Paul Andrews

Posts Tagged ‘Bicycle Commuting’

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 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.

Mayor McGinn wouldn’t ride like Nickels drives

In Bicycle Commuting, Obama Bikes on September 22, 2009 at 4:43 am

The Stranger: Analyzing how “Bikin’ Mike” McGinn, the mayoral candidate who actually commutes downtown by bike each day, might cope with a traditional mayoral schedule.

Interesting take, but in using existing mayor Greg Nickels’ car-biased schedule as a model, the article assumes McGinn would adopt a similar approach to his official calendar. Anyone who rides a bike for work knows and understands that cycling demands an entirely different mindset to daily travel. Not necessarily a more limited or truncated schedule, just a more efficient one.

A lot of the PR-type, ceremonial appearances Nickels makes are on his schedule simply because car transport allows them to be. Do you have to be in Georgetown and the University District over the noon hour? McGinn would choose one or the other, or neither, based on how necessary they really were. When it comes to the daily planner, the prospect of turning pedals to get places tends to focus the mind. Awards dinners? Going-away parties? Transportation seminars? Some would make the cut, others wouldn’t.

And the city would be better off for it. A mayor who acted more than he gabbed, who spent time on the job solving problems rather than running around trying to be liked, and who showed up at events based on an honest and efficient (and cheap!) transportation decision matrix, would mean a lot more to the city than a glad-hander who showed up just for show, mouthed a few platitudes and seldom delivered the goods.

Finally, what’s the big deal about 25 miles on a bike in a day? For experienced cyclists, that’s a piece o’ cake . . .

SF v. Portland: Who’s the Cyclingest of Them All?

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Commuting on June 29, 2009 at 2:37 am

San Francisco bike policy is picking up momentum. Mayor Gavin Newsom, a true progressive who’s running for governor, is a big bike booster. The city Planning Commission and MTA (Municipal Transportation Agency) just gave thumbs up to the SF Bike Plan, prompting this observation from Newsom:

“Already 6% of our commuters are bicyclists; that’s more than any other city in America. We know when we add a bike lane we see about a 50% increase in use. Fifty-four percent of  greenhouse gases are transportation related, the tailpipes of these cars you see behind you. Even those of us who are not bicyclists will get the benefit of this because of the air we breathe and the benefit of the example that we will leave to our children to get more physically active as well and to look at bicycling not just as recreating but as a pragmatic way of getting to and from places of work, to and from places we need to go.”

So I guess the burning question of the day is: Does SF now trump Portland as the most cycling-centric city in the U.S.? I’m assuming Newsom’s stats are correct but wonder if Portland isn’t actually ahead (here‘s an unsourced citation putting Portland at 6 percent mode share; cites 8 percent in this post last fall). My home base of Seattle isn’t too shabby in the commute department btw. Cascade Bicycle Club, which it should be noted is the nation’s largest local club, estimates commuting at a respectable 4.2 percent.

Having bike commuted in San Francisco as well and ridden in Portland, my observation is that Portland is by far the easiest to get around in, but it’s also the smallest and most compact. So the stats may not be the whole story.

More SF links from Streetsblog:

Mayor a yay and nay.

Dancing, make that cycling in the streets over MTA vote!

Why my city bike is a mountain bike

In Bicycling, Mountain Biking on May 14, 2009 at 9:10 pm
One day I saw the light...

One day I saw the light...

My phat tires make a thrumming sound on pavement as I ride along. Skinny-tire cyclists pass me by like they have motors. My frame has a constant layer of dirt and mud.

Yet still I ride a mountain bike on city streets, and on Bike to Work Day, because I like it that way.

It’s a relatively old bike, approaching 10 years, but a good one. Made of titanium, so it does not rust. It will not break (titanium is stronger than steel and aluminum). It never needs painting and its finish does not scratch or scrape. Best of all, it damps. It soaks up bumps and hits better than steel and aluminum.

But I could get a skinny-tire bike in titanium. For all its drawbacks in speed and sleekness, I ride a mountain bike because I’m not in the hurry I used to be, and the fun factor is so much higher.

