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Archive for April, 2011

Biking needs a ‘Black Like Me’

April 27, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Rode into work today — won’t be doing that again for a while (ever?).

Admittedly, I have a low tolerance for suffering indignities, but this morning was just no fun. People who bike in America and other bike-hostile locales around the world are my heroes — they should be treated as such.

Black Like Me (wiki), of course, is the story of a white guy who, in the crazy-racist 1959 American South (not that the North was exempt), disguised himself as an African American/black guy and traveled around the South to see what the daily experience of being black was like. It was an eye-opening experience for author, John Howard Griffin, and for much of America.

Riding a bike is not the same thing as being African-American, of course, but both cyclists and African-Americans are often subjected to unjustified, random violence and threats of violence, and often are hated, just for being black or just for riding a bike. The lucky part for many cyclists, however, is that many of us can just hop off our bikes tonight and never pick them up again.

There is a great profile of John Howard Griffin in the Washington Post, written just four years ago, in 2007. There may be a lesson here for the cycling community:

Thus began Griffin’s six-week odyssey through the South, a journey that took him from New Orleans to Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. In March of the next year Sepia published his story, and in 1961 an expanded version was published as a book, “Black Like Me.” The cumulative effect of the magazine story, the book and all the attendant publicity — Griffin was interviewed by the television journalists Dave Garroway and Mike Wallace and featured in Time magazine — was astonishing. The book became a bestseller. It awoke significant numbers of white Americans to truths about discrimination of which they had been unaware or had denied.

I was one of them. In 1961, I was 21 years old, newly graduated from Chapel Hill. I had written sympathetically about the emerging black protests for the student newspaper, but I was deeply ignorant about the truths of black life in America. That it took a white man to begin my awakening is, in hindsight, distressing, but Griffin’s story managed to put me in a black man’s shoes as nothing else had. (My first readings of James Baldwin’s essays were still a couple of years in the future.) “Black Like Me” had a transforming effect on me, as apparently it did on innumerable others. That it has remained in print for more than four decades is testimony to its continuing influence, in great measure because it is taught in high schools and colleges.

How do we get drivers to understand what it’s like to be a biker? Obviously, one answer is to build appropriate infrastructure so we can allow more ‘regular people’ to bike — not just thrill-seekers, or only young males, or the indigent, etc. But what else can we do?

Being terrorized on the road is such a common occurrence for cyclists that many of us just take it for granted. Most of the time it doesn’t even warrant a phone call to police because we are confident we won’t be taken seriously. Subjecting ourselves to violence and threatened violence is just something one signs up for if one decides to ride a bike in America, and in many parts of the world. It shouldn’t be this way. We could really use a ‘Black Like Me’ for cycling. Even a full accounting of the violence and threatened violence that cyclists experience on a single day could be very useful to help sensitize drivers to what it’s like out on the roads as a cyclist — to help build support for common standards of decency and new and better laws to protect cyclists.

I’ve wondered aloud about trying to get newspapers to run a ‘Ask A Cyclist!‘ column — because drivers are typically the most ignorant of road users, and cyclists are typically the most knowledgeable, and much of the harassment and violence drivers direct at cyclists is because drivers are ignorant of the law. “Get out of the middle of the road!” or “Get on the sidewalk!” are just two of the more-common battle cries. The ‘Ask A Cyclist’ column would be a take-off on the ¡Ask A Mexican! column. The wiki says this:

Every week, readers submit their questions based on Mexicans, including their customs, labor issues, and illegal immigration. Arellano responds to two queries a week in a politically incorrect manner often starting with the words “Dear Gabacho.”

If I had a sense of humor or could write, I’d try to do it myself. Any takers?

Update: Impeccable timing: some teens wanted to provide me a good example of unjustified violence against bikers.

New York City Still Failing Its Citizens

April 25, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

I’m going to continue to pick on New York City as long as they continue to put their citizens in danger. The latest indictment against The City (pdf) comes from ‘The Bicycle Scholar’, John Pucher, in his latest study of cycling — comparing 9 major US metros:

New York is a special case. Not only is New York by far the largest of the case study cities, but it has the most mixed record on cycling policies and accomplishments. Although cycling has almost doubled in New York City since 1990, it lags far behind the other case study cities in almost every respect. It has the lowest bike share of commuters, the highest cyclist fatality and injury rate, and the lowest rate of cycling by women, children, and seniors. New York has built the most bikeways since 2000 and has been especially innovative in its use of cycle tracks, buffered bike lanes, bike traffic signals, bike boxes, and sharrowed streets. Yet New York has almost completely failed in the important areas of bike-transit integration and cyclist rights and falls far short on bike parking and cycling training. Moreover, the refusal of New York’s police to protect bike lanes from blockage by motor vehicles has compromised cyclist safety. New York has much to learn from the other case study cities, which have implemented a far more comprehensive, integrated package of mutually reinforcing policies to promote cycling.

The items I bolded are all closely linked — if you provide no training/education and enforcement of cyclist rights, and allow/condone the actions of a violent, anti-cyclist police force, you will end up with high numbers of fatalities and injuries. It’s not rocket science.

