Friday, June 29, 2007

Taking It Into Their Own Hands

Toronto, Canada, is a city that has apparently been promising bike lanes but not delivering. So a few industrious sorts have taken on the mission of providing bike lanes to the cyclists of TO on their own - and covertly.

Apparently, this group - the "Official Urban Repair Squad" is painting their own bike lanes on the streets that need it in Canada's largest city and doing it under cover. Martino, of the Bike Lane Diary blog, has been covering this admirably.

I'm for and against this tactic. I love the idea of picking up where the city has already promised bike lanes and putting them in because the city won't live up to their promises. And I'm just irreverent enough to love the civil disobedience bit of this (I'm also for putting up stop signs of our own in my neighborhood at the corner I referred to in my previous blog entry).

On the other hand, it's easy for things like this to get out of control, and the idea of doing this is only going to make the city its motorists more upset. And as BikeBoy said yesterday in his blog, "wish everybody who straddled a bike and rode in public would realize that, like it or not, he (or she) is an "ambassador" for cyclists. Other roadway users will observe his behavior and form stereotypes, either positive or negative. His behavior might result in other cyclists getting cooperation from motorists, or it might create resentment and hostility." I think a situation like this is only going to create hostility.

But I can't deny that I admire the chutzpah and irreverence of the OURS.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Traffic Philosophy

Note: I actually started this post back in late April but saved it since I was still organizing my thoughts about it. I give it to you now as some food for thought.

A month or so ago, there was a car accident at the busy corner near my house. A drunk driver was turning right and pulled out too far, into the far lane, and hit a car that was traveling the opposite way. The lady in the car that was hit left on a backboard in an ambulance, and the drunk driver was unharmed. This intersection is near the Clintonville Community Market, which is a very busy area with lots of pedestrian traffic. There are also a lot of very young children living in the area. Yet for whatever reason, there is no stop sign for vehicles traveling down Calumet at this corner - and cars tend to fly down Calumet.

After the accident was picked up, I was chatting with my neighbor, who is pretty active in our neighborhood association.

He was saying that there was a petition at one point to get a stop sign put in at that corner, making it a four-way stop, but that the city refused to do it because of some sort of automobile-centric traffic plan that the city engineers insisted upon.

And that leads me to this point: what is more important, traffic or people's safety? There are over 40,000 automobile-related deaths each year, a figure that continues to climb as cars get more and more prevalent. Yet we keep being told that more roads are the way to fix this problem - to reduce the congestion and speed people on their way.

Paul Dorn of The Bike Commute Tips Blog once posted that he thought (and I paraphrase) building more roads to control traffic is akin to building more cemeteries to control the plague. I agree with this remark. It always seems that traffic planners' only suggestion is to create more roads for cars, thinking that this won't lead to more cars being on the road.

I tend to think differently: if we want to control congestion in our cities, then the thing to do is to make driving LESS attractive as an option for transportation. Traffic planning should be considered with the following hierarchy:
  1. Pedestrians - those with no vehicle.
  2. Cyclists - those with non-powered vehicles.
  3. Mass transit - those powered vehicles that transport many people.
  4. Motorcycles and scooters - small powered vehicles.
  5. Automobiles - large powered vehicles.
Now keep in mind that I realize this hierarchy isn't perfect - some categorization for things like e-bikes and carpool motorists would need to be done. But the point is to encourage people NOT to drive cars.

This accomplishes many things (some of which the Bike Nazi addressed in his top ten reasons to commute by bike), including:
  1. Traffic congestion is reduced.
  2. Less pollution is pumped into the air.
  3. Less oil is used for transportation.
  4. Frustration and bad feeling on the road is decreased... thus leading to -
  5. Fewer accidents.
  6. Less city resources dedicated to roads and traffic, and therefore better used for things like schools, public works, etc.
The list can go on and on. It's really a no-brainer... but no politician is going to touch this sort of thought in the Midwest unless he's on the way out of office and has nothing to lose in his political life.

