Sunday, July 27, 2008

Common motorist rants...

I read this yesterday on Austin Cycling News and it links to the original post on Bike Forums. ChezJfrey covered each point, refuting them one by one. His Bike Forum post is quite long, so I didn't include it here. Believe me, it's worth reading and well worth keeping for those inevitable letters to the editor that crop up in the spring and summer.

I sent the link to our local advocacy list and Gary Parker responded. His piece follows the highlights from ChezJfrey.


Look at some of the “arguments” presented by motorists in these types of “discussions” about why cyclists die:

1. “…he [/she] was probably one of those jerks that ride in the street.” and “Highways and roads are for motorized vehicles only.” and “Cyclists block the road.”

2. “All I am saying is if you do something dangerous (jump out of an airplane, ride my bike in the road where big cars are) then you should accept the consequences.” and “You ride on the street, you risk your life, simple as that.”

3. “Motorists have paid for the roads through gas taxes, registration fees, and other taxes and fees. Cyclists in traffic are a danger and seem to feel they have a right. Let them start registering and paying for road permits so lanes can be built for them. Streets are for cars.”

4. “It is very simple, give them a license plate, and they will be forced to abide by the law, or face tickets and fines.” “Cyclists do not have the same accountability as drivers. If you drive a car like a complete moron people can call and report you, and it is possible you will pay the price later on, can the same be said for cyclists?”

5. “It is illegal for bicyclists to run stop signs and signals; it’s illegal for them to swerve in and out of traffic; but that doesn’t stop them from doing it.”

6. “Why is it necessary to ride on the busy streets downtown when you can go 2 blocks in either direction and ride on a smaller side street without all the cars?”

The matter really goes right back to the fact that the average, urban/suburban driver just doesn’t want ANYONE in their way when THEY are on the road. Any deviation from the “zoom, zoom” fantasy that requires an extra turn of the wheel or a push on the brake pedal before the trip is through aggravates and irritates the motorist. The stupidity lies in the fact that these motorists encounter thousands of other motorists clogging the streets and crushing their dreams every day and the occasional, skinny bicyclist is to blame for the entire mess and that goddamn cyclist has a death wish about to come true!

Stupid people don’t embrace education, so that approach is doomed to failure.

(I don't agree that education is futile because we know that other two legs of the advocacy triad, engineering and enforcement, are insufficient by themselves in changing individual behavior. But that's a subject for another time......Ed)

This is from Gary:

Bicycling and Taxes

With gas prices, temperatures and tempers rising, bikes and cars seem to be coming into greater conflict.

A common complaint by motorists is bikes aren't registered or taxed, and should have no right to the road.

Our friends at the Texas Bicycle Coalition figured out that bicyclists are actually subsidizing motorists.

Follow this:

- 95% of cycling adults own automobiles, and they pay registration and fuel taxes, for an average of $700 a year per car.

- It costs cities and counties over $1100 per vehicle per year to maintain streets and roads.

- The extra $400 comes from the government's general funds, which are sales, property and income taxes.

These taxes are paid by everyone, including the 5% of cyclists who don't own cars. Even renters indirectly pay property taxes.

Given that most of us drive our cars more miles per year than we ride our bikes, we're paying about 50 times more per mile traveled than a motorist.

In Oklahoma we pay about 35 cents a gallon in taxes on gasoline, a few cents less for diesel. That is not a sales tax. Even as the price of gas goes up, the tax remains the same. If road costs were truly reflected in the price of gas, we'd be paying over $6 a gallon for gas today.

So the next time you're confronted with the "taxes" issue as it relates to bicyclists on public roads, you've got the answer. They are taxpayers and even if they were not, they would still have access to public roads, because they are public roads.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Six Myths about Bicycle Commuting

Please bear with me for a moment...