And all of the anti-cyclist policy of New York City is true even before they officially launch into their new hate campaign against cyclists. And this is not just JSK and the NYC DOT carrying out this campaign — it has the blessing of Paul Steely White and Transportation Alternatives. If I’m a cyclist in New York City right now, I’m on the phone with TA, DOT, and the Mayor, and I’m saying, “Are you trying to get me killed?”

New York is important to cycling — it is the largest city in America, it’s huge on the national and international cultural stage, America is still the car capital of the world, etc. If we can manage to turn the tide in New York City, anything is possible.

But it’s not all bad in New York City — Bill Cunningham New York, the film — is out. Check out the trailer, below:

Bill is the bike-riding NYC-based fashion photographer who really gave NYC Ciclovia a lift when he started covering some of the scenes of NYC’s events, dubbed Summer Streets.

Here are some of the superlatives Bill used to describe the 3rd summer streets event in The City:

  • really special
  • a total New York happening
  • the most extraordinary thing you ever saw
  • success like you’ve never known
  • everyone was out
  • a triumph for bikes
  • i never saw such a contraption in my life — it was terrific (about a 20-ft long bike)
  • all we can hope is they repeat it next summer
  • you can’t imagine what it was like — it was like the day after a blizzard, but a blizzard of bikes — if it happens again, get your rollerskates, get your inline skates, whatever you have on wheels, and get it out on Park Avenue.

Of course, every day in every city on every street, bridge, and tunnel throughout the world should be ciclovia — free to travel by bike without fear of being harassed, terrorized, or killed by marauding drivers. Who will be the next world city to take ciclovia to the next level, and do World Car-Free Day in a big way?

Hat tip: Washcycle.

Bike-sharing Bikes Should Have Baskets, Child Seats

April 25, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

If you’re going to do a bike-sharing system, you might as well do it right. I noticed a bunch of bike-sharing systems provide real baskets (Hangzhou), and some just provide a weird type of rack that seems designed to make people lose things (Washington, DC).

Here’s a shot of a typical Hangzhou bike — with a real basket:

And here’s one of a typical DC bike — with a fake ‘basket’:

Pick a Bike by M.V. Jantzen

Cabi bike 'baskets

At least some of the bike-share bikes in Hangzhou have child seats — here’s a younger child being carried:

And here’s an older child being carried:

Hopefully the major bike-sharing providers are also thinking about adding other niceties like coffee/drink cup holders, etc.

Hat tip: @BikeToWorkBook.

Update: I emailed a few folks involved with Hubway, Boston’s bike share system-to-be, including Alta Bicycle Share (who will be running the system), Bixi (whose bikes will be used), Nicole Freedman (Boston’s bike point-person), Eric Bourassa (from the Boston-area Metro Area Planning Council), and a couple of other folks — and to their credit, almost everyone has gotten back to me already. I heard that the bikes a) won’t have child seats, but that b) ‘people would be contacted’, and that c) ‘there are liability issues’.

Well, life is filled with ‘liability issues’ — the question is, what do you have against parents? What do you have against single moms and single dads? What do you have against some of the most cash-strapped people in our society? Are these bikes toys, or are we trying to allow people to actually live without being dependent on motorized transport, either private automobile or public motorized transport? We know that if we want bikes to become a real option for a majority of people, then we have to cater to everyoneeveryone everyone, not just ‘everyone who is childless’.

And, anyone that was around for the early days of this petition knows that ‘liability issues’ was one of the main reasons cited by haters as to why “Google would never do this” — well, we know what happened with that.

Sydney has a ‘bike library’ — The Watershed Bike Library — to help parents get their kids and cargo around town — same concept. If it’s good enough for Sydneysiders, it’s good enough for Bostonites.

Update: The Bixi bikes have those pseudo-baskets with bungee cords because regular baskets “end up full of trash”. OK, no system is perfect, but we should definitely consider at least experimenting with some baskets, maybe even making them semi-transparent. Maybe each Bixi station should have built-in trash cans, complete with recycling, and a community billboard.

Update: Bixi bike ‘baskets’ useless.

Cyclists in Amsterdam Routinely Ignore Traffic Signals

April 23, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

So says a New Yorker cyclist who rode while in Amsterdam:

To be sure, cyclists in Amsterdam routinely ignore traffic signals, just like in New York. And pity the pedestrian who wanders on to the wrong side of the line between the sidewalk and the bike lane, which is often worn away to a shadow.

The Law & Order BrigadeTM — the folks who routinely carp at cyclists for not stopping at stop signs and red lights (and presumably also disapprove of the behavior of the millions of curfew-breaking citizens in the Middle East — outlaws!) — and even some cycling ‘advocates’ (not me, of course) often suggest that cyclists in good cycling cities/countries, like Amsterdam/The Netherlands and Copenhagen/Denmark, always obey traffic signals. I always thought that people would behave normally all around the world, and that stupid, unjust laws would be ignored by almost everyone. Maybe my instincts were correct all along?

