Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Blame The Cyclist?

There's a disturbing trend that goes on with regards to the way that car/cyclist accidents are reported. I don't know if this is a nationwide thing, but it's certainly par for the course in Columbus.

Here's a report on a cycling accident south of Columbus:

Wilmington Bicyclist struck, killed by Columbus woman

A Clinton County man died early yesterday after a Columbus woman struck his bicycle on the highway.

State troopers said Brian Newland, 36, of Sabina in southwestern Ohio, was riding a bicycle with no lights or reflectors about 6 a.m. along Rt. 72 near the northern tip of Highland County. Newland also wasn't wearing any reflective clothing, troopers said.

Amber Carpenter, 28, of Columbus, was driving south in a Pontiac Grand Am when she hit Newland's bike. He died at the scene.

No one from the state patrol's Wilmington post was available yesterday to say whether they knew why Newland was riding his bike on the road in the dark. The post also could not provide a more specific address for Carpenter.

Carpenter was not injured in the crash, which occurred about 50 miles southwest of Columbus.

Note that every attempt is made to put the blame on the cyclist. And yes, he should have been wearing reflective clothing and sporting some lights. No doubt about that. That's just common sense.

But there's no mention of how fast the driver was going, whether she was on a cell phone, etc. Obviously that can't be proven since there seem to have been no witnesses. But shouldn't a driver at night be driving slowly enough to be safe?

Again, we see the need for a motorist responsibility law: no driver should EVER be driving so fast that they can't be safe.

People, not speed.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Back in the Saddle

After the birth of our second child last month, my wife has been staying home with her and I've been DRIVING our son to day care. His day care center is in Dublin, up near my wife's office. So, as you've picked up from a couple of my "Prisoner of the Slave-Mobile" posts, I've been car bound. And it truly is a cage.

But no more! I rode my bike in today because my wife wanted to see how it was going to work bringing both kids into day care, and with my brother-in-law visiting after his tour in Iraq (welcome home, Andrew!) he was more than happy to support her while she tried to get this done. So I got to ride.

It was dark and rainy and is going to be all day, but I was happy as a clam in my rain cape as I made my way to the office.

My Cygolite Nite Rover headlight was the big surprise. I haven't had to use it in quite a while (and hadn't been keeping up with keeping it charged), but the charge in the battery was still good after probably three months of sitting dormant! More props to this item.

People, not speed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Rainy Riding from the SFBC

The good folks at the San Francisco Bike Coalition have a new video out (you may remember their training video for the police regarding bike matters) about riding in the rain and at night. Again, it's well done; plus it has "Riders on the Storm" by the Doors, one of my favorite songs, as the background music.


A note on the video:

While San Francisco requires a white front light and rear red reflector for riding at night, Columbus requires a front white light, a rear red light, AND a rear red reflector (keep in mind that most of your rear red lights will also function as reflectors).

People, not speed.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day: Air Pollution

A blog like this one is about the environment anyway, in its own way. By not driving and not using gasoline, cyclists don't put out any greenhouse gases or pollution. So instead of talking about cycling, per se, I'm going to talk about pollution. In particular, I'm going to talk about air pollution.

Cyclists have to put up with a lot of stuff on their rides each day. Traffic, poorly-kept roads and shoulders, people who think they belong on the sidewalk, cell-phone-using drivers who don't pay attention to the road, etc. But the part of the equation that isn't considered nearly enough is the effect of auto exhaust on the cyclists' health.

Here's an old article about air pollution as the cause of diminished lung capacity in children.

Here's one about air pollution as a major cause of lung cancer.

Here's one about the various pollutants that can be found in auto exhaust.

And here's one about diesel exhaust as linked to cancer, asthma, and other ailments.

It constantly amazes me that the auto industry is given free rein to pollute all over us, make our health deteriorate, and throw global warming-causing pollution into the air, yet no one seems willing to do anything about it. Oh, sure, they build hybrid cars and widen roads and the like to try to relieve it, but these steps don't work.

People simply drive hybrid cars more because they think they can, and the amount of matter poured into the air by these vehicles isn't lessened at all. And widening roads, far from supposely decreasing air pollution by decreasing the amount of time cars are on the road, actually encourages more cars to be on the road, making the problems worse (and not only for pollution: congestion becomes worse due to this failed solution).

The figure of 43,000 deaths per year on our road system is only for accidents. There's no count for the number of deaths due to extended exposure to this toxic mess we encounter each day. And it's getting worse all over the world.

