Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Transportation, Recreation, and Cash

There's a lot going on in the transportation scene in Georgia. Whether it's positive for state residents remains to be seen. The state legislature has passed a bill that permits multiple counties to vote on a regional transportation tax. You sort of have to wonder why this would have been prohibited to begin with...but Georgia is very anti-tax. The bill still has disadvantages. It stipulates a 10-year sunset, which makes it much harder to use for transit projects due to federal requirements. But at least transit is an allowable use! Unlike the gas tax. Also, the state DOT has much more control over the regional project list than seems reasonable.

How might this affect cycling? It could be bad if a lot of the funding goes to new bicycle-unfriendly highways or highway conversions. Or, it could be good if it pays for lots of new bicycle (and pedestrian) facilities, or the redesign of dangerous roads.

So what are the odds? So far, the DOT has argued that bicycle facilities were not eligible for gas tax funding, which was limited to "roads and bridges". However, roads are legally defined as any transportation facility and it doesn't actually limit funding to roads that service cars (not that this little detail has led to any extra funding for bicycle stuff). It does include bicycle lanes or sidewalks that are part of a larger "road or bridge" project. Will this attitude be extended to the new funding?

One of the main arguments for treating bicycle-only facilities differently is that it is not "real" transportation. Obviously, this is ridiculous. I've bicycled to work the majority of the time for about the past five years. And to the store, restaurant, friends houses, and everywhere else, and so have many other folks. I do most of this on city streets, not on bicycle paths. But there are plenty of people who do use paths for their commute or other travels, if it happens to be on their way.

There is also an awful lot of recreational travel, by every different mode, and that isn't a bad thing. Some people go out for a sunday drive, take a stroll, go sightseeing, or take a scenic route on their bicycle. Pretty soon, they get hungry, they stop at a restaurant, pop into a store, and boost the economy. It's an important part of life and use of our transportation infrastructure.

Then there is tons of travel that doesn't fall neatly into either category. If you stop to eat during your sunday drive, does it suddenly become a transportation trip to a restaurant? If you stop to enjoy the sunset during your bicycle trip home from work, or pedal a little harder to get some exercise, does it become recreational?

Cyclists and pedestrians want convenient access to stores and services

And finally, the big question: if a transportation facility is carrying an unusually large proportion of one type of trip or the other, why? And should we care? If most of the trips taken on the Silver Comet Trail are recreational, does it simply mean that it doesn't provide access to common destinations? Does it fail to connect to nearby stores and town centers? That would be like building a big highway with exits that lead to bumpy dirt roads. It discourages transportation. On the other hand, if we build highways that are stressful and ugly and only used out of necessity, those facilities may discourage recreational travel, and thus depress economic activity.
A couple rides along a four lane road, not the adjacent multi-use path with poor access & design

Ultimately, it is due time to support all types of travel for all reasons. The feds may have finally learned this. Has Georgia?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Visibility: Unlimited

I'm not a fan of special 'cycling' gear. I feel that motorists give me more awareness and respect when I'm dressed just like I would if I were walking or driving. None the less, I do want to be conspicuous on the roads. Sitting mostly upright on my bicycle seems to help a little - it gives me the silhouette of a person rather than a weird hunched-over back thing. But I've also gradually shifted my wardrobe of gray, black, and a few jewel tones into a wardrobe with lots of red, white, turquoise, royal blue, and even some pink and orange. This way, I can wear bright colors that are still appropriate for work and generally fashionable.

Here's an eyecatching spring outfit of red and white.

My orange cashmere sweater from Antropologie (via a yard sale) will stand out!

Finally, my hot pink corduroy blazer. It hasn't quite gone out of style in the five years I've had it. OK, maybe it has, but if so, I haven't noticed. I feel like I really stand out in it.
Perhaps it makes me a little too confident, because on the way back from a meeting at Emory University, I decided to take Ponce de Leon Avenue back to midtown. Ponce - four narrow, winding lanes of high speed traffic, widening to six or seven lanes as you get closer to to the city center. It's not a very friendly street, but so tempting... This is one of the old roads that was here from the founding of Atlanta. It follows a ridgeline the whole way (except where it dips down to the former streambed of the Fountain of Youth, which is now under City Hall East, and no, I am not making this up). It is also really direct.

