Thursday, August 28, 2008

Idaho Bicycle Justice

Take narcotic pain pills, get behind the wheel of your Hummer, and kill a bicyclist. Get 9 years probation.

That's how it turned out on August 27th, in Mike Wetherell's courtroom.

Harsh, huh?

Executive summary:

On October 19, 2007, oncology nurse Sarah Howard was riding her bicycle on a nice, wide road with striped bike lanes. She had stopped at an intersection, waiting for the light to turn green.

Alas, at the very same time, Erika Hanson was motoring down the very same road in her Hummer H3, with narcotics in her bloodstream. As she approached the intersection where Howard was stopped, her Hummer swerved into the bike lane and straddled the curb. She plowed into Howard from behind. The cyclist was probably already dead when she hit the pavement, over 100 feet away.

Am I missing any meaningful details?

Hanson's sentence: one year of "house arrest," nine years of probation, and loss of driving privileges for life.

Pretty tough.

Has justice been served?

Why do I feel a little less safe today than I did yesterday, as a transportation cyclist?

More details on the Statesman website HERE.

Previous "Bike Nazi" commentary HERE and HERE.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bike Lanes = Pollution?

(Thanks to reader mcarp for the heads-up.)

An article in the Wall Street Journal is quite interesting.

It reports on the successful efforts of "local gadfly" Rob Anderson to block San Francisco's implementation of their 527-page bicycle infrastructure expansion plan, until a comprehensive environmental impact study is completed. The article can be read HERE.

Irony of ironies.

Actually, if you're being objective, you'll agree that Mr. Anderson has a point. If you have limited road width and want to stripe a bike lane, something's gotta give. There are thousands of such roads in 'Frisco, and realistically, the only thing you can do is to surrender motor vehicle road width.

(What else is there? The other options would be to eliminate sidewalk, or condemn and buy up roadside real estate, which is some of the most expensive anywhere.)

If you eliminate a motor vehicle lane, or even make the existing lanes a couple feet narrower, it will have an impact on other roadway users during peak hours. So from an environmental standpoint, the question is... will the addition of a bicycle lane have enough of a positive impact that it will counter the inevitable negative consequences of the loss of a car lane?

One thing that Mr. Anderson (and many bike-transportation skeptics) seem willing to ignore: in San Francisco, bicycles are legal and legitimate transportation vehicles. And as such, doesn't the city have a legal obligation to provide a relatively safe infrastructure, whether it be lane-sharing with motor vehicles or a dedicated bike lane? In nature - "big dogs rule" - the cyclists would get squished by the Corollas until a pack of Camrys shows up. They rule until a Suburban or Hummer takes 'em out. Then along comes the King-of-the-Jungle Huge Dump Truck! No natural predators! But laws are supposed to protect the little guy, in human society.

A small-scale local example of the problem might be the State Street bottleneck, from about 18th to about 22nd or so. State Street is a significant arterial, and in that area is 2 well-packed lanes in each direction. They've already expanded the roadway into the front yards in that stretch; the only way to widen is to knock some houses out of the way. I s'pose cyclists probably ride that stretch during rush hour. I've done it a time or two over the years, but it's an experience I don't relish... a bit too close to the edge for this rider.

When I read (in the WSJ article) that "at least four bikers have died and hundreds more have been injured in San Francisco since mid-2006," it makes me appreciate how blessed we are here, where the roads are generally well-equipped for cyclists, and traffic (so far, at least) isn't so bad that it pushes people to desperation.

(Obvious question: Does that 527-page plan include a bike lane on Lombard Street?)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Democrats on Bikes

Day 1 of the Democratic National Convention, Denver Colorado.

According to Rocky Mountain News, 1348 people rented "Freewheelin" bikes in Denver today. (Sounds pretty user friendly - no cash required. You use your credit card, and get use of the bike, plus helmet and calorie/mile counter.) They report that the bikes were rented by "locals, delegates, and media."

1348 bikes rented... those bikes traveled 1559.21 miles. If my calculator is working, the average distance traveled, per bike, is... 1.157 miles.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha..... GASP..... Bwaaaaaaaaa-haaaahaahahahahahahaha!

