Paul Andrews

Archive for the ‘Bicycle Commuting’ Category

Is Seattle Catching Portland as America’s “City to Bike”?

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Commuting on December 20, 2009 at 4:13 am

Bike commuting is up in Seattle but curiously down in Portland. A September count showed a 15 percent increase in downtown Seattle bike traffic in 2009 compared with 2007. An unofficial report in Portland showed a decline of 6 percent in 2009 versus 2008.

But there’s more. Helmet use was up in Seattle, down in Portland. Women cyclists increased in Seattle and declined in Portland.

So what’s going on in America’s Bicycle City? Has Portland peaked or is there some flaw in the statistical counting or interpretation process?

First, the Portland numbers come from a report that was prematurely leaked and will not be formally issued till January. Presumably the final report will include explanations for the drops. A post on BikePortland.org indicates, however, that one issue may be a saturated infrastructure in the City of Roses. Until upgrades are made to reach “world-class design standards,” Portland’s bike count may have topped out.

(This sounds a bit like political opportunism, which we’re all for. Bike infrastructure does need to be expanded. But our suspicion is that other factors may have not only contributed but in fact may override the infrastructure argument. They are, simply, economic pressures. Fewer jobs mean fewer commuters. Less commerce means less traffic of all kinds. A slowdown in business means a drop down in headcounts.)

Still, none of our economic factors explains how Seattle managed to spike. We sincerely doubt riders abandoned Portland for the Emerald City, so that one’s out. And Seattle’s economy can’t be that much different from Portland’s.

And in fact Seattle’s numbers could mirror Portland’s. BikePortland notes that if 2008 is omitted, 2009 counts actually trend positive (like Seattle’s) from 2007. Seattle’s report did not include 2008 numbers. (We’re trying to find out if, like Portland, Seattle’s ’09 counts are actually down from ’08.)

Whatever the reason, with a new bike-commuting mayor and bike-friendly city and county leadership, Seattle presumably has only upside, at least for the time being.

And we’re sure Portland will bounce back.

Will the Copenhagen Wheel Cure Cancer?

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Commuting, Obama Bikes on December 18, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Several people have breathlessly alerted me to the big announcement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the MIT “Copenhagen Wheel” — a rear wheel with hub-enclosed technology that not only boosts a cyclist with a “burst of power” on demand but contains a number of “smart bike” features, including anti-theft “braking” and email notification.

OK, I love all this. But really.

First off, in evaluating any Woo Woo Tech Whiz product, I like to see numbers. In the reports I’ve seen so far, there aren’t any. Battery type. Wattage output. Drive-system specifications. Weight. Volume. Does the hub have internal shifting? Judging from the photo, it’s either that or a singlespeed with a fairly challenging gear ratio. No wonder it needs a battery boost.

Battery technology is improving all the time, so maybe this thing can put out enough power to be meaningful. And the brake-regeneration system works, as the Prius I drive attests to. But you don’t brake bikes the way you brake cars; bikes slow down pretty well on their own on most surfaces. Cars have to be braked far more, with considerably more force.

Further, the press release mentions only “steep inclines” for acceleration boosting. Seattle and San Francisco, to cite a couple of bike friendly cities, don’t have inclines, they have hills. Inclines are something almost anyone serious about cycling can handle without a battery boost. Hills are where you really need an electric backburner.

But auxiliary power is just one facet of the Copenhagen wheel. It’s supposed to be chock full of “cheap electronics” that notify you of friends nearby, how much pollution is in the air, terrain challenges ahead, distance to and from, and other cool stuff. It supposedly will interface with your iPhone as the client, all well and good. The iPhone can do much of this already, but the notion of real-time communication with your bike invites all kinds of fantasizing.

The one that stopped me, though, was the theft-deterrence feature. Apparently the bike will automatically go into brake mode when stolen and automatically send the owner an email that his or her bike has been purloined. Under the “worst-case scenario,” the press release states, “the thief will have charged your batteries before you get back your bike.”

No, under the worst case scenario, the thief tosses your bike in a truck, slaps a lead case over the hub (or simply jams the signal) and drives off to a lab where the electronics are reconfigured to impede any detection of or communication with the bike.

The Copenhagen Wheel is asking a lot in terms of consumer faith, and my skepticism derives from two real-world reality checks. First, this is still a project in development (is there even a prototype?), which means it needs continued funding. And the best way to get funding is to hype something over the ever-gullible mainstream press and eWorld.

Secondly, recall the last time we were promised a huge breakthrough in personal transportation technology. A two-wheeled invention that would prove bigger than the personal computer, and more important than the Internet. That’s right, the Segway.

