Saturday
Apr052014

With some attention from Streetsblog and Road.cc this page has been getting increased attention recently, so this seems as good a time as any to make a plug.

I work for a bike advocacy non-profit called Bike East Bay, and with a team of 5 other employees, multiple interns, hundreds of volunteers, and thousands of members, we strive 24/7 to make it easier and safer for the 2.5 million residents we represent in the two counties east of San Francisco to take more trips by bike. Part of what makes this work possible, though, is funding, which is why I am participating in a 4-day bicycle trip from San Francisco to Sacramento this May called the California Climate Ride, raising funds for Bike East Bay and dozens of other non-profits focused on addressing our planet’s pressing climate issues.

If this blog make you laugh, or think, or even if you hate my posts but still want to support better bicycling, please click here to go to my Climate Ride fundraising page to learn a little more about me, about the ride, and contribute to this effort with a generous donation. The cost of the ride itself has been fully covered, so you can rest assured that every cent you can provide will go directly to Bike East Bay.

Thanks, and Ride On!

-Robert Prinz

Education Director, Bike East Bay


Thursday
Mar062014

Day 4 (Thursday, March 6th)

“Get your stupid ass out the road!”

 

Ah yes, there it was. That perfectly predictable and breath-takingly ignorant comment I had been expecting all week, delivered with gusto by a truck driver during my bike commute home today. But I was in no mood to laugh it off like usual.

Just one mile earlier I passed a row of police cars outside the Downtown Oakland YMCA and was flagged down by a friend who noticed me riding by. A pedestrian had been struck by a driver in the uncontrolled crosswalk across Broadway, she told me, a known hazard location which I myself had reported to the city half a year ago but with no action yet taken. The pedestrian was rushed to the hospital and it was unknown if he would survive. 

This is the exact same location where, many times before while biking through, I had yielded after noticing a person trying to cross on foot. But despite my arm waving car after car still flew through in the next lane over, and it seemed as though nothing could get them to stop short of a brick wall. While it’s easy to think that each one of those people who failed to yield was just being selfish or even evil, in reality they are mostly normal people with normal morals who are simply reacting to an environment that is engineered for speed.

When people drive down a multi-lane arterial like this with wide lanes, no impediments, and a pretty, planted median to protect themselves from oncoming traffic, they go into freeway mode and sometimes forget that they are in a public space, sharing the environment with other human beings. This even happens to some folks I’ve encountered, zipping along precariously by bike, but doubly so for people encased in a physically, sonically, and hermetically sealed automobile. Even the bicycle shared-lane (“sharrow”) markings on this stretch of roadway seem to say “We care about bikes, but not enough to potentially slow down cars by dedicating any road space to their safe travel”.

The concept behind this type of street design is to simplify the environment so as to prevent collisions between drivers, but at the unintentional expense of other road users by making it easier to speed, and to “tune out”. Because of this the incidence of crashes between drivers might indeed go down while bike or pedestrian crashes become more common, and when they do occur they are much more serious due to the speeds involved.

 

These “sharrow” markings were also present on Webster Street, a one-lane, neighborhood route where I paused at a stop sign to check for crossing traffic before proceeding northward. As I struggled to get back up to speed a gentleman in a pickup truck saw fit to sidle up next to my bike, roll down his window, and advise me:

“Get your stupid ass out the road!”

My standard response to antagonism like this is to not react at all, as attempting to understand the mentality would just lead me down a rabbit hole into confused frustration. Considering the circumstances I’m proud to report that I continued along my way peacefully, resisting the urge to put a U-lock through his rear windshield.

Wednesday
Mar052014

Day 3 (Wednesday, March 5th)

So, this doesn’t have much to do with the 10 MPH Challenge, but on my morning commute today I experienced all three of my top driver behavior pet peeves, as follows:

#1: Double parking in the bike lane, next to an empty parking spot

#2: Making a right turn across the bike lane

#3: Opening a car door into the path of a bicyclist (bonus points for doing it while double parking in the bike lane)

Anyway, today I am pleased to present a guest post from Kristin Tennessen, a board member at Bike East Bay and founding member of Bike Walnut Creek, who has lots of experience with one topic related related to the 10 MPH Challenge that I will be unable to scientifically replicate no matter how hard I try: Biking while pregnant.  

Pregnant in the slow lane

Many parents, when they find out they are expecting a child, worry
about what type of crib to purchase or how much to save for future
college tuition.  When I found out I was pregnant, I thought about
those things too, but the biggest question I had was “how will I get
to work while I am pregnant?”
   
You see, I loved my bicycle commute to work.  I rode the 4 miles
exclusively on paved bicycle trails which were nestled between tall
trees with singing birds, fences with flowers poking through the
posts, and ducks swimming with their offspring in the local waterways.
 Bicycling to work invigorated me on the way there, and relaxed me on
the way home.  I experienced no honking horns, traffic lights, vehicle
congestion, or people in a hurry.  I said hello and waved to my fellow
exercise and outdoor enthusiasts as I cycled past, and received smiles
in return.
   
I continued bicycling as my belly grew throughout the pregnancy.  I
crept along at around 10mph or less because I felt safer at slower
speeds, and also because I was easily out of breath.
I absolutely did not bicycle alongside motor vehicles when I was
pregnant.  It was not just my life on the line.  It was my unborn
child’s, too.  Any mistake made by me or a motorist that resulted in a
collision between me and a moving 3,000 pound vehicle was not going to
end in my favor.  Being limited to only separated (Class 1) bicycle
facilities very much limited what destinations I could access in my
city.  If I couldn’t bicycle or walk, rather than drive a car I
preferred to skip the errand or event.
   
