Worn out

The morning session of the Women’s Forum is complete and I am already worn out. The energy is so powerful as people, women, stand up and talk about what they are doing to change our world.

The message about getting typically non-cycling populations on bikes and having fun is pretty much…”Get them on bikes.” This is not a discussion of infrastructure or enforcement but rather a broad case of opening doors to people riding through education. Not formal classes, although that sometimes happens, but teaching through shared experience on the bike.

This is working in all size cities and even in Afghanistan. Doesn’t cost a lot of money and isn’t intended to be a nationwide, organized program. This is grass roots activism at its best.

Sounds like a great approach to me.

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First session (Media Training)


The 2014 Summit kicked off with the Advocate Media Training session. StreetsBlog USA, StreetFilms, and reporters from newspapers and TV stations.

Room is full, lots of people of both genders. Sitting next to Tom Wald, Executive Director of Bike Austin. Already talked with people from Florida, North Carolina, California, and New Jersey. Easily 75 people and maybe more.

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Weather and Travel

Today is mild (69) and grey in Alexandria where I am staying but just wait. Tonight it will start raining and the temperature is headed below freezing. Should have sleet and freezing rain to lay a nice base of ice before it all turns to snow by day break on Monday. I may not make it into the hotel for the women’s Forum on Monday.

Should be clear but cold on Tuesday with a low in single digits overnight. We should be able to get into the hotel for the Summit events that will be taking place. Wednesday we will be on capital hill talking with staff and congress members and the weather will be cold but clear. Travel should be good.

A bike ride is scheduled for Thursday, but I am a weather wimp and really don’t like riding when it is near freezing. More power to those of you who commute when the temperatures are in minus digits.

To balance the high of the bike summit will be services for my older brother. He was a career Naval officer and served in Vietnam aboard carriers. We will miss him and his great joy of life. He was my hero growing up. His 74th birthday was yesterday.

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Advocates and airplanes


Sitting at the Austin airport, I looked up from my coffee to see Eileen Schaubert walking my way. She has moved out of Austin to Santa Monica so it was a big surprise to see her in Austin. Eileen is one of the most active advocates, whereever she is.

With Eileen was Dr. Talia McCray, a Professor in the Community and Regional Planning department at University of Texas at Austin, who has been working on a program to raise interest in cycling in the African American population. She will be giving a talk during the Women’s Forum on Monday…assuming the weather cooperates.

I asked Talia why she was doing the program and she responded, “I think cycling is excellent exercise and a different way to view life. I wish to help people who typically don’t cycle to experience the joy of cycling.” Talia related a story of one of the people in her program who came and hugged her with tears of joy in her eyes.

The fastest growing demographic in the relatively flat cycling participation is women and children. Minorities are also growing as a part of the cycling market. I’ll talk about the statistics that were presented at the last Interbike Conference in a later blog but keep in mind that major changes are here now.

I’ll be watching and reporting on the League’s efforts to reach all cyclists as equity and equality become a larger part of the cycling mix.

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National Bike Summit

It’s here again, the National Bike Summit, when hundreds of your fellow cyclists travel to our nations capital to learn and educate. This year there will be a women’s forum on Monday with informational sessions on Tuesday and visits to our elected congress members on Wednesday. A bike ride on Thursday will finish the festivities.

The weather this year is cold. With daytime temperatures near freezing and nighttime temperatures +15 or 16. We may even have some snow and freezing rain as it has been in the east this winter

I plan to post daily during the week so keep in touch and forward my posts to your friends who weren’t able to make it to Washington this year.

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Bike Facilities

This is the first time I’ve been on in a while. Lots of things have kept me from blogging but I am beginning to believe that they are mostly unimportant fluff.

The City of Austin has just broken ground on a new bike bridge that will be built next to the highway bridge across Bull Creek south of town.

The highway there is 65 mph with a shoulder on the southbound (out of town) side but has been re-striped to add a lane and reduce the shoulder on the northbound (into town) side to just enough to keep cars out of the drain grates. The only saving grace is it is downhill.

The creek at this point is environmentally sensitive so construction opportunities are limited. The bridge is scheduled to cost $7.7 million and be completed in 2016.

The bridge is the only logical way across Bull Creek for miles so cyclists frequently brave traffic to cross even in rush hour. If the bridge had been built properly in the fist place I bet the cost would have been a lot lower.

We’ll learn to do it right the first time instead of having to doing it over.

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Cycling in the Neighborhood.

The Ghisallo Foundation in Austin TX is doing some interesting work. One of the things that has come out of their neighborhood work is an infographic about cycling in the Rosewood neighborhood in Austin.

Pretty impressive work and tells a lot about what is going on in Rosewood.

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All of us on bikes!

The League of American Bicyclists was founded as the League of American Wheelman in 1880, primarily to bring together thousands of “Wheelmen” in an effort to encourage the development of “good roads.” Modern cyclists on carbon fiber frames running on smooth asphalt roads have a hard time imagining the effort to ride an ordinary or Penny Farthing bicycle on rutted dirt lanes.

