The Online Voice of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington

Monday, December 27, 2010

Clark County Passes Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan

Today's post was submitted by Brendon Haggerty, who regularly bike commutes from his home in Portland to his job in Clark County.

The Clark County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, recently passed by a unanimous vote of the Board of County Commissioners, represents the county’s first coordinated effort to plan for bicycles and pedestrians.  Included in the plan are proposed policy changes that would help the county become more supportive of bicycle and pedestrian transportation.  Also included are proposals for promotion and encouragement programs, such as temporary street closures that provide a car-free environment for residents to meet their neighbors and enjoy physical activity.  An advisory committee worked with the county to identify a prioritized network of bicycle and pedestrian facilities in unincorporated Clark County.

A unique feature of the plan is that it makes special consideration of the health impacts of cycling and walking, whether for recreation or transportation.  In prioritizing projects, planners worked with staff from Clark County Public Health to identify projects that are likely to increase physical activity among residents.  As part of the planning process, Clark County Public Health prepared a Health Impact Assessment to highlight the health benefits of physical activity and to help prioritize actions that enable more Clark County residents to enjoy opportunities for physical activity in their neighborhoods.  The plan and health impact assessment can be found at .

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Top 10 Reasons to make a year-end donation to the Bicycle Alliance

(Thanks to Development Director JoAnn Yoshimoto for compiling this list!)

10. We help to educate every new generation of motorists by ensuring that traffic safety education courses include information on safely sharing the road with bicyclists and pedestrians.

9. We have a seat at the table of the 2008-2027 Washington State Bicycle Facilities and Pedestrian Walkways Plan, and we continue to monitor its progress.

8. We developed and actively promote the Share the Road specialty license plate to raise awareness of bicycling and support safety education.

7. We are working in 2011-2012 to introduce Safe Routes to School bicycling and pedestrian education in 35 school districts throughout Washington. Thousands of school-age children will learn safe bicycling skills.

6. In 2011 we will propose a change for lowering speed limits in designated areas because we believe that saving lives is more important than saving a few minutes.

5. In the upcoming legislative session we will work for passage of the Mutual Courtesy and Safe Passing Act to clarify mutual responsibilities, define the minimum safe distance, help bicyclists and motorists to be better informed, reduce collisions and conflicts.

4. We will work to pass the Active Community Transportation Act to create a grant program for communities to build biking and walking networks.

3. We work tirelessly to make roads and trails safer and more enjoyable for you all across Washington.

2. We wisely and prudently utilize your generous financial support to advance and pass laws that protect cyclists!

1.      A strong and effective Bicycle Alliance of Washington to better serve you and your loved ones in 2011 and beyond.

Ready to donate now?  Follow this link!

Thanks for supporting a bicycle-friendly Washington!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Great Helmet Debate Burden
Do you wear a helmet when you ride? Should you wear a helmet when you ride? Should the government poke its nose in with helmet laws? Do helmets really improve safety or, more importantly, crash survival?

The recent Grist article "Helmet Wars: A gripping account of the great bicycle helmet campaigns" begins to explore some of the sides of this issue, and provides a number of links to excellent resources on both sides. Check it out, and tell us where you land on the helmet issue.

Whether you think bicyclists should or shouldn't wear helmets, make sure to follow the law in your area. Washington has spotty mandatory helmet laws, which vary by region. Check this WSDOT list if you aren't sure whether you're in a mandatory helmet region or not. And if helmets strike you as oh-so-uncool, you can always follow Momentum Magazine's instructions for how to turn your helmet into two different kinds of mohawks (zip tie or fuzzy).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Staff Transitions: Hellos and Goodbyes

John Vander Sluis
If you’ve phoned or dropped by our office recently, you’ll know the Bicycle Alliance has had some staff transitions.  We are pleased to welcome John Vander Sluis and Jay Steingold as the new kids on the block.

John joined our staff in September as the manager for our King County Safe Routes to School project.  Funded by the King County Department of Public Health, John’s project targets underserved communities in the south county area where barriers to walking and biking are high.

A graduate of the University of Washington Urban Planning and Public Administration programs, John has held positions with the City of Seattle, King County, and the Snoqualmie Sustainability Team.  He spends his spare time mountain biking, camping, and climbing with his wife Anu.

Jay Steingold
2010 has been a year of milestones for Jay Steingold.  He got married in May, graduated from the University of Washington in June, did a cross-country road trip for two months, then landed at the Bicycle Alliance office last week.

Jay will be managing Bike Port and the King County Metro bike lockers, as well as provide operations support.  A Kirkland native, Jay previously worked at Richard Hugo House and Artist Trust.  He has a degree in Creative Writing.

And we bid a fond farewell to Every Day and Katie Ferguson.

