The Online Voice of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Saving the View, One Ride at a Time

View from Seward ParkRiding across the I-90 bridge on my morning commute, I reveled in the mountain views. What a beautiful place I have the honor and pleasure of calling home! Yet the view saddened me, too: After a day or two without rain, the smog buildup begins obscuring the mountains. This morning, after a dry week, I could barely make out Mt. Rainier. It looked like a mirage, faint white and blue brush strokes painted onto the blue-brown horizon. The Cascades hid in the hazy distance, and the Olympics shyly showed only a faint outline to the west.

This saddened me because I remember how stunning, even breathtaking, I found the same vistas in January. When the clouds and rain gave us surcease, the mountains came out looking close enough to touch. The Cascades and Olympics stood out vividly, their snow-capped peaks cutting boldly across the wintry blue sky, their foothills definitively black and navy and purple. Sunrise light (which coincided with my morning commute) gilded Mt. Rainier and its shawl of wispy clouds, later turning the snow the colors of a Dream Come True.

Comparing my memory of the crisp winter mountain views with the summer's smoggy blur reinforced my top reason for bicycling: reducing my environmental impact. Cutting carbon footprint isn't on the forefront of most bicyclists' minds. People usually ride to save money -- that's the number one reason. Other reasons to ride include:
  • Building exercise into your day (don't pay for a gym membership, don't have to exercise the willpower to workout after a long day, don't have to fit it in time-wise);
  • Not needing to buy gas (which goes back to money, not supporting foreign nations, and contributing less to horrific environmental disasters);
  • Easier parking (park in your cubicle, against any fence or post, in pretty much any secure place, or, in Pioneer Square, BIKE PORT); and
  • Faster commuting (in the city riding often outpaces taking a bus or driving; see here and here)
The added bonus of reducing CO2 emissions is a maraschino cherry atop the sundae of reasons for bicycling for many cyclists. But for me, living in Seattle and loving the place itself, bicycling is about doing my bit to keep Washington beautiful. This place is my home. I'm responsible for caring for it, so I ride my bike.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

First Thursday Open House and Photo Exhibit

Louise Kornreich photo
The Bicycle Alliance of Washington is turning our office into a photo gallery for the Pioneer Square First Thursday art walk on August 5. We're hosting an open house from 6 - 8 pm and featuring the photographic works of Bike Alliance members Louise Kornreich, Carla Gramlich and Susan Hiles.

Louise Kornreich, Seattle, has pursued photography almost as long as she has pursued cycling.  She finds that the two activities fit well together.  With a camera, she can supplement her memory of a place or an event, making it more meaningful or beautiful.

"I like to travel, by bicycle or hiking boots, to destinations near and far, often writing about them on my blog," stated Louise, who is the President of COGS - Cyclists of Greater Seattle .

Carla Gramlich photo
Tacoma resident Carla Gramlich developed a passion for photography when she was in grade school, but recalled her father being unhappy that she was "wasting" film.  She did a photography internship when she was in high school, then worked for awhile at a photo lab in Portland.

Carla enjoys nature and urban photography.  She plans to retire next year and is looking forward to some travel time on her bicycle.  She has outfitted  her touring bike with an Ortlieb case so can carry her photo gear with her.  Carla is a member of the Tacoma Wheelmen's Bicycle Club and sits on their board.

Susan Hiles photo
Susan Hiles of Bellevue became interested in photography in the early 90's when an attorney she worked for gave her a camera.  She has since moved on to digital photography and is active with several local camera clubs.  She enjoys macro photography, and has spent a lot of time photographing flowers and butterflies.

Susan is a member of the Cascade Bicycle Club and she has coordinated the Bike Expo Photo Contest for 5 years.  She has also served as the volunteer photographer at the Bicycle Alliance's Annual Auction.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Biking is Provocative

"Hey you!  Get off the road!"

Sound familiar?  Your presence on the street has provoked a motorist who shouts this epithet and flips you off as he roars by.  His behavior provokes feelings in you.  Maybe fear if he passed you too closely; maybe anger and indignation because you know have a right to the road.

Biking is provocative.  The act of riding a bike provokes a spectrum of feelings in us as cyclists.  Biking can be liberating, exhilarating and joyous--bringing out the inner child in us.  It's a simple pleasure that can bring an instant smile to your face.  Conversely, navigating an urban arterial at rush hour can make you feel vulnerable and intimidated.  Getting buzzed by an oversized pickup truck or chased by a snarling dog on an otherwise quiet country road is also unnerving.

The act of biking can provoke reactions from others, many positive.  I was biking home from work recently when a pedestrian yelled "yay, cyclist!" at me.  Her cheery response prompted me to smile and wave.  I have also been given a "thumbs up" from motorists, and waves of acknowledgement from fellow cyclists and motorcyclists.

My all time favorite reaction came from a preschooler standing at a street intersection with his mom.  As I approached, the boy started doing a happy dance, pointed my direction and said, "Look!  That lady is riding a bicycle!"  I stopped to share in his delight and learned from his mother that he had just received his very first bike.