I've been reading a lot about writing. It's a self-help effort. Much has been contradictory. For instance, one site said if you want to write better, concentrate on writing. But if you want to read, simply read. Another site says that reading is essential to becoming a better writer. I tend to agree with the latter. As an example, Isaac Asimov wrote several books every year on a variety of subjects. He wrote through the morning, had lunch, and then went to the library for research every afternoon.

I don't have Azimov's work ethic, not about writing, anyway. But I think that reading is a means of igniting the imagination and spinning off new ideas. It happened with the following piece, a straightforward discussion of misconceptions about bicycle commuting. I was in the middle of responding when it struck me that there's a necessity for a related but more detailed post about buying a used bicycle. I like it when that happens.

I did my best to avoid all the nuts-and-bolts about writing when I was in school. Even now, I can't tell you what a sumerian presumptional disfirmative is, or how to use it properly. (One of our local bicycling advocates is an English instructor. I give him migraines.)

These are excerpts from Adam Voiland's article. Follow the link for the complete one. My comments are interspersed in italics. And if you're wondering why I'm reaching all the way back to May for this, let's just say that my drafts folder is bulging and I want to clear it out.

Six Myths About Commuting by Bicycle

May 15, 2008 05:11 PM ET | Adam Voiland


...Biking is a reliable, safe, fun, and cheap way to get around—and it happens to be good exercise, too. Still, myths about bicycle commuting persist. Here are six I’ve noticed over the years; feel free to add your own in the comments section.

1. It’s too dangerous. Yes, there’s real risk associated with bicycling. Bikers do crash and get hit by cars. But how dangerous is biking in comparison with other forms of transportation and with our perception of the risk? A lot less than you might think.

Consider the calculations of a company that performs safety and failure testing, previously called the Failure Group and now known as Exponent. The company looked at a variety of activities and determined that the number of fatalities per million hours of exposure was 0.26 for biking, 0.47 for driving, 1.53 for living (all causes of death), and 8.80 for motorcycling. In other words, they found that the risks of biking were about half that associated with driving and a sixth of that associated simply with being alive...

Yes, road cycling has some risks, but for the most part they're exaggerated. These risks are offset by the benefits that come from regular exercise: a healthier cardiovascular system, weight loss, and a more positive outlook. So while there are some dangers associated with riding on the street, we're probably at greater risk from that bowl of Cheetos on the arm of the couch. Sedentary lifestyles and poor nutrition choices kill more Americans.

2. It’s too far. The ride might take too long or take too much out of you if you live more than, say, 10 miles from work. But consider ways to expand your potential range. Many commuters, for example, use folding bikes so they can go partway on a commuter train (Swissbike uses technology originally designed for paratroopers to make the Hummer of folding bikes). Within city limits, many municipalities are now allowing bikes on buses or subway cars, too...

A good rule-of-thumb for a new bicycle commuter is to assume a pace of six minutes per mile at first. So a five mile trip should take about 30 minutes. Obviously, a short trip of a mile or two can be completed almost as quickly on a bicycle as it could in a car. My own commute is seven miles by the shortest route, and that takes about 30 minutes give or take a little due to the wind direction. This morning, a mocking bird serenaded along the way, something I'd miss entirely in a car.

3. I'll need an expensive bike. Not true. You should be able to get a new or used bike suitable for basic commuting for less than $500. Find a good, local bike store with a knowledgeable staff (not, in other words, one of the big-box stores), explain the terrain and length of commute you’re considering, and they'll help you choose the appropriate frame and number of gears you’ll need. In fact, Eric Doyne of Shimano’s public relations team tells me that “lifestyle” bikes—designed for everyday, casual riders as opposed to the high-performance racing or mountain bikes designed for enthusiasts—are huge growth areas for the bike industry right now...

Bike shops are seeing a lot of dusty old bikes rolling in for repairs as gas prices increase. This is a sensible idea because bicycles are fairly durable and there are many usable old bikes tucked away in garages and attics. But if you simply must have a new bike, visit a reputable local shop rather than a big discount store. A good shop will see that a bike fits you properly – absolutely key to long term comfort – and they'll provide service after the sale. This too is important because many new bikes go out of adjustment in the first month or two of use. This is normal.