Yeah, like that worked…

Copenhagen wheel, meet Seattle's mayorStill, I know a guy who’d be the perfect ambassador for the Copenhagen wheel. It’s Seattle’s new mayor, Mike McGinn. He already rides an electric bike and knows a lot more about its ins and outs than a mere blogger like me. Plus he’s committed to continuing to ride as mayor.

MIT, here’s your guinea pig.

The Copenhagen Wheel unveiled

Daily Roundup: Cars invade SF bike lanes, CA state parks still open, Amy & Steevo,

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Commuting, Bicycling, Daily Roundup, Obama Bikes on December 7, 2009 at 1:34 am

Bicycle Retailer: So far bike vendors are saying it’s not as bad as last Christmas. You could knock me over with a feather, or even a double-butted spoke.

S.F.StreetsBlog: When bikes ride in car lanes, it’s get that damn bike outta my way! When cars drive in bike lanes, it’s get that damn bike outta my way!

Tom Stienstra: State parks staying open despite cutbacks.

Sent from a friend: The Thanksgiving conversation we’ve all had.

Cyclelicio.us on filtering forward

How many bikes do you own? If you’re about average, according to Robb’s survey, then I own twice as many bikes as you.

Police bias against cyclists explored in San Francisco

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Commuting, Bicycling, Obama Bikes on December 6, 2009 at 7:32 pm

One pressing motivation behind Seattle-based Cascade Bicycle Club’s campaign to pass “vulnerable user” legislation seeking justice for cyclists injured or killed in car accidents is to force law-enforcement agencies to take bicycles seriously.

No one who has been involved in a police-reported accident doubts the entrenched bias against cyclists. The attitude can generally be summed up as, “Since some cyclists run red lights or otherwise do foolish things on the streets, the bicyclist is almost always at fault in an accident.”

Drivers of course run red lights and do stupid things all the time. If they hit another car and injure or kill the driver, they are cited. Only when they hit or kill a cyclist do they automatically get the benefit of the doubt, as well as, usually, the benefit of not even a ticket.

In San Francisco, S.F.StreetsBlog has a compelling post documenting baldly expressed anti-cyclist sentiment from the local police department.

It’s a good primer for anyone seeking to understand why the words “justice” and “cycling” have been mutually exclusive for so long, and the urgency behind Cascade’s campaign to unite them under the law.

Crosscut.com: Time to ‘claim the lane’ on bike safety

Biking Bis: Seeking justice for bike riders in Washington State

Let There Be Justice

As Seattle Mayor, Mike McGinn Will Keep Riding His Bike

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Commuting, Obama Bikes on December 1, 2009 at 12:13 pm

SEATTLE — After last night’s Town Hall meeting, I asked Mike McGinn if he was going to ride the horse what got him there — his electric bike — once he took office January 1st.

“Definitely!” he boomed out. He might not get to ride everywhere, he noted, but he would be riding everywhere practical given the pressures of time and distance.

Although there was “nothing to announce yet,” McGinn made it sound like he had a plan in the works. “Let’s just say the Executive Support Unit is working on it.” That would be the Police Dept. Seattle has a robust contingent of cops who ride, so I’m thinking any hitches would have more to do with protocol than officer orientation.

And I suspect Mike will make a splash with this. The cycling community, including Bike Intelligencer, gave wholehearted support to McGinn’s campaign, and Mike understands political symbolism as well as if not better than any mayor we’ve ever had.

There’s a practical side to McGinn’s plan as well. I noted Hizzoner-to-be has put on a few pounds since his campaigning days began. As I tweeted during the Town Hall at #NewSeattle, cycling in office will help ensure that his only spare tire is in his tool kit.

So we can stay tuned…and watch for a helmeted dignitary roaming the downtown corridor!

Related posts on Mike McGinn and bicycling

Daily Roundup: Creative ways to make $$ from cycling, the nation’s bike boom, ‘lectronic shifting and more

In Bicycle Commuting, Daily Roundup, Mountain Biking on November 11, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Amusing piece from MadConomist.com on how to make money from bicycling. The furniture thing is truly inspired.

More on the nation’s bike-commuting boom: New York. San Jose (Cyclelicio.us has a rundown on some others…) Seattle’s increases — up 27 percent from 2005 to 2008 and 29 percent from 2008 to 2009 — aren’t among the leaders, but it has a pretty broad base and comparatively strong percentage (modal share) of bike commuters. The list of leaders is here.

A mountain bike with electronic shifting? As always, I say lemme try one during a nice moist freezing mud-besotted Pacific Northwest winter, and I’ll get back to ya!