Katie Ferguson
In November, Katie Ferguson completed her AmeriCorps internship with us.  Katie developed a Volunteer recruitment and management program for us.  Since the completion of her internship, Katie has done some contract work for the Bicycle Alliance.  You can read Katie’s blog post about her year with us.

Every Day
After three years with the Bicycle Alliance, Every Day is moving on to new adventures.  She has professionally managed and improved the Bike Port bike parking facility during her tenure with us. Early next year, she will set off on a nomadic adventure and test her entrepreneurial skills.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Go by Bike: Bicycle Boulevards

Berkeley bike boulevard.
During a visit to the San Francisco Bay area in 2006, I spent a transformational day traveling around Berkeley on bike boulevards. It was my first experience using an interconnecting network of bike boulevards and I was hooked.

Bike boulevards are city streets—usually residential streets with low and slow traffic-- that have been modified to give bicycle travelers priority. Berkeley clearly marks its bike boulevards with large pavement markings and easy-to- spot directional signs, making it pretty easy to navigate my way around town. Syed

The real appeal of bike boulevards for me--and I suspect for many other folks--is that they are pleasant places to ride.  I traveled all around Berkeley using quiet residential streets and passing through interesting neighborhoods. I visited parks, small business districts, the college campus and the bay following the bike boulevard network.

Cars must turn but bikes can go straight.
Although the bike boulevards used streets that are open to all, techniques are employed to discourage through traffic except bikes.  Berkeley's bike boulevard streets have diverters that direct motorized vehicles off the street every few blocks.

At an arterial intersection, cars were again directed to turn right but I queued up in a bike lane that allowed me to continue forward.  A pavement marking shows where to position your bike to ensure that the traffic signal detects you.
Cyclist waits in lane to cross arterial.
Bike boulevards are gaining traction across the country.  Besides Berkeley, you can find these facilities in Portland (OR), Madison (WI), Tuscon (AZ) and Wilmington (NC) to name a few.  In Washington State, the cities of Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma have identified bike boulevards in their bike plans.

Info on Berkeley's bike boulevard network can be found on the City's website.  Check out this StreetFilms video about Berkeley's bike boulevard network.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Show your support for cycling: Attend Transportation Advocacy Day on February 10 in Olympia

Question: What’s the best thing you can do on a Thursday in February?

Answer: Come to Olympia with fellow cycling advocates to make a difference.

It’s not too early to mark your calendar for one of the upcoming legislative session’s most important days for supporters of bicycling, walking, transit, and the environment: Thursday, February 10, Transportation Advocacy Day.

That’s the day that the Bicycle Alliance and other groups promoting transportation choices beyond he automobile will travel to the state capital to meet with lawmakers, attend legislative hearings, and learn more about the transportation policy issues that face our state.

Operating under the umbrella of the Transportation Choices Coalition, those participating in the day’s lobbying and other activities also include organizations such as Futurewise, the Sierra Club Cascade Chapter, the Cascade Bicycle Club, Feet First, and the Washington State Parks and Recreation Association.

The 2011 legislative session will be tough, with the state facing a continuing budget crisis and interest groups across the board clamoring for attention and money. In politics there’s strength in numbers, and it’s important to show legislators that there’s a strong constituency supporting cycling, walking and transit.

Among other things, Transportation Advocacy Day will be a good opportunity to promote the Bicycle Alliance’s 2011 legislative priorities. The priorities were developed by our Legislative Committee, made up of representatives from supporting bicycle clubs and communities from around the state.  As adopted by our Board, the 2011 lobbying priorities include:

·      Traffic safety education—require that the driving schools attended by motorists who have received a traffic ticket teach the Department of Licensing’s approved curriculum for safe driving around cyclists and pedestrians.
·       Mutual courtesy and safe passing—clarify the laws that define safe and courteous behavior for cyclists and motorists, including legislation governing how much space motorists should give cyclists when passing alongside them.
·      Complete streets—create a framework for a grant program to create incentives for communities that adopt a “complete streets” policy to ensure that their streets are designed and built to accommodate cycling and walking.
·      Lower speed limits—Give communities broader authority to lower speed limits to 20 miles an hour in neighborhoods with high pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Studies in Europe have shown that lower speed limits sharply reduce injuries and death.
·      Liability—Impose reasonable limits on the liability of communities that sign bicycle routes or produce bike maps. Currently, some communities don’t mark or map routes at all because they fear they will be found liable for injuries suffered by cyclists who use the routes.

In addition to its main priorities, the Bicycle Alliance also supports legislation to better protect vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians, require the State to include the external costs of driving when assessing projects, and provide adequate funding for cycling and walking.

Come to Olympia and make a difference! You can sign up for Transportation Advocacy Day by visiting the Transportation Choices Coalition website. You can also learn more about legislative issues important to cyclists by visiting the Bicycle Alliance’s legislative issues webpage, which includes regular updates and action alerts during the legislative session.