Not every one "believes" in global warming. But the same tactics used to combat global warming (and I mean REALLY combat it, not just control its growth via things like carbon taxes and pollution credits trading) will help to clean up the air so that we can all breathe more freely and healthily. So it really doesn't matter if you're trying to fight global warming or not - you're still making the world a better place by getting out of your car, onto a bike, and pedaling instead of driving.

So get rid of your car. Get a good bike. Ride it. See how your life improves. And know that you're doing your part to improve life for everyone around you.
People, not speed.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I find it very frustrating...

I find it very frustrating to see other bicycles doing things that are dangerous.

At the corner of North Broadway and Calumet today in the rain, in the dark, I saw a cyclist who was wearing nothing but black and had no lights on his bike. I had to drive our car this morning since our baby was fussing and Jenn wanted me to take Duncan to day care. I was turning left, he was coming straight toward me and he is lucky I saw him.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Battery Free Reelight

One of the common headaches with bike lights is battery life. Some lights run off of AAs or whatever, but then you need to get new ones when they expire. Others are rechargeable, but you need to do the recharging, naturally. Imagine if there was a bike light that didn't require batteries!

There is! And it's not one of those hefty dynamo driven lights that make it harder to pedal (though ever-so-slightly), it's the Reelight. It uses a pair of magnets that are screwed onto the spokes of your bike to power the tiny dynamo within the light, therefore effortlessly providing power to the lights as you ride.

Pretty neat - and anything that makes safety on your bike easier is a good thing.

Edit: Fellow blogger and frequent commenter on this blog Fritz posted a review of the Reelight at Commute By Bike. Check it out!

People, not speed.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Getting Ready For Bad Weather: Your Clothes

Not that you'd notice it over the past week in Columbus, but Fall is here. And it looks like the coming week is going to be pretty indicative of what Fall is supposed to be. Well, maybe it'll be a tad warmer. But it signals the beginning of the cool-to-cold weather riding season.

And that means it's time to get your bike and your self ready for the snow, ice, etc. that winter will bring.

Last winter was my first winter of commuting by bike. I started commuting in mid-November and until recently (with my baby-induced bike fast) I hadn't been forced to change a thing. I experimented with a few different ways to keep myself warm and dry, and here's what I came up with. Keep in mind that Columbus gets very cold at times (well, not Alaska-cold, but a few below 0 Fahrenheit days) but doesn't get a lot of snow.

Before we start, though, keep in mind the following: though you're probably worried about being too cold during your ride, you're actually probably going to be too warm and sweaty during it after you get going. You should be a little bit chilly when you're first starting out on your ride. That's good, it means that once you get going and your body temperature heats up you'll be fine. Don't overdo it with the warm clothes or you could end up TOO warm, especially on a really long commute.

1. Head: get a balaclava of some kind. I have one from Pearl Izumi that works nicely.

The one thing I may add for the head this winter is a helmet cover. This isn't so much to keep my head dry, as that wasn't really ever an issue, but more to keep the freezing wind from going through my helmet and cooling it down a bit too much. On the really cold days, my head got pretty cold at times.

2. Hands: good gloves are key. I had a pair of Cannondale winter riding gloves that did pretty well throughout the winter, until it got SUPER cold out. Then I was probably flirting with frostbite, which is obviously bad.

So this winter I'm going to look for some good mittens. For those of you who don't do a lot of outdoor sports, mittens do a better job than gloves of keeping your hands warm because it allows the fingers to insulate and heat each other. With your fingers separated in gloves you don't get that benefit.

I'm thinking about something like these for the coming winter. They're commonly referred to as "Lobster Claw" mittens, as they are sort of a combination of gloves and mittens. Two fingers go into each section of the mitten (and one for the thumb) so you get the warming benefit of mittens and the dexterity of gloves.

Another option for people in REALLY cold climates is the use of Pogies. Pogies are basically cycling mittens that attach right to your handlebars and they are super warm. My only question with them is how easy or hard they'd be to attach/remove - as I wouldn't necessarily want to keep them on my bike when I'm not with it.

Hence my intention of using mittens instead.

3. Feet: Hiking Boots. I don't use clipless pedals so I was able to use nice thick wool socks and a pair of hiking boots.

4. Legs: I experimented more with my legs than anything else last winter. Sometimes I just wore my khakis (and during the winter I usually wear L.L. Bean flannel-lined khakis to work anyway) with rain pants over them, and sometimes I used a pair of Cannondale winter bike tights. Wearing the khakis and rain pants was nice, as I wasn't exactly working up too much of a sweat on my short commute and didn't have to worry about soaking my pants on the way to work. I'll probably do that again this year, but perhaps with a different pair of pants. On the really cold days, I wore silk long underwear bottoms with it all.

