The Online Voice of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2011 Legislative Priorities

A big part of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington’s mission is working in the State Legislature to make Washington state even more bike-friendly. Washington has been named the “most bike friendly state” three years in a row (the only state to ever be #1) by the League of American Bicyclists, but we all know there is more to be done to make our communities welcoming to everyone who might ride.

On June 12th, the Bicycle Alliance Legislative and Statewide Issues Committee met to set our priorities for the 2011 Legislative Session for recommendation to the full board. Committee members represent bike clubs and interests from around the state. We had at least nine counties and almost as many bike clubs represented. Many views and interests were expressed, but we came to agreement around:

Mutual Courtesy and Safe Passing Act. This bill would enhance the existing requirement for drivers to pass bicyclists safely and include other needed clarifications on bike-car interactions.

Share the Road bicycle and pedestrian education added to traffic school curriculum. This bill is modeled after the law the Bicycle Alliance got passed requiring all driver education schools in the state to teach a bicycle and pedestrian awareness curriculum.

Authorizing lower speed limits. By allowing cities and counties to adopt lower speed limits it would decrease bicyclist and pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Currently, lower limits can only be specified for school and construction zones.

Directional signs and bike maps are considered advisory. Motivated by Pierce County saying they’ll no longer publish a bike map due to a lawsuit by a cyclist injured while following a route, we want to protect both cyclists and the expansion cycling information and visibility.

Complete Streets grant program. Jurisdictions that have complete streets policies would be eligible to apply for state grant funding for implementation. This bill is another carryover from 2010, an effort led by the Bicycle Alliance of Washington and Transportation Choices Coalition, among others.

Vulnerable Users. This would create an enhanced penalty if a pedestrian or cyclist (or other vulnerable roadway users) are killed or seriously injured by a motorist who violates a traffic law (such as failing to yield the right of way or speeding). Cascade Bicycle Club is the lead on this effort, and we are already working again to support it.

We’ll be keeping an eye out on the Safe Routes to School program making sure the community demand for grants and safe places to walk and bike is considered and that hopefully funding is increased when budgets and bills are written. The Bicycle Alliance will also work with other stakeholders to revise the Cost-Benefit law for transportation investments and a transportation funding package with significant investment in alternative transportation modes.

The Bicycle Alliance has a decades-long history of success in Olympia. The credit goes to our members and supporters who help give a bicyclists and potential bike riders a voice when laws are written.

Use this link to learn more about our priorities.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Teaching Safe Choices

I started to write a long post about bicycling safety. It included lots of statistics, facts, and figures. Ultimately, though, I found it very difficult to write about staying safe on a bike. When it comes to defining "safe," you'll get as many different definitions as people you ask.

Remember when your mom or dad taught you to ride a bike and told you "Only ride on the sidewalk"? Many adult bicyclists still adhere to that advice in the mistaken belief that it's safer on sidewalks.

Remember how your running coach always told you to run against traffic so you could see cars coming? Adult cyclists want to see what's coming, too, and ride the wrong way against traffic in a mistaken belief that's safer than having cars approach from behind.

Remember how as a pedestrian you could, at opportune moments, ignore the signal and dash across the street real quick with no negative repercussions? Even more than pedestrians, bicyclists hate having to slow or stop, and many blatantly run stop lights (not to mention stop signs!).

People firmly believe that these activities really are safer.

My question (questions, really) for you, then, is this: How should we as informed bicyclists respond in these situations? A very few bicyclists engaging in dangerous and rude behavior makes bicycling less safe for all of us. Do we have a responsibility to educate misinformed bicyclists as we see them putting themselves in danger? Is there a way to do this effectively, without sounding like an obnoxious know-it-all? Is it possible to improve safety and enjoyment for bicyclists and motorists alike through on-the-spot education?

Or must we simply fall back on the truth that the only person you can control is yourself?

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Ultimate Social Bike Ride

The Bicycle Alliance of Washington marched--I mean biked-- in Sunday's Pride Parade in Seattle and the Dutch Bike Company generously lent us the use of their Conference Bike for the event.  All we had to do was pick up the bike late Saturday afternoon at their store in Ballard and deliver it to the Bike Alliance office in Pioneer Square, then return it before the shop closed on Sunday.

The Conference Bike, with seating for seven, is no ordinary bike.  At 8' long and 6' wide and weighing in at nearly 500 lbs, you don't toss this bike in the back of a pickup truck or put it on a Metro bus bike rack.  This bike is also too big for our trails, so we would be navigating this baby on the streets of Seattle.  This would be a major Share the Road vehicle!

I issued a call for assistance among our loyal volunteers to ride this bike to our office and, within an hour, I had my Conference Bike team: Bill Bloxom, Steve Keithly, Vicki Moseley, Charlie Tiebout, Marti Verkuilen, Jeremy Vrablik, and me.

