Sunday, July 31, 2011

Go, social-planning technocrats!

Great article from today's New York Times.

Dutch drivers are taught that when you are about to get out of the car, you reach for the door handle with your right hand — bringing your arm across your body to the door. This forces a driver to swivel shoulders and head, so that before opening the door you can see if there is a bike coming from behind. Likewise, every Dutch child has to pass a bicycle safety exam at school. The coexistence of different modes of travel is hard-wired into the culture.

This in turn relates to lots of other things — such as bread. How? Cyclists can’t carry six bags of groceries; bulk buying is almost nonexistent. Instead of shopping for a week, people stop at the market daily. So the need for processed loaves that will last for days is gone. A result: good bread.

Gotta love the kicker at the end:

But while many Americans see their cars as an extension of their individual freedom, to some of us owning a car is a burden, and in a city a double burden. I find the recrafting of the city in order to lessen — or eliminate — the need for cars to be not just grudgingly acceptable, but, yes, an expansion of my individual freedom. So I say (in this case, at least): Go, social-planning technocrats! If only America’s cities could be so free.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Stationary bike station

From reader Rob Jordan:

Here's a pic I snapped yesterday near Eastern Market. Kids were pedaling in place on CaBi bikes, and seemed to be having a great time.

Monday, July 11, 2011

'No, see, we DO bike'

From today's Washington Post:

Biking took a beating in last year’s mayoral election. For some political activists and residents who had soured on former mayor Adrian M. Fenty, the freshly painted bike lanes spreading along major streets around the city became a symbol of the young white people pushing longtime black residents out of the District.

The backlash came at a time when researchers cite an explosion in cycling around the country, as new residents pour into revitalized urban communities and look for cheaper, greener ways to get around. The District is at the vanguard of the cycling boom, with the percentage of workers who commute by bike nearly tripling over the last 20 years, rising from 0.8 percent in 1990 to 2.2 percent in 2009. That rate puts Washington among the top 10 U.S. cities.

But the racial gap for cycling is huge, both locally and nationally. Cycling advocates and enthusiasts say groups like Black Women Bike DC, which launched on Facebook six weeks ago with three women and now has more than 60 members, could encourage more African Americans to consider biking for transportation and recreation. Those pushing to expand biking infrastructure throughout the city hope that more participation by black cyclists would stem opposition to bike lanes, racks and bike-sharing facilities.

Nice to see my Petworth neighbor Marya mentioned at the end of the article!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

First ride

My wife grew up in Dakar, Senegal and never fully learned to ride a bike. Not that kids there don't, ever, but especially for girls it's not the given that it is here in the US. If anything, among better-off urban Africans, bikes can sometimes be seen as what you ride if you… well, can't afford a car.

Anyway, she's talked about getting on a bike for quite a while and finally we got around to the big moment yesterday. We went to the Capital Bikeshare station at the bottom end of the National Zoo, since it was closest to a nice quiet trail in Rock Creek Park.

What immediately became apparent is how not learning to ride as a child makes cycling a surprisingly difficult balancing act (literally) as an adult. She was very unsteady at first and tended to veer wildly in unexpected directions. But with the help of her youngest sister - who does ride - she kept at it and had a few really nice runs near the end. Great job!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Woe, Canada

First a prelude (rather lengthy and disproportionate, sorry) for today's post, which is actually about Toronto:

I suppose we in North America shouldn't be surprised. After the past few years of watching increased urban bicycling - and in particular the idea of citizen cycling, previously almost unheard of here - the pendulum swings. Or at least there are plenty of people trying to give the pendulum a shove.

New York City is a well-known case, notable both for its exponential blossoming of bike lanes and the degree of pushback from some quarters. Yet somehow amid the characteristic rancor, you have the feeling that over the long haul the city's commitment is there and the disgruntled will come around.

So much depends on that top-down commitment. Here in Washington DC, nerves have been somewhat frayed among cyclists since the ouster of pro-bike Mayor Adrian Fenty and his even more pro-bike transportation head Gabe Klein. DC at least has Capital Bikeshare and lots of nice new bike goodies to remember them by, and the new mayor, Vincent Gray, has paid lip service to supporting continued improvements. Yet recent backtracking on one major downtown bike project (see previous post), long in the works, has twanged people's gut fears:  that the Gray administration doesn't mind improved biking, you know... as long as it doesn't infringe on parking. Or driving. Or the budget. Or someone who doesn't like it.

What the Dynamic Duo of Fenty-Klein showed us is that it takes vision and relentless advocacy for real progress, not just passive acceptance that can go wobbly when presented with any number of conventional (usually discredited) arguments. I expect that under Gray, DC may eventually see at least a slight net loss of bike amenities, at least if you count amenities promised and/or planned. Though I don't expect him to start taking out existing lanes.

Theeennn there's Toronto. Moving aggressively backwards now under the new mayor, Rob Ford. Hoo-boy. This guy does not like bikes and doesn't care who knows it. His lips are paying another kind of service. Some bike lanes are about to be removed, including from Jarvis Street. Here's a roundup of coverage, starting with James over on the esteemed Urban Country blog, who put it in his usual good perspective:

Copenhagenize today has an informal video poll of cyclists and drivers on Jarvis Street, where Ford and the city council (which includes Ford's brother - see the charming photo at the end of the post - who apparently jokes about hitting bikers with his SUV; click here and scroll down about halfway) will apparently be successful in drawing first blood. Metaphorically and likely literally, as cyclists are cast back in among the cars. Another recent post has a very interesting email exchange between a citizen and Ford's office on the matter.

Streetsblog also has a good recent item on the Toronto situation.

As I said, we shouldn't be surprised. Or complacent. Usually the debate is whether the bike gods (i.e. your local government) will giveth or withhold(eth) the means for bikes to coexist on the roads with relative safety. To give to not to give. Now the precedent has been established for trying to take it away.

[A final aside for DC readers - If you want to get the M and L Street cycletracks built, one good way to help is to USE the 15th Street cycletrack. Please go out of your way to use it if necessary. You think they won't look at those numbers when making the final arguments for the downtown lanes?]

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Backtracking on Cycletracks

Great. Look out DC bike amenities, here comes the death-by-not-quite-enough-enthusiasm that many feared from the new mayor. Well, his new DDOT director, but same thing. At Director Bellamy's confirmation hearing - wow, before he's even official - the playing to the wrong crowd has begun:

Much of last week’s confirmation hearing for DDOT Director Terry Bellamy went smoothly.  He said the right things, including stating support for improved bicycling.  But when asked about specific projects, things went less smoothly. Specifically, Director Bellamy said that the L and M Street cycletracks were “on hold” and that “we may not do them” due to concerns over parking removal.

Now there's some courage and vision. Click here for the full post on the WABA blog. And more importantly, if you want to express support for the promised downtown cycletracks, click here.

Where have you gone, Gabe Klein? A city turns its lonely eyes to you.