I am looking, however, at a new pair of rain/wind pants as the old cheapo Columbia rain suit is dying a slow and hideous death. Icebike.com suggests these pants and I'm going to try them out this year: Foxwear Rain Pants.

5. Torso: I found that just wearing my work shirt (either a polo shirt and undershirt or sweater and undershirt, usually) and a fleece pullover under a rain coat did just fine. The rain coat acted as a nice windbreaker and the fleece kept me warm. If I wore a sweater, the fleece generally stayed in my backpack, just in case I needed more layers. On really cold days, I wore a silk long underwear shirt underneath it all. I never had a problem with my torso being cold.

This year, I'm looking at one of those lime-green rain jackets that Pearl Izumi puts out for my top layer, for visibility's sake.

6. Eyes: Make sure you get some glasses of some kind. I have a pair that I wear year-round. They're Tifosi Slip T-V130 glasses, which I'm not sure they make any more but you can find some that are similar. Mine are polarized lenses - allowing for the best visibility and light-sensitive shading possible. They were a bit expensive but I found that, especially during the winter, my eyes tended to tear up when riding a LOT. The glasses cut that down to nearly nothing.

I've also heard of people who wear ski goggles to ride. That would certainly work, and actually might even keep your face warmer, too. Hmmm... I have ski goggles...

So, does anyone else have anything they can't live without for winter riding? I'd love to hear it! Please comment if you do.

People, not speed.

Monday, October 8, 2007

My Letter to the Dispatch

I wrote a letter to the Columbus Dispatch to respond to their article about linking the local bike trails together. Of course, I got paired with two other letters that were anti-bike, as is the Dispatch's way. But here's my letter. The Dispatch gave it the headline it did... but it's not bad.
Bicycles don't receive enough support here
Sunday, October 7, 2007 3:54 AM
I respond to the Sept. 26 Dispatch article, regarding central Ohio cities' attempts and wishes to link the various bicycle path networks. The first paragraph implied that bicycle paths are for recreation, and this isn't the whole story.

Bicycles are, first and foremost, for transportation. Bicycle use is one major answer to the congestion problems that Columbus is increasingly experiencing. They are the most efficient form of transportation known to man. They use less energy to build than cars; they don't support a traffic system that results in more than 40,000 deaths per year; they promote exercise; they emit no pollution; and they don't require oil, ethanol or any other fuel once they've been built.

But our city is poorly set up to encourage their use: Our bicycle path system is set up strictly for recreation, and the bike lanes are not in places that actually allow for proper bicycle transit. And our legal system coddles dangerous drivers whose actions and distractions make the streets unsafe for cycling.

City traffic code rightly requires that bicycles operate in the street, yet our police don't enforce traffic codes that would ensure safe streets for all users, not only cyclists. The article was factually correct but failed on the very reason that these changes are needed.

JAMIE FELLRATH

Columbus

People, not speed.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Trick Your Bike With the Down Low Glow

Normally, I'm against putting flashy stuff onto your bike, car, etc. in an attempt to grab attention. But this little item is not only flashy, it'll increase your safety on the bike:

Check out the Down Low Glow! It uses a rechargeable battery, throws a halo of light around your bike for 10 feet, and comes in six colors!

I don't think it'd be possible to miss someone with this on their bike at night! So much for the "I just didn't see him" excuse from motorists!

I'm currently checking with the Columbus Police to see if there are any sorts of restrictions on such lights (colors, etc.).

People, not speed.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Separated Bike Lanes On New York Streets!

New York City gets it!



People, not speed.

Clif Bar 2 Mile Challenge!

The good folks at Clif Bar just got gooder, and my 10th grade English teacher is spit-taking at her copy of MacBeth.

The Clif Bar 2 Mile Challenge is a challenge for you, the dear reader, to use your bike for any and all trips of 2 miles or less. Based on the fact that 40% of U.S. urban travel is for distances of two miles or less, they say "BIKE IT!" And of course, I agree.

And while you're at it, try out one of their peanut butter pretzel Mojo bars. I'd not seen this flavor before, but dang, is it good. :)

People, not speed.

Rear Vision Activity Mirror

On a less contentious note (maybe my lack of riding the past couple weeks has my Irish up, who knows), Bike Commuters.com is reporting on a neat new cyclist rear view mirror that doesn't attach your glasses, helmet, or handlebars. The Rear Vision Activity Mirror attaches to your arm, hand, or wrist! It's an interesting idea that's worth a shot! I wonder if there's a way to get one for folks who weren't at Interbike...

People, not speed.

New Vehicular Homicide Law in Oregon Needs Nationwide Adoption

In listening to the KBOO Bike Show podcast today, Portland, Oregon-area bike lawyer Ray Thomas was a guest and spoke about the new Oregon "Vulnerable Roadway Users" protection law.