Not all reactions are positive, as evidenced in the opening example.  A recent Pemco Insurance poll confirmed that most motorists are uneasy drving around cyclists (see previous blog post).  They aren't sure how cyclists should behave and they don't necessarily know how to share the road with bikes.

We cyclists can do our part to reduce negative reactions from motorists by riding safely in traffic and following the rules of the road.  If you're new to biking, check the Bicycle Alliance website for information on bike commuting, bike maps, local clubs and Washington State bike laws.  Some bike clubs and bike groups offer classes and rides to help you become comfortable biking in traffic.  Contact us if you have need help finding such a class.

The Bicycle Alliance is working to ensure that the next generation of bicyclists will have the proper riding skills through our Safe Routes to School program.  We are training middle school teachers around the state to use our bike skills curriculum with their students.

We are also busy educating motorists on how to share the road with us.  The Bicycle Alliance has developed a Share the Road curriculum that has been incorporated into all drivers education programs in Washington State.  We are now working to have this curriculum included in Traffic Schools (defensive driving classes for motorists who receive traffic tickets).

I like that biking can be provocative, and I do my best to elicit the positive reactions.  What kind of reaction does your riding style provoke?

Monday, July 26, 2010

I want to drive my bicycle, I want to drive my bike

I first heard someone say they were going to drive their bicycle about 3.5 years ago in my League Certified Instructor seminar. I found it odd at first and didn't really think much of it until the last year or two. Since a bicycle is defined as a vehicle under the Revised Code of Washington, a bicycle driver has the same rights and responsibilities as the driver of a motor vehicle. This is why it makes sense to use the word 'drive' instead of 'ride'. It also seems to make the act of bicycling sound more official and serious when you use the word drive.

I'll admit I still say ride sometimes, try as I might, I can't catch myself everytime. I try and use the word drive when I'm teaching bicycle commuter classes, it reinforces the notion that the bike is a vehicle and should be treated as such.

I don't know if the nomenclature will ever catch on fully, perhaps if we all start saying 'drive' and teach our kids how to drive their bikes it will.

Have you ever heard someone say they're going to drive their bike? Do you ever say it? What are your thoughts on the wording?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Pancakes of Champions

Fall on Bike PathThis is a very serious bicycle advocacy blog. You're here to hear about all the latest, hot-off-the-press advocacy news.

But why do you care about bike advocacy?

I'd bet my bottom dollar it's because you're a bicyclist.

And if you're a bicyclist, you probably share one of my interests: Food. That's why I'm sharing this pancake recipe. I found it a while ago and found it makes delicious, heartier-than-normal pancakes that keep me riding for many miles (the picture shows some of the miles I rode fueled by these pancakes). It’s almost like oatmeal in pancake form — truly a cyclist’s dream breakfast.

1 C. milk
3/4 C. quick-cooking rolled oats (My note: I use a very grainy oatmeal called Vermont Morning for this – mmm, hearty, slightly crunchy still, all-round fabulous, delicious, and wonderful oatmeal for normal oatmeal eating, cookies, or in pancakes as described below)

3/4 C. all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda

2 beaten eggs
1 tablespoon cooking oil

  1. In small sauce pan, heat milk until warm. Stir in oats; turn the heat down to simmer or turn it off entirely and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
  3. After 5 minutes, stir the oat mixture into the flour mixture.
  4. In a separate container, stir together beaten eggs and cooking oil.
  5. Add the eggs and cooking oil all at once to the flour-oat mixture.
  6. Stir mixture just until blended but still slightly lumpy. Do not over-mix!
  7. Heat a griddle or pan on medium-low. For each pancake, pour about 1/4 C. of the batter onto a hot, lightly-greased griddle or heavy skillet and let spread to about 4-inch circle.
    My note: Sprinkle freshly-poured pancake with fresh or frozen berries, chocolate chips, sliced apples and walnuts, or other deliciousness to add a little more flavor.
  8. Cook pancakes until they are golden brown, turning to cook the second side when the pancakes have a bubbly surface and slightly dry edges. My note: these tend to burn easily. Cook slowly at medium-low or they will end up dark brown or burned rather than golden brown.
Serve with real maple syrup, buttered with powdered sugar, topped with fresh-sliced fruit or microwaved frozen fruit. I find just two of these pancakes gives me enough energy to ride 20 or 30 miles easily.

Cool any extra pancakes on a cookie cooling rack and store in a Ziploc baggie (refrigerated if > 1 day). You can even carry them in your back pocket for on-the-road nutrition. Reheat in the microwave or eat cold as a quick, hearty snack.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Come Enjoy the New Month-End Work Party Hours!

Calling all helpers who work a normal 9 to 5 schedule!

Just for you, we have moved our always-popular Month-End Work Party, which features food, fellow cyclists, and lots of envelopes to stuff, to new hours!
The new Month-End Work Party hours are 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm.
This means that you can stop the Bicycle Alliance office by after work, hang out with your bicycling friends for a while, have a delicious and healthy snack, and improve bicycling for all Washingtonians by helping us get our monthly mailings out on time.

