing scheme — e.g. 1 cent per minute for the first half hour, 2 cents for the second half hour, etc. The idea that a late bicycle rate should rise exponentially until it has cost someone $80 for a 4-hour bike ride only serves to induce anxiety in the public bike share-riding public, which reduces demand for the bikes, which keeps people in/on motorized transport, with all the deleterious effects that brings.

There are myriad other ways to allow public bike share systems to truly become all that they can be — like not handing over your city’s biggest, most important corridors to bus-only road transit systems (BRT) — but these can be figured out by anyone who cares to sit down and think about it for a couple of minutes. The important thing we need to do is enable people to think about bicycle travel and public bike share systems as something that can be, and should be, the first or second most dominant mode of transport in your city/town.

If and when we do achieve a Japanese-level competency (excellence?) in bike share (I’m assuming they’ll get there), we will have officially taken a significant step towards restoring dignity to so many people who right now are dependent on motorized transport and their local governments to get them from Point A to Point B. We will also be addressing one of the greatest threats to humankind — global warming - not an insignificant matter.

We should strive for excellence in transport. Check out this video from Monocle on what it calls the Top 20 of the world’s transport systems. And yes, bike share (Bicing in Barcelona) made the list, and SF’s planned bike share gets a mention, too.

For a bit more inspiration, check out this video from China — this is only the first few minutes — see the full report here:

Cheers!

Like car drivers and passengers, cyclists deserve to be able to ride two abreast

April 17, 2012 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Had that thought yet again (and it’s not a new argument) when I was trying to have a conversation with a friend this weekend in SF on my way to Sunday Streets. Every time I or my friend snuck up on the side of each other so we could actually have a discussion — or just point out something interesting — we got chased back into the bike lane by zooming motor vehicles. Being forced to single-file it everywhere can make biking a lonely experience — we deserve better.

Many of the harmful effects of loneliness are well-known, aside from the fact that being lonely just sucks. Depriving people of social contact is just one of the many ways we can effectively torture people. And we know that poor urban design can increase loneliness.

Being forced to ride single-file, and therefore being disallowed to communicate while we ride, is not torture, but it is a significant deterrent to biking when compared to driving and taking public motorized transit. If we care about putting more people on bikes, we need to advocate for the ability to ride two-abreast. And even if we don’t care about putting more people on bikes, we cyclists still deserve the right to ride two abreast, just like drivers and their passengers.

If I want to hang with a friend — all other things being equal — if I can’t talk to them while we’re moving about, I’m driving. That decision is simple. I want to be able to talk to my friends while we’re riding our bikes around. Cars do not deserve two to three times the asphalt just because they’re wider. If people are really dedicated to getting around by individual private motorized transport, they can go buy a Tango ‘single-file’ car:

'Single-file' cars -- not as space-wasteful

Drivers and their passengers don’t have to deal with this ‘single-file’ nonsense, why should we? And look where this single-file biking was being forced to happen - one side of the street even has two lanes for motor vehicles, so two sets of drivers/passengers can have a decent conversations with each other, while bikers are forced to ‘get in line’.

5 (fat) cars lanes, two (skinny) bike lanes

Shoot — even pedestrians on the sidewalk have to deal with this all the time - except most of the time it’s inanimate objects like traffic lights and parking signs and fire hydrants and trees and an assortment of other obstacles which force walkers to ‘single file it’ on the sidewalk time and again.

Pedestrian slalom course

The new Prospect Park West (PPW) street design in Brooklyn New York City is going to replace some unused, restricted road space — currently in line with a ‘parking row’ — with some pedestrian islands. The key benefit being touted is ‘increased pedestrian safety’. The islands probably will do that, if only slightly. If we were really concerned with pedestrian and biker safety, though, we’d two-way the street, and provide more room for people to bike.

Why would we want to allow cars to travel in the same direction, in separate travel lanes, while allowing bikers only single-file access?

And why would we want to continue to apportion the street 80/20 in favor of cars?

It doesn’t make any sense.

Maybe it’s not politically feasible at the moment to two-way PPW, but the proposal to fix this street fully and correctly should now be on the table, and that includes giving cyclists the ability to ride two-abreast. It goes without saying that walkers should be afforded this same luxury.