We know that smart, just laws are often ignored by drivers every day — they often seem to go out of their way to break the speed limit on every single road they travel every single day — regardless of the death and destruction and misery these outlaw drivers rain down on innocents every day. You’d think cycling ‘advocates’ and livable streets heroes would have something to say to dangerously destructive and murderous drivers — but then you’d be wrong — at least, if we’re talking about New York City.

The takeaway? Support the modified Idaho Stop — cyclists should not have to stop at Stop signs or red lights unless someone else has the right of way — simple. Traffic control signals were created by drivers for drivers — they simply don’t apply to pedestrians or cyclists. Walkers and bikers need to do what we need to do to stay alive, we know that disobeying stupid traffic signals can make us safer, and pedestrians and cyclists will never ever obey the laws of the land while they continue to make no sense — and this argument, of course, extends to all road users, and all citizens and residents of this and every country on the face of the earth. Criminalizing safe, normal, everyday behavior has always been a losing proposition — unless your goal is to “marginalize and discard” some segment of the population — and we don’t need that kind of sick, twisted policy in the transportation world. So write your local advocacy group and ask the question — “Where are we on the modified Idaho Stop? I’m tired of getting honked at and cussed at and stared down and harassed for trying to stay alive and engaging in normal, safe, everyday behavior.”

Update: Good title — Charge of the Red Light Brigade.

Perceived Sense of Safety

April 22, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

I’ve gone on about this before, as have many others, but an article in the Long Beach (LA) Post about their new (somewhat flawed) cycletrack actually talked about perceived safety vs. actual safety — I don’t ever recall seeing it in a mainstream news piece before:

People are more likely to use bicycles as a primary mode of transportation when cycle tracks are available because they offer cyclists both a perceived and real sense of safety, researchers said. The study found that the chief obstacle to bicycling, especially for women, children and seniors, is the perceived danger of vehicular traffic, which the study suggests is a real threat based on corroboration by bike riders surveyed by the study’s research team.

Most of the time I’ve talked about that here, I’ve used the term ‘subjective safety’ — used by David Hembrow. And I feel like it’s a fact that we advocate-types can use to be reminded of every so often — like, maybe once a day. It’s THE NUMBER ONE REASON that people don’t bike. It’s already safe to bike, statistically speaking (except for Orange County, maybe, which seems to be on some type of mass murder spree against cyclists at the moment) — but it doesn’t feel safe to bike — we’ve gotta change that.

We just got done talking about rechanneled roads and how, even though they may make that first step towards offering a very little bit of perceived safety, they often don’t go nearly far enough. This is why I prefer to use the terminology ‘allowing‘ people to bike instead of ‘luring’ or ‘cajoling’ or ‘enticing’ people to bike — none of those are really necessary — instead, we just have to offer a very basic sense of safety — once we do that, it is likely that actual safety will begin getting better on its own, if only through safety in numbers.

Bravo to the author of the article for linking to the actual Harvard study, by Anne Lusk. I’ve seen too many occurrences (even recently) of studies that have been twisted out of sorts, unintentionally or otherwise, by reporters, so I like to be able to go to the primary sources. Anne Lusk answered a couple of my questions back in the day, so bravo to her, too. Anne is an adviser to the Bicycle City project/idea — not to be confused with the film, Bicycle City.

Presumably this new Long Beach cycletrack is the work, at least in part, of Charlie Gandy — the guy who helped deliver us the innovative (though, less-effective-than-I’d-hoped) green-sharrowed lane in Belmont Shores (Long Beach). Here’s Gandy in a Streetfilm:

I’ll be heading down to Long Beach in a few days to take in some Frosted cupcakes, along that 2nd Street corridor in Belmont Shores, and I’ll be stopping by to check out this new cycletrack, too. And since the shop co-owner of that Utopia restaurant gave cyclists props, and is gonna roll out Long Beach’s first bike corral, I’m gonna roll in there, too. And I’ll stop by Sipology, too. Hoping to see some bikes while out at the LA Times Festival of Books, too. Busy schedule!

And, who knows — maybe I’ll even run into Octavio.

Incidentally, the green sharrows along 2nd Street are good-ish and interesting and possibly nice, but they’re not enough — we need a full-on cycletrack. There are a number of ways to do it, and we’re severely constrained by the presence of one of the most disastrous anti-patterns known to urban design — the raised median. So we can either 1) scrap the car parking along 2nd, or 2) convert one of the general purpose travel lanes into a cycletrack (flipping it with the parking lane for that extra perceived safety), or 3) tear out the median and rechannel the road to provide for cycletracks. I say option 2) is the best, most direct, quickest, least expensive, least disruptive to residents and businesses and commuters, and the median, which is at least planted with various types of greenery, can stay.