Fox Racing Shox is the latest bicycling industrial titan to take a header in 3Q, joining Mavic, Easton Bell, SRAM, Shimano, you, me…

Can Elected Bike Riders Impel Change We Can Believe In?

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Commuting, Obama Bikes on November 11, 2009 at 1:55 am

With the election of Mike McGinn as mayor of Seattle and re-election of Council president Richard Conlin, it now looks as though the two most powerful office-holders in the city are, of all things, bike commuters. The third most powerful, newly elected County Executive Dow Constantine, is a bike lover, as is another newcomer, Council member Mike O’Brien, Together they comprise a two-wheeled coalition atop local government unlike any other municipality of Seattle’s size and prominence.

Will it make a difference? And if so, how much?

Conlin’s 12-year tenure, crossover popularity and political capital gained from a resounding victory in last Tuesday’s election have led some to designate him Seattle’s “interim” mayor while McGinn learns the ropes. There may be some truth in the appellation, but we think McGinn’s dedication to civic causes over the years gives him considerable momentum going into the job. And as anyone who has worked with Mike knows, he typically has a pretty good idea going in what he wants to do on any given issue.

We think McGinn’s infamous “flip-flop”— more like a soft-pedal (given his avocation) — actually won the election for him. It didn’t lose him any votes; what were tunnel haters going to do, vote for build-baby-build Mallahan? Instead it won crucial votes from the rule-book set, traditionalist Seattleites who needed a sign from McGinn that he could put aside personal conviction when due process dictated a different track. That said, we still hope Mike finds a way out of the geologic insanity and bottomless money pit of the Deep Bore.

If the tunnel does proceed, cyclists hopefully will benefit from increased surface options in the city. But the big imprint that cycling leadership can leave on the city will involve long-sought integration of bikes into Seattle’s traffic grid and transportation infrastructure. With downtown bike counts continuing to escalate exponentially — the Seattle Bicycle Master Plan calls for tripling the amount of bicycling in Seattle by 2017 — such integration is not only prudent but necessary.

Seattle’s Cascade Bicycle Club and the City will spend much of 2010 developing a 5-year update of the Master Plan. It will be fascinating to watch a transportation blueprint put together with cyclists as equal participants rather than afterthoughts. What might cyclists hope for in a McGinn administration?

Our wish list includes:

Completing Ballard’s “missing link” on the Burke-Gilman Trail. This is under litigation, but there are pressures and bargainings that a McGinn administration can bring to bear to “ameliorate” the process. Let’s git ‘er done guys.

More bike lanes. A recent study showed that bike lanes are safer for cyclists than is competing with cars on streets and highways, and with pedestrians, dogs and strollers on bike paths (although bike-only paths are safer). Yet the city has in crucial corridors moved away from lanes in favor of “sharrows,” or on-pavement arrows indicating that vehicles need to “share” the pavement with bikes.

Sharrows hold some symbolic persuasion. But we feel they’re more a sop than solution. The painted arrows soon wear off. “Shared” lanes invite “dooring” from parked cars. And we all know when push comes to shove who gets shoved out of the right-of-way.

True bike lanes on North 45th Street and on Stone Way should be a high priority. And while you’re at it, on Broadway, Queen Anne Avenue, Rainier and Columbia Way. I’m missing some, I know. North 80th or 85th (McGinn lives up there!). And more. (Check out Page yll of the Master Plan for a graphic of what the ideal bike grid should look like.)

North-south bike corridors are in pretty good shape; east-west needs to be beefed up. Cyclists shouldn’t have to fear for their lives just getting between the city’s main districts. It will mean pinching already heavy car flow on major arterials, but that’s an inconvenient truth of reducing car dependence.

More bike racks. It sounds screwy, but Seattle is running out of places to lock up bikes, particularly downtown. Especially at festivals, conferences and conventions, or grocery and department stores — anywhere large numbers of people converge — not only are existing racks woefully inadequate, even light pole availability becomes scarce. New construction still fails to take increased cycling traffic into account, an example being Trader Joe’s in Ballard. As we’ve noted on several occasions as well, bike racks should not be put in the nether regions of underground or covered parking garages, where theft is easier and the “door-to-door” time advantage and convenience of riding a bike is lost.

Better law enforcement. Cascade will resume its valiant efforts to pass legislation at the state level to improve traffic justice for riders and walkers. Although the state Supreme Court ruled that state law overrides local jurisdictions, police can still give out tickets and otherwise make their presence known when drivers endanger cyclists. There needs to be heightened awareness that cyclists truly do belong on city corridors and do not relinquish the legal system’s protections for street users simply because they are not sitting behind the wheel of a car.