In the meantime, cycling advocates can get a jump-start on the session by contacting their legislators to introduce themselves and ask for support of the Bike Alliance’s legislative priorities.

(From Kevin P's Flickr photostream)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cars and the Holidays: Bah, Humbug!

The Holiday season is upon us, and with it one of my least favorite December traditions: harried drivers circling around shopping mall parking lots and downtown streets, looking for a place to park.

The Holidays bring with them great joy, but undeniably bring stress as well--what with shopping, entertaining, and meeting other peoples’ expectations. But add to that the inevitable road and parking congestion that accompanies it all, and it’s enough to drive some people over the edge.  This was brought home to me several years ago on Christmas eve, when a young man with whom I’d crossed vehicular paths in the supermarket parking lot jumped out of his beater Mercedes sedan and began banging his fist on my driver's-side window while screaming obscenities. Merry Christmas to all, indeed.

Is there another way?  Yes. While eliminating the stress of the Holidays is a tall order, there are ways to decrease it, and feel better about yourself and the rest of humanity. Step one: ride your bike.  Bundle up and set aside some time to enjoy the outdoors on two wheels when the weather permits.  Savor those endorphins.

While you’re at it, why not run some Holiday errands by bike?  I tried it at a local mall on a recent Saturday. And while negotiating 100 acres of asphalt on my vintage Trek was a little daunting, I have to admit to having felt a little smug as I left to take the back roads home, looking out at the slow-and-go traffic on I-5.

Finally, make a New Year’s resolution to be an active bicycle advocate. Then maybe we can give each other the best gift of all—future Holiday seasons where travel by car is a choice, not a necessity.  The Dutch and the Danes have figured out how to do it. We can, too.

If you need some inspiration, take a look at this video from European blogger David Hembrow and see how Dutch kids and their parents greet St. Nick.

 (Cargo bike photos by Mikael Colville-Andersen.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tree Number 105: Remembering Susie Stephens

Nancy MacKerrow (L) spearheads the tree plantings.

On a chilly morning in November, I joined some Spokane folks to plant a commemorative tree at the new trailhead for the Fish Lake Trail. This wasn’t just any tree planting and this wasn’t just any tree. We were there to celebrate the on-the-ground progress that bike and trail advocates have made in recent years in Spokane--particularly the development of the Fish Lake Trail—and we were there to remember Susie Stephens.

Susie Stephens was a legend in her own time. A Spokane native, Susie was a past Executive Director of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington. Her first major task as the brand new and untested ED was hiring me, and she was fond of telling folks that hiring me “was the best decision she ever made at the Bicycle Alliance.” Hey, how could I not be fond of this woman?

Councilman Jon Snyder participated.
Susie became a bright and shining star on the national bike and pedestrian advocacy scene, loved and known by many. She was hired as the first ED for Thunderhead Alliance—now known as the Alliance for Biking and Walking. But as the fates would have it, Susie was struck and killed by a bus as she legally crossed a street in St. Louis at a national pedestrian training in 2002. In the blink of an eye, she was taken from us.

But Susie has not been forgotten. In 2003, her mother Nancy MacKerrow, planted several trees in her memory in Spokane. Today, the Susie Forest now exceeds 100 trees sprinkled around the globe and continues to grow.

“Trees mean life,” states Nancy, and each tree not only stands as a legacy to Susie and the livable communities she advocated for, but they also commemorate other people, events and milestones. When we planted tree number 105 at the trailhead that November morning, we were also celebrating the progress bike and trail advocates made with the Fish Lake Trail.

In May, the Bicycle Alliance staff plans to plant a Susie tree in Seattle. We’ll share the details as they emerge. If you’d like to plant a Susie tree in your neck of the woods, contact Nancy to arrange for one.

If you don't like where you are, pedal.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bellingham Tweed Ride

On Sunday November 14 cyclists in Bellingham stepped back in time. A group of about 70 riders dressed in their finest vintage threads to ride their cruisers through town in the first annual tweed ride. The ride, which was organized by Collen Milton, owner of Bellingham's Black Market Boutique was just an idea a month ago. She managed to pull off an amazingly fun and well attended ride in just a few short weeks.

The rain held off for most of the afternoon, however we did have a light drizzle towards the end. We rode about 10 miles through town, touring historic neighborhoods, new trails and parks. All were welcome to ride, kids and adults, costumed or not. We even had a City Councilman join us!

All in all it was a fun day. I have heard of other tweed rides throughout the Country, but had yet to experience one. It has given me ideas for other rides we could do: a plaid ride, a hippy ride, and as one friend suggested, a cape ride. I can't wait for next years tweed ride, I'm already planning my outfit. For more pictures check out this Facebook photo album.