So.... thoughts?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Biking in Tampa

I spent the last week in the Tampa Bay area of Florida on vacation. Tampa is quite the opposite of Seattle, the last major city I visited. I literally saw no bike commuters like I saw in Seattle and Bainbridge Island, where the ferries dropped cyclists off to pick up their bikes at a bike lock-up for a commute home, or anything like that.

The only bike commuters I saw in Tampa were obviously folks who couldn't afford a car, and the bikes they rode were generally dirt bikes of some kind - the kind we'd probably have called "BMX bikes" back when that craze was flying around. I even saw some of the old banana-seaters. And the entire concept of working with traffic was lost - most of them were glorified pedestrians. I never saw anyone on the street unless they were crossing it - and then they were usually jaywalking.

It was a bit depressing, obviously. As far as cities like Seattle (and hell, even Columbus) have come, there is much further to go in cities like Tampa.

A bright spot was Clearwater, where my family and I spent three days. Clearwater was a car haven, but it also had bike taxis, cyclists commuting out to the beach from Tampa (though on the sidewalk, which actually looked a bit like a multi-use path, and I'm not sure what the status of that path was, but I'm going to call it a sidewalk), and a few people cycling around just for fun.

And though we weren't there during a particularly busy time, there were also bike taxis in Ybor City, a part of Tampa Bay with a lot of Latino history and lots to see. We saw the taxis locked up in a parking garage, obviously waiting to look for business during cooler hours of the day.

I think the heat down there probably discourages a lot of folks. It was Africa-hot down there. But at the same time, I think that many folks would feel better IF they biked more often - I find that my tolerance for weather has increased since I started biking for transportation, and though Tampa would have been an extreme example of this, it still might help.

Vatican Offers Ten Commandments for Motorists

I'm normally not a big fan of the Vatican, despite (or perhaps due to) being raised a Roman Catholic. I think the Church tends to stick its nose in places it doesn't belong, like politics and the like. But here's a something that the Church did right: the Motorists Ten Commandments.
1. You shall not kill.

2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.

3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.

4. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.

5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.

6. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.

7. Support the families of accident victims.

8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.

9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.

10. Feel responsible toward others.
I don't have much hope that this is going to be observed by anyone, but at least they're trying something.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

How To Educate?

A lot of cyclists' blogs I've read talk about how the real key to gaining the acceptance of bicyclists into mainstream traffic and the planning which it requires is education.

I see education as affecting and being needed by two sets of people: general cyclists and non-cyclists.

First, why cyclists need education. How many times have you been riding along, following the rules of the road and doing things as a commuting cyclist should: staying visible, taking the lane when necessary, etc., when you see some one on a bike whose actions make you cringe. They're riding on the sidewalk. They're riding the wrong way. They're weaving in and out of parked cars on the side of the road. They're blowing through red lights and stopsigns without even looking. Or they're dressed totally in black and it's dark out anyway.

How do we reach these types of cyclists? They may not be regular commuters, and they may not even consider themselves part of the "cycling community." They're just taking a bike ride or using their bike to get to class, or whatever. They don't have any clue about things like the League of American Bicyclists, they've never considered taking a bike safety class, and they probably don't even know that such things exist. They're just folks who decide to grab their bike one day and go out.

They're not going to read a bicycling blog or forum. That's not their interest. But they are lumped into this amorphous group of "cyclists" who are seen by motorists as one homogeneous group. Many of us work very hard to make things better for cyclists but also realize that cyclists need to do their part. How do we, as the conscientious cyclists, reach people like this?

Second, the motorists. Even less than the cyclists who don't view themselves as such, they're NOT going to pay any attention to blogs, advocacy groups, forums, etc. They have no vested interest in promoting cycling. They don't know that bicycles have the same rights to the road that they do and harass us to "get on the sidewalk." How do we reach these people with educational efforts?

I'd love to open this to some discussion: How have you done this successfully in your communities?

Update: I accidentally rejected a couple of comments... if you commented on this and you don't see your comment here, please resubmit it! I apologize for having fast fingers yesterday. I found my email notifications of your comments and posted them below...

Mike: Maybe people should have to have a cycling license?

Maybe the laws should be enforced for cyclists... running red lights, wrong side of the street, on the sidewalk.

Maybe that's a solution. Thoughts?