New York Times' Battle of the Bike Lanes

new york bike lane photo
I am traveling during the holidays, so I am just now catching up on some of my reading. Just before Christmas, the New York Times hosted an interesting five-way debate on the Bike Lanes of New York. It is about New York, but the issues really are universal.

Sam Staley calls bike lanes A Subsidy for the Few:
The hard, cold December reality of bike lanes in U.S. cities is that they will inevitably be a small part, even tiny part in most cases, of America's solution to congestion and mobility. Bike networks represent concentrated, subsidized benefits for a small portion of the commuting public.
Right. And roads, police enforcement, defence of international flow of oil and externalities like 40,000 killed in cars every year get no subsidy at all. But fortunately it gets better:
bike lane new york photo
Alex Marshall thinks there are Better Ways to Help Bike Transit.
Promote biking on regular streets, and thus avoid "ghettoizing" cyclists into bike lanes. One problem now is that the bike lanes are usually put on larger streets and avenues, which means that cyclists are mixing with higher speed traffic and higher volumes of traffic. One solution is to make clear that bikes are appropriate on most city streets, even those without bike lanes.
public bikes launch image
Robert Sullivan sarcastically points out The Car Culture's Blind Spots:
On the idea that bikes ultimately can't coexist in a city with trucks and traffic, that restaurants and stores can't get goods: Too true! Moreover, what are we doing allowing those concrete swaths in that area between where cars drive and where the buildings are? Sidewalks, I think they call them. People really slow things down. Can they be put underground, or some kind of special lanes?
Caroline Samponaro claims that bike lanes are Creating Order Out of Chaos.
Last year, more than 75,000 motor vehicle crashes occurred on city streets and fewer than 4 percent involved a bicycle. Bike lanes make streets safer for pedestrians and drivers. It's the streets without bike lanes that New Yorkers should be worried about.
Felix Salmon, who is becoming one of my favourite writers, asks, Can We Please Be Patient?
Take a New Yorker, put her on a bike in Berlin, and she'll behave perfectly well, stopping at lights along with everybody else, and riding in the right direction on the street. It's not the people who are the real problem, it's just how those people behave when they're on the streets of New York.

Eventually, given time, New Yorkers will learn that a bike lane is not a convenient empty spot in which to park a baby. Cyclists will learn that it's unacceptable to ride the wrong way down the street. And drivers will learn to look first, before they turn left across a bike lane. But getting there from here is bound to be awkward and painful for many.
More in the New York Times

New Strap Lighting

lbl bike lights rear photo

Continuing my research on new safety features, and in this case bike lights, I turn my attention to the LBL (or Led by Lite). Unlike the recently released Fibre Flare and Bike Glow, the LBL, whilst also strip lighting, does not use a tube through which light is directed. Instead it comprises four straps of silicone encased light emitting diodes (LEDs) for each of the bicycle's forks. The fledging company, who plan to start selling their lights in early 2011, reckon their system is the first 360° light systems for bikes.

lbl bike lights closeup photo Nine red LEDs on each rear fork is partnered with 12 white LEDs on each front fork, and when seem from a distance the two light straps merges together giving very noticeable illumination fore and aft. Led by Lite claim that light is cast 60ft to the front and 40ft sideways.

Power is provided by 12 volt battery pack with options of rechargeable lithium (to retail for about  $145, or via a AA battery array, which is expected to cost $100).

The straps fit onto clips which are velcroed to the forks, and the battery pack mounts under the bike seat/saddle. It looks like it might be a tad fiddly to remove all the various components, if you lock your bike to public bike parking for any length of time, to overcome theft. But maybe it is easier in real life than suggested by watching the promotional video.

The silicone encased LED straps are waterproof, but I'm not sure about the battery pack assembly.
However, the LBL looks like a bicycle lighting system worth keeping an eye on.