Based on European safety concepts (I assume that they're referring to the 5th Motorist Directive from the EU), the law states (and I quote from Mr. Thomas on the show)
"if you hurt or kill a vulnerable user, and are guilty of careless driving, there's an enhanced penalty that (and it's more than punishment) that allows you to to have a reconciliation and atonement by going through a community service program, by going through a driver improvement program, so that you're less likely to be a hazard out there. And if you decide that you don't want to participate in this sort of alternative sentence, you get hit with a mandatory one-year license suspension, and a fine."
I like the sound of this law, obviously, but I can see one major problem with it: proving that the driver is guilty of careless driving. We've all heard stories of cyclists or pedestrians being hit, and the driver gets away with it because "I just didn't see them."

It'd take some education of the police force, that's for sure.

Thomas also brought up a point that I found very poignant in the discussion of cyclists who don't obey traffic codes:
"For those of us who are bicyclists, I'll tell you: you can do something that I do. And that is every time I'm tempted to run a stop sign or go through a red light, I think about what is going to go through the mind of all of those motorists who are watching me. And what do they think about me as a bicyclist? And then what happens if one of my friends or clients is in a court of law in front of a jury comprised of folks who have watched us do that? What do those people think about bicyclists and are they going to be able to be fair to us? Because when I talk to people on juries, what they tell me is 'You know, I think the bicyclists are fine, and they're nice, and everything, but why don't they follow the same laws as the rest of us?'"
People, not speed.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Dispatch Reports on Bicycling Danger Zones on City Streets

The Dispatch is reporting on the most dangerous portions of our city's streets for bike/car accidents today, and it's probably no surprise that the most dangerous street is High Street.
Car-bike crash study
Danger zones lurk for cyclists
Wednesday, October 3, 2007 3:48 AM
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Annie Hollis says she feels safe as she makes the daily trek down N. High Street from her home in the University District to her job Downtown, even though the route is part of a stretch with the highest number of bicycle-vehicle crashes in the city.

But Hollis, a 21-year-old Ohio State University student who works at the domestic-violence shelter CHOICES, says bicyclists need to be alert.

She is familiar with some of the trouble spots on the route, identified in a recent study by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

Recently, a car ran a red light and almost struck Hollis as she turned from Lane Avenue onto High Street.

High Street near the South Campus Gateway, which has several restaurants, an ice cream shop and a movie theater, is another area where you need to be mindful.

"I see people on bikes with iPod headphones on," Hollis said, shaking her head.

"I would never do that because you really have to pay attention."

The roughly 7-mile stretch of High Street from Downtown to Morse Road had the most bicycle-vehicle crashes, 105, in central Ohio over a five-year period beginning in 2000, according to the MORPC report.

The agency's 2006 Regional Bicycle Transportation Facilities Plan identifies 10 areas with the most crashes and crashes per mile. Between 2000 and 2004, there were more than 1,500 bike-vehicle crashes in Franklin and Delaware counties.

The remaining nine streets and the number of crashes included stretches of: Cleveland (39), Sullivant (35), Livingston (30), Parsons (29), Champion (15), and 5th (14) avenues, along with W. Broad (67), E. Main (49) and W. Mound (12) streets. The worst spots were intersections near destinations such as schools, parks, restaurants, shopping and libraries.

According to the state Department of Public Safety, bicycle crashes have fluctuated between 270 and about 300 each year from 2002 to 2006. Four bicyclists have been killed during that period; a fifth, Michael T. Sonney, was killed in July as he commuted home from work on his new bicycle.

A national firm is developing a bikeways plan -- a draft is expected next month and the final plan next year -- for the city of Columbus that will include recommendations on making the area more bike-friendly.

"We are not even there yet," said Steve Tweed, a transportation planner for the city, when asked about possible solutions to some of the high-crash streets.

"That is one of the things that is going to go into the formulation of this master plan for the city of Columbus. What comes about and what to do about it. We are still waiting for recommendations coming from the draft plan."

A combination of wider streets or bike lanes could go a long way to helping bicyclists and motorists coexist.

"It all boils down to room," said Bernice Cage, MORPC transportation planner.

"You talk to any cyclist who rides on the streets and they say 'We just need enough room.' "

Another thing that is needed is education, and not only for drivers.

The data show a leading contributor to bike-vehicle crashes was bicyclists who improperly crossed a street or failed to yield to a car. That occurred in 29 percent of the crashes.

Motorists failing to yield to bikes contributed to 14 percent of the crashes.