$50 Contest Winner: A new term for ‘road diet’: Rechanneled Road

April 22, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Update: Down in Point 3) below, I referred to what would typically be described as a “4-to-3 road diet” as a “4-to-5 rechanneling” — but now I want to be more explicit in saying that this is another behavior we should change. This is a separate matter from potentially choosing a new term for ‘road diet’ — we should at least be accurate when we describe what a road rechanneling/diet is. If a particular road rechanneling/diet goes from 4 general purpose lanes to 3 general purpose lanes plus 2 bike lanes, then we should refer to this as a ‘4-to-5 rechanneling‘ or ‘4-to-5 road diet‘ — not a ‘4-to-3 rechanneling‘ or ‘4-to-3 road diet‘. We are going from 4 lanes to 5 lanes — so it’s a 4-to-5 conversion — simple. When the discussion gets detailed, we can talk about what types of lanes are being used and why, but it’s a 4-to-5 conversion. Also, when evidence comes in that we have increased the capacity and throughput of the road, it will make sense, because it’s common sense that expanding the capacity of a road could lead to increased use of the road (noting, as bike/transportation nerds that we are, that there are exceptions to this rule — but they are exceptions). This is just one more example of where being honest and accurate will make our lives much easier.
Thanks to all who participated. There were lots of good suggestions.

The winner: Rechanneled road.

My personal preference is to use the easiest-to-spell-and-pronounce terms available to us — so I’d prefer we go with rechannel/rechanneling/rechanneled as opposed to rechannelize/rechannelizing/rechannelized(/rechannelization).

Most of these ‘rechannel’-related terms do not appear in any official dictionary, which is fine, but just wanted to note it.

The appropriate tenses don’t necessarily all need to be available — for instance, we probably typically don’t say, “We road dieted that road” — we say, “We gave that road a (road) diet.”

I suspect there may still be another term out there that is even better than ‘rechanneled,’ (‘road boost’ wins my heart for runner-up) but from all my reading, I believe that this term, ‘rechannel’, is better than ‘road diet’ because it will lead to better outcomes, because it will help us think more clearly about the purposes/end goals of this process of (re)creating new/better streets. Using this term will help us sell the vision easier/better — in part because it will be a more correct and descriptive term for a more correct vision, and it will avoid much of the negative stereotyping around the word ‘diet’.

So, bravo to Rich for the suggestion (don’t spend your $50 all in one place!), and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) for putting this term out there.

A couple of notes as briefly as I can manage:

1) SDOT has said that, when doing these rechanneling projects, they are mostly interested in increasing the safety of these various streets, and that installing bike lanes, and thus allowing a few people to ride bikes on these streets, is only of secondary importance to them. That doesn’t fly with me. Safety is great — really — but allowing people to make a living, to go to school, to visit the doctor’s office, to go grocery shopping — this stuff is even greater, and it has to take priority over ‘safety’. All of our roads/bridges/tunnels must, at a minimum, be made accessible to pedestrians and cyclists, including and especially the major roads/bridges/tunnels — which means they must at least feel safe — after that we can worry about perfecting our safety record.

2) Further to this point, the roads which are deemed to be ‘candidates’ for rechannelizing are, among others, those with 4 or more general (auto) travel lanes, and 15,000-20,000+ ADT (Average Daily Traffic). This, to me, is obviously insane. To me, any and every road which does not allow safe, direct, comfortable, convenient, dignified travel by walkers and bikers is a mandatory candidate for fixing, if not necessarily rechanneling. So, for instance, we can imagine a neighborhood-type street that does not really have room for separate bike lanes and/or cycletracks, so it may not be a good candidate for rechanneling, but it can still be a great candidate for fixing/traffic-calming/allowing for safe and dignified walk and bike access and/or recreation space/etc. So, using ADT as some sort of criteria for whether or not a road should be made walk- and bike-accessible and safe is nonsensical — every road needs to be made walk- and bike-accessible and safe, in that priority order, before allowing any motorized transport to travel on that road. Obviously, this means we shouldn’t talk about how to optimize motorized throughput or how to avoid detrimentally impacting motorized throughput before we’ve even made a road walk- and bike-accessible. After we’ve made a road accessible/safe/etc. for human-powered transport, then we can talk about how many private cars we can jam into and through the remaining space in some specified amount of time. [I'm planning separate posts on why pushing bikes off to side/small/slow roads is a failed strategy, and why human powered transport, including cycling, is a human right.]

3) David Hembrow’s comment is well-taken — a typical 4-lane-to-5-lane rechanneling (4 general purpose lanes to 2 bikes lanes + 2 general purpose lanes + 1 general purpose turning lane) does not do enough to provide people with the subjective safety (the feeling of safety) they will need to bike on this street. Your town may decide that it is only politically-feasible to do a 4-to-5 rechanneling, but we should at least be brave enough to propose a 4-to-4 rechanneling (4 general purpose lanes to 2 general purpose lanes + 2 buffered bike lanes/cycletracks). Be sure to read this post from David’s blog to read about more-appropriate bike infrastructure standards. Ideally, all cities in the US and around the world would know, in no uncertain terms, exactly the type of infrastructure required on every type of street. Each city can decide if it wants to provide Netherlands-level cycling infrastructure on that road, but there should not be any confusion about what the appropriate infrastructure should be. For the US, the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide is useful, if not quite as aggressive as we’d like it to be. They are moving in the right direction by, for instance, suggesting that regular bike lanes are not good enough for roads that have car travel speeds of 35+ MPH. It’s a start. And it’s good that this manual is online. The Holy Grail of bike manuals — CROW’s Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic — is not — we need to change that. Making this manual available online could be the greatest gift the Dutch have ever given to the world — perhaps eclipsing even windmills, tulips, total football, Heineken, and cannabis. Well, they should just put the manual online. :)