What other types of themed rides have people gone on? Does the idea of dressing up inspire you to ride?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bicycle City Burden
Imagine a planned car-free community where people can live, play, work and visit.  This community includes trails, community gardens, schools, housing and more.  Residents and visitors park their vehicles on the perimeter of the community and walk or bike into the neighborhood.

This utopian car-free community is built with sustainability in mind.  Buildings have small footprints and are energy efficient.  Paths and trails are built with permeable surfaces so they will have minimal impact on the earth, and gardens are organic.  Schools are within biking or walking distance, and a nearby greenway connects you to rail and transit.

Now imagine that this community is called Bicycle City and it's located in the USA.  Sound too good to be true?  Well think again.  The first Bicycle City is breaking ground on December 11 near Columbia, South Carolina, and first home sites will be for sale soon.  Learn more about the South Carolina project here.

The folks behind Bicycle City are thinking big.  They hope the Columbia community becomes a model for other planned Bicycle Cities around the country and around the world.  They have already evaluated many states, including Washington, and have identified potential locations for future Bicycle Cities.

Bicycle City, Washington.  Sounds pretty inviting, doesn't it?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rumble Strips Can be Done Right!

Today's post was submitted by Kent Peterson of Issaquah.  You can follow Kent's bicycle adventures on his blog--aptly named--Kent's Bike Blog.

Rumble strips are those milled lines at the edge of the road designed to alert a drowsy or inattentive driver that they are drifting off the road. It's a safety mechanism designed to save lives. Unfortunately, in many locations when rumble strips are placed on the road they effectively make it impossible to safely cycle along the shoulder of the road. In my tour of Washington State a few years ago I'd often see rumble strips that looked like this:

Photo by Kent Peterson.
I've seen worse examples, where the rumble strip covers every inch of the width of the shoulder. But things don't have to be this way.

Rumble strips can be built into a road in a way that lets them serve their warning function and keeps the almost the entire width of the shoulder usable for cyclists. Here is a photo from a section of SR-507, also in Washington State:
Photo by Kent Peterson.
The rumble strips on SR-507 are built into the fog and center lines, effectively leaving the full width of the shoulder available to the cyclist. In addition, every dozen feet or so there are gaps in the rumble strips enabling cyclists to move from the shoulder to the traffic lane. Much of the time on a country road like this, the shoulder is the best place to ride, but a cyclist might have to merge into the traffic lane to get ready to make a left turn or to avoid some debris and it's good to see a road design that recognizes the legitimate needs of non-motorized road users.

Rumble strips can be done right. A page at (yes darn near everything has a page on the internet!) has some good information and documents describing how to implement rumble strips in such a way as to enhance the safety of all road users.

Post Script:

The application of rumble strips along Washington State roads is a problem.  The Bicycle Alliance has worked with WA State Department of Transportation to develop a set of rumble strip guidelines.  Read this post from earlier this year to learn about some of our efforts on rumble strips.  In spite of these guidelines, rumble strips continue to be installed incorrectly and sometimes installed in places where they shouldn't be applied.  Contact the WSDOT Bicycle/Pedestrian coordinator and your regional WSDOT bicycle coordinator if you believe there has been an incorrect installation of rumble strips in your area, and notify the Bicycle Alliance.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Snow Day

Sometimes it's good to park the bike and experience the world from a different perspective. The winter blast that gripped our state this week provided such an opportunity. From the Olympic peninsula to the Inland Northwest, Washingtonians are blanketed with snow, ice and freezing cold temperatures.

The Bicycle Alliance took a snow day on Tuesday so I donned a sturdy pair of walking shoes and expolored my West Seattle neighborhood. Here is some of what I saw:

People shoveling sidewalks.

Stranded and abandoned buses.

 Critter tracks in the alley.

Closed residential streets.

Kids sledding down closed streets.

Parents walking with their kids.

Interesting patterns.

After a couple of hours of wandering, I returned home to warm up by the stove and reflect on my day.  Sometimes Mother Nature forces us to slow down and alter our daily routines.  The snow day forced many of us to miss a day of work or school, but it also presented us with opportunities to play in the snow, spend time with our families and neighbors, and explore our own backyards.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Shopping by Bike

The following guest post was submitted to us by member Woody Wheeler of Seattle.  You can also follow Woody on his own blog, Conservation Catalyst.

Many car trips in the United States are less than one mile, a readily bikeable or walkable distance. Yet, some of us drive our ton+ vehicles and ignite fossil fuels to go this far. There are better ways to go.  Cities like Seattle are promoting non-car alternatives

I hate shopping, but biking makes it not only tolerable, but fun. You get exercise, and you experience the simple pleasure of cruising around in the open air, including up and down hills. You see more people; you experience the wind, the weather, the birds and wildlife, the changes in seasons, the interesting yards, landscapes, buildings, and other surroundings in your neighborhood. At the end of your trip, you feel good, as opposed to drained or lethargic from a car trip.