Here is the current PPW design:

Cyclists not able to ride two-abreast

Here is the proposed design (not much different):

Nice trees, but bikers still cannot ride two abreast

 

This is closer to what it should look like — a two-way PPW:

Now bikers can ride two abreast

And if we proceed apace we can imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when cars will no longer be tolerated. If any type of motorized mode of transport can be substantially shown to be in alignment with the goal of a Vision Zero policy, then we can consider allowing them to continue to be used among the population. That could be cars, trucks, trains, buses, NEVs, etc. The burden of proof of safety, of course, remains on those wanting to use these modes of transport.

p.s. In the last post on the need to push for weekday ciclovias, I meant to point out a post by BostonBiker.org that challenged conventional wisdom regarding traffic. The blogger writes: “Below is an argument that some people have used to complain about bicycles, slightly altered to reflect a bikers point of view,” and then provides this rant:

Today when I got on my bike to go to work there were a bunch of inconsiderate jerks clogging up the road in front of me. They were riding two abreast, sometimes three abreast (when there was enough room, the things they were riding were like 5-6 feet wide each!). I don’t know what the occasion is, but every morning around 7 and every evening around 5 they have some sort of massive group ride. It should be illegal for them to all ride at the same time, it fills up the streets making it impossible to go anywhere, don’t these jerks realize that people have things to do?! I am forced to ride around them as they rudely take up the entire lane just for one person. I don’t understand why they don’t just use the highways, I mean the highways are designed just for them. I don’t understand why they are even allowed to ride on the streets, get on the highway where you belong! The worst part is their behavior, if you try to tell them to get out of the way all they do is honk their horn or give you the finger, I mean how rude!

It makes sense. We should challenge every assumption.

pps. — Anyone seen bike directions on the iPhone yet?

Carrovia vs. Ciclovia — What about a weekday ciclovia?

April 12, 2012 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

San Francisco’s ciclovia event is held on Sundays, and is called Sunday Streets.

We and every city and town should seriously think about how to extend these ciclovias into the weekdays — i.e. hold them during the business week (which in some places might still include Saturdays, etc.).

Do any of these currently exist?

The only cases I can think of are cities that do a pretty good representation for World Carfree Day.

It’s just a one day trial — if we plan it carefully, we can make it work. As we know from real world examples, auto traffic often ‘disappears’ when major roads/bridges/tunnels are shut — temporarily or permanently — we can expect the same effect, and probably to a lesser extent, because the road will only close to car traffic, but open up to all human-powered traffic.

If you think businesses will freak, remember what it was like when we first pitched (weekend) ciclovias — sometimes it was serious ridicule and/or anger.

And now we have a built-in fan base which will include at least some businesses who will actually help us push the idea.

The message is simple — people being allowed to walk and bike and skate to and from their destinations makes our city a better place to live, work, and play. Ciclovias, thus far, have only been about play — we should work to change that.

And the best place to pitch this idea? Your ciclovia.

We pitch it the same way we originally pitched the weekend ciclovia — have an FAQ (like this one) with a bunch of the ‘tough’ questions answered, we get some quotes from some early adopter businesses who have bought into the weekday ciclovia idea, etc. Done. It seems most ciclovias run outside of rush hours already - so no issue there (though, we should work to change that, too).

First city to win a weekday ciclovia wins a gold star from yours truly.

Using Bikes To Compete for Tech Talent

February 27, 2012 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

One of the perks tech companies are using to lure talent is bikes and bike amenities — which inherently includes dignified bike access to where ever employees will be working every day. A quick 3-minute radio segment (the player starts at 19:07 automatically) from the uber-popular radio show Marketplace (wiki) tells us what companies like FourSquare (New York City) and Google (Mountain View) are doing to be bike-friendly:

Companies are in a race to outdo each other on bike friendliness. Google not only gives employees racks and lockers, the company will donate to charity if employees ride to work. Etsy‘s got an in-house bike mechanic. In New York, Foursquare just chose a new location for its headquarters, based on where biking would be easy.

