The Online Voice of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Advocacy Through Fresh Eyes

Bicycle Alliance member Kristi Moen attended her first Transportation Advocacy Day this year.  She shares her impressions of the event in this guest blog post.

Advocates on Capitol campus.
Be pleasant, be friendly, smile. That was the number one tip for successfully advocating in Olympia. The advice was offered to those who converged at the state’s capitol on February 10 in support of Transportation Advocacy Day. As it turned out, the advice was excellent. Being kind helps lawmakers better understand our viewpoints and relate to the issues on the table.

And as it turns out, you also have to be fast. The meetings with our legislators and our senator were only 15 minutes long. But that was long enough to understand where they stand on the bills in work this session and to explain why supporting them is good for the constituents.

Key issues were:
  • Emergency transit funding for public transportation that cannot sustain their current funding in the short run because of the economy (HB1536 and SB5457)

  • Kickoff and awareness of a new campaign called Transportation for Washington that will address specific initiatives (find out more at

  • Bills sponsored by Bicycle Alliance of Washington and Cascade Bicycle Club that will increase safety for cyclists and pedestrians:
    • Washington Vulnerable Users Law (SB 5326, HB1339)
    • Complete Streets for Washington (SHB 1071)
    • Traffic Safety Education (HB1129)
The bills sponsored by BAW will not cost the state a penny, yet will substantially improve the safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

Kristi (L) meets with Rep. Eileen Cody (C).
The day was not just about cycling. Groups from pedestrian, environmental, public transportation advocacy, parks and health organizations were among the nearly 20 participating sponsors. And yes, I mentioned “health.” That was the first time I had equated health to cycling advocacy. I understand the connection and consciously benefit from it – health benefits are part of the reason why I cycle. But bringing health to the forefront for legislators to consider while thinking about bike trails, bike lanes, safe pedestrian routes and linking up public transportation was a bit of an epiphany for me. In a meeting, our legislator from the 34th district said, “She’s speaking my language,” when someone in our group brought up the health benefits of cycling. Aha! Each lawmaker has passions that will sway them. It’s our job as advocates to find those passions.

Of course, key players brought up the usual arguments for better transportation and cycling laws including sustainability, connectivity, green house gas reduction and safety. Any of those could stand on their own as valid reasons for our lawmakers to better support cycling.

Transportation is an investment into a stronger future. Even those who never touch a bike, who only drive, will benefit. Call your legislator to let them know how you feel. And be kind. You might just be the one who tips the scale.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bicycle Ballet—The Aesthetics of Cycling

Here at the Bike Alliance, we tend to focus on political and policy issues and leave the aesthetics of cycling to others.

That’s only natural. We’re a cycling advocacy organization, not an artists’ collective or small-scale bike frame builder. And with the legislature in session and our own strategic-planning summit in the offing, it’s important to focus on the basics.

But in the midst of this work it is nice to take a few minutes occasionally to remember that cycling can be a beautiful thing.

Take the machine itself: it’s spare, light and efficient—in fact, the most efficient means of human locomotion ever invented.  And like a suspension bridge, a bicycle is beautiful in that special way that happens only when form gracefully follows function.  

There’s also an aesthetic pleasure in riding a bicycle, which can bring the same sense of fluid motion that you get when skiing or swimming.

There can even be a gracefulness that’s evident when watching others cycle—especially when seen through the lens of an artist.

Which brings me to Ed van der Elsken, a 20th-Century Dutch photographer and filmmaker whose work I recently discovered via the Dutch Amsterdamize blog.

Born in Amsterdam in 1925, van der Elsken initially aspired to be a sculptor, but had to abandon his studies during World War II when the Nazis occupied his country.  He later became interested in photography and moved to Paris, returning to his native Netherlands in 1955.  He became one of the most influential Dutch photographers of the postwar era, capturing every aspect of life in Amsterdam in photos and movies. One of those aspects was, perhaps inevitably, Amsterdam’s ubiquitous bicycles.

Today there’s a plethora of websites and YouTube videos that visually celebrate cycling. But for me a short van der Elsken movie from 1965 captures the aesthetics of bicycling better than anything made for the Internet. Titled simply “Fietsen” (bicycling), the film captures an era, but is also timeless. Here it is:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why We Ride

James Fallows of the Atlantic is immersed in research for his next book and has invited guests onto his blog for a few weeks. One of the guests is Lizzy Bennett, a marketing director for Timbuk2, the messenger bag folks in San Francisco. She commutes to work by bike and has posted several times on her commutes over the last week, here, here, and here. She talks about her first ride and gives some tips to people thinking about it. The last link includes a helmet-cam video of her commute to work on the San Francisco streets. Keep in mind this is not on an enthusiast site, but Atlantic Magazine's.