Bike/Ped Culture is Thriving in the Steel City

This video by StreetFilms gives an excellent overview of Pittsburgh's bike culture and infrastructure. Having only visited there several years ago, and because Pittsburgh isn't as well covered by the national media, I had no idea that it was so vibrant and healthy. It's a nice surprise! Make sure to check out Bike Pittsburgh (become a member, or at least say "hello" on the message board). Pittsburgh has a growing movement for better bicycling and more livable streets. Among the cool things you’ll see…
  • A newly renovated and pedestrianized Market Square, where two cross streets were eliminated to create a better place for people. The experts at Project for Public Spaces helped consult on the project.
  • A morning commuter breakfast with the folks at Bike Pittsburgh, where they got to talk to cyclists about what they like about their city, and what could use some improvement.
  • An unusual bike parking facility that uses retro-fitted shipping containers and is operated by a public-private partnership. For just $100 you can safely park your bike indoors for a year.
  • The Over the Bar Cafe — a unique bicycle-themed restaurant serving great food and drink, and a frequent meeting place for rides and advocacy events. The walls are filled with cycling memorabilia and adorned with murals.

Munich Using a Marketing Campaign to Improve Bike Usage

Munich proves, not only by providing more bike lanes, a positive campaign will improve bike usage. Check the video:

Zip Tie-Snow Tire Chains!

diy winter biking tie wraps photo

Since I ride predominately in Florida, and definitely not in snow, I have never thought too much about the implications of riding on snow and ice. I saw this post on Dutch Bike and had to share it. One of the cyclists at Dutch Bike Co was caught without studded tires when it started snowing in Seattle, but no matter, that's nothing that a box of zip ties can't fix! This MacGyver trick isn't new, but now that winter is here, it's worth bringing up once more.
diy winter biking tie wraps photo

Fritz Rice, the DIYer on these photos, says that while the ties look "completely ludicrous", they work "beautifully":
I can accelerate, brake, and corner with aplomb, even on the vile snowpack/sheet ice mix the plows leave in the bike lanes. The zip ties dig nicely into the hardest packed surfaces, but they're thin enough not to bounce the bike around at low speed or on short pavement sections.
diy winter biking tie wraps photo

diy winter biking tie wraps photo

As you can see on this last photo, the tie heads as position so that they give extra grip when you are cornering, but they stay out of the way when going in a straight line. Just make sure you have enough clearance on all sides.

Via DutchBikeCo

New York Bike Counts Continue to Grow

cycling growth new york city image
Another year, another double-digit increase in New York City’s cyclist count. NYDOT estimates that the number of cyclists riding into the center of the city jumped up 13 percent in 2010, continuing a three-year pattern of rapid growth [PDF].

In terms of absolute growth, 2010 marks the third-largest increase in the number of cyclists counted since DOT began counting in 1986. Only 2008 and 2009 showed larger gains, according to DOT, of 32 and 26 percent respectively. This year’s 13 percent jump is on top of that rapid growth. In total, the bike count is up 88 percent in the last three years.

So what has changed in the city that would spur this growth? I would hypothesize that the city's investment in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure has been the most determining factor. According to Streetsblog, "As the city continues to build out its biking network and add a bike-share system, we are certain that more New Yorkers will choose this affordable, healthy and non-polluting form of transportation."

In Toronto, the new Mayor thinks roads belong to trucks and cars, and thinks bike lanes slow them down. He calls bike lanes and streetcars a "war on the car." In fact, in many cases, a person on a bike might otherwise be taking up road space in a car. Car people often preach that bikes are a hazard, that they don't pay their way and that they should be licenced, and their riders should be insured, just like people in cars. In London, Peter Walker of the Guardian explains why this would be pointless and counterproductive.
First, Walker explains the benefits of cycling, not for cyclists but for society in general:
Cycling and cyclists are good for society; good for everyone, in fact. You might not like our funny, Lycra-wearing ways, but it's an undeniable truth. If 50% of a hypothetical city's car drivers abandoned their vehicles overnight for bikes it would slash pollution and congestion (for the remaining drivers, too), also bringing less wear to the roads and better health for the new cyclists. It would additionally, at a stroke, dramatically cut the numbers of people killed or badly hurt on the roads, saving millions of pounds and - more importantly - reducing the number of lives lost or devastated through grief or grave injury.
He then points out that any impediment to cycling is going to reduce the number of people who do it.
Cycling's appeal is that it is gloriously simple and impulsive, a habit usually acquired in childhood. It's been shown time and again that even compulsory helmet wearing reduces cyclist numbers. Imagine what would happen if you introduced a registry of bikes and riders, which you'd need to make any licence and insurance scheme viable. Only the truly committed would trek to the test centre, fill in the forms for number plates and screw them onto the frame.
So in the end, if you want fewer cars on the road slowing you down, lower taxes for road maintenance, and reduced health care costs, what you want to do is build more bike lanes, promote cycling, subsidize bike share programmes and stop complaining about cyclists getting a free ride.
When asked "What came first, the bikes, or the bike lanes? Do bike facilities encourage people to bike? Or are they a response to increased demand after there are more bikes on the road?"
One good image from an newspaper article was posted at Modern Mechanix, showing that bike lanes existed in 1928. Below is this cool video telling the history of bike lanes, which explains how they date back to Napoleonic times.