To me, FourSquare’s move is the ultimate in bike-friendliness — we bikers don’t need showers and pumps and cheerleading (though all of that could be nice) — we just need the absolute bare minimum required to allow us to ride our bikes to the office: a safe, convenient, direct, dignified route to the office, and some place to lock our bike so it won’t be stolen — nothing ‘rocket-sciency’ about this formula, and not too much to expect from any and every company, and every city council, in my opinion.

Of course, FourSquare is a much newer company than Google, and has the advantage of being born just three years ago (wiki) — right when bicycling was starting to takeoff again in major, developed countries. And FourSquare has the advantage of being in urban New York City, where a major biking renaissance has been occurring, with cycletracks appearing all over the city. Google is ‘saddled’ with a zillion employees (to FourSquare’s 100) — the realities of the real estate market helped push Google onto the wrong side of Highway 101 in suburban Mountain View, CA.

We wrote just a couple of days ago about how Google needs to help achieve part one of the ‘bare minimum requirements’ that would allow employees to bike to work at Google — on-street cycletracks/bike lanes/etc.

One company not mentioned in the article was Facebook (wiki). Though they probably have a very young staff, generally speaking, they chose to move their corporate headquarters recently out to a place which makes Google’s location look like Times Square in Manhattan. This place is so desolate, so anti-human, so bike-unfriendly, one has to wonder if Facebook management didn’t have it out for cyclists and would-be cyclists. Yes, there is talk about improving bike and walk access to the Mars-like landscape that surrounds and protects the Facebook headquarters from non-motorized humans (look at the entrance — it’s literally a freeway) - you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.

Finally, it’s been said that Apple could change the slave-labor conditions of its sweatshops “tomorrow” if Apple told them to do so. Similarly, Google could snap their fingers and have the Mountain View city council study then approve and implement bike infrastructure all throughout the local Googleplex street network — first bike lanes, then buffered bike lanes, then cycletracks — it’s so obvious and easy it’s hardly worth mentioning — only, it still hasn’t been done yet.

In other news:

  • Google’s bike directions now offers a legend to help differentiate between the Level of Service (LOS) of various streets/paths along your bike route: bike-friendly, bike lane, or separate trails/paths.
  • RideTheCity.com has launched in LA, and also launched an iPhone app update.
  • Big article on Google Transit, with info on real-time (NextBus-like functionality) API/feed format. Includes link to startup transit app-maker company, Embark (not the auto/bus PR firm, EMBARQ).
  • An interesting, if flawed, analysis of Google Maps Driving Directions vs. Transit vs. whatever functionality from the founder of the now-defunct WorldChanging.org (wiki).
  • Google Street View is moving into Botswana — it’s already got a bunch of cool street view imagery from South Africa, including photos of actual BRT stations.
  • SF Bay Area to get bike-sharing.
  • The hype on Long Beach is making it seem like the Portland of SoCal.
  • Gas prices soaring. In response, I think we bicycle advocates should pound on this refrain: “Let us ride (by building appropriate bike facilities).”
  • Even Hitler knows mandatory helmet laws are a bad idea (NSFW)
  • Ciclovia’s coming to Dallas. And Long Beach?
  • Santana Row is the best urban design I’ve seen anywhere in America
  • The true origin of PARK(ing) Day?
  • A few months ago there was talk of redefining LOS by defining it for walking and biking, but it seems to have slipped off the radar. It popped up again.
  • Paris starting to make sense - allows cyclists to run red lights
  • This would be awesome for getting up hills
  • The answer to transit-dependence is not more and faster bus service — it’s allowing people to go where they want to go when they want to go under their own power.
  • Truth about BRT systems is slowly slipping out into the light of day
  • I’ve been less of a fan of StreetFilms since they started pushing BRT so hard, but this film is great
  • Brad Pitt rips automobility while talking about baseball (tip)

 

On-Street Bike Lanes More Important Than Off-Street Bike Paths

February 24, 2012 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Photo on right: Joe Linton

That is, if your goal is to get more people on bikes more often for more reasons — daily commuting, errand-running, socializing, etc. — you should spend more of your dollars on on-street infrastructure rather than off-street infrastructure. Several studies, however conflicting, suggest the same - “More specifically, provision of good quality separate cycling facilities alongside heavily travelled roads and linking to everyday facilities that people need to use…”. In other words, cyclists and would-be cyclists are human beings that have places to go and things to do, and they sometimes/often want to be able to do them quickly and conveniently.