There's always the possibility of buying a used bicycle, saving a significant amount of money while acquiring an excellent bike, but unless you're a skilled mechanic or very experienced at evaluating the potential flaws in older, used machines, I would recommend avoiding this unless you buy from a local shop. Bike shops usually won't take abused machines in trade. It's just too expensive to refurbish them. You'll pay more at a shop than you would at a flea market or garage sale, but it's likely you'll get a perfectly serviceable bike.

The used market can be rewarding or disastrous, but now that I'm thinking about it, I'll probably have something on buying used bikes in the next day or so.

4. It's impossible to carry the stuff I need. If this is what you think, you’re toting way more than the average person to work or you don’t have the right bag or features on your bike. A good basket or touring panniers will mean you can easily carry a computer, change of clothes, lunch, a few books, a slew of folders, and whatever other gadgets you regularly carry. Take a look at this bike and this pannier bag set if you’re looking for inspiration...

There are many ways to haul essentials. Rucksacks, messenger bags, panniers, and baskets will all do the job. Some people drive to work once a week with their work clothes. Then they can ride on the other days unencumbered by baggage. My rule-of-thumb is to use the smallest bag possible, because any 'extra' space will be filled with some unnecessary item that adds weight and bulk.

5. There’s nowhere to shower. Jeff Peel of the League of American Bicyclists says that many people do worry about this, but that there are numerous alternatives beyond simply showing up at the office smelly and sweaty. First, check to make sure that your building doesn’t have a shower somewhere. Mine does. If it doesn’t, check nearby gyms or fitness clubs. Many offer shower-only memberships for bike or running commuters. If you’re still striking out, Peel says, it’s amazing how far you can get with a sponge bath in a regular bathroom. Baby wipes work like a charm...

I read an account by a would-be bicycle commuter who bewailed the fact that there was no shower facility waiting at the end of his two mile commute. I'll just put this baldly – Americans worry entirely too much about sweat and the resultant body odor. A short commute at a relaxed pace will not end with you arriving at work reeking, not if you bathe regularly, anyway. There may be one aspect of 'Copenhagen style' cycling that I find appealing, and that's the emphasis on bicycling as a 'fast walking.' Riding a bike simply saves time over walking the same distance, and it can be done in stylish, fashionable clothes. But with that one caveat, I'll return now to my usual loathing of Copenhagen style.

6. Biking will make me impotent. This is a charge that has circulated since the late 1990s, and there’s a kernel of truth to it. There is evidence that serious bike riders can experience temporary and even long-lasting erectile dysfunction if they log lots of hours on a racing seat that doesn’t fit properly. But there are now plenty of seats like this one with ergonomically designed cutaway grooves that take the pressure off the key arteries and nerves. And if you really want to play it safe, there are noseless saddles, too. As long as your saddle fits correctly and you don’t ride as much as somebody training for the Tour de France, biking is more apt to reduce your odds of erectile dysfunction than raise them, since the exercise will help keep cardiovascular disease—a major cause of erectile dysfunction—at bay...

By the age of 70, about 50% of men are impotent. The infamous study that supposedly linked bicycle saddles and erectile dysfunction was a statistical study of these elderly ED patients. A doctor noted that in almost all cases, these men had ridden bicycles in their youth. While interesting, the study suffers from the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Correlation is not causation, yet in another triumph of marketing over science, new saddles suddenly arrived on store shelves, saddles with holes. Can't have Mr. Happy going all saggy, you know. If you're the type who obsesses over these things, I have hundreds of emails offering generic Viagra in my spam folder. I can forward them to you.

Voiland included this:

"And, until more bike infrastructure is built (and it should be as it improves biker safety, too)..."