Only one person controls the steering and braking for the Conference Bike and Charlie volunteered to be our captain.  The rest of us provided the pedal power.  We took a lane on Leary Way then pedaled and chatted our way to Fremont, where we paused as the drawbridge closed.

"What is that thing?" curious onlookers asked.

"It's a Conference Bike!" we replied.

"What are you doing?" one guy asked.

"We're conferencing!" was our reply.

We rolled across the Fremont Bridge then turned onto Westlake Avenue.  We pedaled to the cheers of encouragement and amusement from pedestrians, passing motorists, and other cyclists!  A street vendor pulled out his cell phone to snap our picture.  Several Ride the Duck vehicles passed us by.  We rang our bike bells as the tourists blew their quackers and snapped our photos.

At Bell Street, we turned west and all of us applied our pedal power to get us up the hill.  Another comment about the Conference Bike:  it is a single-speed vehicle and doesn't travel very fast.  We averaged about 6 mph overall and cruised a cool 17 mph through downtown on First Avenue.  Thanks to Bill for the stats--he downloaded a speedometer app during our ride. 

A special shout out to Jeremy's friend Nick who accompanied us on his bike for much of the ride.  Nick occasionally reminded motorists to share the road with us by directing the traffic around us and guiding us through some tight spots.

We followed First Avenue into Pioneer Square, then made our way to the sport stadiums where we pedaled a victory lap before we dropped the Conference Bike off at the Bike Alliance office.  Hands down, this was the ultimate social ride on a bike!

Check out Jeremy's video of our cruise through downtown.  Thanks to Steve Keithly for the photos.

Friday, June 25, 2010

They're on the Road

Yes, it's been cold and wet this spring. Yes, it's sometimes intimidating. Yes, it's hilly in Seattle. But there's lots of folks on the road. In the course of a couple of days I stopped at...

a coffee shop...

The library...

A grocery store...

And there were always folks on bikes there ahead of me.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hub and Spoke: Next Stop Vancouver

The Bicycle Alliance of Washington continues to grow and nurture the seeds of bicycle advocacy in our state. In March, we launched our Hub and Spoke outreach tour in Wenatchee and over 50 cyclists joined us for a discussion of biking issues at the local, state and national levels.

Tomorrow we take our Hub and Spoke tour to Vancouver, where critical cycling issues have hit the forefront. We’ll meet with members of BikeMe! Vancouver, Vancouver Bicycle Club and other area cyclists to discuss the bike issue du jour, elimination of funding for the City’s Bicycle Program, among other things.

We also want to celebrate the cycling successes--and there have been successes. We want to thank Vancouver advocates who helped us pass the cell phone bill, which is now law. We want to hear about the new bike facilities that are in place. We want to talk about the progress that has been made with Safe Routes to School.

Please join us for this timely event if you live in Vancouver/Clark County. And please share this with others you know who care about the future of bicycling in this important region. Light appetizers will be provided. A no-host bar will be available.

Hub and Spoke: Vancouver
Thursday, June 24 at 5:30PM
Woody’s Tacos/Vancouver Marketplace
210 W Evergreen Blvd (corner of Columbia)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What Sir Isaac Newton Would Say to Washington's Drivers, Lawmakers, and Traffic Engineers

Funny thing about the laws of physics: You can study them, you can conduct experiments about them, and you can expand your understanding of them. But you can never, ever, break them.

This in contrast to, say, the laws of the Washington State Legislature.

This is a distinction that many drivers do not seem to have grasped. How many times have you seen a half-dozen cars tailgating each other up the fast lane at 80 miles an hour? If the State Patrol's not around, nobody gets a ticket. But if the guy in front has to hit his brakes suddenly, there's gonna be a crash, police presence or no. Sir Isaac could have told them that.

Drivers aren't the only ones who could use a physics lesson. Lawmakers and traffic engineers who set speed limits could use a refresher course, too.

Let's begin with vehicle stopping distance. There are two components to consider: driver reaction time, and braking distance once the driver does react.

Logic dictates that the higher a vehicle's speed, the farther it will travel before the driver reacts to, say, a pedestrian who has stepped off the curb. According to an excellent paper by the Australian Academy of Science, small increases in speed can make a big difference. For example, given typical driver reaction time, a car traveling at 65 km/h (40.4 mph) will travel almost 89 feet between the time the driver sees the pedestrian and the time he or she slams on the brakes. That's about seven feet farther than a car traveling at 60 km/h (37.3 mph). And reaction time can be significantly longer for distracted drivers.

Add to this the fact that braking distance is proportional to the square of velocity, and you end up with strikingly longer total stopping distances given relatively modest increases in speed. For instance, in the example above, the car traveling at 65 km/h will take almost 15 feet longer to stop than the car traveling at 60 km/h--a 12 percent increase in stopping distance, even though the speed difference is a little more than 3 miles an hour.