If your city has $10M to spend on bike infrastructure (as if), then the breakdown between on-street and off-street facilities should fall towards the on-street side. Whether it’s 51/49, or 99/1, or somewhere in between, is up to you and your city to figure out.

Most times I’ve suggested this online, I was treated as a blaspheme. I knew I had to be correct because how could we suggest that women should be forced to ride a pitch-dark bike path at night when most Americans, men and women, are afraid to walk around even their own neighborhoods at night? [Unless we're just planning to keep women at home?] We know women are more risk-averse than men (thankfully!). Should we just throw women under the bus? [I will not ride a bike path at night, so being afraid of getting jumped or worse is not specific to women.]

This thought crossed my mind recently because Google is expanding their campus again, and there are some bike paths in the area and little to no worthwhile on-street facilities — the question is, which projects should we go after, and with what percentage of our resources?

Right now there is no dignified way for a biker to get from civilization — downtown Mountain View, or really, any place west of Highway 101 — to the Googleplex [the recommended bike route is 3.8 miles whereas a car can get there in about 2.6 miles (non-highway)]. A biker could choose to take some trail that’s often dark and/or flooded out and, by its very nature, lacks social safety (Did he shut down his blog?), etc., but we need to allow normal human beings to hop off a train or bus in downtown Mountain View/wherever, and simply ride to the Googleplex, on their own bike or on the soon-to-be-coming bike-share bikes — without fear of losing life or limb. And it has to be the shortest route possible — shorter than is possible by car. There are actually a couple of beautiful streets near both the start and end of the trip — it’s only about a 2.5 mile walk — we should work to make this direct route walkable first, then bikeable, and if there’s any room left over we can talk about other ways that people might want to get around.

If it was up to me, 99% of our collective resources — monetary, political, etc. — from Google, city council, workers, citizens — would go to on-street facilities. On-street facilities simply have to take precedence, for obvious reasons.

Christmas Day Ciclovía

December 27, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Just an idea I thought of when walking about on Christmas Day. The streets were eerily empty of motorized traffic, and some people were actually walking around, seemingly just for the enjoyment of it — spending some time with family, etc. It was almost like you could see people thinking to themselves in an approving fashion, “Huh. So this is what walking around feels like. Kinda cool.”

And it was so quiet (little to no motor traffic).

The lack motor traffic made me think it might be pretty easy to pull off a Christmas Day Ciclovia. Of course, most businesses/schools/organizations are closed on Christmas Day.

Lots of people get new bikes/skateboards/basketballs/sneakers/etc. on Christmas Day, and during the holidays generally, so they’d like to get outside and try their new gear.

It seems Bogota has a type of holiday night time ciclovia, Ciclovia Nocturna (English) — the bike path is so crowded, it’s more of a walkavia — theirs was held on Wednesday, December 8.

The Bogota office of the Secretary of Culture has more info (English).

If San Jose was bikeable, I’d like to go see a bunch of the cool light displays (more here).

Side commentary:

  • Don’t try to bury highways a la Boston/Big Dig (they’re too expensive and just leave in place the cancer pump that is every highway); instead, just tear them down, a la SF/Embarcadero Freeway.
  • The road-building lobby gets another $12.5 Million from Caterpillar. The road-building lobby also wants you to think this is a picture of sustainability.
  • Our local (San Jose) transit authority has some historic streetcars (like San Francisco’s), and they’re running a holiday route — the program is called The Candyland Express. Public transit should not just be about making poor people suffer — it should be about allowing people to move about freely, conveniently, with dignity intact — and it should strive to be…<gulp>…pleasant. The old streetcars have style, and they have windows all the way around so one can actually see what is going on on the streets as you travel them, and some of the old streetcars are at least partially open-air and have windows that could be opened so you could get some fresh air in case of an on-board stench or if the heat is up too high. We need to try to introduce a little humanity into public transportation — public bike sharing is making that happen at least a little bit — these old streetcars can help, too.
  • End of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you prevent people from biking by building LRT or BRT — you’re still preventing biking — especially when you build this motorized infrastructure in the outside travel lanes, where bicycles would typically be.  And when you prevent biking, that is not ‘sustainability’, unless you’re talking about the sustainability of the auto industry.
  • Another backwoods town wants to ban walking and biking. It highlights the fact that freedom of movement is a human right — and that this right inherently includes the right to travel under one’s own power (by walk, bike, etc.). International human rights conventions already, in theory at least, protect us from unjustified violence and threats of violence, etc. I’m looking at you, outlaw drivers.
  • Most US transit agencies can’t keep their inside escalators working. Will Colombia be able to keep its outside escalators working? They’ll start by operating only 3 hours a day.