As luck would have it, I got on Ponce right behind a city bus, Route 2. This route stops frequently so I stayed right behind it the entire way, finally passing it in the last few blocks. Yes, I can beat the bus! But this turned out to be a good strategy for my comfort, because motorists had to pass the bus. As long as I was fairly close behind it, it felt like a little protective bubble of passing zone. The only drawback was that I tried to ride kind of fast, to keep up with traffic, and wound up a little sweaty. A fun challenge!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Good Ideas

There are a number of recent bicycling posts/news that I found interesting. But not just interesting in passing - this is a snapshot of the state of cycling in the US (and the world). For most of us, the bicycle is in transition - part transportation, part hobby, part trend, part sustainability strategy - and all riddle. So many questions to be solved! How do you integrate it into the existing transportation system? How do you help new bicyclists ride comfortably and safely? How do you talk to critics? What are the children going to think? What are the implications for society or the environment? Can bicycles become part of everyday life for the average American? Is cycling practical, cool, or both?

In Savannah, GA, bloggers wonder why officials don't take responsible motoring as seriously as responsible cycling. A new bicycle facility is tagged as an occasion to warn riders to obey traffic laws and practice safety tips. But the recent opening of a new "parkway" (actually the conversion of a street into a pseudo-freeway and making bicycle travel much more dangerous in the area) did not elicit the same discussion about unsafe driving practices.

Meanwhile, Streetsblog highlighted some of the debate over bicyclist behavior, particularly people who ride the wrong way in a bicycle lane or general purpose lane. While the dangers are well documented, the fact is that many people don't know the traffic laws for cycling and have misperceptions about safe and unsafe behavior. Is it time to develop universal cyclist education?

From Let's Go Ride a Bike (Chicago and Nashville), we got basic tips for riding to work in a suit. The post is notable not only for the good advice, but also for the amount of attention and range of questions it attracted from potential or new bicycle commuters.

Finally, from the global perspective, there was an article on the fixie movement in China. In this country where Dutch-style bicycles are a utilitarian but unglamorous form of transport, and thousands of new cars are added to the road each day, can bicycle culture ever take off?

And finally, in Atlanta, a promising sign...carrying your pizza home by bicycle! A lovely Bianchi, by the way.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Final Philadelphia Edition: Bicycle Culture

How to know if you are visiting a city with real bicycle culture:
1. The majority of cyclists are wearing normal clothes
2. You see people cycling together
3. You see people cycling with children
4. People can multi-task while riding a bicycle. Like eating, or texting on their cell phone like this guy.

5. Motorists share the road
6. People really know how to lock up. This sturdy chain was waiting for its owner to come home and park.

7. You can't take a picture without a bicycle in it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Women for Cycling

A few of Atlanta's female cyclists and transportation leaders met on Sunday to talk about cycling promotion. Well, when I say transportation 'leaders', I mean the director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, the regional bicycle planner, and me. Women hold a number of other influential transportation positions in the Atlanta region (from the director of MARTA to the city transportation planner), so we hope to hold future meetings with a larger group. Brunch was followed by a short field trip to see a new "art" bicycle rack.
Rebecca and Lyuba discuss a new bicycle rack installation at Georgia State University
While eyecatching, the rack had very few places to securely support and lock a bicycle, especially with racks or fenders mounted.
Why women? The question I often get is, why should we worry about this? There are so few cyclists in Atlanta, compared to other places, shouldn't we worry about total numbers rather than these little details? But that's the point. If women rode bicycles at the same rates as men, total ridership numbers would nearly double. Well, in most cities. Actually, Atlanta looks pretty good in this respect. Measured ridership in 2008 was about half a percent for both men and women (figures from the 2008 American Community Survey -see link for more info).

Other reasons include equity and social justice, the potential influence over kids (the next generation of bicycle riders), and the idea that true bicycle culture can't evolve unless everyone can do it. If women don't feel comfortable riding under current conditions, what about children and the elderly? Ironically, TV and print ads that show bicycles tend to show female riders. This seems to signal a safe and pleasant community.

