Monday, July 29, 2013

Bear Spray, Truck Side Guards, and Safety

John Allen  critiques two cycling blogs (here and here) that extoll the virtue of truck side guards in keeping bicyclists from being swept under trucks, such as during a right hook. I don't know about you, but those side guards don't look like they are foolproof, and could just as easily capture a cyclist and grind him/her into the pavement.

Not falling under a truck means not getting in the situation where you will even have the chance to fall under the truck. Some of the most famous cases of cyclists being mauled by trucks and buses involve door zone and coffin corner bike lanes that put naive cyclists into serious danger of diversion falls and right hook collisions, respectively. Not that cyclists should be so naive that they would squeeze into a door zone or try to pass a large truck on the driver's right (i.e., in the truck driver's blind spot) going into an intersection, but some designs encourage such behavior and some cyclists seem oblivious to the hazard.  A better practice heading into intersections is either to fall in behind the truck or slow down and ensure the truck proceeds through the intersection ahead of you without turning, because its probably not wise to assume the driver remembers to use turn signals.

As I quipped on Mr. Allen's site, one does not backpack into bear country and put the food and leftovers into the tent, relying only on bear spray (or even a trusty 44 Magnum) to keep the bear out. One uses well known common sense measures to manage one's coexistence with the bear so that the crisis does not materialize in the first place. Large trucks, like bears, can be hazardous to one's health if not treated with respect and can coexist with you relatively safely if the proper measures are in place, as discussed by Keri at the Bike Orlando blog. Neither bear spray nor truck side guards (nor any other form of PPE) are anything but last resort measures when one's carefully managed safety envelope breaks down. That should be self-evident, even to cycling bloggers.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Hey, Honey, can we spare a month's rent?

Staying on the topic of cycling for the egalitarians vs. the elite, the September issue of Bicycling Magazine has an article by Susi Wunsch discussing cycling clothing that doesn't look like cycling clothing. She says on pg. 49 "...With so many options, everybody wins in the race for personal self-expression....". Well, everybody in that economic one percent, to be sure.

The stuff is really beautiful and quite sexy and I am sure that with Susi analyzing it, is sure to be highly functional technical clothing as well. The punch line is that the average price of the 11 examples of cycling-urban-chic in the article is about $803, ranging from $485 to $1393. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average monthly rent for an apartment in the U.S. is $1048. So while these outfits may fit into the budgets of your average junior hedge fund manager riding on protected cycletrack to the office in Manhattan, it ain't nothin' but a poke in the eye to the vast majority of Americans left behind by the economics of globalization and the flight of middle class jobs abroad. Fortunately for everyone else, jeans and a t-shirt or a trip through the Bike Nashbar catalog is still an option, rather than starving the kids or taking out a payday loan. I hope Everyone Else gets their urban cycling infrastructure too, not just Mr. and Ms. Urban Elite.

One less car? Someone needs to tell these folks...
Yep, those cars all really do "live there"

Cycletracks? %$#@!

Me arguing for cycletracks or any cycle-specific facility? Well, safe ones, as I mentioned in my comments on Bremen, and only where it makes sense as  a dedicated people-mover rather than a feel-good exercise. Big cities should be less auto-centric. We can't keep doing things like we did in 1965. Even Los Alamos looks totally absurd with its low density sprawl and most of its commercial/residential center devoted to parking lot asphalt (including the absurd new city hall and the planned new Krogerville Mall).
View of Townsite. Acknowledgements to Michael Ronkin
Dark areas are free parking, paid for by local commerce.
How we get there in a nation that worships the Urban Assault Vehicle is a different question. I think it would be nice to have a five year plan for many dense urban areas where people would be told that every five years would bring a doubling of non-single occupant auto based transportation resources, with space and funds taken from automobile  operation and storage, until we reduce our auto dependence to something like, say, Germany. Since this is not the Soviet Union or even Germany, I doubt such a series of Five Year Plans will ever materialize. We will need to go through another crisis. And another....Or, we can privatize the costs of vehicle operation entirely, so folks actually pay for auto use rather than having tax dollars and commercial overhead doled out to hide the real expenses of single occupant vehicle operation. I wonder if the Tea Party and GOP would support that?

Keep the Rubber Side Down, OK?