Bicycle-based real estate company uses Google Bike Directions

December 07, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

The Google LatLong blog just profiled a real estate business in Boulder, Colorado, Pedal to Properties, that uses Google Maps Bike Directions to figure out how to get to and from various properties that they are showing to prospective home buyers:

Why is it important to tour your new potential neighborhood by bike?

Q. Why is the Pedal to Properties option better than the standard way of viewing homes?
A. As a home buyer, you want to know that the neighborhood you may potentially live in is safe, practical for your needs, and fits your lifestyle. Touring neighborhoods on bicycles gives you an up-close and personal look at each street you travel. You will truly experience a neighborhood by riding up and down its streets, rather than zooming by in a car, giving you a feel for what it might be like if you lived there someday.

Bike-based realtors have been around for years now — it’s nice to see they’re taking advantage of the good work Google has done to integrate biking directions into Google Maps.

In Praise of Multi-modalism?

November 30, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

No.

Multimodalism (the ability to make a trip using more than one mode of transport — e.g. walking and biking, biking and driving, etc.) is overrated. Multimodalism has certain advantages over unimodalism just as it has certain disadvantages. A community or society may decide that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, or vice-versa, but our goal should not be ‘multimodalism’ - it should be ‘an awesome transportation system’.

‘Multimodalism’ in much of the blogosphere today means that a particular town allows people to get around by bike, at least a little bit. Sometimes it means that a town has a streetcar system, so at least 1% of the population can get around without a car. Fine. It’s not the end of the world. Popular use of various transportation terms is not something to get hung up about, but I think it’s important to stay clear about what our goals are, because language affects how we think about the problems we’re facing. The implication of too many posts I read is, “Hey — we’re multimodal, therefore we’re awesome, and our job is done.” I say, ‘Not quite.’

If a town has a mode split of 99% driving and 1% walk/bike/skate/train/etc., then that town is, by definition, multimodal. Mission accomplished? Of course, not.

A city that is proclaimed as ‘really multimodal,’ like New York City, might boast of a non-driving mode share of about 71%. A town that is just multimodal, like the San Jose, might boast of a non-driving mode share around 12%. Are these cities similar in any way? They’re both multimodal, but is that meaningful at all? Hardly. And they both still have disastrous transportation systems. If the majority of your population cannot get around safely, comfortably, and conveniently, with dignity intact, under their own power, then your transportation system fails, period.

The ability to get around under one’s own power is a human right — it has to be guaranteed in order to restore people’s dignity, and of course, to help head off further climate disaster.

If a town allows most of its citizens to get around under their own power — by walk, bike, skate, whatever — then that town potentially has an awesome transportation system.

In Praise of Sidewalk Cycling

August 12, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Horrendously Dangerous Cycletrack and Sidewalk!

Every few weeks a cycling ‘advocate’ will tear into people for daring to ride their bikes on the sidewalk — usually after someone riding a bike on the sidewalk was killed. We get some of the same from many cycling ‘advocates’ when cyclists riding in the road are killed, but the pomposity really flows when the killed cyclist was cycling on the sidewalk. This ‘criticizing the dead’ behavior is boorish, but it doesn’t seem to stop people. C’est la vie.

The concern these ‘sidewalk cycling bloggers’ are trolling is one of ‘safety’ — in theory, presumably they care, or claim to care, about the safety of the person doing the sidewalk cycling — not the drivers and walkers.