Expanded ridership also brings cycling into a social realm. Can you ride with your friends, family, or colleagues? If three people want to go out to dinner by bicycle and the fourth person objects, the whole group may default back to driving. Also, many women approach me with questions about clothing, children, and personal safety. I'm always happy to share my opinions, but we also need a more permanent resource.

However, the simple desire for safe, equitable, and efficient multimodal transportation is still seriously misunderstood. A little controversy erupted recently over national transportation commissioner LaHood's recent suggestion that USDOT stop marginalizing pedestrian and bicycle travel. The arguments bordered on silly - are we going to start shipping freight by interstate backpack? They were also clearly misinformed. For one thing, a significant amount of freight transport does occur by 'alternative' modes - think of freight rail, postal routes on foot, bicycle couriers, or the light vehicles (from ATVs to golf carts) used on farms and campuses.

More seriously, these arguments fail to acknowledge serious problems in the current transport system that do affect efficiency, economic stability, and even the trucking industry. Freight trucks all over the country contend with traffic every day. Sometimes they get stuck in hours of rush hour traffic, surrounded by motorists who might prefer to be on a commuter train or a cycle track - but there isn't one. Other trucks get stuck in line with hundreds of cars waiting to drop off or pick up children from school, that happens to be along the route to a distribution center or factory. Many of those children may live within a few miles of the school, easy cycling distance even for a child. But their subdivision and their school probably don't connect. If they're like most developments, they can only be accessed from the local major road or highway, and that road probably doesn't have a sidewalk or bicycle facilities. So even though it is in cycling distance, they would have to go out and ride their bike on a busy highway with trucks and high-speed traffic. 

So no, equalizing bicycle traffic does not mean eliminating motor vehicle facilities. Actually, it means enabling trips to be made by the most efficient mode possible. For many short personal trips, that may be cycling, walking, or heading over (by whatever mode) to the transit station. And many freight trips can continue to be made by foot, bike, or train as well. Maybe some urban deliveries will be taken up by light vehicle - which is okay...who wants to navigate a semi truck downtown anyway? And all those freight trips that are an appropriate distance and location for trucking can be made more safely and efficiently, drivers' time on the road can be more predictable and less frustrating. Crazy, huh?

So, we'll keep meeting, keep explaining, and keep pedaling until our trips are taken as seriously as any other.
Posing with Rebecca and Everett (in the trailer)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Schwinn in the House

The other day I mentioned that I had bought a new bicycle. Well, scratch that one. Just a few days later the Beau came across a lovely Schwinn "mountain bike" from the mid to late 1980s. This was back when Schwinn really was a good American brand, either making their own frames and components or getting high-quality ones from Japan. And back then, a mountain bike was not much different from road and touring bicycles, maybe with slightly stockier forks and slightly more aggressive riding position. Perhaps a few extra gears and flatter handlebars. They didn't look anything like today's "mountain bike" with shocks and springs and lots of zig-zagging aluminum framing. Here's my Schwinn:

The frame is kind of pretty, once we removed the fluorescent pink (!) decals. It is chromed with bright aquamarine paint over the top, but letting the chrome show in sections. I kind of like the fat tires it came with, although they are a tad dry-rotted and not long for this world! It also needs a new saddle, fenders, and rack. But the hardest part will be the handlebars. I need - okay, maybe just want - an upright riding position for around town. But I also want a more forward position for long climbs or a change of hand position on longer trips. I looked at a lot of options. My first thought was scorcher bars, like this gorgeous ANT bike. In fact, I like almost everything about this bicycle.
Credit ANT Bikes
But after trying out a pair of butterfly bars (also known as Euro touring/trekking bars), I realized I needed more rise to them. I will probably wind up with a pair of North Road bars with cork tape covering the entire bar, so I can grip them anywhere on the bar...we'll see.

I took the Schwinn for a test ride over to the Sweetwater Brewing Company 420 Festival in Candler Park. Part of the reason for going was to check out the bike valet section organized by the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.