The advocacy groups who endorse ever increasing miles of bike lanes would have us believe those lanes enhance our safety. Yet studies like the one conducted in Copenhagen show that adding bike lanes to existing streets and eliminating parking merely moves collisions between cyclists and motor vehicles to the intersections. In other words, crashes decreased at mid-block but increased disproportionately at intersections. Bike lane proponents simply ignore this because it doesn't fit into their preconceived assumptions.

Infrastructure is not a substitute for an educated, experienced bicyclist, just as very safe interstate highways do not absolve a driver of responsibility for his own safety. That's another myth perpetuated by the facilities advocacy groups - that even inexperienced riders can safely use a bike lane.

Don't misunderstand me - I'm not against the idea of multi-use paths or trails, but I'm very much opposed to the fear mongering conducted by some of the advocacy groups. An engineer once told me, “Nothing will be foolproof until we run out of fools.” Sure, it was facetious, but there's a kernel of truth too. We know we cannot build facilities that are utterly foolproof. Instead, we should be focusing on building better cyclists, with the knowledge to use any roadway in safety regardless of the presence or absence of bike lanes. If we can do that, the whole bike lane issue becomes moot.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Velib problems

This is the first major problem I've heard of with the Velib system in Paris. I'm not aware of any similar problems with Tulsa's first-in-the-nation Tulsa Townies, or the new Rack & Roll system. Still, I have to wonder about the long-term viability of a plan that's lost over 25% of their bicycles. They want to expand the system into the suburbs, but if losses are this high, how can they afford replacements?

Thieves ride off with 3,000 of Paris's free bicycles

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The self-service, Parisian bike-for-hire – the vĂ©lib' – was intended mostly for short rides when it was introduced 12 months ago, reports The Independent.

More than 3,000 of the sturdy grey bicycles have gone missing since then. Some have turned up as far away as Romania and, according to one report, Australia. Another 3,000 have been deliberately destroyed or damaged. But the 16,000 bikes in circulation have proved extremely popular.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Trail Etiquette: a primer

(Image copyright Spencer Hill. Used by permission.)

I was running along the trail and this cyclist came by really fast and close without any warning.

This is probably the most common complaint – fast riders in 'stealth' mode. Cyclists should use a bell or loudly announce “Passing on your left!” as they approach pedestrians. Unfortunately, if a cyclist yells “On your left!” some pedestrians will turn and step to their left to see what's behind them, moving directly into a cyclist's intended path. Be aware that pedestrians can change direction or stop in the space of a single step.

For pedestrians – walk on the right and be aware of overtaking cyclists.

I was walking my dog, Fluffy, on a 20 foot long leash. It one of those retractable ones so I can keep control of Fluffy, yet allow her to romp a bit. She was on the other side of the trail when some cyclists started swearing at me for letting her roam like that. They could slow down and wait until she's done.

Children and dogs are often unpredictable. Be especially cautious when approaching them. Be prepared to brake or dodge, if necessary. Think of it as an opportunity to hone your mad cyclocross skillz. And please resist the impulse to skewer wayward dogs or their owners with a frame pump, halberd, or samurai sword. It's just not very polite.

For dog-walkers – while Fluffy may be utterly adorable, a 20 foot leash stretched across a multi use path is not. If a cyclist hits it at speed, there's a very good chance that he will crash. There's also a good chance that Fluffy could be injured. Be responsible for your pet and show some consideration for other trail users by keeping your animal on a short leash while on the trail.

Some deaf and blind guy was walking along the trail using his white cane for guidance when a cyclist yelled at him. Didn't do any good, that I could see.

While this is an obvious exaggeration, there are some pedestrians who simply will not see or hear any cyclists around them. Never assume a walker has seen you or knows of your presence, even if you're approaching them from the front. With so many people listening to music via headphones, it's a near-certainty that you'll encounter someone completely oblivious to all those other people on the trail.

For cyclists – wearing headphones in traffic is dangerous and illegal. Being safe on the road entails using all your senses, and that's no less true on the trails. Do not wear headphones.