Photo by Woody Wheeler.
Mike Royko, the late great Chicago columnist used to lampoon a mythical lazy American prototype he called “Rollin’ Wheels.” Rollin never went anywhere “without steel belted radials underneath him.” It’s time to substitute two bicycle tires, or our own two feet for the steel-belted radials. If you insist upon having big wheels beneath you, take public transit. The planet and your health stand to benefit.

Monday, November 22, 2010

You've come a long way, baby!

Eric Berg of JRA Bike Shop recently got his hands on a copy of Seattle's first bike plan and he shared it with us. We have posted a copy of the 1972 Comprehensive Bikeway Plan on our website for your reading pleasure.

In 1972, Seattle had only 8 miles of trail where a cyclist could "ride without fear of an automobile running him down."  The city also had 32 miles of "bicycle safety routes"--routes on park boulevards or residential streets that were meant for recreational cycling.

Recommendations from this first plan included establishing bike routes with a transportation function, developing a voluntary bicycle registration program, and establishing a program to help install bike racks in key locations around town (only one or two bike racks existed in the Central Business District in 1972),

Fast forward to 2007.  Seattle now has 40 miles of trails, 25 miles of bike lanes, a 24/7 indoor bike parking facility and, following an intense public process, City Council approves the Seattle Bicycle Master Plan.  This aggressive ten-year plan calls for tripling the amount of trips made by bike, reducing the rate of bike crashes by a third, and expanding the bicycle facility network to over 450 miles.

According to a March 2010 progress report posted on the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) website, bike plan accomplishments include 93 miles of bike lanes and sharrows, 31 miles of signed bike routes, installation of 801 bike racks-including 3 on-street parking facilities, distribution of over 60,000 bike maps, and funding the Bike Smart education program.

While there is much more to accomplish if Seattle is to achieve its ten-year goals outlined in the Bicycle Master Plan, the progress that has been made in the past three years is noticeable.  And if you compare today's bike infrastructure to what existed in 1972, what a difference a few decades have made!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The future is worth a thousand visions

The future is worth a thousand visions--or so believes the Spokane Regional Transportation Council.  SRTC is in the midst of updating its long range transportation plan and they are employing a unique strategy to engage the community for feedback. Citizens are encouraged to play an online interactive game called A Thousand Visions and SRTC hopes that at least a thousand folks play this game and submit their results.

Cyclists pass Riverfront Park on their way to work.
This game is a fascinating exercise in transportation planning and resource allocation.  You, the player, are given a baseline transportation budget then you must decide how you will raise additional revenue to fund the projects of the future.  You might choose to raise property taxes, enact a special sales tax for transit and increase the local gas tax.  The game calculates how much revenue each source will raise and it tells you approximately how much the financial burden will be annually on a household.

Assuming you have survived a tax revolt, it's time to fund the transportation projects of the future.  Do you build new roads and complete the North Spokane corridor?  Do you invest in a new high performance transit system for the region?  Do you complete the Fish Lake Trail and fund the regional bicycle and pedestrian network?  You learn how much it costs to fund a project and the game calculates whether or not you have raised enough revenue to fund your projects.  You will most likely find yourself forced to scale back projects or drop them completely.

A Thousand Visions is available to play until November 29.  If you live in the Spokane region, please play the game and submit your vision results.  If you live elsewhere, you can still play the game without submitting your results.  It's a thoughtful exercise in transportation planning and funding.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Channeling Ian Hibell

If there were a contest for coolest bicyclist ever, Ian Hibell would win, hands-down.

You may be forgiven for asking: Ian who?  Hibell remains an obscure figure, especially outside his native England, to all but a few cyclists and adventure-travel buffs who happen to read the right magazines or assiduously surf the Internet.

But to me, he best represents the possibilities for adventure, discovery and serendipity that a bicycle can bring, if you let it.

I first discovered Hibell several years ago when I opened my new issue of Adventure Cycling magazine to find an article by him about his adventures.  The article was accompanied by two-page photo of Hibell on his touring bike, grinding his way up the rocky road to Machu Picchu in Peru. Below him, going on seemingly forever, stretched the route up which he had come.  To me that one photo perfectly captures the possibilities that a bicycle can unlock.

Hibell was a true British eccentric in the positive sense of the term. He grew up in mostly rural but decidedly civilized Devonshire, in the Southeast of England.  His first experience as a cycle tourist was borne of a combination of accident and necessity, when his father could not afford train tickets to send the entire family to the seaside for a vacation. So Hibell and his dad rode their bikes there, sleeping on park benches and wherever else they could.