Traffic was crazy, and the bicycles and pedestrians were about the only thing moving. We fell in behind an older couple on a pair of Schwinns themselves.
When we arrived at the festival entrance, the bike valet was going like gangbusters. As fast as they could check bikes in, new riders were arriving. Everyone got a little claim check (one part to the rider and the big part attached to their frame), and the bicycles were stashed in a big corral according to some tracking system. Very handy - I wish they had these everywhere! We only stayed for a few minutes, because the event was wayyyy too crowded, but made sure to tip the nice valet volunteers. A ton of people had cycled addition to the valet section, there were probably hundreds of bicycles locked up nearby.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Women of Philadelphia

One of the most heartening aspects of my trip to Philly was the ladies. I was so happy to see an established culture of cycling women, wearing everyday fashion. Philadelphia sets the fashion bar pretty high anyway, so the ridership was a real example of 'cycle chic'. Cycling has become an everyday part of life in a city that already embraces public life, sociability, and unique local culture.

But again, no one seems to know about it. It didn't make Copenhagen Cycle Chic's list of cycle chic cities from around the world. Not even runner-up. All the comments on here, and all the comments I've heard from my friends, have been total surprise. No one has heard anything about bicycling in Philly, or about culture and fashion and streetlife in general. I did an internet search before going there, and pretty much came up with a blank. There was a little something about making bike lanes on Pine Street permanent. Not much else.

I also have a vague recollection about Philadelphia being used as an example of unequal male-female cycling ratios, based on data from last year. I tried to look this info up for this post but couldn't find it. There were more men than women, but the share was much closer than Atlanta. Of course, in Atlanta, it would be hard to measure the ratio at all, due to the small sample size...

Well, cycle chic is alive and well there. And while this is not a cycle chic website per se, I do like to see ordinary women riding in ordinary fashionable clothes, the way I do. So here are a few of the coolest women I saw, including the businesswoman from earlier in the week. This first photo is at Pine Street and 23rd.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My Hero

I'd like to take a short break from the Philadelphia story to point out this awesome Atlanta gal. What my hasty snapshot doesn't show is her cute bicycle, smashing stiletto heels, and ability to work a button down shirt without bunching - something I haven't gotten the hang of. She was leaving a downtown office building at rush hour. Totally made my day!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Philadelphia, the city of bicycle love

Philly sure does love the vintage bicycles. This only goes to prove my theory that the U.S. is suffering from a severe shortage of quality, affordable, versatile city bikes. On the other hand, it makes a rapturous experience for the vintage bicycle fan. Here are just a few of my sightings.

This guy caught me taking a picture of him and his bicycle, so I said hi and complemented him on it. He said it was from the early 60s. He told me the maker, but I've totally forgotten.
I also spotted this attractive Raleigh - the twin of my own.
Trophy Bikes - which I had been told to check out - was sporting a bakfiets and some other cargo bikes out front. Inside, they had a small but respectable selection of Surlys, Bromptons, and other labels. I did see one box bike in action, later on, but didn't get a picture of it.
A Raleigh Sprite serving as workhorse.
I don't know what it is, but it's shiny and I love it!
This came out slightly blurry. But I just loved the flowers decorating this Raleigh's basket - so cheerful.
A modern sample, including the Surly Steam Roller single-speed.

One thing I will definitely say about Philly - they have done the best job I've seen yet of providing bicycle parking. Wherever it might be needed, with lots extra where there's extra demand. The photos above aren't a great example, but there was a staple rack about every 50 feet, on every block, everywhere through downtown and the university area.

And finally, to wrap it up, the vast quantity of bicycles in front of an art school downtown. There were a few other great bikes, but they'll show up in the next two posts (about women and bicycle culture)!

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Bike Lanes of Philadelphia

Visiting from Atlanta, I was astounded at the coverage of Philadelphia bicycle facilities. They were on big roads.
Small roads.
They were helping cyclists speed past rush hour traffic.
They were marked through intersections.
And, on narrow downtown streets, entire corridors were marked with sharrows, creating a network of bicycle boulevards.
Tomorrow: the gorgeous bicycles.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Field Trip: Philadelphia!

You may have noticed that I haven't posted for a few days...the reason was a short business trip to Philly. Now, I'm sure it has it's own problems that aren't apparent on a short visit. But I fell in love.

I was planning to keep my eye out for bike lanes. It would have been easier to look for a street without them! Every street, other than local side streets, had a bicycle lane. And bicycle traffic. Even the access road to the airport had them.