Three cyclists on Penny Farthing bicycles dressed in period costumes.

Penny Farthing bicycles on good pavement.

But times change and by 1972, the masses of wheelmen or cyclists that dominated the roads of the late 19th century across the world had dwindled to individual cyclists dodging the ubiquitous automobile, at least that had happened in the United States and to some degree in England.

In China, and other developing regions, the bicycle remained the primary means of personal transportation. In more developed areas of Europe, namely Holland, Germany and Denmark, the governments had made the decision to step back from the auto centric model of society and encourage the use of bicycles. It is important to recognize that this change began to occur as cities in Europe reconstructed after the World War II and the change continued after the boom of consumer spending that exploded after World War II had driven these cities to the brink of auto apocalypse. These countries, with walkable cities that developed centuries before the advent of the automobile, decided to stop tearing down their heritage to provide space for automobiles and began giving space back to people.

John Forester, a traffic engineer, first stated his vision of “Vehicular Cycling” in his book Effective Cycling, “Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.”

Through John’s association with the League of American Bicyclists and his publication of Effective Cycling, the concept of Vehicular Cycling became inculcated in the only national education program for cyclists. Some of the instructors in this program became, at times, such proponents of the concept of vehicular cycling that a proposal to construct bicyclist specific accommodations on the roads became controversial. In the interests of full disclosure, I am one of those instructors and I will continue to argue against poorly designed and constructed accommodations.

Change is difficult. But, change is inevitable. In the 40 years since the concept of Vehicular Cycling was promulgated, society has changed. In places, Portland, OR and Minneapolis MN come to mind, the bicycle and bicyclist have become a significant proportion of the transportation mix. Under these conditions, the concept of vehicular cycling begins to become less compelling for groups of cyclists. It may be time for a paradigm shift.

Vehicular Cycling is the most important safety factor for individual cyclists that has ever been conceived. But it is less relevant when the system must adapt to try to deal with masses of cyclists.

In the United States the limitation of two abreast for bicyclists is ubiquitous and in some states single file is encouraged. The average Chinese or Dutch cyclist would fall off of his bike laughing at the concept.

In the early ‘80s I traveled into Beijing on business. On my first trip, the car that conveyed me from the airport to my hotel was one of the few motorized vehicles on the road. Bicyclists ruled the roads.

A typical configuration of the major thoroughfares was a central four-lane, two way pavement for motor vehicles with the occasional automobile. Flanking medians separated this road from bordering multi-lane roads filled with bicyclists. Filled means filled. Cyclists packed the pavement from curb to curb and extended as far as one could see. Cyclists were moving 10 to 15 abreast.

To cross this human river by automobile was an interesting exercise in patience and luck. The driver of the motor vehicle would turn right at an opening in the flanking median and inch (literally) forward. The cyclists would continue to flow past as the car moved slowly through the throng. At some point, the flow of cyclists would change from moving in front of the car to moving in back of the car and the motorist could begin to accelerate and continue on his way.

This was no time to be discussing vehicular cycling.

As long as we have individual cyclists moving in traffic, the principal of vehicular cycling is profoundly correct. It is the best way to decrease the risk of riding in traffic to an acceptable degree.

Once; however, we begin to have cyclists in groups moving through our streets, the precepts that drive vehicular cycling begin to have less and less application. When cyclists dominate the streets and most motorists are also cyclists, then I would argue that vehicular cycling, while still valid for the individual cyclist, is not the best way to maintain an acceptable level of safety for those masses of cyclists. At this point, infrastructure is required to provide space for the motorists as well as the cyclists.

How do we get from here to there? Copenhagen has done it, Amsterdam has done it and Portland is doing it. Do we even want to go there? Of course we do, the benefits that accrue from a significant portion of our population cycling are well known and overwhelmingly persuasive. But it requires significant change in our infrastructure, education and judicial systems. Why don’t we have traffic safety education in our elementary schools? Why do we wait until someone is 15 to begin?

One thing we do know, change of this magnetude is not easy and it is not simple. It is not just about putting in cycletracks everywhere and it is not just about teaching individual cyclists how to ride in a vehicular cycling manner. We must envision a future where cycling is a normal part of the transportation mix and work to make it reality.

The future of 20% mode share (percent of all trips) for cyclists is not unrealistic in the US, there are parts of Portland where this is happening now. But that which makes bicycling so important to a society is also one of the things that makes it difficult to define how to move forward. Bicycling is ubiquitous, everyone does it to some degree. The issues are too large to be able to grasp easily. The changes that are needed are too vast and beg for vast solutions. Humans don’t do vast well, we need to focus.

Change begins at the grass roots. A person decides to get on a bike, right here, today. A merchant decides to create a parking space for bikes in front of her store . People decide to ride in the clothes they have on. But these changes have to be supported by the “system.”

And the system is made up of people. When the mayor begins riding to work, when the head of public works begins riding more, when taxpayers begin voting for pedestrian and bicyclist facilities because they make more sense then additional space for cars…then we know that we are on the right track. Then we can begin to create policy that favors a balanced transportation system, an appropriate use of different types of vehicles using appropriate infrastructure.