These bloggers point to various dubious studies by vehicular cycling advocates, and they fail to provide context for the studies. For instance, I could probably find data that shows walking on one-way streets is much safer than walking on two-way streets. But what use is the study if we don’t talk about the fact that people don’t walk on one-way streets because they’re so anti-human? Not much.

Ditto with these ‘sidewalks are dangerous’ studies — they simply don’t hold water if we claim to care about implementing policies which allow people to ride their bikes. We need studies that look at the totality of safety effects of riding on sidewalks vs. riding on the street — to the extent that such studies can even be statistically significant.

For instance, this safety page (which is, overall, very good — even if it’s old school, and has some nonsense in there about headphones and other alleged dangers) says don’t ride on the sidewalk, except in certain cases where it is OK to ride on the sidewalk - so, which one is it? Always, never, or sometimes? And who gets to decide the criteria?

This video makes a strong case for sidewalk cycling (the narrator clowns League cyclists while he’s at it — funny):

Someone at Treehugger called ‘bs’ on the anti-biking brigade a couple of years ago:

As a new or continuing city cyclist, you are bound to hear the admonishment: “Don’t ride on the sidewalk. It’s dangerous.” I swallowed that Kool-Aid for quite a while. After all, I want cycling to be a respected part of the transport infrastructure, I want cyclists to be generally law abiding and not continually agitate either pedestrians or car drivers (or each other!). But that word “dangerous,” bandied about as it is so frequently in cycling, should serve as the first clue that the warning to not sidewalk ride is a complicated, multi-faceted subject.

One oft-cited study seems to make some sense — it says, at a minimum, the haters need to stop hating:

Whatever the reasons, sidewalk cyclists should not simply be taught that sidewalk cycling is dangerous and should, therefore, be discontinued. Attempts to teach cyclists effective cycling skills should be considered.

This study from Toronto says sidewalk collisions are lower than riding in the street:

The rate of collision on off-road paths and sidewalks was lower than for roads.

And, if riding on sidewalks and sidepaths is so dangerous, why are they primary features of the roadway infrastructure of The Netherlands, the safest place on earth to ride a bike?

Because sidewalk and sidepath cycling is safe.

If you were ever told otherwise, you were fed a line — by the same people who probably admonished you to wear a helmet.

And when measured in the most critical terms — your ability to bike another day — you are almost certainly safer on the sidewalk than in the road — because most collisions occur in the road — i.e. doorings, hit from behind, etc.

So when certain ‘advocates’ tell cyclists not to ride on the sidewalk — they are effectively telling these cyclists to stop riding — which makes riding overall that much more dangerous for everyone else — because of the safety in numbers effect, in reverse.

So, if you are confused as to what you should tell a new sidewalk rider who has been accosted by the anti-cycling zealots, go with this:

Dude(tte) — I am so happy to hear you’re riding your bike — that’s so cool. Keep it up. Don’t let the haters get you down — haters gonna hate. Just keep doing what you’re doing, and if you feel more comfortable on the sidewalk, then you keep riding on the sidewalk. It’s probably safer there anyways.

I would advise that you not injure, maim, or kill any pedestrians — that just goes without saying — the same argument for cars — they shouldn’t injure, maim, or kill any cyclists or pedestrians — so watch out for pedestrians, and just generally be considerate of them, especially if they’re old — flying by a walker on the sidewalk can make them jump (make the jump/twitch! move here), and that’s kinda scary and just not cool. But other than that, have at it.

You’ll learn that the slower you ride on the sidewalk, the generally-more comfortable ride you’ll have, just because you can relax more, not worry about hitting walkers so much, etc. Try to watch out for blind entrances/exits from shops/apartments — if you start taking the same route every day you’ll learn which doors are busy. It might be technically illegal to ride your bike on some sidewalks, so some cops might harass you if you’re blazing down the sidewalk and menacing people, but if you’re kinda chillin and just moseying then they probably won’t bug you.

All the same rules apply as if you were riding in the road — so read this page if you haven’t yet — watch out for the right hook, definitely watch out for the left hook, watch out for all the cars that are going to blow through every Stop sign on every street along your route — you know, all the usual stuff.