Most recently she polled "the Timbuk2 community", probably meaning colleagues, contacts, and friends, about why they commuted by bike and made a word cloud. Shown below, and in the post on the Atlantic site here.

word cloud of why we ride

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Congressional Listening Tour Comes to Washington

What does a Representative from Florida have to do with Washington State transportation? The answer: EVERYTHING.

Representative John Mica (R-FL), House Chair of the Transportation and Infrastucture Committee, travels to Washington on Monday, February 21st for one of a series of 14 national field hearings and public forums on the pending major surface transportation legislation.  The hearings with state and local officials and transportation stakeholders will help inform the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s drafting of a long-term reauthorization of the nation’s highway, transit, highway safety programs. The previous multi-year law (SAFETEA-LU) expired in September, 2009.

Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), from the 3rd Congressional District (Southwest WA) who also sits on Transportation and Infrastructure Committee with Representative Mica, will host the public hearing at the Vancouver PUD, 1200 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver from 9 to 11a.m. on the 21st of February. Eight officials have been invited to speak and then it will be open to the public for testimony.

The Bicycle Alliance is calling on bicyclists and pedestrians in the 3rd Congressional District to attend the hearing or submit written copy to Representative Herrara this week and make two critical points:
  1. Bicycling and walking are essential to your community (include an example that make the point).
  2. Ask her to support continued dedicated federal funding for bicycling and walking programs.
Here are a few reasons why we should support biking and walking:

  • It’s cost effective: It’s about saving money on popular practical ways for Americans to complete short trips. It’s cost effective – 12% of trips are biking or walking trips but the federal expenditure is only about 1.5% of federal spending.
  • It’s popular: more bicycles will be sold than cars and trucks combined. US Census reports that bike commuting increased more than 40% between 2001-2008.
  • It’s practical: half of all trips are three miles or shorter and ¼ are less than a mile – an easy distance to walk or pedal if the conditions are safe.
  • It addresses safety; it’s healthy; and it saves money.

Please ask Representative Herrera to support continued dedicated funding for vital bicycling and walking programs such as Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Activists turn out for Transportation Advocacy Day in Olympia

Over 100 citizens descended on the state Capitol last Thursday for Transportation Advocacy Day (TAD).  Folks arrived on foot, by bike, transit, train and carpools to Olympia for this annual event.

After some light breakfast treats, networking and a welcome from Bicycle Alliance ED Barbara Culp, attendees heard from Paula Hammond, Washington State Secretary of Transportation.  Hammond highlighted the department's accomplishments, then outlined the challenges they face.  Among them are decreased funding and uncertainty at the federal level.

Secretary Paula Hammond.
Secretary Hammond was then joined by Senator Scott White of Seattle, Vice Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, and Representative Andy Billig of Spokane, Vice Chair of the House Transportation Committee.  The three of them did a Q&A session with TAD attendees.

Bicycle bill session.
This was followed by several concurrent breakout sessions designed to better educate and prepare the advocates for the day ahead.  Bicycle Alliance Policy Director, Dave Janis, co-led a session with a representative from Cascade Bicycle Club on the bicycle bills in the state legislature.

Advocates meet with Rep Eileen Cody.
Then the advocates were off to the Capitol campus to attend meetings with their legislators, sit in on committee meetings and attend public hearings.  They were there to experience state government in action and to be part of it as citizen advocates.

Bike Alliance board and staff.
The Bicycle Alliance was well represented at TAD with 6 staff and 8 board members participating this year.  Advocates traveled from all across the state for the event.  There were attendees from Spokane, Walla Walla, Vancouver, Bremerton, Seattle, Everett, Tacoma, and points in between.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Legislative Update

Two of the three bills spearheaded by the Bicycle Alliance of Washington are making their way through the state legislature.

HB 1217, which would give local jurisdictions the authority to reduce speed limits on non-arterial residential and business district streets to 20 mph made its way through the House in an amended form and has been sent to the Senate.  The substitute bill limits this new authority to cities and towns only.  You can read about this bill in a previous blog post.

HB 1129, which would require Traffic School programs to teach attendees how to safely interact with bicyclists and pedestrians, has also passed through the House and is on its way to the Senate.  This curriculum was developed by the Bicycle Alliance, approved by the Department of Licensing, and is currently taught in all Drivers Education programs.  More info about the purpose of this bill can be found in this blog post.

After receiving a mixed reaction to HB 1018, Mutual Responsibilities, we asked our bill sponsors to table it for this session and they agreed.