4) There are good and bad ways to talk about why you want to rechannel a road — this is not the way I would do it. We need to concentrate on some of the myriad major benefits that are going to be delivered when we add new bike infrastructure — namely, saving people some serious bank, and providing them with some control over their lives and a sense of empowerment and ultimately, helping them regain their dignity — stealing it away from the corporate-government interests that took it away in the first place by forcing everyone into a car or bus. I would say something like this:

“Look — we have to allow people to get around on their own — it’s a human right, and it’s just not right to make people have to go out and buy a car just so they can get to work. And it’s not right to force them to wait for and sit on a cramped and uncomfortable bus and have to spend their hard-earned money just to spend some quality time with a bunch of creeps and crazy people. We have to allow people to get around under their own power, and we have to make it safe and dignified for them to do so, which means we have to give them plenty of big, wide bike lanes and cycletracks, separated from fast-moving cars and trucks and buses, because if it doesn’t feel safe to ride then nobody is going to ride, and we have to allow them to walk and ride on the major roads, because these people have places to go, things to do, people to see — they work and live and laugh and love and cry and have children and parents and loved ones just like you and me and everyone else. And we’d have to allow them to get around under their own power even if gas wasn’t 8 Zillion dollars a gallon.”

Enough wordiness.

I’ve made a ginormo-table with some of my thoughts on the terms we received. Obviously, this entire post and all related opinions are just my own, so feel free to form your own opinions and tell me how wrong I am — as well as add any more terms you may have dreamt up, read about, etc.

  Name   Usage   Explanation and Disucssion
Road diet It’s gonna get a road diet. It underwent a road diet. It got a road diet. We’re gonna road diet that road. Simple, but bad in every other conceivable way
Rechanneled road It’s gonna be rechanneled. It’s gonna be rechannelized. We’re gonna rechannel it. The road underwent rechannelization. The road was rechanneled, and now it actually allows a few of the hard-core types to bike on it, which is not enough, but it’s a start. Bigger word, but makes a lot of sense — it actually makes a lot more sense, intuitively, than the term ‘road diet’, which brings to mind only the narrowing of a road (with the expected traffic congestion increases/delays/headaches/misery) — we’re not necessarily decreasing the size/width of the road, nor are we increasing it — we’re just redoing how the space of the street is apportioned/allocated between pedestrians, bicycles, and motorbikes/cars/trucks/buses/trains. The term is somewhat worrisome in that it’s actually an old road engineering term that they used to (I’m guessing) divert slower traffic off of the main roads onto secondary/slower roads — a disaster that we do not want to repeat. The term ‘rechanneled’ seems to be a bit simpler, and we should consider adopting it in place of ‘rechannelized,’ but we probably need an English major to help us figure out if this is something we might want to do. We can create a word and word combinations if we want to, just the way the term/phrase ‘road diet’ was. This is your winner!
Induced congestion it’s gonna get the induced congestion/traffic treatment This is what many drivers think when they hear ‘road diet’, too.
Road binge It’s gonna get road binged Opposite of road ‘diet’ — but doesn’t necessarily make sense for similar reasons.
Traffic-calming That street is getting some traffic-calming treatments. Not the worst, but not the best.
Complete street We’re gonna complete that street. Sounds nerdy. And most complete streets, at least in America, are anything but. Generally-speaking, biking has been left out of the Complete Streets world. A Complete Street is a street where you can drive as fast as you want without delay, where there is a sidewalk on at least one side of the street, and hard-core bikers could theoretically decide to bike if they are in that S&M stage of their lives.
Road widening The road-widening project will help car traffic drive faster and smoother (for a while). Road widenings still do happen, so this could be confusing, but it’s probably going to continue to happen less and less as fewer rich people and corporations pay taxes.
Road narrowing Road ‘X’ is going to be narrowed (because, presumably, the bike-hippies running the DOT want to deliver you pain on a daily basis). Just not helpful.
Fixing the street We’re gonna fix that street. It’s being fixed. There’s a lot of logic to this, in that it lends itself to a very quick, easy-to-understand explanation of the situation — some particular road is broken in any number of ways, and one of those problems is that it most likely effectively prevents anyone from biking on it — so it’s going to be fixed, because it has to be fixed. It has to be fixed because bikers need direct routes from Point A to Point B.
Road re-purposing We’re going to re-purpose that road. Not the worst — just sounds a bit radical — like we’re going to re-purpose that massive highway into a river.
Road re-design The road is going to be redesigned. Not bad at all. Not bad at all. Seems to call to mind ‘intersection redesign’, but it could potentially work. We’re going to redesign the road so that it accommodates bicycles. Simple. Easy to understand. There’s a lot of power in that. If ‘rechannel’ is too geeky, one could say ‘redesign to allow bikes bikes to use the road’. Oh, they’re gonna add bike lanes? Yes. Oh, that’s nice. Yes — yes, it is. :)
Street safening It’s gonna go under some street-safening. Sounds a bit corny/quirky in an endearing way — kind of like the word embiggen. And focuses on safety, which is a good thing, but not necessarily good enough, in my opinion. So, if you think about, what is the best, most effective way to rain danger and death and destruction and despair and misery upon any city or town? Easy — just build a highway through it. And what is the best way to rain safety and health and prosperity and happiness and satisfaction upon any city or town? Easy — just build a bikeway through it. Bicycles will remain a or the main civilizing force in cities and towns across the globe for the foreseeable future, so we need a term that more closely addresses the fact that by tearing up a street and rebuilding/repainting it, we’re going to allow bicycles on that street, thus bringing the myriad benefits of cycling.
Road to health It’s going to be a road to health, instead of a road to death. Nice sentiment, but avoids the ‘traffic’ concern of our most vocal/powerful critics. Drivers/DOT just want to ram people through town as fast as possible so they can plop down on their couches with a lap full of cheesy poofs in time for a big night of American Idol. Health is not their main concern — and I think many/most(?) folks have given up hope of being healthy — it’s just too impossible in modern America. Some biking infrastructure could possibly change their mind, so we need a term that more closely talks about allowing people to bike.
Right of way for all The street will be redone so that it provides a right of way for all. Not bad.
Road conversion It underwent a road conversion. That roads gonna be converted into a road that allows bikes, is safer for everyone, is quieter, nicer, better for business, etc. Not too bad, but doesn’t really say anything about how the road is being converted, or what the nature of the conversion is.
Road Smorgasbord We’re gonna make that road into a road smorgasbord. We’re going to smorgasbord that road. It got the smorgasbord treatment — now everyone can use it. Not crazy about it — kind of sounds like ‘mess’ or ‘spaghetti’ (aka, a traffic nightmare, like a spaghetti junction).
–Full-use roadway

–Multi-use road

–All-mode road

–Full-access roadway

–Accessible street

–Cooperative roadway

–Viable roadway

–Fully-functional roadway

–Efficient roadway

–Dynamic roadway

–Perfect roadway
(I got a little lazy, here.) These are all good and interesting terms — I particularly like the ‘Full-’ terms — like, “Road ‘X’ is going to get the ‘Y’ treatment so it can become a full-use roadway.” The term ‘full,’ to me, implies efficiency and health of a particular tool/system — a big ROI — a near-perfect ROI.
Road Enrichment It’s going to get the road enrichment treatment. This one is not bad.
Road Boost It’s getting a road boost. We’re going to boost the productive value of the road (by allowing bikes, etc.). Interesting — very interesting. Good. Definitely has a positive connotation — as if we’re really moving towards the highest/best use of the roadway space. This one absolutely deserves more attention. This is my personal favorite runner-up.
Road Bonus Interesting.
Capacity efficient roads. Not bad.
Road streamlining Not bad, but has some of the same connotation as ‘road diet’.
Road splurge Opposite of ‘road diet’. Don’t dig it.

JSK And NYC DOT to Cyclists: Drop Dead

April 21, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Three months ago I wrote about the cowardly and depraved campaign against cyclists being authorized by NYC’s Department of Transportation — a department headed by none other than Janette Sadik-Khan, the (former) Queen of Livable Streets here in America.

Finally, someone ‘respectable’ has been able to state the obvious in a more mainstream outlet — someone by the name of Doug Gordon at New York Streetsblog.

I’ve seen the continued reports of New York City cyclists being harassed and terrorized by motorists and police officers all over that city — these publicly-expressed sentiments, more-commonly expressed by might-makes-right, violence-prone motorists, are already working — they are creating an even more extreme environment of lawlessness and impunity — for all who care to attack cyclists. New York City already has a long history of lawlessly harassing, assaulting, and arresting law-abiding cyclists — do we really need to have ‘advocates’ work so hard to encourage it?

Here’s something to keep in mind as this Campaign of Terror is fully rolled out in New York City: If JSK even dared to mutter the sentiment that drivers should not act like jerks, she would be forced to resign before the end of the next business day.

$50 Contest: A new term for ‘road diet’

April 15, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

This is a road diet?

The term ‘road diet‘ doesn’t make much sense in most cases — not literally, not figuratively. And it’s bad marketing and bad politics, and most importantly, it helps produce bad results — that is, bad streetscapes that don’t allow for biking. We need to find a new, better, more-accurate term so we can get to thinking correctly about how best to use our streets.

The graphic above comes from the FHA website. The width of the road before the ‘diet’? 44 feet. After? 44 feet. Not much of a diet, is it?

The only time a road diet is actually a road diet is when sidewalks are (re)widened, which presumably actually does put the ‘road’ part of a road/street on ‘a diet’.

We need a term that describes the process of fixing a road so that it becomes whatever we want it to become. So, for instance, when a road diet adds bike lanes, can it still be considered a road diet? If you only or mostly care about cars, or think they should be given priority, then I suppose you could still call the adding of bike lanes a diet — so, of course, I would never call it a diet. If you are giving people the ability to ride their bikes to work so they don’t have to pay to travel by car/bus/train/taxi, is that something that is accurately described by the term ‘road diet’? No.

We might as well call it something that brings to mind a type of ‘expansion’ or ‘widening’ of the road instead of a narrowing — because we’re expanding the range of modes of transport that can use the street, we may be widening at least the sidewalks to give walkers a little breathing room, we could be widening the bike lanes or protecting them with painted or physical buffers/barriers, etc.

Now for the bad marketing aspect of the term. The term focuses on removing cars from the street instead of allowing bikes to use the street. This, in turn, accomplishes two things:

  1. Generates tremendous opposition for current and future projects, and
  2. Sacrifices biking as a potential future mode of travel.

If by ‘road diet’ you actually mean ‘car diet,’ then I suppose the term makes some figurative sense — even if the actual road width is not decreased, but drivers (those who hold most political power) can see right through the term — they think we’re being dishonest, which raises their hackles even more, etc. It’s a full-on disaster even before we get out the door.

One of the reasons tremendous opposition is generated is because the term is not an accurate description of what is happening on a road going through this process, and so the term becomes unnecessarily inflammatory — when the actual process can manage to do that all on its own.

Another bad marketing aspect of the term is that it focuses on and presupposes the absolute right of cars and drivers to use the road exclusively instead of the inherent right and priority that non-motorized transport users can, should, and hopefully eventually will enjoy. Moving about under one’s own power, freely, safely, comfortably, conveniently, with dignity intact, is a human right. By designing the current roadways in their mostly-malignant fashion, the auto/oil/rubber industry has used government to effectively prevent citizens from walking and biking to their destinations — they’ve made us dependent on cars and (motorized) public transport to move around, to go to our jobs and school and church and the supermarket and our doctor’s office and to visit our friends — this is not a dignified situation and it cannot stand. We’re going to use the government — a very flawed institution but one that can still be subjected to popular/democratic control — to wrestle away some street space from the corporate motorization interests.

Allowing people to walk and bike on every single street (with very few exceptions, like pedestrian-only streets) is required and inevitable, because being able to move around under one’s own power is a human right, but it is also still beneficial for various other reasons, like ‘livability’.

Whatever term we decide to use should make it clear that the road is going to undergo some process which will make it better, more livable, which will improve it, which will expand its capacity — either in the transport of people and goods or in some other capacity (like increasing living/play/work/leisure space) — and this ‘increasing of good things’ will be beneficial to most people.

Further, when we position this process correctly as something that must occur to re-establish everyone’s right to move about freely under their own power, we will be bringing with us an unassailable logic and feeling of expectation and inevitability that has carried similar social movements to victory.

The term ‘road diet’ helps lead us down a path of thinking that is exactly what Jane Jacobs warned us not to do — focus on ‘removing bad’ instead of ‘increasing good’. She saw that such a strategy would, and should, fail.

She saw that ‘removing bad’ would generate tremendous opposition for current and future projects, but also that having a mindset of ‘removing bad’ would actually produce bad results — like we have with BRT corridors around the world (producing dystopian landscapes), like we had with pedestrianized malls in the US (most of which failed miserably), etc.

After seeing myriad streetscape projects around the US completed over the past few years that are detrimental to bikers, and that sometimes even institutionalize the prevention of biking altogether, I’m convinced that we advocates are suffering from some poor thinking. We have not listened to Jane Jacobs, and I believe that is to our great detriment.

Jacobs advised that we concentrate on ‘increasing good’ — like increasing safety for pedestrians, increasing the ability to walk and bike, improving air quality, increasing diversity, increasing the beauty of a plaza, increasing ‘vitality’ and ‘workability’, etc. If, in the service of these goals, it becomes necessary to ‘decrease bad’ — like remove cars — then so be it, but the goal in and of itself should not be to remove cars.

The relevant Jacobs quote can be found here:

Attrition [of automobiles], too, must operate in positive terms, as a means of supplying positive, easily understood and desired improvements, appealing to various specific and tangible city interests. This is desirable not because such an approach is a superior persuasive and political device (although it is), but because the objects should be tangible and positive objects of increasing, in specific places, city diversity, vitality, and workability. To concentrate on riddance as the primary purpose, negatively to put taboos and penalties on automobiles as children might say, “Cars, cars, go away,” would be a policy not only doomed to defeat but rightly doomed to defeat.

So, as you can see, Jacobs actually makes the argument that the ‘marketing’ (“superior persuasiveness”) and political power (“superior…political device”) are not the main reasons we need to think clearly/correctly about how to deal with roads — it’s because thinking clearly/correctly is the best/only way to get a good final result.

We’ve seen the pro-mandatory bicycle helmet people use the tragically-flawed logic of ‘decreasing bad bike injuries’ — they’ve actually decreased the overall health of entire populations, including the most vulnerable — children. This is not smart, not fair, not good for livable streets, not good public policy.

When any road undergoes this process, we need to be asking basic questions like:

  1. Will walking and biking become safer? More dignified?
  2. Will biking become possible?
  3. Will a simple, unbuffered bike lane move us significantly in the right direction? What types of vehicles will be sidling up to bikers? Huge, ginormo-buses like with part of the the Cleveland BRT line? We know this is not good enough to allow people to bike.
  4. Is the middle/turn lane really necessary? Must we have on-street car parking on this important travel corridor? Is it necessary, after this process is complete, to still have 50 feet of street width dedicated to cars (parking plus travel and turn lanes) and only 10 feet dedicated to bicycles?
  5. Is anything we are about to do in the process (like raised medians) going to prevent the future expansion of the bicycle facilities on this street — to include, say, bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, separated/protected bike lanes/cycletracks?

I’ve been wanting to write this post forever, but was reminded with the release of the latest Streetfilm on ‘road diets‘. Featured in the film is Dan Burden — an old-school walking advocate who too often dismisses biking (often, just by ignoring it) as a real transportation choice. It’s important that we continue to insist that pedestrian/walkability advocates also advocate for the cyclist/bikeability — and not just in name/theory/show, but with the expectation that cities and towns will be (re)designed in a such a way that biking will become a viable option for getting around for most people. Bikes should be given the next-highest priority of all transport modes, right after walking. I don’t blame Burden for coming up with the term ‘road diet’.

And, when I say ‘biking’ and ‘bikes’, I really mean ‘all human-powered transport which might be better-suited to bike lane travel than sidewalk travel’ — so if people want to skate, rollerblade, or even run in the correct direction in the bike lane, then more power to them.

If someone says:

We want to create a walkable, transit-accessible neighborhood.

Then we should correct them:

We want to create a walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible neighborhood.

First walking, then biking, then everything else, in that priority order.

Check out a search for “road diet” on Google News to see how it’s commonly being applied.

Contest ends at the end of this upcoming Thursday, April 21. I’ll pick a winner, but obviously this doesn’t mean I, we, or anyone will actually use it instead of the current term — we’ll all have to figure that out together.

All ideas, including very bad ideas, are welcome.

And if it turns out that we’re unable to improve on the term ‘road diet’, then we’ll move on, but I think we should at least try to find a better, more accurate, more appropriate term.

I’ll PayPal over some cash to the winner — I’ll need an email address (which I’ll have access to if you leave a comment). Feel free to also send in ideas to my direct email: . If you don’t need the cash, then use it for your bike organization or some other charity. There are lots of people doing good work out there.

Update: Wanted to add that the word ‘diet’ is about the most universally-hated word in the history of the world. I’m thinking that telling a bunch of entitled, relatively-powerful people (drivers) that we’re about to force them to go on a diet is not the smartest political move. Ironically, if people actually had the opportunity to walk and bike places, so many people both here in the US and, increasingly, around the world, wouldn’t be so tormented by the word ‘diet’.

Making alternatives more obvious

April 12, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Already available in some cities, Google is trying to make alternatives to driving more obvious:

With directions in Google Maps, we’re working on helping you find the quickest way to get around, and now finding the right route is a bit easier. For areas with transit information in Google Maps, previously you could compare driving and transit directions by selecting the appropriate icon. Now, when you search for driving directions, transit options may appear directly in the results.

This is a great idea mainly because, putting alternative modes of transportation into people’s ‘mental maps’ can be difficult. It is still the case to this day that people who know about and even use Google Maps regularly or even often, may have no idea what you mean by ‘Google Transit’ and may have no idea that it is possible to get transit directions (much less walk or bike directions) from Google Maps. It’s a sort of inattention blindness — you can be unable to see something which is right in front of you, because you’re not expecting it to be there.

I don’t know if it’s the best/most effective possible implementation, but it’s worth the effort. With cycling blowing up in cities around the world, in particular in places with bike-sharing programs like Hangzhou (60,600 bicycles), Paris (20,600 bicycles), and Washington (1,100 bicycles), we may eventually get to the point where defaulting to walking or biking directions is the preferred option — maybe this can be a user option for those signed-into Google services.


April 08, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

[Don't forget about LA's CicLAvia this Sunday!]

I recently ruined some of my favorite/only T-shirts in the wash, so decided I needed to get some more. I got a couple of inexpensive ones — like this $6 tee from Sports Basement — but decided I wanted to step up my game a bit — possibly with some cool, custom t-shirts. [Update: My Black Star Co-op t-shirt just came in (in grey)! ]

While I figure out how to get some custom t-shirts designed and then made, I stumbled across a website/company doing a couple of interesting things — In particular, I liked their play on the Smart Car. Here is the Smart Car logo:

And here is the cool t-shirt design from

What may be even cooler, though, is that the explanation of the design is on the inside of the t-shirt:

The “Smart Car” isn’t smart; it gets the same fuel efficiency as other economy cars but only seats 2 passengers. When compared to bicycles, all cars tend to look down right idiotic. Where’s the logic in working tons of hours to pay for a car to get to work to pay for a car? What’s the sense in driving to the gym to pay a membership to get some exercise?

Move within biking distance to work, sell your car, cancel your gym membership and start living smarter. Increase your quality of life while not contributing to the political, environmental, social calamity created by the world’s dependency on oil.

There’s a bunch of other cool ones, too — Fred Hampton!, Noam Chomsky, Tommie Smith, social commentary on Monster Trucks, etc.

Great weekend!