As an adult, Hibell worked for a local English telephone company for a time, but soon found that the allure of the open road trumped the comforts of a nine-to-five job. He spent the next 40 years as a nomad on a bike, never really settling down.  He rode from Bangkok to Vladivostok. He rode from Norway to the Cape of Good Hope.  He rode from the tip of Tierra del Fuego to Alaska. He rode across the Sahara Desert, almost dying of thirst before he was rescued by a band of tribesmen. He buried himself in mud to escape hoards of mosquitoes.  He was chased by rogue elephants and almost eaten alive by tropical ants.  He was shot at and jailed. He crossed the notorious Darien Gap in Panama (an adventure captured in this vintage film). His family knew him fondly as “mad uncle Ian.”

Ironically, it wasn’t the wilderness that killed Hibell, but civilization. After 40 years on the road, Hibell was killed by a hit-and-run driver on the Athens-Salonika Highway in Greece while on a training ride for another adventure.

But I like to remember Hibell for his adventures rather than his end.  And I think it’s a good thing for all cyclists to channel Ian Hibell occasionally.  If you want to cycle across the Sahara or brave the Darien Gap, great. Long-distance touring is fabulous.  But you don’t have to go that far to get a taste of adventure. Just try something new.  Go camping on your bike. Explore some local logging roads. Go up a valley that you’ve driven by but have never been to.  Sometimes there’s great joy to be had in breaking your routine to discover the simple pleasures of an unexpected mountain view, or eating a cheese sandwich in the fall sun while listening to the wind in the firs, or even getting a little lost. And after you’ve done it, raise a toast to Ian.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Transitional Thoughts

I’m writing today not as a volunteer-seeker, regular bicycle commuter, for outreach, as a trainer or organizer, or make-it-happener. Although I’ve worn all of those hats, my time at the Bicycle Alliance of Washington in those roles ends on November 18. Louise asked me to write a short blog about my leaving, and I would like to take a moment of your time to speak from my heart.

What I would like to say, and for you to hear, is: Thank you.

Tour de Fat
When I started with the Bicycle Alliance in January, I truly had no idea what I had signed up for (and, it turns out, nobody else knew, either!). Over the next 10 months, I did all sorts of things: I learned enough about volunteer programs to write a Master’s dissertation on the subject; I helped organize and staffed lots of outreach events; I organized all sorts of other things, from bike classes to a United Way Day of Caring project; I helped the staff start using a more systematic way of bringing new volunteers. I could spend an entire blog post listing the specific events and activities I helped with, and each of those had great value.

Looking back, though, what I take away is far more than the sum of the discrete experiences. Instead, I’ve begun to learn some deeply important lessons that may take a lifetime of reinforcement to truly sink in:
  1. To keep your responsibilities from overwhelming you, focus on the small things that make up the bigger picture.
  2. Be persistent. Keep putting one (metaphorical) foot in front of the other even if it feels like you’re not getting anywhere.
  3. No matter how diligently-planned and meticulously organized an event or program is, things still won’t go the way you want. That’s not only OK, it’s normal and good. Accept that as success.
  4. Look at problems as opportunities instead of obstacles. Sometimes just changing how you think about a situation can change it from insurmountable to… well… surmountable.
  5. Every experience is a learning experience, and every experience you learn from is a success.
Women on Wheels
You, the loyal, patient, and helpful Bicycle Alliance supporters have taught me this through your commitment and willing support. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for these 10 months of learning and growth, 10 months of trying and succeeding, 10 months immersed in bicycling culture. Thank you for welcoming me with open arms, for this opportunity, for the time with you.

Of course, saying all that, I haven’t answered the natural question: What’s next? Although the future looks murky (and really, who can predict their future with any reliability?), I hope to continue my relationship with Bicycle Alliance, albeit in a slightly different capacity: as a bicycle education teacher for several of the big grants that the Bicycle Alliance received in the last few months. So although I won’t have the same 40-hour-a-week presence you’ve become accustomed to, November 18 marks a transition rather than an ending.

See you all out on the road. You'll know me by the reflective helmet streamers.
Manchester Bike Ride - Postride

Monday, November 15, 2010

Stop signs: the kudzu of American bike paths

Everyone who’s been to the American South is familiar with kudzu—a creeping plant that appears unbidden, soon covers everything in sight, and serves no useful ecological function

Sort of like stop signs on America’s multi-use bike-pedestrian paths.

This is not a post about how it’s OK for cyclists to run stop signs. And it’s certainly not a rant against stop signs generally. Properly located, they serve a very useful purpose. But in highway engineering as in other aspects of life, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. And so it is with the stop sign.