The film explains that there were not a lot of roads in the Netherlands; the primary means of transport was by canal boat. Road building was tough in the soggy soil. Napoleon build a network of roads, but they deteriorated rapidly. When the bike came along, the Napoleonic roads were narrowed and given over to bikes. By 1905 there were strong rules to keep cars and carts off the bike lanes, and soon trees and hedges were planted between the bike paths and the new roads being built to accommodate the car.

So in fact, the bike lanes did come first. Copenhagenize posted a great series of historic photos showing masses of cyclists from the 30s into the 70s. While there was heavy bike traffic even on streets without bike lanes, it’s clear Copenhagen had bike lanes and sidepaths even in the 1930s.

Added Bike Lane Improves Safety, Increased Use, and Sped Up Users

New DOT data shows that the Prospect Park West redesign doesn't only improve safety, it enables more people to use the street to get to work. Image: NYC DOT.

After visiting New York this summer, I have tried to keep my finger on the pulse of what is happening up there. One interesting project to me is the Prospect Park West redesign in Brooklyn, which adds bi-directional, protected bike lanes, narrows the travel lanes, and moves/removes some on street parking. New DOT data shows that the redesign has not only improved safety, it has enabled more people to use the street to get to work. As you can see in the findings above, both bicycle and motor vehicle traffic increased after the addition of the protected bike lane. In the graphic below, the findings are pretty conclusive that the redesign actually sped up trips on that street, as well as on some parallel roads. It is just more ammunition to show that traffic calming and making streets livable for all users, makes streets better for everyone.

Brad Lander’s survey shows that a whopping 78 percent of interested Brooklyn residents want to keep the traffic calming Prospect Park West bike lane, DOT has released still more data [PDF] showing that the new street design keeps New Yorkers safer and helps them get where they’re going. With two more months of data collection since DOT last released its Prospect Park West numbers, the fundamental facts about the redesign remain. As DOT found in October, while three-quarters of cars were measured speeding before the redesign, now only one in six drive over the speed limit. The number of cyclists roughly tripled on weekdays, and doubled on weekends. There are some slight variations in the December numbers — the more recent data show slightly higher speeds in the morning and slower speeds in the evening, for example — but these effects are looking like they’re here to stay.

The December numbers add new evidence that, contrary to opponents’ claims, the narrower Prospect Park West has not caused congestion. Looking at travel times, DOT shows that even though speeding is down, a trip down Prospect Park West actually takes a few seconds under the new design. Travel times are slightly down on Eighth and Sixth Avenues as well, though a bit up on Seventh. Even during rush hour, the effects on vehicle speeds are negligible, with morning peak car trips taking a few seconds longer and evening peak trips taking a few seconds shorter.

Finally, DOT has now released a count of the total number of commuters using Prospect Park West. By turning one vehicular lane into a two-way bike lane, they were able to increase the number of people using the street. The combined count of motor vehicles and bikes increased by 11 percent in the morning and six percent in the afternoon. It’s a perfect illustration of a concept that’s central to PlaNYC:
We’re going to need to prioritize sustainable transportation for one million more New Yorkers to fit on our crowded streets without making traffic even worse.
The Prospect Park West redesign actually sped up trips on the street, as well as on some parallel roads. Image: NYC DOT.

