Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bicycles in the Big Apple

I spent Thursday through Saturday in New York City. Observations on the infrastructure and the people I saw cycling will come in the next few days... For now, let me just share a couple of the unusual bicycles I came across: a "Heavy Duti", a "Von Hulst" from the Netherlands, and a "Monocle".

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


A couple of times recently, people have seen me pulling out my camera as they approached. I felt that I should acknowledge them and the fact that I was photographing them, without actually causing them delays. So I yell something like, "I like your bike!" This seems to be the right thing to say, as I've gotten some great waves and "fingerbangs" in response.
He knew he was cool
Family of three - one in the front and one in the trailer
Mom was busy watching traffic, but the girl in back was watching me closely

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Who's the Bad Guy?

I just stumbled across a news article about a fatal bicycle-pedestrian crash on a trail in Dallas. A jogger, wearing earbuds, changed direction suddenly into the path of an oncoming bicycle. The impact knocked her to the ground and she sustained fatal head injuries. There was no mention of injuries to the bicycle rider or other details about the crash.

Going by the photos, the trail is a standard 12-foot path without any pavement markings. There is a pedestrian sidepath along some stretches. Local residents complain that the trail gets unbearably crowded at certain times of day.

Response to the incident has been a little bit rash. People identifying themselves as walkers, joggers, or bicyclists have been confronting each other at meetings and in the media. The trail managers have issued a long list of safety guidelines - such as 'stay to the right' and 'turn down volume on your headphones' - and are hosting safety classes. Many local leaders are calling for a 10 MPH speed limit for bicycles.

This gets to the heart of how we collectively understand bicycling and non-motorized facilities. First of all, imagine if someone hits and kills a pedestrian while driving their car on the road, with the pedestrian at fault. Would the speed limit on that road promptly be cut in half? Would all drivers be demonized? Not a bit. It would probably be ignored. If anything, they might put up warning signs or barricades for pedestrians. Not that I advocate restricting pedestrian access, but many of our traffic engineers do...

There was no information about the speed at which the bicycle was traveling with the crash occurred, so there are no grounds for saying that a speed limit would have prevented it. Even if you could enforce a speed limit. They have no laws governing bicycle or pedestrian operations on a trail, and thus no way to determine if someone is behaving unsafely - coming to close to other users, swerving/running into another user's path, or failing to control dogs or children. Did the jogger do something truly wrong by changing direction into the path of a bicyclist without looking? Should that action be illegal?

Although shared-use trails create a high potential for conflict between bicycle riders and people on foot, they are considered "safe" spaces where a single crash is unacceptable, even if you have to compromise convenience of use. On the street, we assume that crashes will happen and hesitate to impede vehicle flow to prevent them. Is this right?

Ultimately, the real fault here is the design of the trail. It has been way over capacity for years. If three feet is generally regarded as the safe passing distance at speed, how wide would the trail need to be to have two-way traffic with frequent passing? Bicycles need about 4 feet of operating width each, and pedestrians need 2.5 feet or more per person. Add children - in baby strollers and bike trailers - and you need even more space. And rollerbladers have a 9-foot operational width.

If the Katy Trail were a road, it probably would have been widened, or at least redesigned. But again, it was not held to the same standards as roads, leading to congestion and conflicts. Shooing cyclists off the path onto local streets isn't the answer either, unless your city has done a heck of a job making them bicycle-friendly. If the trail is popular, there is a reason for that. We shouldn't have to choose between unsafe trails and unpopular ones... So let's hope that America's trail engineers study this incident, and use it to create safer path designs with appropriate capacity for all their users.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

From Gap to Bump

A week or two ago, I wrote about a sinkhole on Spring Street. Now it looks like this...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Health Versus Health Care

Riding a bicycle is good for your heart. I went to the doctor for an annual checkup the other day. Not to brag or anything, but my cholesterol levels are awesome. Super-good on everything. And I don't exactly have a healthy diet. I eat lots of veggies and whole grains, but I'm also a big fan of butter and bacon. I'd like to think that my daily physical activity, on the bicycle, is keeping me healthy.

I expect that most physicians would like to encourage their patients to be more active. All of the data I read shows Atlantans getting sick from heart disease and strokes and diabetes and other diseases that can be alleviated with exercise. So wouldn't it make sense for Emory Midtown medical center to promote cycling to their visitors?

Apparently not. Here is just part of the building that houses the physicians' group, hospital services, and other medical offices. I didn't see the fire code rating, but I would assume that several thousand people can occupy this building at any given time. Guess how many of them will find bicycle parking?

About five. There is one standard bicycle rack for the entire building. It's in a good location, visible from the front door and valet stand (for security) and closer to the entrance than the car garage. That's great. Now you just need about a hundred more of them.