In particular, I’m talking about trail builders’ penchant for placing stop signs that purport to require bicycle-pedestrian trail users to come to a halt at every crossing, large or small, significant or not. Certainly it’s annoying. But more importantly, it creates ambiguities about who has the right of way, sows the seeds of confusion for motorists and trail users, and can be downright dangerous. 

What’s more, forcing cyclists to yield the right of way at every crossing violates even America’s auto-centric road engineering standards, and goes against Washington’s traffic laws.

Let’s start with those laws.  Be forewarned, however: Trying to reconcile the Washington statutes that govern right of way where bike-pedestrian trails cross streets may leave you chasing your legal tail. As the Washington Supreme Court once observed, with considerable understatement, “…our state’s laws on bicycles and traffic safety do not present a picture of clarity…”

To begin with, the law considers bicycles to be “vehicles” (RCW 46.04.670), and bicyclists riding on a “roadway” generally have the same rights and responsibilities as car drivers (RCW 46.61.755(1)). Among other things, any “vehicle” that comes to a stop sign must stop and yield to cross traffic (RCW 46.61.190(2)).

So doesn’t that mean that cyclists facing stop signs on a bike-pedestrian path must stop and yield, just as they would as if they were riding on a regular street? Well, not really. 

That’s because of at least two other legal provisions. First, the law requires cars approaching any crosswalk to yield to both pedestrians and bicyclists who are in the crosswalk (RCW 46.61.235). Second, there’s a provision that exempts bicyclists from parts of the Vehicle Code “which by their provisions can have no application [to bicycles].” (RCW 46.61.755(1)).  If cars have to stop and yield to cyclists in a crosswalk, then how can the stop-and-yield requirement apply to the cyclists as well? That would leave everybody and nobody with the right of way.

You also have to go back and ask the question whether a bike-pedestrian path fits within the definition of a “roadway” to begin with, triggering the requirement that cyclists act like car drivers.  In a 1990 case involving a cyclist who was injured in a crosswalk along a King County cycle path, our State’s Supreme Court said no. In that case, which was decided before the legislature changed the law to explicitly require cars to stop for cyclists in a crosswalk, the Court also observed that having different right-of-way rules for pedestrians and cyclists in a crosswalk made no sense.

So what are all those bike-trail stop signs still doing there, anyway? And if a stop sign on a bike trail doesn’t mean what it would if it were placed on a roadway, what—if anything—does it mean? My suspicion is: probably nothing. But no court has ever explicitly said that, although the 1990 Supreme Court case came pretty close.

I doubt that many trail or road users are aware of these legal intricacies, or of the disconnect between the law and the signs. But they must feel the bewilderment in their bones, since the situation on the ground is generally one of mass confusion. Some cyclists, oblivious to their own safety, just blast through the stop signs. Some cyclists prepare to yield to cars, only to have the cars stop for them. Some drivers yield at bike-pedestrian trail crossings regardless of who has the stop sign; others just roar through even if a pedestrian’s in the crosswalk. The end result is danger, since nobody’s sure who’s going to do what.

Aside from the legal confusion these stops signs create, their overabundance of along bike-pedestrian trails violates accepted highway-engineering standards.

Traffic engineers know that if you put too many stop signs where they don’t belong, people---both drivers and cyclists--will start ignoring them.  In fact, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials says that it’s a “misconception” to think that peppering bike trails with stop signs is a good way to reduce crashes. Thus, the national engineering standards that govern such things urge local officials to go easy on the stop signs on bike-pedestrian trails.

The 2009 edition of the Uniform Manual of Traffic Control Devices (the engineers’ bible for such things) says that:  “Speed should not be the sole factor used to determine priority, as it is sometimes appropriate to give priority to a high-volume shared-use path crossing a low-volume street, or to a regional shared-use path crossing a minor collector street.” 

The draft American guidelines for cycling facility design say that “ installing unwarranted or unrealistically restrictive controls on path approaches in an attempt to ‘protect’ path users can lead to disregard of controls and intersection operating patterns that are routinely different than indicated by the controls. This can increase an unfamiliar driver’s risk of collision, and potentially lead to a loss of respect for the [traffic] control…”

So stop signs on bike-pedestrian paths are legally dodgy and can be dangerous. What should be done? Here are a few modest proposals:

--Remove the stop signs.  This one seems obvious.
--Place signs at trail crossings explicitly telling motorists that they must yield to all trail users.
--Amend the law to make it crystal clear that cyclists on bike trails are not subject to the same rules as they are on a roadway.   
--Place “speed humps” at trail crossings to make sure that cars slow down. In the Netherlands, where cyclists almost always have the right of way, it’s common to raise bike trails slightly at road crossings, so that the crosswalk itself is a speed hump. These “raised crosswalks” are starting to appear in America as well. They should be a standard design at all trail crossings that don’t have traffic signals.
--Place traffic signals at trail crossings on busier roads.  That way everybody gets a turn.
--On the busiest crossings, consider bike overpasses, also a common feature on bike trails in the Netherlands, as this video demonstrates. Grade separation is the ultimate safety accessory.