Ride on!

Oh, don’t forget to top up your tires once a week (get a good pump — it’s worth it) — you won’t notice the difference until you top up and then you’ll be like, “Dang! I wish I topped up earlier!” And, it’ll help keep you from getting pinch flats, which are super-common for noob riders like you. :)

A couple of other points — telling people to ride in the street is akin to telling them to subject themselves to harassment, random violence and threats of violence (i.e. terrorism) — from outlaw drivers — I don’t think that’s a very nice thing to do.

Also, telling cyclists to do anything other than not kill pedestrians absolves drivers of…injuring, maiming, and killing people. Just because it is legal to kill bikers and walkers doesn’t mean that it should be legal. The laws should be changed, and we should push for them to be changed. We should pass a radical new law that says ‘Nobody is allowed to kill walkers and bikers.’ — something like that.

Happy sidewalk cycling!

Update: I didn’t point out some more of the obvious, but if cycling on the sidewalk is more dangerous than cycling in the road, why in the world would the federal government recommend that young children ride on the sidewalk?

Update: Want to continue to excuse the deadly, outlaw behavior of motorists? Easy — just keep telling people to stop riding on the sidewalks — implying that it is their fault that they just got run over. They were riding on the sidewalk — they had it coming — zing! The were riding in the road — they had it coming — zing! They were riding anywhere at all doing everything or nothing at all — they had it coming — zing! This blame the victim stuff is fun — it’s easy too — the victims are not around to defend themselves.

Update: Thought I’d take a snapshot of some outlaw driver behavior over the last few days, as it shows up in my feed reader and in Google News, and see if we could divine a pattern of injury and death rained down upon cyclists — and, by extension, determine whether riding on the sidewalk is more dangerous than riding in the road. Some/most of the events are more recent — some older. Of course, generally speaking, deaths are going to be reported more often than ‘just’ injuries, so I would expect the results to scew ‘in favor’ of ‘road’ injuries/deaths (as opposed to ‘sidewalk and sidewalk-enabled’ injuries/death), and that does appear to be the case. This is just anecdote, of course, but it’s all real — hundreds/thousands of lives destroyed and severely/adversely affected by outlaw drivers, propped up by an insufficient and corrupt legal system, unsafe infrastructure, and a certain group of cycling ‘advocates’:

12 yo struck/killed (road):
http://bikinginla.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/12-year-old-victorville-cyclist-killed-near-hesperia/

6 yo struck/killed in road/alley (road):
http://www.suntimes.com/news/7037043-417/6-year-old-on-bike-struck-and-killed-by-pickup-truck-backing-up.html

hit-run/injury and hit-run/kill (road):
http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/article-77-14504-hit-runs-on-rise.html

hit-run/kill (road):
http://www.wreg.com/news/wreg-biker-killed-in-hit-and-run-20110814,0,4154107.story

hit/kill (road):
http://fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2011/082011/08122011/645159

hit-run/one killed, one injured (road):
http://southeastportland.katu.com/news/crime/442369-hit-and-run-kills-one-cyclist-police-arrest-suspected-driver

hit/injury (sidewalk):
http://pointpleasant.patch.com/articles/bicyclist-struck-by-car-and-injured-on-bridge-avenue

hit-run injury (road):
http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/3-Injured-in-Wild-Kensington-Car-Chase-127666298.html

hit/injury (road and sidewalk?):
http://www.arlnow.com/2011/08/11/cyclist-recounts-accident-at-lynn-street-and-lee-hwy/

hit/kill - 2 instances (road):
http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Deaths+refocus+attention+road+safety/5248268/story.html

hit/kill (road) and hit/injury (unclear) [this one is incredible/insane]:
http://www.ktla.com/news/landing/ktla-teen-bicyclist-hit-run-arrest,0,6005640.story

hit-run/kill (unclear):
http://mynorthwest.com/?nid=11&sid=522720

hit/injury (unclear):
http://dailygleaner.canadaeast.com/cityregion/article/1431333

hit/kill (sidewalk):
http://www.thespec.com/news/crime/article/569166-six-year-old-cyclist-fatally-injured-in-crash