I rode into the Jemez Mountains today to try to knock a cold out of my system by pinning the heart rate monitor to 160 bpm for the 4 miles up (for some reason, if I use the 85% of max/intense training rate for a 59 year old, it seems like I might as well be sitting at my desk). I did feel a lot better getting some exercise. But be careful up there. The mountain roads are a mess with gravel everywhere and shoulders washed out from the heavy monsoon rains. Be really careful on the descent. On the way down, I saw a sport motorcyclist who was on his way up the mountain looking behind him and slowing down. I figured "uh-oh, where is his buddy?" Sure enough, on the last sharp hairpin above Back Gate was a woman, having gotten her sport bike horizontal on gravel and sand. A guy in a pickup truck got there first and was helping her up. She was ok, fortunately. She was in a full coverage helmet and full leathers. Her clutch lever didn't look so good, but her PPE worked just fine.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Ride yer bike to the airport?

This morning, we dropped off my sister-in-law for her trip back to the Beltway. Rather than drive to Albuquerque and back, we booked her on a New Mexico Airlines hop on NMA's Cessna 208A 675 Caravan aircraft for a 20 minute trip from Los Alamos Airport back to the Sunport. Calling us from the Sunport, she said it was a magnificent flight down the Rio Grande Valley.

Nice that you can literally ride your bike (or walk, or take Atomic City Transit**) to the BombTown airport and connect via Albuquerque to anywhere in the world!

Tooting our own horn perhaps a little bit, during the last decade, Los Alamos has successfully completed an airport extension project that will enable us to connect to regional airports, brought up the Atomic City Transit (ACT) bus service, coordinated ACT with the Northern New Mexico Regional Transit District service (such as it is...), passed a Complete Streets policy, a county bike plan, and implemented the bike plan in the Diamond Drive reconstruction. Plus, we now have a 2 MW solar array. Not bad for a start.

For some really great pictures and video taken up in the air between Los Alamos and Albuquerque on NMA, hop over to Tarik's web site.

** Effective May 24th, 2013, ACT Route 2 will begin serving the airport (LAM) upon request. Riders should advise the Route 2 driver of airport terminal building destination when boarding the bus. Riders should call 661-RIDE (7433) to request a Route 2 pick-up at the airport terminal building.

Not so big bird taxis in

All Aboard...

Bye till next time...


Backdrop, Sangre de Cristos

Hang a right and next stop, Albuquerque

Sunday, July 21, 2013

False Dichotomies, "the Bicycling 1%", and the Future

Or, Can't We All Just Get Along?

Rather fight than switch?

 Streetsblog often has some pretty interesting stuff in it concerning cycling politics, cycling as transportation, and the state of urban design as it applies to promoting cycling, walking, and transit. It brings a lot of thoughtful people together over the Virtual Pickle Barrel.  But sometimes it gets too tied up in "us vs. them" thinking. Angie Schmitt's 19 July posting, Two Schools of Thought on Bike Infrastructure: Egalitarian vs. Elite, is one of the latter.

Perhaps trying to apply the "rest of us vs. the 1%" economic paradigm that is popular in political circles, Streetsblog suggests that bike infrastructure thinking boils down to elitists who don't need bicycling infrastructure and the egalitarian masses who are being denied it by that damnable 1%.

Having actually raced and interacted with both competitive racers and Everyone Else, my observation is the discussion is actually far more nuanced.  There are plenty of racers, including "elite" Cat II/III folks who are actually quite averse to cycling in traffic, preferring to drive to those streets ideal for training, and who would support protected bicycling infrastructure applied to the urban environment, even if it doesn't serve training purposes. There are folks who have never pinned on a number but are comfortable commuting on existing roads at moderate effort, but who don't think of themselves as "strong and fearless", another stereotype used to dismiss the existing rider. There are likewise plenty of people, both actual and potential cyclists, who would like to see cycling infrastructure built, even protected infrastructure. Some, especially those who don't ride, are uncritical of design, but some actual "egalitarian" cyclists want to see improvements built but without adding hidden (or not so hidden) hazards that would especially endanger novice commuters--lets get it right the first time. John Allen, who I link to on the right ("my blog list") is one of those who are not anti-facility but who are critical of bad designs. Indeed, he has been excoriated by Streetsblog for his efforts (an example here).