But there's more: if a car does hit a pedestrian, the chances that the pedestrian will die increase drastically with speed. This is because force of impact increases as the square of speed; in other words, a car traveling at 40 miles an hour will strike the pedestrian with four times the force of a car traveling at 20 miles an hour. Here's what that means for pedestrian death and injury rates, according to statistics from the UK as cited on SF Streets Blog; a wealth of information from other sources supports these numbers:

In Europe, a growing number of countries have moved to lower residential speed limits to 30 km/h (about 20 mph). Look at the chart above and you'll see why. 30 km/h speed limits are widespread in the Netherlands, which has the lowest vehicle accident death rate (and safest cycling) in the world.

And the BBC reported that the introduction of 20 mph zones in London cut road injuries by more than 40 percent and reduced by half traffic deaths and serious injuries among children. In all, researchers estimated that 200 lives a year had been saved. A British safety official called 20 mph zones "one of the most effective ways of protecting vulnerable road users, especially children."

What can we take away from this little physics lesson? For drivers it's obvious: slow down, don't push the speed limit, and don't tailgate. A few miles an hour, and a few feet, can mean the difference between life and death (Note to Seattle drivers: No, it's really not OK to average 40 mph in 30 zones).

For traffic engineers: expand traffic calming and consider lowering speed limits, sometimes dramatically. Just as important, police should emphasize strict enforcement.

And for our state's lawmakers: consider lowering the default speed limits set under state law, and give local officials the clear legal authority to establish widespread 20 mph zones. Current state law appears to prohibit this except under special circumstances, such as in school zones.

I'm sure that everyone agrees that saving lives is more important than saving a few minutes. Now it's time to act on that belief.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Biking is Sensual

Biking is sensual. It stimulates my senses in a fashion that traveling by car cannot and immerses me in my environment.

I am dazzled by the array of colors I see in rhododenrons, azaleas, and tulips in my neighborhood. The chalked hopscotch and foursquare boxes on the sidewalk amuse me. I make mental notes of upcoming yard sales and community events I see posted on the utility poles as I roll by. Sometimes I encounter a sunset so breathtaking, that I am compelled to pull my bike off the street to admire it.
When biking to work on spring mornings, I become heady from the wafts of floral scents that my nose detects from lilacs, lavenders and other plants in bloom. I can smell the fishiness of the marine air and my stomach grumbles when I catch the yummy smells from nearby bakeries.

My ears catch so many sounds as I bicycle between home and work. Cooper, my neighbor's dog, barks his greeting each morning as I pass through the alley. I eavesdrop on snippets of private conversation as I roll by the bus stop. The joyous laughter of children and their light footfalls reach my ears. I hear a ferry sound its foghorn in Elliott Bay.

It's thrilling to feel the wind on my face as I coast downhill on my way to work. It's comforting to feel the warm sun on my shoulders after days of riding with overcast skies. It's refreshing to be splashed by water from lawn sprinklers and garden hoses as I ride by.

Sometimes, as I bike through my neighborhood, I catch a whiff of bacon so pronounced that I can taste it. I detect a salty flavor in the rain as it comes ashore from Puget Sound. I appreciate the refreshing glass of lemonade that I buy from the entrepreneurial kid who set up a lemonade stand on the corner.

Heightened senses are a key ingredient to my survival on the streets too.

My eyes constantly scan for movement and hazards around me. I track the cat on the sidewalk that might dart out in front of me. I anticipate the left turning motorist who crosses my line of travel. I’m on the lookout for potholes, glass and other street hazards that are a bane to cyclists.

I listen for the sound of vehicles approaching from behind me, and I wish that passing cyclists would give me some sort of audible warning as well. I’m alert to the warning bark of dogs as they prepare to give chase. I’m bummed when I hear the hissing sound of air escaping from my tire as it goes flat.

When I’m on a bike, I can feel the road. I experience the smoothness of blacktop and the pebbly rocks in chip seal. I am jarred by potholes and shaken to the bone by rumble strips. I feel the heat of the day rising from the pavement in the summer. I am buffeted by the wind created by a passing semi truck.

Yes, biking is sensual. It confirms that I am alive!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

To Roll or Not To Roll

Hi, my name is Katie, and I roll through stop signs.

I’ll be the first to admit that I ride right through 4 stop signs in on my morning commute across I-90 (sometimes I slow down…sometimes I don’t). In the afternoon, I blow through so many stop signs on the Burke-Gilman trail that I can’t even count them. When this topic comes up, I usually hasten to add that I always stop at stop lights, as if that redeems my blatantly illegal stop sign flaunting.

I know the law; RCW 46.61.190 states quite clearly,
(2) Except when directed to proceed by a duly authorized flagger, or a police officer, or a firefighter vested by law with authority to direct, control, or regulate traffic, every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop sign shall stop at a clearly marked stop line
Since bicyclists are drivers of vehicles (RCW 46.04.670), this law clearly applies to us. Yet if you’re like me, you have probably rolled through your share of stop signs, too. And odds are, like me, you don’t feel particularly guilty about those illegal non-stops, either -- even if the behavior outrages motorists a little bit.