The revolution is not going to be complete in my lifetime. But it has already begun. When the signs “bicyclists may use full lane” or “share the road” become irrelevant then we will know we are on the way.

Vehicular Cycling is the best way for individuals to cope with traffic. But it is not the solution for most cyclists when 20% of our trips are made by bike. We need to define new cycling paradigms to fuel the revolution.

How about “You on your bike!” or “Me on my bike!” or maybe both “All of us on bikes!”

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Traffic Cone Bag

I’ve known Lynette Chiang for years. She had a great job, Product Evangelist for Bike Friday and travels all over on her pink Bike Friday.  At one point I had the joy of her attendance as a Candidate at a 2010 LCI Seminar (see www.bikeleague.org) in Albuquerque NM in which I was assisting Craig Degenhardt.

Lynette is a writer, film maker http://trafficconebag.com and great friend…at least I think so. But one of the best things she has done is design the “Traffic Cone Bag.” I carry a laptop or iPad almost all the time and the TCB is pretty nearly perfect. With the black side turned out I can just slide the iPad or laptop inside or there is a pocket on the outside that snaps and can hold the iPad.

The iPad slides easily inside or in the side snap pocket. It doesn’t look like a bag I would be carrying a laptop or iPad in.

iPad in the new case slipped into the outside snap pocket. When the orange side is out the pocket is inside and hidden.

Here is the link if you want to buy one of the bags. http://trafficconebag.com, Lynette has a great blog  (http://trafficconebag.blogspot.com) and also can be found on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/trafficconebag)

Simple idea, great execution. After traveling around places that don’t have a lot of what we take for granted every day she felt a need to have a simple bag that could be used to carry stuff and provide visibility on the road and be suave enough to carry into the nicest places. Voila!

In the interest of full disclosure, Lynette sold me my original bag without the current improvements but she has offered to send me one with the reflective stripe and the new TCB snap.

The bags come in two sizes and they are not cheap but the are well made and mine shows no sign of wear after almost daily use since 2010. I’ve got lots of bags, most of them messenger bags that go over one shoulder. The traffic cone bag is the right bag to go to the post office when I need to take a few shirts to mail to customers. I use the small fixed rate box to send out T-Shirts and as you can see at least four of them would fit easily into the large TCB.

TCBag with USPS box inside

Traffic cone bag with one USPS small fixed rate box. I can get four boxes in easily

The orange side has two pockets that can hold a big water bottle and the little loop is great to hang reflective tabs or a light for night riding. I like it. On of the additions I have made is to put a small carabiner between the straps in front to hold them close together.

Two pockets on the orange side hold a water bottle and the loop is good for lights or reflective tags.

Lynette also put up a little fun film that she did in Albuquerque about me and my iBag or man bag.


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Small Town goes Up Town

Last night I watched as a small town City Council made a big step towards making their community more bicycle friendly.

Bee Cave, TX sits at the confluence of three major state roads, Hwy 71, FM 620 and FM 2244. One of the traditional training rides for roadies in the Austin area (the Dam Loop) goes through Bee Cave so weekends can get congested. The local bicycle club, the Lake Travis Bicycle Club, has a Tuesday ride that takes that route as well.

To relieve congestion at the confluence of the highways, Bee Cave recently constructed a four lane divided highway across the back of a beautiful new open air mall. The road, Bee Cave Parkway, is concrete, has curbs, 12.5 foot lanes and a 45 mph speed limit.

One good thing about this “by pass” is that there is no parking allowed.

Recently the city put up a number of “SHARE THE ROAD” signs showing bicycles. On two of the signs, one each way at the beginning of the parkway, the city added “BIKES MAY USE FULL LANE” signs.

Last night, August 28, 2012, cyclists gathered to hear a presentation to City Council with some pretty scary videos of close passes on the parkway. A number of cyclists presented to the council members including Robb Bush, Stanton Truxillo and a young racer who does 1,200 miles a month and placed 32 at the national time trials in his first year of racing!

Testimony on Bee Cave Parkway.

Stanton Truxillo presenting to Bee Cave City Council

What really impressed me was the willingness of the council to listen to the discussion and respond. The moved and passed, unanimously, a resolution to direct that 10 “BIKES MAY USE FULL LANE” signs be place along the 1.5 mile length of the parkway.

The discussion also included bike lanes, they have room but that may not be the best way to go on that road especially for riders in a group. Narrowing the lanes and reducing the speed limit were also discussed. The council members have asked for a more complete report outlining the options and costs.

People get up tight about reducing speeds but the difference in total time for a 1.5 mile stretch is only one minute between 35 and 45 mph. And that assumes you will be going that speed for the whole time. With starting and stopping the difference for the entire trip will be less than 60 seconds and it will make a big difference in the severity of a crash and will also give drivers more time to avoid cyclists.

Bottom line…be open, talk things through and work with your elected officials. Lets try reason before attack. There is a time to take to the barricades but we should be doing all the other things first. The difference between Advocacy and Activism.

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