Permission to Bike: A Report on New York City’s New Citi-Bike Bikeshare System

New York City recently initiated an elaborate bikeshare system called Citi-Bike. It is a great gift to New Yorkers that goes beyond mere shiny bikes, practical and enjoyable as they may be. Citi-Bike’s greatest gift is that it legitimizes bicycling in a previously forbidding place: downtown Manhattan. Previous to Citi-Bike only daring, athletic and counter-cultural young men ventured onto Manhattan’s chaotic streets. But Citi-Bikes empowers people of all ages and abilities to think the formerly unthinkable: Continue reading Permission to Bike: A Report on New York City’s New Citi-Bike Bikeshare System

Americans Are Driving Less Thanks to Millenials; Teens Need Cargo Bikes Too

A recent report released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group finds that “a six decade-long period of steady increases in per-capita driving in the United States is over”. Furthermore, this downward trend is due in large part to the driving-aversion of Millennials—people born between 1983 and 2000. “Young people aged 16 to 34 drove 23 percent fewer miles on average in 2009 than they did in 2001—a greater decline in driving than any other age group.” And a 2011 study by the University of Michigan found that only 22 percent of drivers are 20-somethings or teenagers, down from a third in 1983.

A parallel trend is the rise of the cargo bike. Cargo bike use has increased dramatically in Europe, and the U.S. seems poised for a similar explosion. Continue reading Americans Are Driving Less Thanks to Millenials; Teens Need Cargo Bikes Too

Should Humans Be Allowed to Drive?

Robotic Drivers Will Make Streets Safer for Bicyclists and Pedestrians

NPR had an interesting article this morning about robot-driven cars.  Apparently Google has had several of these vehicles on the road for years. Up until now they have taken a “don’t ask permission and apologize afterwards” approach. But recently Google hired a lobbyist who is promoting the idea that these vehicles should be allowed to have driver’s licenses. The idea is that while the robot is in training it will have a bright red license plate so that people know it is a “student driver”. And after it proves itself it will have a bright green license plate.

Many people may balk at the idea of robots on the road. My perspective as a bicyclist is this: the sooner the better. Nothing could be worse than human drivers. Here are a few reasons we should welcome the robots:

Continue reading Should Humans Be Allowed to Drive?

Proud Hardworking American Bicyclist Disrespected by Own Government

Yesterday the Bikes Belong folks sent me an email urging me to write to my congress people. Apparently a Representative Mica and a Senator Inhofe are attempting to “eliminate dedicated funding for biking and walking programs” because they feel these programs are “frivolous” and “do not serve a federal purpose”. Instead of sending the message suggested by Bike Belong, I wrote the following:

Dear Congresspersons Maurice Hinchey, Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer:

I am keenly aware of the connection between my car use and America’s shameful oil dependence. So two years ago I made a personal commitment to reduce my car use. I’ve been using an electric cargo bike to run most errands around town and even make long trips. Last month I made 30 bike trips adding up to 254 miles. Many of those trips were carrying a passenger or hundreds of pounds of cargo; all of them used a hundredth the energy of a car; almost all of them were immensely enjoyable. In contrast I made 10 car trips adding up to 181 miles.

My point is this: my bike use is not recreational. It is not “frivolous”. It is a valid solution to very real problems America faces. For Representative Mica and Senator Inhofe to reduce funding for bike programs is short-sighted and intolerable. It is a slap in the face to my efforts. Please see to it that bike funding is not cut. And please encourage Americans to bike not just for recreation but to replace their car; not just for their own health but for the health of the nation.

Build a Better Block for $1000

For less than $1,000, Oak Cliff performed a make-over of a city block, making it more walkable, bikable, enjoyable and prosperous. Here’s a “before” shot:
Oak Cliff street in the "before" state
See the video for the result of the final transformation, complete with temporary businesses like a cafe, flower market, kid’s art studio and live music.

Visit the post for more information on this DIY street makeover.
Is this an event that could work in your town?

Bike/Walk improvements as a “Context Sensitive Solution”

Ron and Annetta

I’ve recently written about why INDOT should revise the plan for US 27. to follow Complete Streets principles.

I recently found another reason why INDOT should do this– because it would follows their own policy on Context Sensitive Solutions.

Ashley Hungate, an INDOT spokeswoman was quoted on a topic in a recent article by AARP, covering improvements needed elsewhere in the state to make Westfield, Indiana more bikeable, walking and livable. Here’s the quote:

INDOT strives to design its roadways for all users through its Context Sensitive Solutions policy, Hungate said. It uses community input to strike a balance between providing safe, cost-effective highways and protecting local values. “If we’re doing a project in a community, and they express opinions on what’s important to them, we try to accommodate them when appropriate and feasible,” Hungate said.

And “expressing opinions” is exactly what’s recently happened in Richmond. The City asked for a plan based on Complete Streets and over 100 people petitioned support for it.

I looked up the Context Sensitive Solutions program and found that “making streets more bikeable is often a goal of CSS projects”. CSS is also used to implement bike and pedestrian bridges like the Freeman Park / Oak Drive Connector which would truly be an improved and viable alternative to US 27 for non-motorized traffic.

With so many reasons to support Complete Streets in Richmond, I hope INDOT will respond soon to let us know that they will be following the new federal transportation policy as well as their own policies regarding accomodations for walking and biking.

Does Driving Cause Cancer?