The Cascade Bicycle Club is coordinating passage efforts for the Vulnerable User bill and we testified twice in favor of it.  The Senate version of the bill was passed 6-2 by the Judiciary Committee and has been sent to Rules.

Don't forget to check our website for updates on all of our legislative priorities.  Contact Dave Janis if you have questions about any of our legislative efforts.


Be a lobbyist for a day!  Join us in Olympia this Thursday for Transportation Advocacy Day.  You can network with other advocates, receive updates on transportation issues and meet with your legislators.  Please register in advance if you plan to attend.  Carpools available.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Thoughts on using my bike more often

Today's blog post was submitted by Kristi Moen, a Bicycle Alliance member and volunteer.  She lives in Burien.

Photo by Kristi Moen.
Last year at this time, I decided, rather spontaneously, that I would set a goal of using my car only 600 miles each month in 2010. While it seems like a lot to some who ride most of the time, it’s well below the national average. I thought I had a shot at achieving my goal. I live near the new Link light rail line so that I can easily get downtown. I commute to work on my bike roughly half the time. My community in Burien is fairly small so that I can walk, jog or ride to most places.

But – and you knew this was coming – I didn’t make it. My total mileage was 10,269, 255 miles above my monthly goal. It seems that other interests can get in the way of riding. For example, if I want to snowboard or hike, I must drive to the mountains. And I participate in a swimming workshop 20 miles from my house. Plus, sometimes I simply need my car for work or for appointments.

Still, taking a conscious look at how I get around put my routine under a microscope. So I learned. I learned that the true achievement from setting a goal was in the understanding I gained about my driving and riding attitudes. The actual miles I drove or rode were not that important. I also learned that I can comfortably ride my bike in street clothes, something I’ve avoided. I learned that a little rain doesn’t ruin the groceries I carry home on my bike nor does a little cold weather cause me any harm. And I learned that helmets don’t have to mean bad hair, a popular reason cited by women for not using a bicycle for transportation.

There’s more, some frivolous, some not, but I’ll stop there. In 2011, I will continue using my bike for transportation and encourage anyone in our urban area to find ways of putting walking, cycling and public transportation together for better health and a cleaner environment. It’s not hard, just a different way of looking at mobility.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Bike: Mare Sullivan

Mare Sullivan, a self-described suburban matron from Kirkland, never had a bicycle as a child.  Her parents offered to buy each of their children a bike for their 10th birthday, but Mare bargained for a guitar of equal value instead.  She finally purchased a Sears Free Spirit 10 speed before heading off to college and rode it a lot during her undergrad and graduate years.

After marriage, Mare embarked on a career that required her to drive all over Western Washington so her biking time was reduced to recreational rides with her eldest daughter.  Her bike eventually was relegated to the garage when her second daughter could/would not learn to ride.

Fast forward a couple of decades to February 2008.  Mare was teaching an Environmental Science course and challenged her students to commit to one lifestyle change that would make a positive impact on the environment.  She joined them in the challenge by taking up bike/bus commuting.

"The first day was terrifying," Mare recalled.  "The bus driver was kind enough to show me how to put my bike on the bus and I was scared riding in downtown Bellevue.  With intermittent walking breaks, I rode my bike home that afternoon."

Surprisingly to Mare, her family and friends, by May 2008 she was a fulltime bike commuter and had entered the Group Health Commute Challenge.  She finished in the top 31% of all riders; top 15% of all female riders; top 13% of new bike commuters; and top 6% of all new female commuters!  By the end of the year, she had logged over 2600 miles on her bike.

"I like the pace of biking--stopping to visit or ponder or observe along the way," explained Mare.  "I like having more energy, being stronger, and 30 pounds lighter than I was three years ago.  I never envisioned myself--an overweight, 50-something matron from the 'burbs--ending up biking more miles than I drive each year.  Crazy.  And fun!"
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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 with us.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gravity, Bike Lanes and the Limits of Vehicular Cycling

Today's post with accompanying photos was submitted by Mark Davison. Mark has been cycling in Seattle since 1988, both for exercise and for practical transportation. During a 9 year period in the 70’s he was carless and used a bicycle as his primary mode of transportation, which has made him a stalwart defender of cyclists’ rights.

Like any political activity these days, bicycle advocacy appears to be split apart by warring dogmatic points of view. 

At one end of the spectrum, the Vehicular Cycling camp holds that "bicyclists fare best when they act, and are treated in return, as drivers of vehicles, with the same rights and responsibilities that motorists have.”  This point of view is worked out in full in the book Effective Cycling by John Forester. The essential idea is that cyclists must be trained to ride in--rather than beside--traffic, and that to avoid collisions at intersections they must learn to choose both the appropriate lane and position within that lane. Safe lane position is obtained by carefully merging into traffic lanes as required. From this point of view, cyclists should never be legally required to remain in bike lanes, as this will prevent the correct lane positioning.