My wife and I were showing her mom and dad the lovely River Park trail. We walked side-by-side in order to talk to one another and we were in mid- conversation when some cyclist yelled, “On your left!” Well, we looked over to our left but there was nothing to see. He yelled again, then went off the trail into the grass to go around us. When he got back onto the pavement, he yelled something about getting your fat ass over. I don't know why he'd pick on my mother-in-law that way. Her ass isn't that fat.

On your left” is the standard way of announcing you're about to overtake and pass another cyclist. Unfortunately, some pedestrians hear this and will step to the left and turn around to see who or what is behind them. They step directly into the path of a cyclist. As noted above, say “Passing on your left” as a better way to make your intent known.

A better alternative is to yell, “Passing!” Most, though not all, peds understand what this means. Some cyclists use a bell as a warning device, but bells are no longer required by Tulsa ordinances.

For pedestrians – use the trail sensibly. If you're walking in a group, allow some space to the left for others to pass. Taking the full width of the trail is rude and irresponsible.

My friends and I were skating on the trail, just bopping along and listening to some tunes on our iPods, when a bunch of cyclists passed us really close. They never said a word – not that we could have heard them anyway.

Passing skaters on a narrow trail is difficult. Their zig-zag course can make it hard to predict when it's safe to pass. Just like children, the elderly, dogs, or people with diminished mental capacity, skaters are capable of suddenly moving into the path of a cyclist and causing a crash. Be wary when approaching them.

For skaters – turn down the tunes so you can hear others around you, and be prepared to coast for a moment while a cyclist passes. It's both courteous and safe – for both of you.

I have a suggestion that may improve relations between cyclists and pedestrians on crowded trails. We need bigger pedestrians so there's no mismatch in energy. Kinetic energy is equal to the product of mass and velocity squared, so if a 200 lb bicycle and rider moving at 10 mph were to collide with a 550 pound pedestrian moving at 6 mph, they'll have approximately the same KE. The only problem I can see is in finding a 550 pound pedestrian capable of moving at 6 mph. Maybe if we could get two 225 pound pedestrians to move in lockstep...

Ah,a phalanx of pedestrians moving as a unit. Give them some brass instruments, drums, and snappy uniforms, and we'd have a marching band. Better yet, give them kilts and bag pipes. Nobody messes with guys in skirts playing the pipes.

OK, much of the above is facetious, but there are some serious points. Let's consider them:

(Gary added some points I missed)

1. The most important consideration is: "ALL TRAIL USERS STAY TO THE RIGHT" Yep, pedestrians, bicyclists, roller bladers, strollers, dog walkers, all trail users stay the right. Yes this is different than the street where pedestrians walk against traffic and bicyclists, since they are traffic on a vehicle, go with traffic.

2. Whenever approaching other trail users move to a single file line.

3. On a trail walk dogs to the right! Yes this is different than dog training, but that is because when you walk a dog on the streets since you are on the left the traffic is on the right and you don't want little Fluffy running in front of a car. On a trail you walk on the right. You walk Fluffy on the right as well. You don't want Fluffy to run in front of a cyclist or a roller blader. Besides the land is on the right of the trail and Fluffy loves running along the ground.


Riding on trails is the same as riding on a sidewalk and on sidewalks cyclists must yield to pedestrians. Tulsa's River Park trails have a suggested speed limit of 10 mph. Any reasonably fit cyclist can exceed this, of course, so be courteous and safety minded when overtaking peds. Please be courteous, and stay particularly alert if there are children or pets nearby.


For pedestrians - there's more to this than simply unplugging the iPod or turning off the cell phone. It's a basic safety issue whenever we're out in public. Be aware of your surroundings. Be alert for the unexpected. Be alert for suspicious people or objects. This isn't an attempt to make you paranoid, just wary. Criminals exploit people who aren't paying attention or are otherwise distracted. Likewise, in a traffic mix with people moving at different speeds, it pays to stay alert.