Why is stopping, or not stopping, at a stop sign such a big deal? There has been plenty of discussion about why (here, here, and here [PDF], for starters). As fellow bicyclists, you probably already have an answer ready, and I bet your answer runs along these lines: It all comes down to momentum, an issue that doesn’t even register on the radar of motorists or even most pedestrians. Bicyclists crave momentum, hoard it, and release it only under duress. Stopping at stop signs, particularly at completely empty intersections at the bottom of big hills, kills our momentum and makes us work hard to get going again. This rubs us the wrong way, particularly at empty intersections.

However, few topics divide cyclists more quickly than what to do around stop signs. That means there's an entire contingent of vehicular cyclists who say that the law is clear: Bicyclists should "drive" their pedal-powered vehicles the same as they would a motor vehicle, including coming to a full and complete stop* when traffic control devices mandate it. Additionally, there are other concerns around riding through stop signs: It makes cyclists unpredictable and thus more prone to collisions with other vehicles; it infuriates motorists and increases ill-will between motorists and cyclists (see, for example, here, here, and here); it makes the cyclist more likely to hit pedestrians in crosswalks; the reasons and concerns go on.

This brings us to the question of what we should do about this issue. The law clearly doesn’t reflect reality, and many cyclists would argue that the law shouldn’t apply to us for various reasons. Alternatives such as the Idaho stop have received plenty of discussion, but our strict stop-at-stop-signs law remains on the books. Should the Bicycle Alliance pursue an Idaho stop law (the BTA's 2009 effort to implement such a law in Oregon failed), or some other alternative? Should bicyclists more strictly adhere to the law if only to forestall motorists’ eternal complaining about “those law-breaking bicyclists,” since our casual attitude toward stopping always comes out as the first piece of evidence against us?

I know this discussion has only scratched the surface of the issues surrounding stop signs. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the topic. Do you stop every time? Should you have to?

* We won’t even get into whether you have to put your foot down or if a track stand counts as a complete stop.

Stop sign image courtesy of

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I Bike: Tom Radley

I met Tom Radley of Redmond in the mid 1990s when he stepped forward as an early supporter of the East Lake Sammamish Trail.  He lived on the lake at that time and, according to Tom, he dearly wanted to see the trail built.  Today, Tom is retired and rides this gem of a trail often.

Tom has enjoyed bicycling since childhood and fondly recalls earning the Cycling Merit Badge as a Boy Scout.  He rode his first STP in 1980 and became hooked on long distance riding and touring.  Although retired from full time work, Tom leads rides for Adventure Cycling Association.  He gets "tremendous satisfaction from helping others enjoy and be motivated to do human powered travel."

Tom bikes for many reasons--health, recreation, exercise and transportation.  Most of his vacations the past 30 years have been by bicycle.

"You see much more on a bike and the experience is so much richer. You use all your senses at once to fully soak in the environment," said Tom.  "And when you see other cyclists on the road, they are always smiling!" he added.

Tell us your story!  I Bike is a project of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington to put a personal face on bicycling when we talk to elected officials and the public.  Contact Louise McGrody if you'd like to share your I Bike story.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What Are Volunteers For?

Disclaimer: This article is solely the opinion of the author and does not reflect the opinion of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, its volunteers, its board, or its employees.

So far this blog has focused on bicycling-related topics, which makes good sense, what with the Bicycle Alliance’s interest in bikes and all. Nary a word has been written, though, about the Bicycle Alliance as a nonprofit. Nonprofits exist in an interesting world of grants, donations, and in-kind help.

Nearly all nonprofit organizations rely on volunteers (pictured: Volunteer Ted Inkley working at the Bicycle Alliance's Bike Expo booth) to achieve their missions. How, though, should an organization like the Bicycle Alliance use volunteer labor? Pablo Eisenberg sums up one common view of volunteer labor succinctly: “Although volunteers can certainly provide useful ancillary services, they cannot solve deeply rooted problems.” On the other end of the spectrum, Richard Lynch argues that volunteers are as reliable or unreliable as paid staff, and that a good volunteer program enables an organization to:
  1. Engage the community as a partner in accomplishing its mission.
  2. Access to all the skills available in the community.
  3. Accomplish its mission more easily.
  4. Escape its financial constraints.
Other benefits of a program that uses volunteers at all levels include, but are not limited to:
  • Expanding the organization’s influence.
  • Increasing community representation within the organization.
  • Increasing donations, since volunteers are often also long-term donors.
  • More depth and focus on one project than a staff person, drawn in a variety of directions, could normally provide.
In short, volunteers can enable an organization to meet all its goals and frees the organization from its constraints.