Towards the end of my pregnancy, I was passed by a jogger while riding
home from work.  Not long after, I had a very easy natural birth
helped by my dedication to a healthy lifestyle while pregnant.  Even
though I was one of the slowest bicyclists on the trail during my
pregnancy, the exercise strengthened my body for childbirth and the
resulting lifestyle of chasing after my now one-year-old.  You won’t
be surprised to learn that he loves riding in the bicycle trailer
behind his momma.

 

Interested in more info on this topic? Check out the Family Cycling page on the Bike East Bay website: www.BikeEastBay.org/FamilyCycling

 

Tuesday
Mar042014

Day 2 (Tuesday, March 4th)

Today I decided to step up my game and try riding some busier streets with less bicycle infrastructure. I started off easy, heading from my neighborhood in North Oakland down toward the MacArthur BART station and the recently painted green “supersharrows” along 40th Street.

Theoretically this gives bicyclists a green carpet in the middle of the lane, encouraging them to ride in the center, outside of the parked car door zone, while also encouraging car drivers to change lanes to pass. In reality many drivers move over a little but not a full lane, choosing to still pass bicyclists with a buffer of just a few feet, despite the “bicyclists may use full lane” signs. At 10 mph “taking the lane” here was an even more daunting proposition, with a speed differential between myself and the passing traffic of 20 mph or greater.

By traveling slower I was subjected to more “waves” of traffic than usual, as the traffic signals behind me turned red then green repeatedly, allowing group after group of cars to catch up to me. With shared bike/car facilities like this we can try to make ourselves as visible as possible, but are still depending on the patience, attentiveness, and humanity of each passing driver to protect us from a collision, and with each added pass it means one more chance for something to go wrong.

From there I headed south down Webster Street, a neighborhood bike route which is also often used as a cut-through by car traffic, which the city intends to mitigate in the future by implementing traffic calming procedures to create a true “bicycle priority” street. After Webster Street I decided to try out Telegraph Avenue, the most popular bike route in Oakland yet without any cycling infrastructure. The traffic lights along the southern section of Telegraph are quite punitive, but that still doesn’t keep drivers from speeding from one to the next. I was even buzzed at very close distance by a van driver who wanted to reach the next red light a couple seconds faster. Pretty bold considering there was a police officer driving ahead of us, but changing lanes is just too much trouble, right?

All in all my commute still amounted to just a bit over 4 miles, the same as yesterday, but by riding on some busy arterial streets as opposed to official bicycle routes I was able to cut my commute time down by over 5 minutes.

I sometimes hear from people asking why bike infrastructure can’t just be constrained to side streets instead of busy arterials, not realizing that they are side streets for a reason: fewer destinations, less efficiency, less connectivity, less attention to pavement conditions, etc. These are all elements which make it more difficult for people to make more of their everyday trips by bike, and is why we still see so many people riding on streets like Telegraph Avenue that have zero bike-specific accommodation.

This is not to say that calm, neighborhood routes are not needed as well, as they are great places for families to ride, or people who prefer a longer route over a busier one. But putting well designed infrastructure on arterial streets serves more destinations more efficiently, allowing people to make more of their daily trips by bike, regardless of ability or risk tolerance.

Monday
Mar032014

Day 1 (Monday, March 3rd)

First, let me introduce you to my partner for this experiment: my commuter bike, a 1998 Bianchi Milano “Cafe Racer” with a front rack, fenders, a chain guard, and a heavy, 7-speed internal gear hub in the back. I picked up this bike used for a couple hundred bucks, then like any right-thinking bicyclist proceeded to exceed that initial purchase several times over with add-ons and upgrades, including a GoPro camera and a speedometer.

Last year when my bike computer’s battery died I never got around to replacing it. Gradually I realized how much more I was enjoying my rides by just paying attention to my environment and going whatever speed felt right, as opposed to being tied to a number on a screen. However, for the purposes of this experiment I finally caved and reinstalled it with a fresh battery.

This morning’s 4-mile ride from home to work was thankfully uneventful, although it definitely took me a while to get there; nearly 35 minutes altogether! Today I chose to leave just a little after rush hour to avoid some of the worst traffic, and to stick mainly to official bike routes which provide either separated lanes on busier arterials or shared lane markings on side streets.

This short, 4-mile ride still included 10 stop signs, 28 traffic lights, and a total of approximately 6 minutes, 30 seconds of waiting at 16 red lights (almost 19% of my total travel time). I actually feel as though I was able to catch more green lights today than I usually do when biking upwards of 15 mph, which means that I’m normally expending more energy for little to no time savings.

This was even more evident when I was headed south several blocks through Oakland’s Chinatown at 10mph or less, but still keeping pace with all of the cars that I caught up to at each traffic light. This means the city could easily apply a “green wave” signal timing here so that any cars or bikes traveling about 12 mph would get constant green lights, without causing much or any delay to traffic beyond the current conditions while also creating a much safer environment for all road users.

By slowing down a little bit I was also able to avoid some hazards that might have been trouble at a faster speed. For instance, do you see the pedestrian lurking to the right behind this poorly placed car parking spot, blocking the view of the crosswalk? No?

Well I did! And I stopped for her, for which she gave me a hearty “thanks!” before crossing. Bicycle ambassador for the win!