Inspirations for Winter Riding

Cold days commuting, like today, make me have to think of all of those hot, Florida summer days of riding. Luckily temperature can be manageable with proper attire. It feels like you can't have enough layers on with these winter commutes. The sweaters, gloves, and ear warmers are a must!

Some inspirations that I use to face the cold are the images that Copenhagenize posted this week. They are experiencing "real winter", and not just cool mornings like we have here in Florida. I also enjoy viewing some of the videos from the Netherlands that show some of the best ridership and infrastructure in the world. As the videographer in one of the video describes in their video description,
This is what a real town looks like. I love Groningen so much because the people ALL ride bicycles and the infrastructure for bicycles is best on Earth. No comparison to anywhere else.

Metros Using Bikes to Increase Ridership

The last thing that most people would consider using to raise Metro use in urban areas, is cycling, but Washington D.C.’s Metro is looking to boost ridership by boosting cycling. Officials at the transit authority have noted that, while Metro’s ridership is growing, there isn’t enough room around most of its stations to expand parking. More bicycle-to-train trips will mean more commuters can board at those stations while reducing Metro’s vehicle storage costs. And compared to a system where driving and walking are the only options, a system that encourages biking to the train will improve overall access for commuters to Metro stations.

A recently completed study of pedestrian and bicycle access [PDF] at Metro stations outlined strategies for increasing the percentage of passengers who arrive by bicycle, with the goal of doubling the rate over 10 years and quintupling it over 20. David Alpert at Greater Greater Washington pulls out some juicy details:
While walking almost entirely depends on the number of housing units or jobs within a short distance of the station, bicycling has the potential to replace a number of short auto trips to Metro parking lots, freeing up spaces for other people to drive to the station without having to build more parking.
Parking garages cost Metro $30,000 per space to build, while a secure bike cage costs only $1,000 per space, and bike racks cost far less. Therefore, increasing bicycling for riders who live 1-3 miles from stations is the cheapest and best way to improve access for those riders.
In a survey, 67% of riders said they would consider bicycling and 55% would consider walking. The distance from home to the station was the top factor barring walking or biking, but #2 was “uncomfortable crossing conditions at intersections” and #3 was “high traffic volume and speed.” 25% of the respondents said they drive instead of walking or biking because they “do not know a safe walking or biking route.”
As part of its campaign to woo cyclists, Metro is planning to improve and expand bike parking facilities at its stations. I also read that Metro might add a Bicycle Program Manager. If so, I assume that their highest priority will be to add visible, accessible and connected bicycle facilities to their stations. By creating a connected network to the system, providing bike parking at the destinations, and increasing the comfort level of the riders, it will most definitely be successful.

Bicycle Safety May Be Added to New York Driver Education Classes

P1000241One of the "5E's" of the Bike League's Bicycle Friendly Communities is Education. Education includes teaching cyclists of all ages how to ride safely in any area, from multi-use paths to congested city streets, as well as teaching motorists how to share the road safely with cyclists. New York City has been balancing between adding a multitude of new infrastructure facilities and public policies. Zachary Kussin from CUNY reported in The Local edition of the New York Times, how a new law may be introduced that would require bicycle safety instruction.

Jasmine Herron’s died in September after she was hit by an opening car door which knocked her off her bike and into the path of a city bus. The death of Ms. Herron, a 23-year-old art-school graduate and barista, prompted State Senator Eric Adams to introduce Legislation S. 8487 to the New York State Senate. Senator Adams’ bill, which would require bicycle safety instruction as a part of the state’s mandatory pre-licensing driver education course, is designed to ensure that future motorists are aware of the potential dangers to bicyclists on the road.

"The menace of serious injury or death from accidents between bikes and motor vehicles is a reality that every cyclist faces, but it is imperative that we take every feasible action to increase bicycle safety,” Senator Adams said in a press statement.

The bill currently awaits approval in the New York State Senate. For now, it remains in the Rules Committee. After the legislative session begins in January, the bill will enter the Senate floor for a vote. If approved, the Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner David Swarts will take lead to develop the bicycle safety curriculum. Senator Adams has indicated that bicycling advocates and enthusiasts will be consulted in the bill’s development.