Sounds pretty ideal, doesn’t it? Yet most organizations limit their volunteers’ effectiveness for lack of imagination about what volunteers can do for them. I hope, during the remainder of my tenure as an AmeriCorps intern, to begin expanding the Bicycle Alliance’s volunteer program. Some day we will offer the kind of vibrant, exciting volunteering activities that attract bicyclists of all stripes. Will you join us in making this vision a reality?

We can only accomplish what we believe we can accomplish. I believe we can do this. If you’re interested in helping me to revolutionize the Bicycle Alliance’s impact with a strong, exciting, effective volunteer program, contact me at katief (at)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Weather Radar

May has been wetter and colder than normal, which makes me think about riding in the rain. I'm willing and usually prepared to ride in the rain, but I don't like to get wet. I dodge the rain whenever I can. I have a very flexible work schedule so I often avoid a wet trip to the office by waiting a few minutes.

In the middle of Bike To Work Month meteorologist Cliff Mass posted at his blog about using weather radar to sneak in a bike ride to work between the raindrops.
An interesting and critical fact about rain is that it is rarely uniform. There are heavy areas and light areas and breaks. By viewing radar animations you can spot the light areas, or make a good estimate when one will be at your location. So if you have some flexibility of when you bike, delaying or advancing your trip by a 10-15 minutes, you can nearly always avoid the real heavy stuff or secure a dry ride even on a supposedly rainy day. The more flexibility you have the better your chance of staying dry.
You can find radar coverage on the web at:
(These links are for Seattle, where I live. Each of the top pages has a search box where you can point the forecast site to your location.)

Smartphone apps can deliver weather forecasts and radar views when you are away from your keyboard. The Weather app delivered with the iPhone shows only a very brief summary forecast and no radar. Two better apps for the iPhone are:
WeatherBug is my current favorite. There's a free, ad-supported version so you can try it out. The paid version removes the advertisements and the animated radar view shows how fast that squall is coming.

Anyone else have a favorite weather resource?

(If you are seeing this in Facebook, please return to the Bicycle Alliance blog to post comments.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cyber Cynic

What is that sucking sound?

I am new to blogs and blogging, with less than a month of online posts under my belt. I receive at least two emails a day at work that link me to seemingly unending information and opinions about all things bicycle, and the number is rising. The only reason these emails get past the spam filter is that the folks sending them are on my contacts list.

Reading these blogs about bicycling was for me like going to sea for the first time: I can tell it will take awhile to keep from getting dizzy from the constant back and forth, up and down, and the feeling of being trapped. I love getting on the boat that is the article on the other end of the link, but then we leave the dock. An instant rough sea waits at the end of the blog post, with all of the comments, and comments on comments, replies to replies, and often a chance to jump overboard with MORE LINKS.

Reading blog commentary, I am sucked into the brains of other people, and I reflexively try to follow the reasoning (and even the unreasonable). It seems that the internet' ability to allow instant letters to the editor (sans the editing), attracts extremes of point of view and experience. Bicycling blog commentary seem to follow a pattern:

first comment--usually thumbs up, with a shout out to the credibility of the commenter’s reply.
Reply to first comment--you are nuts!, and here is why...........
Reply to first reply's reply--come on now, why can't we get along.....

second comment--usually thumbs down, with a discrediting reference to data that is may or may not be backed up by a LINK to a study disputing some content of the article, plus maybe a little snipe at first commenter
Reply to second comment-- a LINK to a study disputing the above non supported data and a LINK to data that supports the writer's right to dispute to second commentator's comment
Reply to second reply's reply--come on now, why can't we get along.....

third comment—cynicism or lame attempt at using a previous posting as the butt of a joke.

I just finished Josh Cohen’s PubliCola post about putting in a Cycle Track on Dexter. Josh’s blog was simple, factual and educational, and something about bicycle infrastructure that I have not seen in the Seattle Times, yet. OK, so no links to follow in the comments section, but 62 postings all culminating in what? Did anyone commenting change their opinion, or was it just a morning fix of agitation (political caffeine)?

Please believe me when I say that I am not one of those “let’s all get along” idealists. But I would hate to become so cynical and isolated that all I did anymore was fire off one-liners in cyberspace, entirely intent on polishing my cynicism. I happen to like observing human behavior.  My Mom was a great people watcher and could make up a life story for anybody, usually focusing on the good in a person without judging the book by its cover. I also know that she drew on her infamous photographic memory---recalling relevant information that came from one of the three daily newspapers she took---and she enjoyed pointing out an Op Ed writer’s misstatements, or a politician’s rhetoric.
I try to imagine what she would have had to say about a bike blog’s detractors and champions. I truly appreciated her prowess at critical thinking and fact based schooling of loud mouths, and I feel her distaste for the blood sport of attacks on life choices, or mean spirited aspersions on anyone’s desire to influence change for the common good.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Wagner’s music, skydiving, and getting Americans to ride their bikes