And, as if that isn't enough, we're adding another new feature to the Work Parties: Regular orientation for all new or interested helpers. If you've come a few times, or even lots of times, but want to learn more about the Bicycle Alliance's mission, goals, and achievements, this is your opportunity. We also talk about what you get out of giving your time for us, and how we work to maintain the best possible environment for volunteers.

I look forward to seeing you all this evening!

Does Nonprofit Mean no Payoff?

For two decades, the Bicycle Alliance of Washington has been working diligently within the political system of our State legislature. Albeit keeping less than a celebrity profile, we have a lot of respected good results to show for our hard earned seat at the table within the Capitol. Yet, within the same time span, earning a seat and wielding influence seem to be mutually exclusive in the Seattle political realm .

The Seattle Times articleCongressman Dicks finds a way around earmarks rule” ( David Heath, Huffington Post Investigative Fund), shed a whole new light on the role of non-profits and how they garner political clout, which usually leads to securing funding for the projects and programs that support an organization's mission.

The earmarks article provided me with a context for an experience I had recently at a gathering of environmental and advocacy non-profits. The keynote speaker was recently elected King County Executive Dow Constantine. His speech was purely straightforward support for the dedicated work of everyone in the room, and to honor two individuals who had dedicated their careers to fighting the good fight.

During the Q & A afterward, he answered a question about what non-profits could do better given this economy. Constantine's response was aimed entirely at grassroots organizing: we needed our memberships to attend committee and public meetings, and to keep challenging the status quo as forcefully as possible to make our voice heard. I thought, I have heard many times that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.

In my opinion, I felt it was relevant to ask him then why, after years of partnering with local agencies and governing committees, the Bicycle Alliance might have succeeded in getting a seat, but our guidance at the Seattle and King County tables continues to be ignored (or at least filed away for reference). I wanted to hear how he thought we could get through whatever political barrier prevented real influence?

Along with some more "keep up the effort" comments, he closed his answer with a seemingly practical suggestion. Constantine said that the hard “reality” to accept for any 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was that they must consider becoming a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, capable of endorsing candidates. So as I would interpret it, if we need money or tax breaks for a product or program that only the Alliance can provide, where is a Congressman when you need one?

Case in point: I now have experience sitting at tables, contributing (I always assume this) on how to change the transportation infrastructure of Seattle for the better. The Alliance recently took over management of the former Bikestation---improving the amenities into a better resource for Seattle bicyclists---and reinvigorated the bicycle parking facility into BIKE PORT.
The strategy in taking over the facility was to establish an important bicycle infrastructure mandated by the Bicycle Master Plan, and in the process we would also create a viable model for replication anywhere in Seattle and Washington State.

Relatively speaking, I manage a Park and Ride (really a Ride & Park & Ride ) for bicycles. The facility was initially underwritten in 2003, and has since then been subsidized by Bicycle Alliance and its partners King County Metro , City of Seattle, and Sound Transit. And, as most auto drivers do not know or consider, Park & Rides or Transit Center car parking has always been a subsidized (not covered by your bus fare) project in any transportation planning. So despite community demands to create multi-modal transportation choices, the funding of this existing bicycle parking facility is always tenuous, and still a fraction of what automobile parking receives.

Sadly, our expertise and supporting data of the demand for secure bicycle parking is seemingly without any political muscle, and struggles to secure inclusion of secure parking into transportation planning, let alone to earmark future funding. Without funding, the ideal of modeling effective infrastructure, managing a lone BIKE PORT will drain the resources of the Alliance with a worst case example of mission creep.

Because of 501(c)(3) non-profit status, the Bicycle Alliance cannot officially endorse any political candidate. I cannot help but wonder whether secure bicycle parking like BIKE PORT would be more likely to get the funding it needs if the Alliance became a respected force to be reckoned with: not only with the power of lobbying in Olympia and protest actions, but with aggressive pro or con political campaigning.

Cascade Bicycle Club is very public about wanting to be a force to be reckoned with, and they created a separate 501(c)(4) within their organization to actively endorse candidates to their 12,000+ membership. They have the means, and in my opinion, had no other ethical choice but to recently team up with the Sierra Club and Futurewise to file a lawsuit against the Puget Sound Regional Council’s /Transportation Plan 2040. The thrust of the suit is what this blog post is about: that, many, many stakeholders including the Alliance submitted comments, and for all of the good guidance on the supposed goals of the plan, everyone’s input was seemingly ignored.

My question to our membership and allies is whether the Bicycle Alliance should become an organization that can endorse a Congressman that might earmark our agenda once they were elected? I would love to hear from the advocacy veterans on whether this strategy is how we want our work to pay off. Is lobbying more ethical? Should we stick to flash mob and email alert type actions to draw attention to the threats to our efforts and successes? How about press conferences to expose needlessly misguided policies and or a dissatisfaction with lack of progress?

Vote early, and vote often.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How a Spokane Valley cyclist used social media to save a road safety project

Marc Mims of Spokane Valley had never been involved in local politics and admitted he couldn’t name the mayor or any of the city council members. But in May, when comments printed in the Valley Voice section of the Spokesman Review came up several times in conversation with fellow cyclists, he had to read them for himself.