For cyclists – make others aware of your presence and intention of passing. Use a bell, or shout, “Passing on your left!” Just as pedestrians have to be aware of overtaking cyclists, cyclists themselves have to be aware of other bicyclists moving at higher speeds. Watch your six.


Trails are shared public spaces that belong to all of us. Please don't leave trash behind. Treat other trail users as you would wish to be treated.

And finally...

Since I'm not all-wise and all-knowing, I probably missed a few things. Please feel free to point out my deficiencies in comments!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Interesting reading

The Myth of the Scofflaw Cyclist


Whenever you read an article about cycling in the city, or a discussion of transportation involving cycling it is highly likely that you'll read a comment like this:

"I will 'share the road' when cyclists start 'obeying the traffic laws.'"

and this

"I always see bikers disobeying traffic signals. They always run red lights going across R Street and Connecticut Ave"

and this

Before encouraging people to cycle and spending millions of pounds of our money in the process, the Government should have down some groundwork to make roads safer for all of us. [WC: Sounds reasonable]

Making cyclists observe a few traffic laws - such as stopping at traffic lights and zebra crossings - would have been a welcome start.[WC: Really? You'd START with cyclists?]

In fact after Alice Swanson's death, many comments on the post, DCist and elsewhere mentioned that something like this was bound to happen because of the illegal manner in which most cyclists ride. Despite the fact that there seems to be no indication that she did anything illegal.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

Every July 4th we celebrate our independence from colonial rule. An estimated 25,000 American troops died in the Revolutionary War, more than half of them from disease.

Then as now, the country was bitterly divided into factions. Make no mistake, we will be eternally grateful that the Revolutionaries won both militarily and politically. Every war is fought on those two fronts.

We are presently engaged in two wars that have again bitterly divided the American people. I'm not writing this to place blame or insist that this course or the other is the right one. There's a time and place for that, but not today.

Lenin is believed to have said, “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” The figurative hangman's noose around our necks in 2008 is petroleum, or more specifically, our addiction to it. We cannot drill enough holes in the Earth to satisfy that addiction. Even if we did, we do not have the refinery capacity to feed our addiction. And the burgeoning economies of both India and China consume ever-increasing quantities, so it's unlikely that the world price for petroleum will decrease significantly, despite the popular fairy tale that blames speculators for the current price spike.

There's an on-going war about our belief systems because people act on them. If you truly believe that there's a limitless supply of petroleum just waiting to be tapped, you're unlikely to believe that we're facing a significant long-term crisis. On the other hand, if you believe that we've hit the peak of oil production, and that we cannot increase that production as rapidly as demand increases, you can believe we'll be in a continuing state of crisis for a long time. Only one of these ideas can be true.

Now, as you know, this blog is about our common cycling experience. And I've written previously about how our beliefs influence our actions in the much smaller sphere of road cycling. On this Independence Day, regardless of your beliefs about peak oil, I urge you to declare personal independence from petroleum addiction. It may be something as simple as walking or cycling to the grocery store a couple of times a week. It may involve commuting to work on a bicycle or by public transportation. The goal is to drive less. If you believe that our oil crisis is temporary, you'll save money over the short term. If you believe the oil situation will be a permanent fixture in our lives, you've taken the first step in adapting to it. Either way, you're shaking off the financial yoke imposed by high petroleum prices.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Patrick Fox leaving INCOG

(CycleDog Image)

Patrick Fox, Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator at INCOG, is leaving the agency for another job. Among other things, Patrick is the head of the bicycling advisory group, a committee of local cyclists designed to provide expertise and leadership in bicycling transportation planning. The photo above was taken at a Road1 course he attended last year.

Patrick doesn't just "talk the talk." He commutes to work regularly on his bicycle, so he has a fine appreciation of the situations cyclists face daily here in Tulsa.

He will be missed.