“Wagner’s music,” Mark Twain once observed, “is actually much better than it sounds.”
Which reminds me of trying to convince my non-bicycling friends that riding a bike is actually much safer than it seems.
“I would never ride a bike in Seattle,” they declare. “All those cars. It’s just too risky.” And I’ll respond: “I know it might feel dangerous, but it’s really not. Statistically, only 5.8 cyclists die for every 100 million kilometers cycled in the United States.” And they’ll say: “Statistics be damned. Bicycling on the street makes me feel like I’m roller-skating in a buffalo stampede. I’ll keep jogging, thank you.”
If perceived danger keeps Americans off their bikes in droves, then how can you convince them that they’re wrong? I think the answer is: You can’t. People’s first-hand impressions will trump cold statistics every time. Only when bicycling feels safe will more people will do it.
European bike blogger David Hembrow likens it to skydiving. Statistics show that there’s only one death for every 122,000 jumps. That means that you could skydive once a day for 334 years before you were killed. Great--but it doesn’t convince most people to jump out of airplanes, because it still doesn’t feel like a safe thing to do.
It’s the same thing with bicycles. Hembrow believes that the only way to increase cycling rates is to increase riders’ sense of “subjective safety.”
How do you do that? Hembrow argues that the key is good infrastructure that separates cyclists from cars, and the statistics support him.
The highest cycling rates in the first world are in countries where the infrastructure is best. Both the Netherlands and Denmark have emphasized construction of first-rate separated bike facilities. The result? In the Netherlands, 27 percent of all trips are made by bicycle. Compare this to the United States, where the bicycle’s share stands at a miserable one percent. In Copenhagen, which has 350 kilometers of physically-separated bicycle “tracks” along its arterial streets, 55 percent of all residents get to school or work by bicycle. In “bike-friendly” Seattle, it’s three percent.
You can see how separated infrastructure increases “subjective safety” by taking a ride on a local bike trail. I was on Seattle’s Burke-Gilman Trail last Saturday morning. It was sunny, and the trail was clogged with cyclists of all descriptions. Not just road warriors, either. There were kids in bike trailers, kids on the bike behind mom or dad, and kids on their own bikes with training wheels. If parents are willing to let their children ride somewhere, then you know they believe it’s safe.
Yes, building good bike infrastructure costs money. But it’s sure cheap compared to building new highways and parking garages. And it’s the only way we can bring bicycling out of the realm of fringe activities and into the mainstream.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Rhapsodizing on RAPSody Bike Ride

We Northwesterners live in a beautiful place. I am reminded of that each time I get to enjoy views of the Puget Sound, of the Cascades and of the Olympic Mountains from the seat of a bicycle. Of course, you can see the scenery from a car, too, but on a bike you can smell the salt and the trees, live the shape of the landscape in its hills and see at a pace that lets you notice the smaller things as well as the big - the herons, the slack of the tide on the shore, the ripened blackberries within arms reach.

Enjoying the Puget Sound by bicycle is what RAPSody is all about. For seven years five bicycle clubs have organized the Ride Around Puget Sound with 100% of proceeds going to the Bicycle Alliance of Washington. RAPSody is Aug. 28-29 this year. We call it a ride “by cyclists, for cyclists.” Our priorities have always been a great route supported by great food stops. With 170 miles of rolling hills, RAPSody is not easy, but it is relaxed and friendly enough for most anyone to complete with a smile on their face. .

To fuel your ride, you get homemade cookies (thanks to West Sound Cycling Club), hot calzones (served by BIKES Club of Snohomish County ), yogurt and granola parfaits (Capital Bicycling Club ), sandwich wraps in the shade of an old McDonalds’ playground character (Cyclists of Greater Seattle) and ice cream and cow bells for your finish (Tacoma Wheelmen Bicycle Club).

A couple timely notes. First, the deadline to order a RAPSody jersey designed by Tacoma Wheelmen artist Steve Lay is June 30. Take a look at this year’s heron theme and you’ll see why his jerseys always sell out.

The early registration deadline for RAPSody is July 27. You’ll save $15 and help the organizers plan. This is the kind of event you CANNOT register for on the day of the ride, so do commit by Aug. 13. You also save $10 if you are a member of or join the Bicycle Alliance.

Finally, a request for help: We are looking for a fun, oldies rock band to play at Shelton High School during dinner Saturday night. We do have a budget to pay a stipend - and the rewards of getting tired cyclists to get up and dance are priceless. If you know of a local band that might be interested, please email

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Report Street Hazards - Persistence Can Pay Off

Potholes, cracked pavement, and drain grates--oh my!  Not only are these street conditions annoying, they can be hazardous to your cycling health.  So what's a bicyclist to do about these street hazards?  Report them!