Some citizens opposed to an already approved, funded and scheduled safety project on Broadway Avenue were speaking out, urging city council to scrap it. Known as a road diet, the project will reduce Broadway from 4 lanes to 3 (a travel lane in each direction with a continuous center turn lane), add bikes lanes and make upgrades to the sidewalk.

Marc wondered why there weren’t comments in favor of the safety improvements, so he recruited a fellow cyclist to attend the next city council meeting with him. He heard the all too often “Bikes don't belong on the road."  It was clear that political support for this project was waning.  Ironically, during this period of anti-bike rhetoric, Spokane Valley held its first Bike/Pedestrian Master Plan Workshop.

“It was clear that unless we could get citizens in support of the project to the final council meeting before the vote to suspend, we would likely lose this valuable project. So, I turned to Facebook, Twitter, and email---the social networking tools at my disposal,” recalled Marc.

After starting a Facebook page to save the Broadway Avenue safety project, Marc contacted bike advocates, members of local bike and racing clubs, bloggers, and cycling friends. He amassed nearly 100 "fans" on his Facebook page within a couple of weeks.  The Bicycle Alliance of Washington and others dispatched action alerts, and posted info on our web site and to our Facebook page to reach Spokane area cyclists.

On June 29th, Marc and friends arrived at a packed city council meeting armed with facts. When it was time to comment, people lined up to speak about the Broadway Safety Project. Marc didn't recognize many faces and he was worried.

"For. For. For... Although I didn't know their faces, I recognized many of the names as 'fans' of our Facebook page,” Marc related.  "Thirteen of us spoke in favor and only one person spoke in opposition," he added.

Then the vote to suspend was called: 2 in favor, 4 opposed. Victory! The project will move forward.

Marc is buoyed by his success and is now partnering with the Bicycle Alliance to organize a Pedal with the Politicians ride in Spokane Valley sometime in August.  Stay tuned for details.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Turn Right at the Fork in the Road

A couple years ago I was driving my bike to work with my daughter on the trail-a-bike. We turned left and nearly ran into a fork in the road. Someone, perhaps a drunk college student had put a fork in the road between some cracks so that it sat upright. It just so happens that there were some construction workers near that intersection so I biked by and told one "there's a fork in the road back there, no really, someone put a fork in the road and it's sticking straight up"!

We rode on laughing at the funny sight. I pass by that spot nearly every day on my commute to work,  and I can't help but smile to myself when I remember the funny situation. My daughter will sometimes remark "remember when there was a fork in the road" and laugh out loud. Of course I'm laughing even harder since she has no idea that 'fork in the road' means something else.

Being closer and more in touch with the surrounding environment is one thing I love about being on a bike. Had I been in my car it is unlikely I would have seen the fork.

What is the funniest or most random thing you've seen while on a bike?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cyclists Make Drivers Uncomfortable

A Pemco Insurance poll has revealed what many of us already know—most motorists are uncomfortable driving around bicyclists and they do not understand the rules of road as they relate to biking. The Puget Sound Business Journal did a short piece on the Pemco poll last week.

Forty-two percent of the respondents described themselves as “somewhat uncomfortable” when bicyclists are present on the road while they are driving. Twenty percent said they are “very uncomfortable.”

Only 23 percent know that it’s legal for cyclists to ride two abreast in a traffic lane. Forty-eight percent responded “false.”

Over one-third of the respondents don’t know that it’s illegal for a cyclist to ride against traffic. Only 23 percent responded “false” (correct answer) to the statement, “Bicyclists can be ticketed for riding their bikes in a crosswalk.” Entire poll results are here.

“It’s good to have this data because it shows the need for education,” said Bicycle Alliance of Washington board member Eileen Hyatt of Spokane.

Hyatt is a retired teacher and League Certified Instructor who successfully brought bicycle safety education into school districts around Spokane. She is working with the Bicycle Alliance to expand this program into other schools around Washington State.

The Bicycle Alliance is also acting to educate motorists on how to safely share the road with bicyclists. Working with the Department of Licensing, we have successfully incorporated “share the road” curriculum in all drivers’ education courses. We distribute thousands of Motorists/Bicyclists Tips for Sharing the Road each year. We are now working with legislators to make it a requirement to include “share the road” curriculum in traffic school programs.

Is there a noteworthy skills training or Share the Road program in your community?

Is your community in need of a Share the Road campaign?

What else might be done to make all users of the road comfortable and tolerant of each other?

Friday, July 16, 2010

True or False?

Pearls Before Swine Cyclist Comic

Every time I see this comic, I chuckle. Humor aside, though, I think it raises an interesting point. Is this how non-bicyclists view bicyclists? Do we, cyclists, deserve this reputation? What should we do to change this perception?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ahead of the Curve? Missouri County wants to ban bikes from roads

St Charles County, Missouri, lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban bicycles from certain two-lane highways in the county.  The effort is spearheaded by Councilman Joe Brazil, who claims this is the number one complaint he gets from his constituents. 