I should clarify that my bike is not actually a commuter bike because I no longer commute. I did for years by bike, but that was when I worked in an office. Instead I take daily rides around town, running errands, doing shopping, and meeting people. Last year I put less than 2,000 miles on my car, and most of that was for mountain biking trips. I’d estimate I put twice that many miles on my bike. For just about anything in town, my bike does me just as well as a car.

My mountain bike (a Titus HC) feels safer and offers more versatility than the road bikes I used to commute on back in the day. It has disc brakes that stop as well in pouring rain as dry sunshine (the same cannot be said of caliper road brakes). It has a lower center of gravity and feels more stable. If a car cuts me off, I can hop curbs. If I hit a pothole I can bunny hop over it (on my road bike the city twice paid me for a wheel damaged by a pothole). I can take shortcuts through parks and dirt alleys and down stairs that I would never do on a road bike. There are expert “fixie” (fixed gear) and single-speed and skinny-tire riders who can do most of these things on a road bike as well, but you have to be really good, believe me. With a fat-tire bike, all you have to be is a rider.

Fat tires get fewer flats. They absorb shock better. (I have a shock on my front fork as well that comes in handy for concrete obstacles.) Their wheels are stronger and stay true better. Yes they are slower, and they make noise.

But I’m out for the sweat as well. So what if I have to work a little harder to go the same amount of distance — the workout is part of the deal. When I belonged to Seattle Athletic Club and rode my bike to go for a swim or lift weights (I decidedly did not do spinning!), I can’t tell you how many times guys coming and going would say, “Wow, you rode your bike here?!” Like, isn’t that a lot of … exercise?

As for speed, I’m willing to go slower on pavement so I can go faster on dirt and gravel. At some point in my cycling life a light bulb switched on and showed me the way to mountain biking. I haven’t touched my road bikes in years and may not ever again. Mountain bikes just feel right, whether I’m ripping down a trail in Winthrop or going to the grocery for bread.

In the long run, it doesn’t really matter anyway. What matters is not the bike, but the ride. To each his or her own — just keep the rubber side down!

Today’s Ride: Going north!

In Bicycle Commuting, Bicycling, Today's Ride on March 12, 2009 at 11:11 am

The mountain was out

The mountain was out

Went up north for variety, doing my standard Green Lake/Phinney to U District connector but then heading the long climb up 15th N.E. to Maple Leaf, site of the reservoir tank everyone can see from everywhere. The views on a chilly but sunny day were magnificent from this promontory, even if I-5 tends to get in the way.

One question I often get asked is, “Aren’t there too many hills in Seattle for cycling?” My response: There aren’t enough! Hills are the straw the stirs the drink, the journey to the destination. Now am I going to ride up Denny Way or Queen Anne Ave. N.? Not if I can avoid it (which is easily done). If you want to get up high in Seattle there are several ways to skin the cat. They do involve climbing, just less grade.

But riding hills keeps one healthy and fit, and provides a daily sense of challenge in a contemporary lifestyle that can easily become lazy, humdrum and uninspired. I sum up my attitude this way: If the world were flat, I wouldn’t ride a bicycle!

The Carless Cyclist, Shannon Markley

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Commuting, Bicycling on March 5, 2009 at 7:44 am
With her newly powdercoated Marinoni

With her newly powdercoated Marinoni

I ride my bike a lot, but I drive a car as well. So I have to marvel at people, several of whom I know, who do not own a car. In Shannon Markley’s case, that has been her situation since 1976.

Shannon’s biography could be called “Life on a Bike.” She began cycling at the age of 7 and can take you to the exact spot on Beacon Hill where she learned to ride. For many of us, the bike represents an implement of independence, a moment in our young lives when we became, literally, self-empowered. The impact of learning to ride was to prove for Shannon far greater than what for most people is the later equivalent, getting a driver’s license. Read the rest of this entry »

Morning Roundup: Seattle Seeks Comments, Racing Up, LA Bike Summit, Rider Down

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Commuting, Bicycling, Daily Roundup, Rider Down on March 4, 2009 at 8:56 am

City of Seattle: “Comments needed for a safer Nickerson.” They’ll be putting in bike lanes on Nickerson, which can get a bit dicey heading out toward the Ballard Bridge. Open house tonight (Wed. March 4) at Seattle U. You can also add comments to the Web site queue.