My next few posts will be about my trip. First, I'd like to introduce the fabulous woman who pulled up in a business suit and pumps. She chatted with a man - neighbor? husband? sitting on the front stoop of her building. He offered her his beer, she took a sip, talked for a few more minutes, then rolled her bike inside the building. Awesome.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Short Sleeves, Bare Legs, and Baseball

We seem to have skipped spring and gone straight to summer! Last week I was wearing a light jacket in the morning, this week is tank tops. I'm kind of dreading the really hot weather. Hopefully this is just a fluke. It's been sunny and in the upper 80s. From what I understand, most of the eastern U.S. is having the same weather.

I went bare-legged for the first time this year, and my skin was blindingly pale. I also remembered that I will have to be a little more cautious about skirt length, since I won't have the extra coverage of tights and long coats. I think this is about as short as it should get, at least without some sort of modest under layer.
The other sign of spring, or maybe summer, was the Atlanta Braves opening day. There's some new player that everyone seems to be excited about. Not my thing, obviously. But the game caused a five hour traffic jam that extended well into midtown (3 or 4 miles away) on surface streets and much further than that on the highways. Drivers were angry, frustrated. I really felt bad for them!

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Bicycle is Born

There's a new arrival my house. Well, technically at The Beau's apartment, since he has all the tools and spare parts. At any rate, I am now the marginally proud owner of a mid-90s Diamondback steel framed bicycle. Hey, it was cheap and I can ride it on dirt roads, set it easily on a car-mounted trunk rack for trips, and load stuff on it. And it's not too ugly. The first order of business will be a good tuneup and some racks and fenders. Ta da!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Commuting with Cecil

I took the Raleigh to work on Friday, for the first time this year. Ahhhh, lovely ride but a few mishaps! First, I didn't have the seat adjusted properly, so after a few blocks it tilted all the way back. I had to stop and fix it. Of course, I am much to stubborn to see this as a reason to take it back home. Oh no, just tightened it up and kept going. And it was fine, actually. It was surprisingly comfortable this time. It's a weird, thick seat that I had refused to use in the past. But I don't have a spare, so there it is. It calls itself a "Troxel."

That's a repurposed laundry/storage basket on the back. Not very sturdy, but it has the water and belongings retention properties I like, it's cheap, and it's lightweight.

The other equipment malfunction I encountered was my rear wheel. A few blocks from my office, I started to feel a lot of drag, like a brake was rubbing. But it wasn't my brakes. When I got to the bike rack, I gave it a closer inspection and realized that the rear wheel was slightly twisted. The tension from the shifter cable (which runs directly into the internal hub) had pulled it to the side, and it was rubbing against a fender strut. If you look closely in the picture below, you can see the rubber dust that was scraped off by the strut. Before riding home, I loosened the wheel, straightened it, and gave the nuts a good tightening.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Attack of the Interstate Highway System

Although I don't ride my bicycle on the Interstates - obviously - they still affect every trip I make. Atlanta and the State of Georgia chose to run three major highways through the city. I-75 and I-85 run together part of the way, and intersect with I-20 just a few blocks south of downtown Atlanta. They have been widened multiple times, and other limited-access highways have been added over time. This not only impacted the properties and streets that were bulldozed for highway construction, but much of the surrounding street network as well. Roads leading to highway entrance and exit ramps were converted to one-way streets, widened, and given priority over cross streets. Speed limits were raised and city streets were annexed by the state government.

The results are obvious. Scanty traffic barrels down wide, empty roads, which are preserved as a backup system in case the Interstate (almost a mile away) fails. Of course, the city street network is much more robust than the single-corridor highways, and does not need such enormous roads to handle traffic. But I doubt the engineers realize that.
Many streets are nearly vacant at rush hour, which encourages speeding

Elsewhere, road segments suffer from gridlock and congestion - but only for 5 or 10 blocks around the entrance and exit ramps. A cyclist has to fight her way through this mess along with everyone else, but is rewarded with car-free streets on the other side. I encounter at least three of these highway knots on my route to and from work. Most of the bottlenecks cannot be avoided, because all of the alternate routes have been eliminated in highway construction.

It is the most inefficient, stressful, and unsafe system you could possibly imagine.

 Blue Belle shakes her head basket sadly at gridlock near the Williams Street ramps