I did get a little smile from the bikes that I found sharing the rack with me - a classic and well-maintained Centurion mixte in this lovely shade of copper, and a new steel-framed Raleigh with fenders and a Brooks saddle.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Day the Streets Came to Life

Atlanta Streets Alive 2. Let the photos speak for themselves.
Downtown Atlanta without cars
Fun for all ages
Attendance was diverse
Love that basket!
This girl must have made 10 laps around the event route
Some people rode with attitude
Some had style to spare
Flowers on the basket and a matching dress
Do not mess with this little girl, she has somewhere to go!
Visitors showed off their dog-walking skills
And their ability to carry friends
Traffic flowed quietly up and down Edgewood
There were a number of new and vintage folding bikes
Friends caught up with each other
Friends shared a laugh
Families had a good time too!
Kids could test their skills in the bike rodeo - braking, obstacle avoidance, and coaching
Like it says... Sopo was busting out the free repair clinic
One more day to try out bicycle culture in Atlanta

Sunday, October 17, 2010


The Little Five Points annual Halloween parade is an Atlanta institution. It is one of the few things I actually drag my lazy butt out to see consistently. We rode up early - uncostumed - to find a good spot to sit. The hill in front of the Bass Lofts provided good seating, good vantage of the parade route, and plenty of railings for bicycle parking. We were more than an hour early, but the pre-parade crowd was just as entertaining as the main event. Costumes, bicycles, the everyday weirdness of L5P, and the futile attempts by motorists to find parking or even find a path through the crowds and barricades.
Looking for a good spot
Bikes, floats, bands
Coordinated transportation and accessories

Trapped cars
I may have nightmares about this
The show begins

Friday, October 15, 2010

Atlanta Pride Excursion

Better late than never... Last Sunday a friend and I ventured up to Piedmont Park to check out Pride. If you somehow aren't familiar, this is the major gay and lesbian celebration (plus advocacy) event of the year. Tens if not hundreds of thousands attend from all over the southeast and beyond. There is a huge, fabulous parade with floats and costumes, then revelry in the park... Booths, carnival food, music, karaoke, and lots of socializing.

Naturally, we went by bicycle to avoid traffic and parking issues. And because it's fun.

Lots of other people were on bikes too, at the park and coming and going in all directions.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Be Part of Atlanta Streets Alive - This Sunday

Come out, come out for a bigger, better Streets Alive in downtown Atlanta! This ciclovia-style event will designate several miles of city streets for the exclusive use of people, rather than cars. The route will be open to any form of non-motorized movement - walking, running, bicycling, cartwheeling, skateboarding, and so on.

There will be some booths along the way, offering bicycle repairs or information about bike-share programs, and some food and entertainment. But most of the people who come will just be there to experience Atlanta without cars. It's hard to describe what that feels like - you just have to come and see for yourself. The pictures from the May event offer a hint.

If you think this is a great idea, get involved. Check out the volunteer calendar on the home page - there is an orientation session tonight and some sign-making sessions. You can also pick up some posters from the Atlanta Bicycle Campaign office and post them around work and your usual hangouts. There are also graphics that you can use on your blog, Facebook page, and email signature.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How Fast Can You Change?

I wanted to share this video about New York City's innovations in the bicycle, pedestrian, and transit environment. As they point out, it took NYC only 3 years to build 200 miles of bicycle lanes and to reclaim significant pedestrian areas like Times Square. In that 3 years, they also increased the average life expectancy by more than a year.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mind the Gap

The Atlanta bicycle rider encounters certain hazards in her travels. Shoddy pavement, broken glass and nails, and misaligned sewer grates are common, not to mention Atlanta's notorious steel plates which are "temporarily" placed over work in progress. "Temporarily" can apparently mean "for months".

After enough years of abuse, local cyclists start to find ways to outsmart the bumps and hazards. Sprung saddles are much more effective than the front shocks of your average mountain bike, and they don't slow you down or add much weight. Steel-framed bicycles are heavier, but they provide a combination of strength and flex that you just won't get from aluminum (or carbon fiber, of course); the result is a feeling of smoothness rather than jarring or rattling. And wider tires absorb shock right at the pavement, while being less likely to get stuck in a gap or to rupture on a hard bump. Contrary to popular opinion, wide tires are not particularly slower than skinny ones; they can actually be faster on rough pavement because they transmit less vibration (vertical movement) to the frame and rider.

Anyway, I've been taking note of some of the most egregious holes and gaps. Maybe someday the city will put together a "bike hazard posse", like former Mayor Franklin's "pothole posse"?

The turn from Centennial Olympic Drive onto Baker has a tire-eating grate.
A deep but smallish sinkhole opened up in W. Peachtree Street... It takes up half a lane and has been there for over a month! 
A 3-inch gap on the Georgia Ave bicycle route. Be careful!
Garden-variety tire trap on Centennial Olympic Drive