I know of two websites that are designed to report street hazards:  Bicycle Watchdog and Bikewise.  The first site limits its services to Washington State, the second claims to serve the world. Both sites require you to create an account in order to submit a report and both promise to forward your report to the responsible jurisdiction.  It's difficult to tell how successful either of these reporting sites are, but it's always worth submitting a report as both of these sites serve as hazard databases.

The surest way to eliminate a known street hazard is to report it to the jurisdiction yourself.  Where to start?  You need to find the department that handles street maintenance--usually called Public Works, Roads or Transportation.  Bicycle Watchdog has a list of jurisdiction contacts so this might make a good starting point.

Some communities make it easy to report quick-fix hazards like cracks and potholes.  Spokane has a Pothole Hotline, 509.625.7733.  In Yakima you can report a pothole by calling 509.575.6005.  You can report street hazards in Seattle, Vancouver and Everett by using an online submission form.

I live in Seattle and, in the past 5 years, I have reported several street problems along my commute--a linear pavement crack, a pothole, and a traffic signal that didn't detect my bike.  The pothole was filled in a few days; the other two problems required additional follow up on my part before getting fixed.  But they did get fixed within 4-6 weeks.

Have you reported a street hazard in your community?  Tell us your story.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Give me money

“Your bike plan gives me such a thrill,
But we can’t build it if you don’t pay the bills.
Give me money, that’s what I want…”
(With apologies to the Beatles)

Aspirational goals are great. Plans are even better. But best of all is actually accomplishing what you set out to do.
Which brings us to the Seattle Bicycle Master Plan.
The plan, unveiled to much fanfare in 2007, had lofty goals: triple the amount of bicycling in Seattle within ten years, reduce bike crashes by one-third during the same period, and “make Seattle the best community for bicycling in the United States.”
Problem is, the plan is woefully underfunded. According to a February story in Seattle's Publicola news blog, funding was projected to fall about $165 million short of the $240 million required—a shortfall of nearly 70 percent. The City’s Pedestrian Master Plan is similarly short of money.
In response, a coalition of citizens’ groups has formed under the banner of “Streets for All Seattle.” Their aim: Work with City officials to find $30 million in annual revenue to make the bicycle and pedestrian plans a reality, and to fund Metro transit service.
Specific sources for the money have been discussed but final decisions haven’t been made. Instead, a Streets for All spokesperson said, “We want to have a conversation with the council, the mayor, with all of our partners to see what really works [for stable funding].” Possibilities include things such as a motor-vehicle licensing fee or an increased commercial parking tax.
The Bicycle Alliance has endorsed Streets for All’s efforts, and we’ll keep you posted as the campaign unfolds. Meanwhile, you can find out more about the coalition at

Friday, June 4, 2010

Rules of Thumb

I'm a new contributor to the Bicycle Alliance blog, so I should probably introduce myself. The basic facts:
Name: Dave Shaw
Residence: Capitol Hill, Seattle
Age: 64
Cycling since: 1973
Number of bikes: 2
Number of cars: 0

I was involved in the formation of the Northwest Bicycle Federation (NOWBike) the predecessor of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington. I attended the first BAW auction, and I still own a NOWBike T-shirt. Currently I volunteer, mostly as the resident geek. I have participated in most of the varieties of cycling - recreational, racing, long distance touring, utility - and have worked in the sport as a race and event promoter, and publisher of The Bicycle Paper. Many years, many miles.

Out of all those miles some rules of thumb have emerged:

A split second is the time between when you unclip your foot from the pedal and when the light changes.

If you ride south in the morning, the wind will blow from the north in the afternoon.

Twelve miles an hour is about the best speed you can make through city traffic however fast you sprint between traffic lights.

The optimal seat tube length for your road bike is equal to the circumference of your head less 2 cm. (Credited to Bill Ferrell, developer of the Fit Kit, in the catalog of The Third Hand of Ashland, Oregon.)

The sum of the weight of your bike and the lock you would use to secure it on a college campus is a constant.

When you take a long trip, plan only half of it and leave the other half open for enjoying surprises.

Pace lines are fastest with 4 to 6 bikes. Fewer is not enough horsepower, more riders increases the chance of a pace-breaking disruption.

The batteries in your lights never go flat when the bike is at home.

Add an hour to your usual check-in time at the airport if you are bringing a bike.

A bike shop will take twice as long to true your wheel if you have worked on it first.

If there are n types of tires in your group, there will be n-1 types of spares. The nth person will get a flat.

For in-town trips less than about 3 miles, a bike will be faster than either a car or the bus door-to-door.

Soon after you first adopt cleated shoes, you will have a “falling down story.” It happened to all of us.

Saddles don’t “break in,” butts do. If your saddle hurts after 20 or 30 miles, get one that fits you. You’ll know it’s right if it doesn’t hurt.

When a local person gives you directions like “Just down the road a mile,” it won't be either down or a mile.

Maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. Optimal training rate is 80% of that. It will hurt to go that fast.

A “quick stop” on a group ride is 5 minutes times the number of people. Double that if it’s raining.

Often is better than long. Five 10-mile rides each week will do your training more good than a half-century every Saturday.

No matter how many bikes you have in your basement, at least once a year they will all have a flat tire simultaneously.

Bikes go faster when they are clean. (That's my excuse for going slow.)

No matter how many times you check the list, you will forget something. The best you can hope for is that it will be something you can replace at your destination.

Starting about March, all the hills in the world flatten out slowly. Somewhere around November they start getting higher and steeper again, reaching a peak just before your first ride of the season. This is a known physical fact.

Who else has a favorite rule of thumb?

(If you are seeing this in Facebook, please return to the Bicycle Alliance blog to post comments.)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ding-a-Ling, a Heavenly Sound

As cyclists, we hear plenty about motorist-bicyclist friction, possibly because one-ton hunks of metal hurtling around us seem like the greatest threat to our safety. In reality, bicyclist-motorist collisions comprise a mere 17% of all bicycle crashes. The largest cause, according to the League of American Bicyclists, chalk 50% of all crashes up to operator error. We are perfectly capable of bringing ourselves to the ground all on our lonesome. The final 33% of crashes cover everything else: Bicyclists hitting (or being hit by) animals, other bicyclists, or something other than a car.

It's this last category that interests me, since during Bike to Work Month, the number of bicyclists on the road -- and thus the likelihood of colliding with another bicyclist -- increased dramatically. This means that lots of people who normally only ride on weekends hop in the saddle during normal commuting hours and start working on logging those miles.

What did this wonderful increase in cycling mean for me personally? More than anything else, I experienced a dramatic increase in stealth passing, usually by bike path racers. Innumerable times on my commute, I would be blithely pedaling along and suddenly find another cyclist next to me, often much closer than was safe, ghosting by with nary a word or ding-a-ling. Not only did this discourtesy irritate me, it endangered me unnecessarily.

I love to see more people bicycling, and I dream one day of living in a society where nobody bats an eye at biking for transportation because it's as normal as driving is right now. But I hope that when that day comes -- and you can be sure it will come -- it comes with a good dollop of on-bike courtesy, too. Let's start making that dream a reality: take a moment to politely call "On your left" or ding a bell next time you pass somebody.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I Bike: Tell Us Your Story!

The Bicycle Alliance of Washington wants to put a personal face on bicycling when we talk to elected officials, corporate supporters and the general public.  We've dubbed this effort the I Bike project.

Would you like to tell us your story so we can share it in support of our mission?  We may tell your story on our website and other forms of electronic media, in our print publications, or at presentations and outreach events.  Email me at with the following information:  your name, city, occupation/what you do, your bike story (why you bike, where you bike, why biking is important to you, etc.), and a photo of yourself.

Today I'd like you to meet Denise Jones.

I Bike: Denise Jones

Denise Jones lives in downtown Bellevue and works at the Microsoft office in Seattle's Pioneer Square.  She bikes to work 2-5 days per week.  While her job can be very stressful, Denise has her commute to mellow her out.

"I cycle because it's the greatest freaking sport on earth.  What other sport can combine your workout and your commute at the same time?" points out Denise.  "I love my bike.  I pledge allegiance to my bike," she adds.

Another bonus of biking has been weight loss.  Denise dropped 30 pounds and now wears a size 6.  Her husband thinks that's pretty cool. Denise is also an international traveler and sent us this photo of her biking in Vietnam.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hang Up or Pay Up!

A few weeks ago, as I was walking to the West Seattle Farmer's Market, I was forced to back pedal in the crosswalk as a left-turning motorist breezed through--oblivious to my presence as he chatted on his cell phone.  Sound familiar?

Beginning June 10, motorists in Washington State can be ticketed for using a handheld cell phone or sending and receiving text messages while driving.  For drivers younger than 18, even the use of a hands-free cell phone while driving is off limits.  The fine is $124.

The passage of this law comes too late for Gordon Patterson of Vancouver.  In September 2009, Patterson, a teacher, was biking home after work when he was struck from behind in a bike lane and killed.  The motorist fled the scene and was later caught.  Evidence showed that the driver, 18-year-old Antonio Cellestine, was sending and receiving text messages when he hit Patterson.  In January of this year, he was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to five years in prison.  Read the article in The Columbian for more details.

The campaign to pass this law was spearheaded by the Driven to Distraction Task Force of Washington State, of which the Bicycle Alliance is a member.  We rallied cyclists across the state to contact their legislators in support of the bill.  As bicyclists, we are more vulnerable on the roadway to inattentive drivers than folks enclosed in vehicles.

This law won't ensure our safety on the roads but, if this law is enforced, it will help.  I, for one, will continue to watch out for the other guy.