The most recent New York City accident report issued by the New York State DMV shows a total of 21 bicyclists died in street accidents in 2008, four down from the previous year. So far this year, Transportation Alternatives, an organization that I have mentioned in previous posts that advocates bicycling, walking and the use of public transit, has reported three “dooring” deaths in New York City, including Jasmine Herron’s.

Paco Abraham, chairperson of Transportation Alternatives’ Brooklyn Committee of Volunteers, said Senator Adams’ legislation is a step in the right direction.

“If it works, it’s a model pilot program,” said Mr. Abraham.

The creation of more new bicycle lanes is also necessary to increase safety for bicyclists, he said. The city’s Department of Transportation has added over 20 miles of bike lanes in Brooklyn since spring to tackle the issue of sharing road space. These lanes separate bicycle traffic from cars by at least four feet, which gives bicyclists extra space to ride and to avoid open doors. Still, many streets in Brooklyn don’t have bike lanes.

“The infrastructure needs to be there,” Mr. Abraham said. “In a perfect world, every street is safe for all users.”

Even as the Department of Transportation has encouraged more bike traffic to help ease street congestion, tensions between drivers and bicyclists over sharing road space have increased.

Transportation Alternatives offers some tips for cyclists in “Biking Rules: A New Streetcode for NYC Cyclists.”

Keep clear of car doors: Ride four feet away from parked cars, even if you end up taking up a whole lane of traffic. If you get doored, file a police report. Section 4-12 of the Rules of the City of New York says the motorist is at fault.

Be big in intersections: Transportation Alternatives says intersections are where most crashes occur. To avoid a crash, say out of drivers’ blind spots, make eye contact, and use a bell and lights to be noticed. To avoid a turning conflict, mix with cars and make the same turn they make.

Use hand signals: Extend your left arm or right arm to indicate which direction you’re turning. Left arm means left turn, right arm means right turn. To indicate a stop, hold your right arm out at a downward 90 degree angle.

The Look: Wear a helmet to prevent serious head injury. Attach a mirror to help with switching lanes. Use a pant clip to keep your right pant leg from getting caught in the bike chain.

Smart Bike Data Shows Urban Cycling Is Faster Than Driving

lyon bike share speed photo

For all those politicians who think that roads are for cars, here are some interesting data from Lyon, France: bikes are faster. According to MIT's Technology Review (via Grist) the Lyon bike sharing program collects information on where each bike starts and stops, and how long it takes.
lyon bike share speed photo map

The data were analyzed by Pablo Jensen at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, who found:
Over an average trip, cyclists travel 2.49 km in 14.7 minutes so their average speed is about 10 km/h. That compares well with the average car speed in inner cities across Europe. During the rush hour, however, the average speed rises to almost 15 km/h, a speed which outstrips the average car speed. And that's not including the time it takes to find a place to park which is much easier for a Velo bike than a car.
One supposes that the rush hour cyclists are kind of more likely to rush, while the mid-day cyclists are a little more lackadaisical.

Another interesting finding that the bike-haters will pounce on is the fact that the cyclists didn't necessarily follow the same routes as the drivers.
The data also shows that bike journeys between two points are shorter in distance than the corresponding journey by car. There are no bike lanes in Lyon so this suggests that cyclists use other techniques to make short cuts, say Jensen and co. Their shocking conclusion is that cyclists often ride on the pavement, along bus lanes and the wrong way up one way streets.
However it might also mean that cyclists take direct routes, whereas drivers sometimes take longer routes that have wider, faster roads. This kind of information will be useful for urban planners. For the first time they have real data to show where to build cycle lanes and how well they will be used. We can expect to see more of this kind of analysis as data from smart bike systems in other cities becomes available too.

More at MIT Technology Review

Airbags for Bicycles?!