Although Forester's Effective Cycling curriculum is no longer used by the League of American Bicyclists, similar ideas on lane positioning are included in the LAB Smart Cycling curriculum. An excellent video demonstrating the techniques from the cyclist's point of view can be found at

A corollary of the Vehicular Cycling point of view is that money spent on separated bicycling facilities is almost certainly money wasted, condemning cyclists to frequent collisions at intersections.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Sheltered Cycling camp holds that normal citizens can only be enticed into cycling if they are provided with separated facilities, which will allow them to overcome their fears (justified or not) of having cars collide with them from behind. Separate facilities can be either bike lanes striped on the pavement, or preferably cycle tracks or cycle paths that are physically separated from the roadway. Collision rates from interference with cars at intersections may be higher than in the vehicular approach, but the sense of security provided by the separated facilities will attract so many new cyclists that the overall rate of collisions will be lower because motorists will become more aware of cyclists. Motorists who comment on the web on cycling issues are often attracted to this theory because it gets cyclists out of the way.
This point of view reaches its purest form in the Copenhagen school, as is discussed in great length at . The site's author, Mikael Colville-Andersen, also advocates for cycling in ordinary clothes without helmets so that prospective cyclists will identify more with cycling as an activity. 

The political corollary of the Sheltered Cycling point of view is that all funds for bicycling facilities should be spent on lanes, tracks and paths that separate cyclists from the roadway. Use of sharrows is considered at best evil, at worst an invitation to chaos.

How do these two schools of thought play out in the actual behavior of Seattle cyclists? I don't have a definitive answer, but one recent, rare and deliciously sunny winter day in downtown Seattle I walked up Pine Street headed east, and watched cyclists interacting with traffic.
What I found is that each point of view fails because it doesn't allow for the gravity of the situation.

Going uphill, cyclists struggle to overcome the unavoidable retarding force of gravity. Traveling little faster than a walking pace, they seem content (or perhaps resigned) to stay in the bike path even if this puts them in the "door zone" where they might easily collide with an opening car door. Merging into the traffic lane when flowing traffic is present is impossible, given the speed differential.  Left turns are made by crossing the intersection, stopping on the far side and waiting for the light. Left and right hooks are prevented by carefully timing  passage through the intersection, or by dismounting and crossing as a pedestrian. I witnessed one cyclist simply riding up the sidewalk. He had very low gears and was proceeding at a slow walking pace, expertly riding around lamp posts and pedestrians.

Going downhill, cyclists were liberated by the helping hand of gravity. On many of Seattle's hills it is easy for a cyclist of no particular athletic strength to maintain 25 or 30 mph. At these speeds it is practically suicidal to remain in a bike lane that is striped too close to the parked cars. You see the cyclists swooping down the hills, claiming the lane, merging left to make left turns, just as the Vehicular Cyclists would have them do. Evidently Seattle cyclists’ fear of being killed or maimed from striking a car door that is opened suddenly in front of them conquers their desire to be protected from the cars, and they are liberated from the Copenhagen conventions.

On level roads I didn't see any consistent behavior.  When traffic was light cyclists stayed in the middle of the lane, especially when there was another lane in the same direction so cars could get around.
So here's my summary.  Going uphill, gravity slows down cyclists so much that full vehicular cycling is impossible. Going downhill, the natural speed of a bicycle is high enough that vehicular cycling is possible for almost all cyclists, and will be preferable to either striking an opening car door at high speeds, or creeping along in the bike path at 5 mph, riding your brakes the whole way down. On the level, it depends on how fast the cyclist can go relative to the density and speed of the motorized traffic. My own experience from cycling in Seattle is that most Seattle bike commuters maintain between 15 to 18 mph on the level. This is far too fast to cycle in the door zone, but often too slow for impatient motorists who want to speed from one light to the next so they can spend more time waiting in line.

The Seattle Department of Transportation seems to be coming to grips with the immutable force of gravity. In the recent road diet applied to Stone Way, the steep sections have bike lane markings going uphill, and sharrows on the downhill side.

Unfortunately this means that the dogmatic purists can only go one way-- the chic ladies on their fat tired Dutch bikes will be grinding up the hill in the bike lane, and the lycra clad vehicular curmudgeons will be flying downhill over the sharrows.  

The rest of us will have to operate both ways and free ourselves from the bonds of dogma as we submit to the dictates of gravity.