E. 3rd Ave. bike lane in Durango that the city undoubtedly used towards its Bronze 
Bicycle-Friendly Community status. 3rd Ave is a wide, peaceful avenue with two lanes in each direction and a quiet center median. No reason to not take a lane.
Note the cars in the distance flush to the bike lane stripe. Such facilities are immoral.

A better sign of Durango's friendliness to two wheeled devices.
Both motorized and not.Photographed at the Durango 2013 Moto Expo.

To install truly protected bike lanes (PBLs) requires a dedication of public space and funds, thus political will and consensus. If there truly was a case of "build it and they would come" on the scale of northern European cities, this could be easily justified. But these European models do more than build PBL's: they also do many things to discourage driving, such as add punitive gasoline taxes (often 100%), impose zoning to discourage driving, promote public transit (thank you, Chandra), and ensure their cities do not sprawl to the point where cycling becomes difficult to the egalitarian masses. Here in the U.S., we see little of those other efforts, hence cycling is lagging behind the Copenhagen model, even in highly ranked bicycle friendly communities.

So bicycling, and its dedicated facilities, are a tough sell to the car-based masses as long as our politicians insist on saying that cycling infrastructure is being built "as an alternative to the car" instead of honestly saying "we want you to get your ass out of the car" as public officials do elsewhere in the world.  Furthermore, to make the costs justifiable, one would have to back this policy up with taxation, zoning codes, and holistic political planning, at least if we want Copenhagen scale results.

I think we will need to de-emphasize the car (quite a bit) given current trends in our thinking about climate change, conserving non-renewable resources, and promoting public health. Given our entire society is built up around individual, powered mobility, change will be hard. Let's put our minds to figuring out how an alternative would replace rather than sit at the fringes of extreme automobile dependence.

Streetsblog, sadly, keeps encouraging these fractious debates that turn into circular firing squads. Sure, there will always be those at 3 standard deviations from the mean who are vocal on almost any issue. Fortunately, like this blog, these virtual firing squads are sitting invisible on a rarely noticed corner of the Internet.  Cycling advocates have enough trouble getting our point across without constantly flaming each other. Lets leave the straw men and false dichotomies to others and get to work on some good ideas. Or, just ride your bike and don't worry about it.

Who can identify the John Forester character in the video clip below?

Friday, July 12, 2013

"...Ours is not to reason why..."

Jo Ann and Jerry met their fate near the "Y" on NM502,
when an elderly motorist got confused and drove down the
wrong side of the divided highway and hit their motorcycle
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred."

From "Charge of the Light Brigade", Alfred, Lord Tennyson

You may wonder what this has to do with bicycling or traffic. Tennyson, in his memorial to the Light Brigade's futile and ghastly charge in the Crimea, points out the senseless carnage imposed by the folly of war, and of the soldiers who, like soldiers everywhere, are not supposed to reason why or ask too many questions.

I think our society treats traffic with the same fatalism. Every day, we "do and die", following the same failed patterns that kill about 35,000 people a year, riding, walking, and driving into the Valley of Death, so to speak.  The public rarely asks whether the level of death and destruction on our roads is sensible or whether "someone" whether it be vehicle operator (including cyclists), traffic engineer, or politician, "has blundered". We go to the funerals and accept that "accidents will happen".

On 4 July, one of my colleagues, riding his motorcycle on the Interstate, was killed when, according to the three newspapers (Monitor, New Mexican, Journal), he tried to overtake a car by riding on the shoulder and lost control of his big bike.  I don't know much about the details, except the newspapers say speed and suddenly changing conditions were factors. I saw his picture in the obit and recognized him as someone I had met, probably through motorcycling. As I was writing an essay about this crash for the LANL Reader's Forum (in my capacity as LANL's Traffic Safety Committee Chair) someone reviewing it told me two local young people had just been killed on NM 68 north of Espanola when they careened off of a car and hit an oncoming flatbed, shearing off the top of their own car. Speed has been suggested to be a factor. I submitted that letter yesterday and on the way home, nearly t-boned a kid riding across Diamond Drive with his head down, not checking for traffic on that fast arterial. Luckily, I was on a bicycle and not in a car. His father saw the near miss and started hollering at the kid. Hope the message was constructive.