Bike Rumor: “Racing up despite economy.” Sea Otter registration (April 9-12) is particularly strong.

BikePortland: Elly Blue is headed for the Los Angeles Bike Summit this weekend. The increase in bike commuting in the city of Angels apparently is outstripping the city surface streets’ capacity. Sound familiar?

Biking Bis: “A lifelong cyclist, advocate and bicycle shop owner is hospitalized with internal and spinal injuries in Winston-Salem. A motorist ran him down while he rode his recumbent bike home from work about a week ago.”

Bike Riders Rights’ Expanded Under Iowa Legislation

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Commuting, Bicycling on March 1, 2009 at 8:56 am

In Iowa, new legislation: “Drivers would face new penalties for not giving bicycles five feet of space when passing them, following too closely or failing to yield to bikes.”

There’s some further interesting points about cycle safety and driver requirements in the legislation, including driveway, crosswalks and other dilemmas familiar to all of us who ride in the city. Worth reading in full.

Today’s Ride: Burke-Gilman to University of Washington

In Bicycle Commuting, Today's Ride on February 25, 2009 at 11:29 pm

After a disastrously downpourish morning the sun came out this afternoon. By late day things were drying out considerably. I had to be at a 6:30 p.m. seminar at the University of Washington, so I decided to pop over from Fremont on the Burke-Gilman Trail. The 18-mile paved trail follows former railroad tracks around Seattle out north to Bothell and is a major commuter route for cyclists.

To connect to the trail I climb from home up to Phinney Ave. N., circle around the Woodland Park Zoo and then drop down Fremont Ave. N. to the canal. From there it’s a straight shot to the University campus and Kane Hall, where the seminar was to be held. It wasn’t much of a ride, although I tooled around in Fremont for a bit and then did some stair drops on campus just for fun. I’m testing a new night light as well and wanted to try a variety of venues.

After the seminar I wheeled through Ravenna Park, which gets pretty dark in places, then back along 65th to Green Lake and home. I cut through lower Woodland Park, which is absolutely black at night, really stretching out the light’s capabilities. More to come on that front.

I meant to say that on yesterday’s ride I ran into Seattle’s primo cycle-everywhere, Shannon Markley, outside of Whole Foods on Roosevelt Ave. N. Shannon had been caught in that day’s gusher and was still complaining of wet feet. Otherwise she’s well prepared, having waterproof (not just water resistant) top and pants. Shannon goes absolutely everywhere by bike, day or night, and knows all the tricks. It was great seeing her and comparing notes.

Tomorrow snow is forecast. I don’t mind, a little snow can’t keep the Bike Intelligencer from its rounds.

Scaling Tiger Mountain in the white stuff

Scaling Tiger Mountain in the white stuff

Today’s Ride: U District Loop

In Bicycle Commuting, Today's Ride on February 24, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Rain still threatening today after torrential a.m. dump, so I played cautious and did U District/Ravenna loop. Lots of variations here but I typically dart through Lower Woodland, up N. 45th St. through Wallingford, over I-5 and then cut up Brooklyn or University Avenue to Ravenna, dink around on the bike lane back to Green Lake and then home, often climbing the hill to Phinney Ave. N. for the workout. There are legs through Ravenna Park, through the UW campus to University Village (the Apple store a favorite hangout), and so on.

I stopped by my LBS, the Downhill Zone, today to chat with Adam and Darren. I’ve been going to the shop since they got started 10 years ago, and never had a bad experience. I’ve bought so many bikes there that I like to joke with Darren I should get a card like they have at the coffeehouses, you know, buy 9 lattes get one free. I’d be close to my freebie by now.

Windy but dry so it wasn’t all that bad a ride. On the uphill I passed another dude on a mountain bike, a commuter no less, with pannier hanging from one side. I thought I was the only one crazy enough to ride up this hill, I told him. He said he was perfectly sane, he just lived at the top!