"There's no shoulders.  There's limited sight distance.  The speed limit's 55 mph.  It's very dangerous to be riding bicycles on these roads.  And you're putting motorists in danger,"  Brazil was quoted in local TV coverage.  The bill is also supported by the parents of a teenaged motorist who was seriously injured when she swerved to avoid hitting a bicyclist.

Missouri Department of Transportation officials say the county doesn't have the authority to ban bikes from state highways.  County council remains undeterred and plans to revisit the proposal in August.  Read more of the story.

Is St Charles County an anomaly or ahead of the curve?  Sadly, the casino town of Black Hawk, Colorado, has banned bike riding on almost every street in town and police started issuing tickets in June.  Here's a report from the Denver PostBicycle Colorado is challenging the ban. This sort of knee-jerk reaction is in marked contrast to US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood's support of complete streets and biking as transportation. 

Let's ensure that forward and sensible minds prevail.  Speak up for bicycling in your community.  Thank your local officials when they support bicycling.  Contact the Bicycle Alliance of Washington when cycling is threatened in your community.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Transporting Valuables by Bike

This post isn't about carrying computers, groceries, speakers or projectors, all of which I have trekked across town by bike. This is about something much more valuable--my daughter.

First ride, I promise she eventually stopped crying.

About 5.5 years ago my husband and I bought a Topeak child bike carrier. I went back and forth between a trailer and a seat that sits on the parents rear rack. When it came down to it I decided to get the seat for two reasons, one being money. We had about $100 to spend, I had been looking for used trailers for months to no avail. Reason number two was the bus. Thankfully I had the foresight to work that into the equation. The bike with the rear seat fit nicely on the bus rack, a trailer does not.

I happened to be at REI one day and saw the Topeak seat. I had a 20% off coupon and decided to go for it. It was $125, we eventually bought an additional rear rack for my husband's bike at Fairhaven Bike and Ski for $40. We used that seat for 3 years, riding to daycare, the park, the store, and friends houses. Then one day a friend of mine said he'd sell me his Adams Trail a Bike.

I was ecstatic!  I had been wanting to buy one for awhile, but couldn't afford it. The timing was perfect as Bike to Work and School Day was the following week. Izzie would often tell me how excited she was to be able to pedal with me. It wasn't all fun and games though, we lived in a second story apartment so every morning and evening I had to haul both my bike and the trail a bike up and down the stairs. It was hard work, but worth it!!

The trail a bike worked great for us, we ended up using it through this spring. Even though Izzie could ride her own bike just fine, because she went to after school day care we couldn't leave her bike at school.

One of the reasons I chose the YMCA summer camp is that the drop off location is only a few blocks from my work. I knew we'd be able to easily bike there. I was ready to take the leap and have her ride her own bike along side me to downtown Bellingham.


This is scary even for a seasoned commuter/bike advocate. She rides her bike around the neighborhood all the time, and has ridden to school, I knew she'd be fine. It would be about a 2 mile ride, partly on trails, partly with bike lanes, and one questionable spot. I planned out the route and we did it. It was great, and we ended up walking our bikes on the sidewalk for a short section
(busy street/intersection).

I often have parents ask me what age children can/should ride on their own bikes. Honestly the answer really depends on the kid. Parents know their kids best. How well can they handle their bikes, are they very comfortable and in control, or nervous and wobbly? Do they know the rules of the road? Some bicycle educators recommend that kids start riding on the street around age 8, others say 10. My daughter is 7 (8 in September). Depending on the street she is either on the sidewalk, with me riding to her left, in front of me, or we ride two abreast, with her to my right.

As hard as it is to see her grow up so fast, I am excited for this new phase in our bike commuting lives.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pants or No Pants?

If you're a bicyclist, you'll know that excellent feeling of accomplishment when you wear the right clothes for the conditions. As a year-round commuter in Massachusetts and now Washington, I adopted the threadbare but still true axiom that there was no bad weather, just wrong clothing choices.

Here are a few examples of the types of weather I've ridden in.
Stupid Snow Defeat
Conditions: Sleet storms when icicles formed on my helmet, sheets of ice coated my arms and bike, and only my monster studded tires kept me upright. (The picture above shows a real snowy day I attempted to ride to work, but it took 20 minutes to ride 1 mile, and I had a 13-mile commute. Part of winning a battle is knowing when to retreat.)
Clothing: Long-sleeve wool jersey, Gore-Tex jacket, two layers of gloves, fluffy ear warmers, bike shorts, long bike pants with nylon fronts and warm fuzzy insides, two pairs of wool socks, Gore-Tex hiking boots.

Conditions: 10°F, sunny, with a 10-mph headwind, when people in cars wore heavy layers and I couldn't keep my glasses from fogging up every time I paused.
Clothing: Too many layers to count, and still my fingers and toes had an alarming white look to them when I finally got to work.

Conditions: Steady, relentless rain and 45°F, with wind so gusty and nasty that I wasn't sure I'd be able to keep my bike on the road.
Clothing: Gore-Tex jacket, thick non-waterproof pants, lightweight long-sleeve shirt and bike shorts; one pair of wool socks and booties.