And, so it goes....

Monday, July 1, 2013

League of American Bicyclists releases bike education videos

Fresh out of the cutting room. I forward to you for public comment.

Ian Brett Cooper of the Desegregated Cyclist has reviewed them here. 

 A few late (and early) comments.

In the Intersection positioning video. Crossing railroad tracks (near the end of the video) at a right angle has more to do with not having your wheel trapped than it is a puncture. Crossing at an oblique angle (i.e., not at close to a right angle to the tracks) creates a diversion fall hazard. Your wheel can get trapped in the space between the road and the steel track and you cannot turn or balance. An excellent example of that happening is in Santa Fe at the Cerrillos/St. Francis crossing.

I largely concur with Ian on the bike lane video.  The LAB, for political reasons, never seems to find a bike lane it would not publicly damn. Bike lanes may feel good, but poor examples impose destination position and door zone penalties and paint stripes do nothing to keep the distracted driver out--see my previous post. Some of the riders in the video seem to be riding in the door zone in spite of admonishing us to beware of this. Also, the video doesn't discuss proper lane positioning when approaching an intersection, instead warning cyclists to be careful of being right hooked rather than instructing on how to avoid it. A better video of avoiding that scenerio is here. Good bike lanes are really nice (for example, Diamond Drive north of Orange/Sandia, South San Ildefonso, and Canyon). Bad ones need to be fixed or eliminated. End of rant.

Riding on the sidewalk is covered well, but I think the hazards need to be shouted out. The bottom line is that sidewalks were designed for pedestrian, not cycling activity. Some serious problems include that a lot of naive cyclists ride into intersections from sidewalks at high risk.  Motorists are not expecting bicycle speeds on sidewalks if they are looking at all, and by speeding off the sidewalk, you have no ability to avoid a crash! Repeat three times. Secondly, there is little room to manuever around others, as shown in the video.  By far the biggest complaints I hear about bicyclists on sidewalks and multiuse paths is that bicyclists act like asshats to pedestrians.  I've been the recipient of that attitude when walking our dogs on more than one occasion. Don't be the arrogantly driven SUV of the sidewalk or path.

On most trails, whether paved or unpaved, cyclists are at the bottom of the right of way barrel, after walkers and equestrians. Ringing a bell or calling our on your left does not relieve you of the requirement to pass safely. On singletrack or jeep road, be careful not to come up from behind and spook horses. Like cars, they are bigger than you are and even more unpredictable when startled.

Where should I ride is critical information. Lane control is important. People will try to take your lane, even with you in it, if you let them. Be assertive, and **** 'em if they can't take a joke.

Scanning and signalling is incredibly important. Making eye contact and communicating your intent is really key to safely interacting with others. Bike handling skills (steering, braking, maneuvering around the unexpected) are undervalued skills. We want to make bicycling an 8 to 80 activity, but if you are not at least marginally skilled in bike handling, there are some situations that will be a needlessly intense challenge. Streetsblog mentality aside, a skilled rider, whether 8 or 80, can handle more conditions and make them look routine. If I make it another score of years, I hope to still be saying that.

Do the Basic Bike Check (aka ABC Quick Check) as a routine before riding. You are not safe if your bicycle is unsafe. Its easy to miss little stuff that can become big stuff, and that can hurt.

I have almost zero interest in the helmet wars, but likewise don't think helmets should scare people off.  If you do fall, and almost everyone eventually falls, a helmet can protect your brain from a direct impact and thus mitigate the extent of injury.  John Allen has commented to us there are plenty of ways to fall having nothing to do with crashing with a car, including this story. I could offer several others involving black ice, oil on water, bike racing, and singletrack endos. Its not nice to hit your bare head on the road or a rock when the rubber side goes mysteriously up. There is a good article in Bicycling, here.Go read it. Its free. Young riders and newbies fall more often. Old farts like me have greater risks as our brains age. Protect yourself rather than get political about it.

Thanks so much to Gail and Jim Spann for funding this series. Very good overall, but needs work on some key details.

The LAB Ride Smart page is here.

For more online instruction, the Mass Bike/Law Officer's Guide videos, which are very well thought through, are here.