Setting an example. McGinn drew attention during the campaign for commenting how he would change the go-everywhere-by-car policy of gas-guzzling Mayor Greg Nickels. Now’s his chance to show exactly how, and to provide a model for dignitaries everywhere about what it means to reduce four-wheel transport to two.

Bicycle advocacy in city government. We’re no fan of bureaucratic featherbedding, but cyclists have been under-represented in City Hall for so long (even though Nickels improved somewhat) that enhancing their presence at the planning table with a few good administrators would be well worth the salary allocations. Any McGinn/Constantine vision of transportation in Puget Sound that moves commuters out of cars needs to contain huge incentives to go by bike. Mass transit especially should give discounts or other benefits to velo travelers. We need fertile thinking to enter the post-carbon society, and there are a lot of creative bike minds in Seattle that can be tapped by City Hall.

At Cascade, advocacy director David Hiller says the club is looking forward to blue-skying about the future, and to being a driver (so to speak) of policy rather than a check-box constituency to be informed after decisions have been made. Cascade’s tireless efforts to broaden its own identity as well as McGinn’s appeal throughout Seattle, especially among Asian and minority communities, were undoubtedly the difference in the narrow election. The payoff will come with a local political clout rivaled only by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition among urban cycling organizations.

“We’re dreaming the big dreams, all of us, right now,” Hiller said.

A second look at L.A. physician ‘bike rage’ case

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Commuting, Bicycling, Obama Bikes on November 7, 2009 at 1:12 am

Bike Radar has a detailed report on the “landmark case” of the LA physician recently convicted for doorstopping cyclists. We see the conviction as significant but not breakthrough, since intent is already (and has been for some time) a judicial threshold for culpability in cycling collisions.

A real landmark will come when conviction does not require intent. As it stands, drivers can injure, maim and kill cyclists and pedestrians without even getting a traffic citation. Typically a traffic ticket is the most that can be issued, under the thinking that “accidents happen” and the cyclist/pedestrian may have contributed to the accident (even if it’s just by being “invisible”).

As we’ve written repeatedly, real justice for cyclists is possible only when the system appropriately confronts, deals with and metes out penalties for driver fault in cycling accidents. For a fuller understanding, see our report on Seattle’s Cascade Bicycle Club’s efforts and its recent Traffic Justice Summit.

All the above said, it looks like Dr. Thompson will get his due. The judge denied bail on grounds the unrepentant and contentious Thompson remains a threat to cyclists.

As if to punctuate the issue, BikePortland.org notes results of recent study finding that you’re safer in a bike lane.

Daily Roundup: Missing Link tomorrow, Ells retreat, Tribute to Rider Down and more

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Commuting, Daily Roundup, Mountain Biking, Obama Bikes, Rider Down on October 26, 2009 at 6:10 am

Tomorrow is “We Are The Missing Link,” a testimonial gathering to get the Ballard part of the Burke-Gilman Trail connected. Meet at Shilshole Avenue opposite 17th, just west of the Ballard Bridge. Yes it’s one ugly intersection. There’s an apres party as well. More at SeattleLikesBikes. You don’t have to bring your bike or even be a cyclist — the trail is for all non-motorized users! Just have a red blinkie and you’re set.

I’m not nor ever have been an Ellsworth owner, although I liked the Truth when it came out. Still, given its manufacturing headquarters in Vancouver, I feel at least geographical allegiance to the brand. And something like this makes me really wish I did own an Ellsworth, especially this time of year.

Rider Down But Only in Body Not in Soul: Mary Yonkers was some kind of cyclist. A wonderful tribute from SF StreetsBlog puts her life, cut short by a careless truck driver, in touching perspective.

NSMB gives trials wunderkind Danny MacAskill a once going-over.

Daily Roundup: Weathering the NorCal storm

In Bicycle Commuting, Daily Roundup on October 16, 2009 at 7:43 am

BikeRadar was at Biketoberfest in Fairfax, Marin County, last Saturday too. Great report from Gary Boulanger, the “US editor” with the French name. More than $14,000 was raised for advocacy causes, and a superb time was had by all. You can’t beat October weather in NorCal.

Most of the time, anyway. From the Bay Area, where we’re visiting, check out the links re Tuesday’s mondo typhoon. Ten inches of rain in the Santa Cruz Mountains! People were asking me if it felt like home. I told them that 10 inches of rain in Seattle would be spread out over two months and the sun wouldn’t show the entire time. By Wednesday the sun was back out and things were drying out in 70-degree temps.

Check out the cyclist who almost got crushed by a tree (thanks to Cyclelicio.us for the pointer)

And tell me how this cyclist lived…

Have a great weekend! Ride safe!

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