"We need cyclists, especially young ones, to be taught how to ride properly in traffic," Cage said. "Instead of weaving all over the road, there is a certain way we ride in traffic that makes it safe."

Rachael Jones, the mother of two teens and an 8-year-old, until recently lived on the South Side, not far from Parsons Avenue, a street that made the Top 10 list.

She sees bicyclists and motorists who often are distracted.

"A lot of kids on bikes in this area have their iPods, MP3 players and headphones on," she said. "And you have drivers on their cell phones not paying attention."

Jones moved to the West Side about three weeks ago. But when she lived on Cline Street, just a few blocks from Parsons, she allowed her children to ride their bikes in the street only in front of her house or around the block.

"I don't let them ride through the busy intersection," she said pointing to Parsons and Whittier Street. "It is too much traffic and too many things can happen. A motorist not paying attention or the kids get distracted."

I personally question the statistics of who is at risk here. Our police have been shown in the past not to know the city traffic code as it pertains to bicycle use so I'm personally disinclined to trust the statistic that places cyclists at fault. At the same time, though, there are plenty of people who have simply no clue how to ride in traffic.

But the point is true that education is needed for both sides. Every time I hear a driver yell "get on the sidewalk" that point is driven home (no pun intended).

I will continue to say, though, that if the police would simply ticket people for disobeying the traffic code on ALL counts we'd see much less of this. And I mean this for both cyclists and motorists.

People, not speed.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Two Dispatch Articles Worth Noting Today

The Dispatch has had two articles recently that were anti-car without being particularly overt about it.

First, Sunday we saw a discussion of the inability of judges in Ohio to sentence speeders who exceed 100 mph to jail time.

Then, today we got to read about the high number of smog alert days in Central Ohio - 18, up from 6 last year and the most since 2002.

Both these articles bring up great points in the fight against the autocracy:

First, any changes or additions to the Columbus transportation infrastructure to accommodate bikes are going to be a bit useless without serious changes to the state traffic code. If a person can't be sent to jail for reckless endangerment in a vehicle, then the problem of drivers getting away with hitting cyclists or pedestrians isn't going to get any better either.

Until we can adopt a Drivers' Responsibility law in Ohio we're going to keep having the same problems.

Second, over 40,000 deaths were recorded in America last year from traffic accidents alone... but this doesn't take into account the sickness and death that smog from vehicles caused. I continue to be amazed that vehicles that take away people's right to live healthily are allowed on the roads... it's truly one of the great mysteries of our legal system for me.

People, not speed.

Prisoner of the Slave-Mobile, Day Two

Okay, it's not actually Day Two... more like Day Four. But I didn't come up with anything new that sucked about driving (notice I didn't say "anything at all") so I waited till today to point out the new stuff.

I got in a couple of rides over the weekend so I haven't been off the bike totally, which is good. And next week I get to get back on it for most of the time. So that will be very nice. Still, I was tired after the ride on Saturday, which was the long ride. We took the Olentangy Trail from Clintonville up to Antrim Park, where Duncan and I parked and ran around the Antrim Lake Trail for a while.

Today, though, we were back in the car. And I actually got to witness the aftermath of what may have been a bike/car accident. At the corner of Godown and Bethel, I saw some EMTs pushing a wrapped up victim on a backboard into the ambulance, and there was also a bike lying on the curb there. I don't know for sure if it was a cyclist accident but it got me upset. (See the previous post for the reason, as if you need to know why).

I am constantly amazed at how little regard drivers have for other people, to the point of being unsafe. I watched a car with no turn-signal on sit and wait for me to drive straight at a light after it turned green, then turn left right behind me. No use of signal at all.

I watched a car waiting to pull out of Dale Drive in Dublin onto Dublin-Granville Road, not even coming close to stopping behind the stop line. No, this monkey was pulled almost past the crosswalk in the left turn lane, forcing traffic turning left onto Dale to swerve around him. No idea of backing up to stay in the lane.

But my consternation this morning wasn't only for the drivers. No, I saw lots of cyclists today. That in itself was heartening, but most of them were doing it really dangerously. A couple of them were riding on the left side, many more on the sidewalk, and way too many doing the sidewalk/road hybrid.

It's frustrating as hell to advocate for safe cycling everywhere in town and then see so many people not following the rules of the road. This does two things for cycling in Columbus:

1. It perpetuates the myth that "those damn cyclists just do what they want anyway, so why improve things for them?"

2. It removes cyclists as a group of regular traffic-users. The feeling of safety in numbers that could go along with such riding and the benefits of groups of cyclists riding legally is completely lost.

These people who can't be bothered to follow the rules of the road and the guidelines of safe cycling are basically ruining our future for us before it's begun.

People, not speed.