Conditions: Flood water up to my axles, across roads so deep people in Explorers didn't brave it.
Clothing: Bike shorts and jersey; summer-weight socks and clip-in shoes.

Conditions: Muggy 90°F temperatures that left my arms and legs slick with that nasty sweat-and-sunscreen that seems to have a La Brea tar pit-like fascination to tiny bugs.
Clothing: Bike shorts and jersey; summer-weight socks and clip-in shoes; sunblock.

Cape Cod Getaway 3
Of course, I've also ridden in innumerable beautiful days ranging from 30°F to 80°F -- days where I've wondered, "Why would anybody choose to drive on a day this gorgeous?" (The picture at right shows me on my first-ever two-day ride, the MS Cape Cod Getaway in 2008, one of those delightful days when the weather cooperates perfectly.)

All this to say that, in general, I have a pretty good idea of what clothes work well in what conditions. Yet this morning, I completely misjudged the weather. Instead of having a comfortable ride in the rain, I arrived at work more than damp, having eschewed jacket and dry foot covering for an optimistic vest and sandals. Why, why, why (I asked myself) did I not wear a jacket? Because (I answered myself) it is JULY, and I shouldn't still need my jacket and long pants.

Have you ever worn exactly the wrong clothes? What was your excuse rationale for choosing the wrong thing?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Right turn on red: a bad idea whose time has come and gone?

"California's greatest contribution to Western culture," Woody Allen is said to have observed, "is the legal right turn on a red light."
The accuracy of Mr. Allen's Manhattan-centric snub of the West Coast is debatable. But so, too, is his suggestion that allowing drivers to make right turns on red is a positive thing.

Most American drivers, other than people of a certain age who grew up on the East Coast, are probably baffled that anyone would question this basic right, which they no doubt believe is enshrined somewhere in the Constitution.

It’s true that we Americans (except those of us who live in New York City) have been making right turns on red for a long time—beginning with drivers in the State of California in 1939. Other Western states soon followed California’s lead, with those in the East being slower to adapt. Finally, federal legislation prompted by the 1970s energy crises and signed by President Gerald Ford made right-turn-on-red the norm nationwide.
(Interestingly, this artifact of the 70s energy crunch remains intact long after the national 55-mph speed limit, estimated to have saved about 167,000 barrels of oil per day, was eliminated. But I digress.)

Outside of North America, however, right-turn-on-red is not recognized as a universal human right. European Union countries, for instance, generally forbid it outright—much to the consternation of visiting American motorists, and much to the delight of visiting American pedestrians.

What’s so wrong with right turns on red, anyway? Well, nothing, if you transport yourself entirely by automobile. But for pedestrians and cyclists it’s something else entirely.

How many times have you been about to step into a crosswalk, only to be driven back by a right-turning driver rolling through the red light without looking in your direction? Cyclists who use bike paths that parallel city streets face the same danger. When I rode my bike to work on the Alaskan Way pedestrian-bike path in downtown Seattle, I probably would have gotten nailed twice a day by right-turning drivers if I hadn’t been on the lookout.

Recent North American statistics, insofar as they are available and accurate, suggest that right-turn-on-red drivers don’t kill a large number of pedestrians and cyclists. But maybe that’s just because American pedestrians and cyclists are constantly on the lookout for errant motorists. Our motto: "Paranoia breeds confidence."

Other than reducing the paranoia factor of urban American pedestrians (a laudable goal in-and-of-itself), what would banning right turns on red--say, at specific intersections with high pedestrian and bicycle traffic--accomplish?

First, it would allow bicyclists to be given an “advance stop line” [aka "bike box"] allowing them to wait at red lights ahead of motorists where they are more visible without having to watch their back. This is common in Europe (and has been tried in Portland as well).

Second, it would allow engineers to time traffic signals to give pedestrians and cyclists an “advance green,” allowing them to lay claim to the crosswalk and street space (and thereby be more visible) a few seconds before cars started turning right. This is common in pedestrian and cycle-friendly countries like Denmark.
It would even allow cyclists and pedestrians at particularly busy intersections to have their own “protected signal phases,” when they could cross the but cars would be forbidden altogether from turning right. The Netherlands in particular makes use of this technique, in both urban and suburban settings.

I’ll grant you: this would be a hard- sell in our auto-centric society. But in a country with abysmally-low cycling rates and where the pedestrian deserves endangered-species protection, maybe it’s time to start questioning some of our basic driving assumptions.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rumbling about rumble strips pays off

As a bicycle advocate, I’ll take every victory I can get and one just crossed my desk. But first the back story…

In May, my phone rang with this admonishment, “Rumble strips are being cut into the shoulder of SR 525 on Whidbey Island right now! What’s going on and what are you doing about it?”

Yikes, and I was just talking with Adventure Cycling Association’s National Bicycle Routes staff about Highway 20 as a Washington treasure. I hopped on my trusty bicycle, loaded up my panniers and headed south on Whidbey Island with my husband Andy. We rode for the next two days crying in frustration and anger to see rumble strips carved into the shoulders of a premier cycling route.

Upon returning home, I armed myself with this picture and headed to Olympia confident but very unhappy that rumbles had been cut seemingly without regard to Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) guidelines.