hit/injury (sidewalk):
http://www.fdlreporter.com/article/20110811/FON0101/108110376/Fond-du-Lac-area-news-briefs

hit/kill (road):
http://dailygleaner.canadaeast.com/cityregion/article/1427273

hit/kill (sidewalk):
http://www.tbrnews.com/articles/2011/08/11/redondo_beach_news/news12.txt

hit/kill (sidewalk):
http://www.bendbulletin.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110727/NEWS0107/307279999/1002/NEWS01&nav_category=NEWS01

hit/injury (unclear):
http://www.redbankgreen.com/2011/07/teen-bicyclist-hit-by-car-in-little-silver.html

hit/injury (sidewalk):
http://articles.aberdeennews.com/2011-07-22/news/29805823_1_sixth-avenue-southeast-hit-and-run-accident-truck

hti/kill (road):
http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/08/02/trucker-kills-cyclist-daily-news-are-bikes-more-dangerous-than-cars/comment-page-1/

hit/injury (sidewalk):
http://www.wjbdradio.com/index.php?f=news_single&id=28288

hit/injury (sidewalk):
http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/52354794-78/officer-ogden-investigation-police.html.csp

hit/kill (road):
http://www.masoncountydailynews.com/news/news-page/11940-regional-news-8511

hit-run/kill (road):
http://www.ktvu.com/news/28756202/detail.html

 

Update: If you hate folks riding on the sidewalk, then spend your time advocating for real bicycle infrastructure — namely, cycletracks - sidewalks for cyclists.

Update: Pedestrians being forced to share the sidewalk with cyclists is like cyclists being forced to share the roads with cars/trucks/buses — only, 10,000 times safer.

Update: One anecdotal piece of evidence to support my contention that allowing folks to ride in the street allows them to get off the sidewalks:

And what’s good for bikes is often times good for pedestrians.  [Long Beach Mobility Coordinator, Charlie] Gandy struck up a conversation with a mother and father pushing a stroller while I took pictures of the separated bike paths on 3rd Street.  Even though they haven’t ridden a bike in years, they loved the lane.  Why?  Because it got all the bikes off the sidewalk.  ”I used to see bikes on the sidewalk everyday on 3rd.  I haven’t seen one in months,” the father smiled while pushing the stroller.

This stuff is not rocket science.

We can all be like those lowly crooks down in Austell, Georgia, and go after the victims — in that case, pedestrians — in our case, cyclists — or we can try to be decent human beings and go after outlaw drivers, and other crooks who continue to get off scot-free — the designers and engineers behind these malignant road designs — city and state DOT engineers and officials — they belong in jail more than anyone else when these situations arise — because of the wickedness they’ve designed into our road system — dangerous by design, indeed.

Up Next for Bike Sharing: Boston

July 25, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Yes! Another major-ish US city, another bike-sharing program. Boston’s Hubway bike-sharing program starts up tomorrow. beste online casino deutschland

Boston is slightly bigger than Washington, DC, which is currently home to the signature bike-sharing program in the US. ilmaiset kasinot

Like DC, Boston has tons of students who will be eager early adopters of the bike-sharing program. Boston’s bike infrastructure lags that of DC, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

A Boston-area article gives some early good hope  — having seen the success of bike-sharing in DC (and Montreal and Toronto), the car folks will not be able to act all hysterical — they’d be laughed off the page: demo slots

Now that the Hubway bike-sharing program is here, some Bostonians seem to believe an alien is landing, and that utter chaos — or at least massive inconvenience and injury — will ensue when kiosks open Tuesday.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

And, as we noted/hoped, many cities may start to feel a twinge of ‘lameness’ for not getting into the bike-sharing game sooner: caça niquel gratis

As it is in many other ways, Boston is late to the game in bike-sharing.

And, finally — what a pleasant way to think about the ‘unloosing’ of a fleet of bikes over the city (and at the same time, an almost-admonition directed at drivers instead of cyclists and pedestrians):

So let the pedestrian cross in the unsignaled crosswalk, look in your rear view mirror before you open the car door, and go ahead and let yourself celebrate all those slightly clunk-looking silver and black bikes that will soon be unloosed on the metropolis, like a flock of doves.

:-)