Of course, some will object to what they see as giving cyclists the advantage over “real” transportation.  But the Vehicle Code already gives cyclists the right-of-way in crosswalks, and the signs should be consistent with the law. Moreover the present situation is confusing and dangerous, not only for cyclists but for pedestrians as well.  And the bicycle will never become a viable transportation option for most Americans until those who design bike infrastructure start treating it like one.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hub and Spoke: Next stop Everett

This year, thanks to a grant from the Alliance for Biking and Walking, the Bicycle Alliance of Washington launched our Hub and Spoke outreach tour.  We have organized meet ups with our members, interested officials, and other community cyclists in Wenatchee, Vancouver and Walla Walla.  (Here's a link to a previous post about Hub and Spoke.)  Next Thursday, we take Hub and Spoke to Everett.

As the voice for citizens who bike in Washington State, the Bicycle Alliance wants to hear from you.  We want to know what issues you face in your community and we want to hear about local successes.  We also want to share information with you.  We have identified legislative priorities for the 2011 legislative session and we'd like your help to pass them, and we'd like to tell you about some exciting projects that we have coming on line.

Please join us for this timely event if you live in Snohomish County.  We'll provide light appetizers and a no-host bar is available.  Please RSVP Louise McGrody if  you plan to attend.

Hub and Spoke: Everett
November 18 at 5:30PM
The Anchor Pub
1001 Hewitt Avenue

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ferries won't seek to change procedures for bicyclists

Last week, we featured a post about a Washington State Ferry recommendation that would adversely impact bicyclists.  Today's post is a follow up and comes to us from Gordon Black of Squeaky Wheels. Sundstrom
For the moment, bicyclists need not worry about any changes to the present system of loading and unloading bikes on state ferries. Washington State Ferries chief David Moseley has stated that the ferry system will not be seeking to adopt a marine industry panel recommendation to load and unload bicyclists after all motorized vehicles. He indicated that a WSF response to the panel's report (due to the governor and legislature November 15) will simply say that ferry managers will further examine the issue. "We definitely do not want to make any changes at this time," said Moseley. "I don't know if these are changes that we would want to make if the structures in place can't be improved. We want to have discussions with our bicyclist customers to see if collaboratively we can make it better for everyone."

In a meeting with bicycle representatives November 4 attended by Bicycle Alliance of Washington executive director Barbara Culp and Squeaky Wheels vice president Gordon Black, Moseley was reassuring that on the list of issues facing the ferry system that the bike loading was "not hot."  Among the panel's list of recommendations are highly sensitive issues related to crews and union contracts. The bicycle loading issues are, by contrast, relatively low in the hierarchy of challenges the ferry system is facing. State ferries are under financial pressure to cut costs.

Members of the panel drawn from passenger ferry operators around the US visited Washington State this summer and drew up a report issued in early September. It drew a highly critical response from bicyclists, fearful that the present system of three loadings for bicyclists dating to 1999 would be negatively changed. At a meeting called by Squeaky Wheels September 28, some 30 bicycle commuters voiced concerns and ideas to improve safety.

Plan for on-going dialog

The loading issue won't be back on WSF's agenda until after the 2011 legislative session, which is scheduled to end sometime in May. In light of the loading issue and on-going problems with space for bikes on the Seattle-Bainbridge ferries, Moseley responded favorably to the idea of setting up a regular forum with bicyclists to discuss all bike-related issues. Details of a future advisory committee on bike issues will be discussed in coming months. Squeaky Wheels will be represented on this new committee - and will be working to protect and promote the interests of bicyclists.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

John Streich: Farewell to a Friend

John Streich working at the 2008 auction.
John Streich was one of the first volunteers I met when I joined the Bicycle Alliance staff in 1994.  A friendly and personable guy, John liked to volunteer for things that allowed him to interact with others.  You may have met him staffing our booth at Bike Expo, greeting guests arriving at the auction, or stuffing envelopes at our month end work parties.

John was an adventurous man who led a colorful life.  A technical engineer, he called me one winter to tell me that he needed to back out of a volunteer commitment because he was on his way to Canada to help with avalanche control.  John loved the outdoors.  Besides bicycling, his pursuits included hiking, climbing and sailing.

One of my fondest memories of John was at a volunteer party several years ago.  He was explaining how he had worked aboard a cruise ship one season as a dance partner to single ladies, then demonstrated his dancing skills by dipping a surprised volunteer.

John Streich died last week after a brief bout with cancer.  He will be missed by his friends at the Bicycle Alliance.  Pedal in peace, my friend.