I met with Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond and two of her staff: the WSDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator and the person from WSDOT’s Design Office responsible for writing the Design Manual. I explained what had happened and showed them the photo. I asked that the Design Manual be amended and updated, and I asked for an evaluation of the rumble strip installation on Whidbey Island. That was in June.

Now, in July, some good news! An evaluation by WSDOT headquarters staff validated my appraisal that rumble strips on SR 525 were incorrectly installed along guardrails and other locations, and will be paved over later this summer--SUCCESS! Rumbles on SR 20 were also incorrectly applied and will be paved over next summer--PARTIAL SUCCESS! Changes were made to the Design Manual regarding outreach--MINOR CREDIT! More work needed.

Is it a victory that I rode the length of Whidbey Island in the rain with my crabby husband to tell WSDOT that they had done something incorrect and unnecessary? That rumbles affect bicycle safety and interstate tourism? I’ll claim the victory when rumbles are used sparingly for the safety of all roadway users. Watch for action alerts as the Bicycle Alliance plans to act proactively to stop this type of installation.


What’s a rumble strip and why should I care? 

If you ride on city streets or county roads, chances are you won’t ride across rumble strips. However, anyone out riding the highways and byways of Washington for recreation, health and happiness should care because a safety feature for motorists can create a serious safety hazard for cyclists.

To paraphrase the US Department of Transportation a shoulder rumble strip is a “longitudinal design feature" which is a series of indented cuts in pavement intended to alert inattentive drivers through vibration and sound that their vehicles have left the travel lane. For more info, check Federal Highways Administration's Rumble Strips FAQ.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Traffic as a Tornado

Jef Mallett is the cartoonist who created Frazz, an accomplished triathlete, and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. He recently moved to a new house in a new city and set out to explore the nearby streets and training routes by bike. He posted a blog entry a few days ago in which he said the conditions were surprisingly good, not nearly as bad as people said. Drivers were more tolerant, streets in better shape than he expected. Later that evening, though, a road rage incident on a street near his new place involving a cyclist and motorist resulted in an injury and an assault charge. Jef's post yesterday, here, reviews the event and reflects a bit on what to do when confronted by a similar situation. Jef is a very thoughtful person and his take on dealing with errant road users is the best I've heard. Key quote:
It's not that I've never been harassed or threatened or scared or that I've never done anything dumb myself. It's not that I've never wanted to set someone straight. But to me, drivers are another form of weather. Some good, some bad, some types more common in certain areas than in others. With bad weather, you have a choice: You either prepare for it and accept it, or you stay inside and avoid it. Trying to educate a bad driver on the spot is akin to trying to lecture a tornado away from your trailer park.
The temptation to try to communicate with an errant motorist (or cyclist) is pretty high, and I have succumbed. In traffic you just don't have time to have an effect. I've heard many times the maxim that "You can't change the world, you can only change how you react to it." Picturing an attempt to lecture a tornado is a good way to think about that.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Tour de Fat Experience

Decorate your bike and don your alter ego…Tour de Fat is returning to Seattle’s Gasworks Park on July 31!

Tour de Fat is not a bike ride or race. It’s a celebration of all things bicycle organized by our bike-loving friends at New Belgium Brewing Company. This rolling carnival travels to select communities around the West and features a costumed bike parade for the young and young-at-heart, music and other live performances, a car-for-bike swap, beer garden, and food vendors. All this wacky fun and goodness benefits the work of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington and Bike Works – woo-hoo!

The event kicks off in the morning with the bike parade ($5 suggested donation for this event benefits Bike Works). Costumed participants will meander from Gasworks Park through Fremont, the self-proclaimed center of the universe, then roll back to the park for the festivities.

Kick back and listen to the bands, be entertained by performances, and sip some tasty New Belgium beers (these proceeds benefit the Bicycle Alliance). Test ride one of the many bike contraptions in the bike pit (the bike with sneaker wheels is a popular one). Sign up for the Slow Ride contest—slowest rider wins! And be sure to bring an old bike tube to contribute to Alchemy Goods recycling bin. You’ll be eligible for a drawing for some of their cool products made from recycled bike tubes and other recycled materials.

Celebrate the bicycle as a sustainable and worthy form of transportation with the announcement of the car-for-bike swap winner in the afternoon. (This could be you if you enter the contest now!) The lucky winner is transformed before all from a car driver to a full-time bike commuter when he/she hands over their car, title and keys in exchange for a tricked out custom commuter bike.

Admission to Tour de Fat is free, but bring cash in your wallet. Proceeds from the parade, Tour de Fat merchandise, and beer sales benefit bicycle advocacy. After all, it is all about the bicycle!

Tour de Fat poster image courtesy of New Belgium.  Bike parade and contraption images courtesy of Carla Gramlich.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A tragedy in Cheney and the “right” to drive

I don’t know anything about William Knight, Jr. of Cheney other than what I read in the news.
What I read in the news, however, makes me very glad that I don’t walk or ride a bike in the town where William Knight, Jr. drives his 1997 Kia.
At 10:45 p.m. on Sunday, June 27, 61-year-old James Dahl was crossing First Street in Cheney when he was struck by the Kia, with Knight behind the wheel. Dahl was airlifted to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, where he died.