After several years of research and development a bicycle helmet unlike anything available on the market has been launched. It’s bicycle helmet called Hövding (chieftain) that does not even sit on your head. The founders and inventors Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin showed up world news at the Technical Fair in Stockholm.
"We wanted to develop a protection for cyclists that take account of the requests we got in our investigations. The protection would include preserving the sense of freedom and not ruin your hairstyle", says Terese Alstin which is one of the inventors.
Hövding is a discreet collar that the cyclist is wearing around his neck. The collar contains a folded airbag which is visible only at a collision. The airbag is designed as a hood that in case of an accident will enclose and protect the cyclist’s head. Release mechanism is controlled by sensors that register abnormal movements of the rider in an accident.
"The actual collar is the visible part of the invention. The shell of the collar is removable and available in many different styles and fabrics and will be launched in new collections. Hövding is a practical, handy accessory that is easy to carry, is stylish and unobtrusive in its design, while it saves your life", says Anna Haupt.
For six years, Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin have been working with the development of Hövding which is based on advanced technology and research. Both are trained industrial designers and it was during their degree project that they got the idea that laid the foundation for the development of Hövding. Today, twelve people work full time with Hövding.

The helmets, which will be sold in Sweden, will be available for about 3000 Swedish Kronas, or about US$450, beginning in 2011. Sweden is a member of the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), but I’m not familiar with the European standard. Some creative interpretation might be necessary if the makers want this to pass the US CPSC bike helmet standards testing.

New Electric Cars Are Still the Problem and Bikes Are Still the Solution

andrew sullivan bike vs car

An interesting thread of posts on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish includes a great quote from a reader about why electric cars are not as good a choice as a bike:
As a transportation-focused environmental advocate, it pains me to see all the fawning over electric cars and their buyers, while ignoring scores of innovations that make bicycling a viable choice for more trips: cargo bikes, folding bikes, bike sharing, workplace showers, secure bicycle parking, and so on. I suppose it's a good thing to make a car that doesn't require any oil, but energy use is only one of the problems with cars, especially in a "livable" urban environment. Show me a car that doesn't require a parking space, then I might be interested.
It is the reason electric cars never inspired Worldchanging's Alex Steffen who wrote:
The answer to the problem of the American car is not under the hood, and we're not going to find a bright green future by looking there...The best car-related innovation we have is not to improve the car, but eliminate the need to drive it everywhere we go.
The Volt and the Leaf don't do that, they take up the same amount of space, need the same pavement and parking and infrastructure. And as pointed out in the post that started the thread at the Daily Dish, (and on TreeHugger) they may not even reduce emissions all that much.
volt sticker

The story that started the thread was Chris Korbus's complaint that the Chevy Volt is really a coal-fired car, and that the MPG ratings are meaningless and even fraudulent:

Here's where the fraud is perpetrated: the electricity for those vehicles is being generated by mostly coal power plants that are only about 33% efficient (minus transmission losses and losses from charging). Coal plants are off-site power generators (whereas car engines are on-board) and are totally ignored in the EPA rating.... The EPA is purposely comparing apples to oranges, conveniently hiding the fact that you are simply displacing gasoline usage with coal. The fact that you don't have to directly throw coal into your car doesn't mean you aren't using any.
Mike made the same point in his discussion of the MPG of the Volt and the Leaf:
The problem with this approach is that while a gallon of gasoline is a gallon of gasoline (depending on the source, the impact can be higher or lower, but there's still a clear range), the electricity used to charge the LEAF's battery can come from a wide variety of sources with a HUGE range of environmental impacts. If the LEAF is charged from a coal plant, it might not be much better than a gasoline car (and maybe even worse if it's a very old and inefficient coal plant).
John Laumer made the same point three years ago when the Tesla was launched in A Vote For Electric Vehicles Is A Vote For Coal:
Like the coal-powered 1873 Bollee Steam Car pictured here, every plug in hybrid dream and every all-electric car prototype sold in North America currently endorses a dirty-coal-fired, climate-destroying future. With over half the electricity currently produced in the US generated by coal... no intellectually honest observer can look at the all-electric, rechargeable Tesla car and see good odds for reduced climate risk.
If we are ever going to reduce our carbon footprints and get off foreign oil (since not every car will be electric for a long, long time) we need to promote dense, walkable communities, good, safe and clean transit, and bikes, lots and lots of bikes.