Internationally acclaimed environmental activist Sandra Steingraber spoke with my First Day School class this morning. (“First Day School” is Quakerese for Sunday School; I teach the 6th to 8th graders.) Sandra’s specialty is researching and writing about the links between the environment and cancer. It’s truly sobering stuff, which you can read about in her books or see about in the movie Living Downstream to be released next month. I invited Sandra to speak with us because I admire her as an activist, and I hope to emulate her approach in my work as a bicycling activist. She describes herself as a “shy activist” who would rather do the science side of things and support brasher activists rather than be a brash activist herself. And maybe people would rather listen to the science than the rhetoric any maybe people would rather hear it from a shy person than a brash person.

Because of my quest to Blame the Cars for All Badness I was pleased to find the following paragraphs in Sandra’s book Living Downstream:

The even better news [better because environmental causes of cancer are fixable whereas genetic causes are not] is that the synthetic chemicals linked to cancer largely derive from the same two sources as those responsible for climate change: petroleum and coal. Finding substitutes for these two substances is already on the collective to-do list. The U.S. petroleum industry alone accounts for one-quarter of toxic pollutants released each year in North America. This does not include the air pollutants generated from cars and trucks burning the products that the petroleum industry makes…vehicle emissions are linked to lung, breast, and bladder cancers…Investments in green energy are therefore also investments in cancer prevention. In this, it feels to me that we are standing at a historic confluence, a place where two rivers meet: a stream of emerging knowledge about what the combustion of fossil fuels is doing to our planet is joining a stream of emerging knowledge about what synthetic chemicals derived from fossil fuels are doing to our bodies.

…By-products from the burning of fossil fuels are under particular suspicion. Breast cancer, as we have seen, was first linked to potential sources of air pollution in Long Island. Subsequently, associations have been found between exposure to traffic exhaust during puberty and risk of early-onset breast cancer. Perhaps not coincidentally, a growing body of evidence suggests that tailpipe emissions have estrogenic activity. Air pollutants may alter breast density in ways that raise the risk for breast cancer. A 2007 review of the literature concluded that the risk of breast cancer associated with exposure to engine exhaust and other aromatic hydrocarbons is roughly equivalent in magnitude to some of the well-established risks for breast cancer, such as late age at first childbirth and sedentary lifestyle. Corroborating evidence comes from the laboratory: members of a family of combustion by-products called aromatic hydrocarbons—of which benzo[a]pyrene is one—cause breast cancer in animals. According to researchers at Albert Einstein College in New York, aromatic hydrocarbons inhaled by the lungs can become stored, concentrated, and metabolized in the breast, where the ductal cells become targets for carcinogens.

Bladder cancer, too, has been linked in several studies to air pollution. The strongest evidence comes from Taiwan, where researchers found positive associations between air pollution, especially from petrochemical plants, and the risk of dying from bladder cancer. An investigation of bladder cancer deaths among children and adolescents in Taiwan found that almost all those afflicted lived within a few miles of three large petroleum and petrochemical plants.

That caught my attention.

Highlights from the federal bike and pedestrian policy

detour on the way to church

I’ve recently mentioned the summary of the current federal transportation policy for bicycling and pedestrian accomodation which was signed on March 10th, 2010.

The document is accessible and relatively brief. I recommend reading through it yourself, but have included below some key highlights I believe are of interest to those advocating for improvements for bicycling in federally funded projects (which includes many state projects).
Continue reading Highlights from the federal bike and pedestrian policy

Getting the most out of your DOT public involvement process

she climbs in herself

Public roads should be for all users, serving this generation and the next.

Our recent Complete Streets campaign was a success in the sense that we were able to give feedback early enough in the process to make a difference.

Unfortunately, I owe this to a chance encounter in a grocery story, where someone mentioned the public hearing to me. As a leader of a local bike advocacy group, you would think it would be easy for me to be in the loop about major road projects so I could provide feedback on it. But since I’ve been in Richmond, I’ve seen two other major road projects begin construction before I even realized they were in the design phase.

If you’d like to better understand the “public involvement process” of INDOT or your state’s Department of Transportation, here’s what I’ve learned thus far.

Continue reading Getting the most out of your DOT public involvement process

Richmond to INDOT: Make U.S. 27 a Complete Street

bakfiets, car seat, stoller and Model T

On Friday Mayor Sally Hutton sent in the City’s official public response to INDOT’s proposed renovation of U.S 27. This phase of development starts near the Whitewater River near the Old Reid Hospitals and continues south through town. On behalf of the City, she asked INDOT for a new proposal, one based on Complete Streets principles that produce streets that work for everyone including pedestrians and cyclists. A new proposal could address serious concerns with the current proposal which would speed up traffic as it enters downtown, as well as leaving a major gap in our recommended bike route network.

The City’s response turns to be directly in line with a new policy released by the United States Department of Transportation on March 11th. Here’s an excerpt from the new federal transportation policy:

“The DOT policy is to incorporate safe and convenient walking and
bicycling facilities into transportation projects. Every transportation
agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and
opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and
bicycling into their transportation systems. Because of the numerous
individual and community benefits that walking and bicycling provide —
including health, safety, environmental, transportation, and quality of
life — transportation agencies are encouraged to go beyond minimum
standards to provide safe and convenient facilities for these modes.”

Although the City of Richmond and the Federal Government are on the same page this, we still need public support to bring this message to INDOT so they can revise the design. Please visit this petition by March 18th to view the City’s full response to INDOT as well as signing the petition of support:

Continue reading Richmond to INDOT: Make U.S. 27 a Complete Street