This event was tragic but not unusual. In 2008, 69,000 pedestrians were injured and almost 4,400 killed in the United States. Pedestrian deaths represent a disproportionate 12 percent of American traffic fatalities.

But there’s more to this particular story. Last April 15, 36-year-old Theodore Chauvin was riding his bicycle near Cheney when he was struck by the Kia, again with Knight behind the wheel. Chauvin suffered a broken leg and shoulder and spent four days in the hospital.

The State Patrol didn’t charge Knight with a moving violation for the April 15 collision, although Chauvin was apparently riding his bike legally when Knight hit him. According to the Spokesman-Review, however, police did ticket Knight for failure to have insurance. That case is pending in Spokane Country District Court.

But that’s not the end of it. On April 6, Knight was driving the Kia when a police officer stopped him for improper vehicle registration. (Knight told the officer that he had borrowed the car.) As a result of that stop, Knight is facing tickets for having an expired registration, no insurance and improper use of license plates.

Of course, police are still investigating the June 27 accident, so it’s premature to assign blame. But you do have to ask yourself: given Knight’s encounters with police in April, why was he still legally on the road the night that he struck Dahl?

Yes, everyone deserves due process, and the wheels of justice always seem to grind slowly. But a motor vehicle is a deadly weapon as well as a means of transportation. We should set the rules accordingly, but we don’t. In Washington as in other American states, it doesn’t take much to get your driver’s license, and you have to work really hard to lose it. Driving is seen as more of a right than a privilege.

It’s not that way everywhere--for example, Germany, where getting a license is difficult and losing it is relatively easy. Traffic penalties are also generally higher in Germany and other EU countries. If you exceed the speed limit in Germany by more than 30 km/h (about 20 mph) or more, you can lose your license for up to three months, in addition to paying a stiff fine. In France, going 40 km/h over the speed limit on an autoroute (freeway) can cost you a whopping $1,500 Euros—much to the consternation of some American drivers.

Our country’s lax attitude toward the driving privilege comes at a tremendous cost in lives. In fact, per kilometer walked, an American pedestrian’s chances of being killed are 14 times higher than they are in Germany or the Netherlands. That’s an incredible number of preventable deaths.

I don't know for sure whether tougher driver-licensing requirements or stiffer fines would have saved James Dahl's life. But there's no doubt that they would save the lives of thousands like him every year.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Why I Love the Bicycle Alliance

Nonprofits seem to operate in their own strange sphere in the world, some alternate reality that for-profit and governmental agencies remain almost entirely unaware of. It has taken me quite a while to figure out how to live in this parallel world; maybe the air is more rarefied, or the water a little bit purer, or the nutrients a bit more nutritious. Whatever the reason, I found myself slowly adapting to my new environment. Now, after 6 months with the Bicycle Alliance, I think I can quantify what I've come to appreciate about working there.
  1. Diversity. "What?" You may ask. "How can you say 'diversity' in an organization run almost entirely by white, middle-class baby-boomer women?" It's true that if you take a superficial look at the Bicycle Alliance's staff, it does seem to lack a certain breadth or depth. Yet each of the staff brings her (or his) own experiences to the organization and those contributions run the gamut. Name it and one of our staff people has probably done it.

    Additionally, the diversity of people who walk in the door astounds me on a daily basis. I've started saying "You never know who'll walk in," and it's true -- working in Pioneer Square means interacting with everybody from homeless men to hot-shot tech people to everything in between. The vibrancy, the life, the variety of perspectives continually astound me.
  2. Passion. It's quite true that people don't work at nonprofits for the money. You have to truly care about the nonprofit's mission in order to stay and succeed. At my old corporate job, we had no common bond, aside from "It pays the bills." At the Bicycle Alliance, when we sit down for lunch together, we all have the shared love of bicycling drawing us together. Regardless of our differences, we all firmly believe in the importance and value of bicycles as a transportation option in the future, and we believe in making that a reality.
  3. Cool. I mean cool in the relaxed sense, the hakuna matata sense, the sense that although we're all working hard to achieve important goals, we aren't killing ourselves along the way. It means we're taking time to go for a bike ride on a sunny day. It means that timing vacations just right isn't really that important, but that having a relaxing time and coming back rejuvenated is. It means that I know if I wake up one morning and cannot drag myself in for love or money, that's OK. Nobody's going to flip a lid because I didn't show up. It means that we're having a favorite cinnamon roll contest and everybody will bring in a delicious offering. It means we can take time for personal concerns and not worry about an angry boss looking over our shoulders. It's working to live, not living to work.
Those are just a few of the reasons I love the Bicycle Alliance. I'm not sure how I'll go back to working a boring, cubicle-bound corporate job after my AmeriCorps tenure ends. Fortunately, I've learned another beautiful thing about nonprofits, which is summed up neatly in this exchange from Shakespeare in Love:
Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre [my note: read "nonprofit" here] business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery.