Friday, June 29, 2012

Sydney's Separate Bike Lanes are Working

New research on cycling habits is in from Sydney, and it turns out that city dwellers are less likely to start biking if they're afraid a lumbering SUV might crush their back tire or that errant car doors will send them over their handlebars. Who knew?

The Australian city is in the process of implementing its 2030 blueprint for a greener city, and it's building a hell of a lot of bike lanes. As in 125 miles worth. City government is also spearheading a program to increase ridership amongst its citizens—it wants 10% of the metropolis biking by 2030. And its research on ridership reveals that there's a magic ingredient to success: separate bike lanes.

According to the Guardian, the lanes
have been successful in persuading previous non-cyclists to get out on their bikes. Research done by the council has shown that the likelihood of a resident commuting by bike increases exponentially with the proportion of their commuting trip made possible on a separated bike lane.
The city is now in the process of building 55 kilometers of them. Sydney also introduced a raft of other measures, including "decreased speed limits and extensive junction redesigns which give cyclists priority and improve visibility." There are also safe cycling courses, bike maps, and free bike bells. The result? Less accidents all around—and here's the kicker: "All these measures have combined to produce rapid growth in cycling over two years, with numbers up by an average of 82% across all areas of the city."

82%? That's almost doubling ridership. That's insane.

This, ladies and gentleman, is how you get people interested in bikes—safe infrastructure and concerted efforts to put cyclists first. They're after all, the vulnerable ones, exposed on small aluminum frames in dense, high-traffic roadways.
I know there's controversy around separated bike lanes—they're expensive, and it'd be preferable if we could "accomplish the same thing just by squashing this ridiculous notion that cyclists are somehow “second class” road users." But the fact is, they work. My friends who don't bike in New York almost always cite safety reasons. I don't blame them—I've nearly been clipped by swerving sedans plenty of times. To get the average citizen interested in biking, it has to seem like a safe, easy proposition.

Good thing then, that the investment pays off in dividends: decreased congestion, a happier, healthier public, and fewer accidents. Me, I'm not so concerned about the "Us vs Them" mentality some fear separated lanes may seed between cyclists and motorists—we should simply be striving to get more people biking. So let's build some lanes—and they will.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Kansas City Builds Their Own Bike Share

By Kyle Rogler at This Big City
Kansas City Residents Build their Bike Share Scheme
One would not expect to find a bike share program in a car dominated metropolis like Kansas City, which has the highest ratio of highway lane miles to city population in the United States. A city that has a large number of highway miles can often lead to adverse health problems like obesity and diabetes. To top it all off Kansas City also has the lowest bike and transit ridership use in the nation as well, despite having one of the largest bike and nature trail networks in the country.

BikeWalkKC, the regional bike advocacy group, is hoping to change the perception of car-dominated Kansas City to a healthier alternative of biking and public transportation. The group has a bold vision to have 75% of the city’s residents living within bike/walk friendly areas by the year 2020.  This vision will be accomplished through a combination of biking policies, public education, and research for future growth of bike networks. The group’s regional efforts can be seen with the downtown metropolitan area enacting a number of complete street proposals and encouraging neighboring cities to implement bike friendly policies for future street improvements.

Kansas City’s next infrastructural project will be to implement a Bike Share program across the city in conjunction with the future streetscape improvements. BikeWalkKC will run the bike share system and organized the bike build at donated warehouse space. Having the bike build allowed for both an enthusiastic public to actively invest in a future transportation system for their city and reduce costs for the assembly of the new bikes.

With over seventy-five volunteers in two events, the Bike Build was a success and built the ninety new bicycles for Kansas City’s B-Cycle program. Like an ant colony, BikeWalkKC strategically divided the volunteers into various stations based on their skill level. Once the last box was unpacked, various group leaders quickly integrated the volunteers into other parts of the process to help foster further education.

The next step of the assembly line was putting the various pieces of the bike such as the bike seat and basket onto the bike. Keeping with the spirit of sharing, BikeWalkKC developed a smart sharing system of the tools for the bike build that allowed quick transfers between groups. As the various components came together, another group concentrated on the fine tuning of the bikes to ensure that a high-quality bike was entering the new bike share program.

The most complicated and important piece of equipment is the embedded GPS locator for the bike. Each bike’s unique key is linked to a GPS locator which tracks the bike’s location throughout the city. This will allow BikeWalkKC to track where to service more bicycles and give insight into where more bicycle kiosks can be set up for future use.

With special support from local businesses Boulevard Brewery and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, the Bike Build was a huge success for starting a new biking culture in Kansas City. The bikes will be ready for city-wide use on July 3, 2012 following the All-Star Baseball Series. The launch party will deliver the bicycles to their docking stations ranging from the north River Market District to the south downtown areas of Union Station and Crown Center.

This article originally appeared on the sustainable cities website This Big City

Thursday, June 21, 2012

6th Annual Bicycle Music Festival

San Francisco's Bicycle Music Festival goes all the way. It does just celebrate the bike by transporting the equipment and people on two-wheels, making bike-blended smoothies and singing about bikes, but it also powers all the equipment with electricity-generating stationary bikes that are pedaled by volunteers. Now that's dedication to the cause!

If you are in San Francisco this weekend, check it out!

12pm Golden Gate Park (old log cabin meadow – corner of Stow Lake Dr. & John F Kennedy Dr.)
***featuring: bike-blended smoothies, pedal-powered ice cream, art bikes, and more!***
12:00-12:45 Lia Rose & Tiny Television
~12:45 Flux Bikes
1:00-1:45 Major Powers & the Lo-Fi Symphony
2:00-2:45 Oona
~2:45 Kipchoge
3:00-4:00 Rupa & the April Fishes
4:00-5:00 all-star carneval-style acoustic drum jam
5pm-6pm LiveOnBike parade rolling across the city!
featuring: Fossil Fool, the Bike Rapper
6pm Showplace Triangle (16th St. & Wisconsin)
***featuring: food bikes, food trucks, renegade LED art, and more!***
6:00-7:00 Rin Tin Tiger!
7:00-7:45 MC Rai
~ 7:45 Obo Martin
~ 8:45 The Genie
9:00-9:45 Birds & Batteries
More details on the official Bicycle Music Festival website.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ontario's Coroner Report Can Help Guide Everyone

129 cyclists were killed in Ontario, Canada between 2006 and 2010. The Chief Coroner for Ontario has just released a thorough investigation of them, and come up with findings and recommendations that have lessons that are applicable everywhere. Significantly, the first and most important one is for Complete Streets. Before I start looking at the broader reccommendations, I have to note that all the local headlines are screaming "Ontario Coroner calls for mandatory helmets for cyclists". Herb at Ibiketo writes:
The media has latched onto the helmet recommendation like it is the magical talisman that will solve all that harms cyclists. Drivers won't have to change anything, it's all up to the cyclists!
Except that the report didn't call for mandatory helmets, it is a nuanced recommendation that calls for helmet laws "within the context of an evaluation of the impact of this legislation on cycling activity," which is a very different thing. But more on this later.

What's an Accident Anyways?

Right at the start, the coroner notes that there is no such thing. It is important to note that deaths resulting from cycling collisions, just like motor vehicle collision deaths and pedestrian deaths, are not “accidents” in the sense that all of these deaths were predictable, and therefore preventable.

Surprising statistics

The vast majority of cycling deaths were male (86%) and more than half of the cyclists killed were over 45 years old. Peak time of day was between 8:00 and 10:00 in the evening. in 83% of the deaths, conditions were clear. Only 4% of deaths happened during periods of poor visibility.
So those most at risk appear to be boomer men riding in the evening, not the usually blamed hipsters riding through stop signs in rush hour.

The great majority of the accidents involved the cyclist being hit by the bumpers, hood or windshield of cars. The coroner infers from this that "the majority of collisions took place when the driver was attempting to pass the cyclist." Clearly, there is an issue here of sharing the road; the great majority of accidents are cars hitting cyclists, not cyclists hitting cars.


In fully half of the 18 deaths where the cyclist was killed by a truck, "In half of these, the cyclist impacted the side of the truck, resulting in the cyclist being dragged, pinned or run over by the rear wheels."


In 71 of the 129 cases (55%), the cyclist sustained a head injury which caused or contributed to their death. In 43 of those 71 (60%), a head injury alone (with no other significant injuries) caused the death. Those whose cause of death included a head injury were three times less likely to be wearing a helmet as those who died of other types of injuries.

Whose Fault is it?

The coroner found that cyclist's behavior contributed to 71% of the accidents, through inattention, failure to yield, or disregarding traffic signals. Drivers behavior contributed to only 62% of the accidents, mainly by speeding, inattention or failure to yield, but the coroner suggests that this is possibly a significant under-representation of the facts because, by definition in this study, the cyclists are all dead and can't defend themselves.


Significantly, the first recommendation, without qualifications of any kind, is for complete streets.
The concept of ensuring that cyclists could share the road safely with motor vehicles and other road users was a prevalent theme. Literature was reviewed that emphasized urban design principles that were inclusive of all road users, not just motorists. In the United States, the term “complete streets” has been coined to describe such principles. In such a model, a variety of strategies are used to ensure the safety of all road users. Such strategies include cycling networks (segregated or non-segregated bike lanes; bike paths), and other means to permit safe access for all road users, including vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians. Other strategies include low-speed “community safety zones” in residential areas with increased fines for speeding.
Formal Recommendation:
A “complete streets” approach should be adopted to guide the redevelopment of existing communities and the creation of new communities throughout Ontario. Such an approach would require that any (re-) development give consideration to enhancing safety for all road users, and should include:
• Creation of cycling networks (incorporating strategies such as connected cycling lanes, separated bike lanes, bike paths and other models appropriate to the community.)
• Designation of community safety zones in residential areas, with reduced posted maximum speeds and increased fines for speeding.

Side-guards on Trucks

The findings from our study indicated that half of those cyclists killed in collisions with heavy trucks impacted the side of the truck, where side guards could have potentially prevented or deceased the severity of their injures. Because of this, the Panel supported the recommendation for the introduction of mandatory side guards on appropriate heavy trucks.

Mandatory Helmets

Here, the report is very careful to note the controversy over mandatory helmet rules. In fact, it is one of the best summaries I have seen of the discussion about helmet laws. I quote a lot of it because it is important:
There were three general arguments advanced against mandatory helmet legislation….The first related to the potential for mandatory helmet legislation to decrease the overall number of cyclists. Proponents of this view cited the experience in Australia, where the introduction of mandatory helmet legislation was associated with a drop in cycling activity. Some research exists which suggest that the health benefits of helmets may be outweighed by the detrimental effects on overall health in the population through the decrease in cycling activity in jurisdictions where helmets have been made mandatory.

The second argument against mandatory helmet legislation relates to the view that government may see mandatory helmet legislation as “the answer” to cycling safety, with the result that other measures recommended in this Review (improved infrastructure, legislative review, education and enforcement activities) are de-emphasized or not acted upon.

The third point raised by members of the Expert Panel is that helmets are, indeed, the last line of defense and of value only after a collision has occurred. Instead of mandating the use of helmets, it was argued that efforts should be focused on preventing the collision (through strategies such as improved infrastructure and expanded public awareness and education programs) – in other words, if one prevents the collision, helmets become unnecessary. In addition, some stakeholders felt that mandatory helmet legislation sent the message that the responsibility for safety rests with the cyclist alone, rather than being a shared responsibility of all road users.

While there may be differences of opinion with respect to the value of mandatory helmet legislation, the key message to all Ontarians is simple:
Helmet use by all cyclists in Ontario should be encouraged and supported.
Notwithstanding the varied perspectives on helmet legislation, the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario takes the position that helmet use by all cyclists can and will decrease fatal head injuries. We feel that this is supported by the findings from this Review, and as such are recommending to the Ministry of Transportation that the Highway Traffic Act be amended to make helmets mandatory for all cyclists in Ontario. In recognition of the controversy that surrounds the issue of mandatory helmet legislation, both within the Review’s Expert Panel, and in the cycling community as a whole, this recommendation indicates that the implementation of such legislation should occur within the context of an evaluation of the impact of mandatory helmet legislation on cycling activity in Ontario.
Now that is a nuanced response, showing that the Coroner certainly is aware of the issues, and given the statistics on the number of deaths that might have been prevented, I am not certain he could have come up with anything else. There are other conclusions; wearing headphones is not a good idea (possibly contributing to 21 deaths) nor is drinking and riding (possibly 30 deaths) or riding with shopping bags on your handlebars or heavy backpacks on your back.

In the end, the coroner's report pretty much calls for what cycling advocates have been calling for: Better infrastructure, complete streets, paved shoulders on highways and side guards on trucks. Everybody is complaining about the helmets without actually reading the report, which is why I include so much of it here. Ride safe!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Smart's New Electric Bike

It's big news when a leader in the sustainable transportation market goes all out on an electric bike: Meet the Smart ebike. The ebike is now on sale in Europe, but won't hit the U.S. market for a few more months.

This ebike recently picked up the prestigious Red Dot award for its design. Now it has been named a participant in Germany's most prestigious design prize, the Designpreis der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Winners in the awards program will be announced in the fall.

This ebike is a lot better looking than most ebikes on the market -- probably one of the reasons it keeps winning awards. On the design front, ebike designers don't have it easy: Should they be bikes or motorcycles? Until the technology gets even smaller, an ebike will always be too heavy and clunky to look like a bicycle -- and maybe it shouldn't anyway. Either way, everything is streamlined and tucked in with the Smart ebike. The battery is hidden behind the grey pannel on the frame, and the engine is in the back tire. Shown is the crystal white with electric green accent trim parts, but the ebike will also be available in matt dark grey with flame orange accent trim parts.

Some of the perks you can't see: The tires are Continental EcoContact Plus -- which the manufacturer says has added muscle, making it particularly hard to get a flat. Naturally Smart developed its own iPhone app for the Smart (your iPhone fits into a slot on the dash), but I couldn't find anything on what exactly the ap would do (other than assuming the obvious, navigation), the press release just says, "With the help of an iPhone app specially developed for the smart ebike the smartphone becomes an information center."

Smart ebike riders can decide just how much pedaling they wanted to contribute to the ebike: Maybe on the way to work, after the morning coffee, you want to go all out. On the way home...not so much. Thanks to four levels of gear power, problem solved.

I am interested to see how the Smart ebike does -- there has been some criticism of its 250 watt engine, which means it won't be the fastest on the market. But it is also easy to use and doesn't have to be recharged for up to 60 miles. Plus, it's probably more geared for the Europe market, where you don't need a driving licence or a licence plate for a ebike that tops out at a speed of 25 km/h (in the U.S. you need a top motor-powered speed of less than 20 miles per hour or 32 km/h). Combining these qualities with stylish, the Smart could really attract a new crowd to the eBike market.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Protest Removal Of Bike Lanes In Toronto

Toronto's Jarvis Street used to be a true complete street with trees and a green boulevard separating sidewalks from the road. Then it got widened and widened until it was five lanes, with the middle lane an odd reversible lane that switched from southbound to northbound at the afternoon rush hour, confusing a lot of people. A few years back the City ripped out the ugly wires and lights that indicated direction in that reversible lane, removed the lane and installed bike lanes.

Last July 13, when Mayor Rob Ford still had people listening to him on council, they voted to paint out the bike lanes and put the reversible lane back. No matter that the accident rate had dropped because the confusion was gone, or that bike usage tripled. No matter that a man elected because of his "respect for taxpayers" was going to spend a quarter of a million dollars to do it.

It's not even much of a bike lane, it's narrow and beside four lanes of traffic that goes very fast, just a strip of paint on the road. Yet it is something, a bit of separation and protection, and last night about 350 people showed up on the anniversary of the decision to remove it, to try and get City Council to change their minds.

People of all ages, on all kinds of bikes soon were riding up Jarvis with police escort.

The police stopped traffic at every intersection so that the cyclists could get through, it was very well organized. Many drivers honked their support. (Not a few have said that they prefer the bike lanes on Jarvis, it is easier for them as well, not having to share the lane)

Drivers at one of Toronto's busiest intersections were less amused as the cyclists stopped traffic going north from the financial district while they rolled into the square at City Hall.

Who knows if this will have any effect, or if the lanes will be saved. But it is a good object lesson for cities across North America about what happens when the "war on the car" right wing politicians get elected. It could happen in New York after Bloomberg; it can happen anywhere.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dos and Don'ts of Naked Bike Rides

The thought of riding a bike buck naked does not appeal to everyone, yet the global popularity of naked bike rides continues to grow. Last weekend in Portland, OR, for example, three naked bike rides competed for attention as part of the annual Pedalpalooza bike extravaganza of events; in San Francisco, a naked ride drew 'droves' of undressed cyclists.

Whether you are cold, lukewarm, or hot with shame at the thought of cycling with a big bunch of similarly naked cyclists, we shouldn't forget why naked bike rides began. Cyclists and pedestrians are vulnerable road users, not more likely to be involved in a collision (vehicle on vehicle 'accidents' are more numerous) yet at risk for serious injury if hit by a vehicle. And if you are a proponent of low-CO2 living, cleaner air, or a car-light life, sooner or later you'll likely want to bike, and maybe, just maybe, you'll want to ride with a naked tribe to protest automobile hegemony. So here are some tips, courtesy of the non-profit organization Shift2Bikes, for how to be a naked cyclist.

Pump it up.

This is one ride during which you don't want to have a mechanical breakdown, so do a maintenance check, pump up your tires, check your brake pads and your brakes.

Get prepped.

Many going on naked bike rides get together pre-ride. Some people party, while others construct modesty fig leaves, put on body paint or costumes and other decorative items, or generally apply gentle peer pressure to encourage the more hesitant of the bunch.

Bare as you dare.

While there is that peer pressure on naked bike rides, the crowd is supportive of whatever level of nakedness you are comfortable with. Totally nudity is not required, and not necessary to enjoy these rides. P.S. It is not illegal to be naked in Portland or San Francisco, the two recent riding cities mentioned. Different rules apply in different U.S. states, however, and around the world. Generally naked bike riders are not harassed.

Smile and wave.

There can be creepy people taking pictures, there may be police, there might be slowdowns for rubber-neckers. Just smile and wave through it all, and have your clothes with you in case the ride ends not where it began. Ride safe, don't ride with open containers, and be courteous. Enjoy the tribe, and the feeling of freedom and safety in numbers.

P.S. Some places still can't enjoy naked bike rides - they have been banned in China after last year's attempt landed its organizer at a police station.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cycle Tracks "On the Right Track"

The Evolution of the Bike Lane
Cities in the U.S. are making significant investments in bicycling infrastructure. Two categories that have appeared just in the last decade, for example, are bicycle sharing and urban bike stations where cyclists can store bikes and get repairs. Bike lanes, or painted stripes marking bicycle travel space on roadways, have been around longer, but some of the new ones are much more sophisticated than what we had ten or twenty years ago.
In particular, one new generation of bike lanes is called “cycle tracks,” comprising bike lanes that are on the roadway but physically separated from motor vehicle traffic. They are immensely popular as a bike commuting route. Advanced cycle tracks even have their own traffic signals. The D.C.-based advocacy blog WashCycle says that cycle tracks “increase ridership by 18-20 percent compared to 5-7 percent for [conventional, non-separated] bike lanes.”