(Sorry, I couldn't help myself!)

Vehicle Snobbery

Have you ever checked out It's the chat room for the Prius People. (I s'pose if you're not a Prius Person, you've probably never heard of it, like me 15 minutes ago.)

Alex, aka "priusaurous," sounds like he might be quite the catch for some lucky gal.

He's from Chicago and describes himself as "22, Male, attractive. Law Student." He also boasts of his Salsa Red Prius.

Alex thinks Prius owners "need a dating/whatever program, to hook us up with other Prius owners."

In a subsequent post to clarify, he says, "... it stems from my inability to look at people with gas burning cars as attractive."

This guy's in Law (or so he claims), not Engineering... but doesn't a Prius burn gas? (Maybe a little slower than that ugly gal in the Chrysler minivan, but still...)

It's hard to disagree with Alex... people in cars are UGGGG-LEEEEEEEEE!! But I think Prius drivers are even uglier, with their noses stuck up in the air like that. Besides - 45mpg really SUCKS!

(I'm serious about the 45mpg. But not about ugly car drivers. I see beautiful people driving around in gas guzzlers. Mentally picturing Christie Brinkley driving that red Ferrari 308 in "National Lampoon Vacation" ... Also, I'm aware that transportation cyclists can rightly be accused of snobbery. We know we're better than - and better-looking than - "people with gas burning cars.")

Poor widdle Alex just can't get a date. And apparently his red Prius isn't helping, the way he thought it might. Maybe it's his dinosaur mentality - specifically "Priusaurous."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

New Boise Landmark

As of last weekend, there's a very impressive new landmark along the Greenbelt - the Fallen Firefighters' Memorial.

Fallen Firefighters' Memorial, Boise, ID

It's definitely worth a trip to see.

It can be found on the NORTH side of the Boise River, on the Greenbelt, a block or so west of the Americana bridge.

(Click on the photo for larger viewing options, etc.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Giving up the car for a bike

A year ago at about this time, the Tour de Fat came through Boise.

(It's scheduled again this weekend, for those who enjoy a bit of social revelry, with an underlying pro-bicycle theme. And who have the free time.)

A lucky contestant was selected to give up his motor vehicle(s) in exchange for a sweet bicycle and a pledge to live life car-free. Micah Deffries is his name.

On the bright side, he has paid $0 for gas in the last year (or car insurance, maintenance, etc.). And he's dropped 30 pounds. (Awesome, huh?)

Of course, he's had some frustrations that any transportation cyclist can identify with - mostly flat tires.

Good trade-off?

Strangely, he moved from Boise, where he works downtown, to Nampa. Now he "often commutes by bus to Boise and bums rides with his girlfriend." To this observer, that doesn't make a lick of sense!

Deffries' story can be read HERE.

In conjunction with the story, the informal daily poll question on the Idaho Statesman website today is...

Would you give up your car for a bicycle?

The multiple-choice responses are:
- Yes
- No
- For electric bike

As of this writing, the respective responses are 103, 392, and 33.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Driving is Down!

All across the Fruited Plain, folks are driving less.

Obviously it has to be attributed to the price of fuel.

It has affected Idaho in a big way. They say the miles driven in Idaho in June 2008 was 7.7% less than one year earlier.

What does that mean?

- A significant reduction in consumption of our precious fossil fuel (much of which we buy from terrorists, who use the money to wage war against us).

- A corresponding significant reduction in pollution spewed into the atmosphere.

- Less road congestion, and less wear and tear on our roadway infrastructure.

- More responsible transportation choices, and trip planning. Less blasting out of driveway on a whim. Fewer trips to the store to get a bottle of ketchup. (Or is it catsup?)

- An increase in alternative modes of transportation, ride sharing, etc.

It's also obvious that there is much more effort being made to develop meaningful alternatives to fossil fuel. And believe me, that would NOT be happening if gas were $2, instead of $4.

Is diminished fuel consumption a bad thing?

It is if you ask the government!

The movers and shakers are lamenting that the fuel tax revenues aren't coming in the way they used to. Oh, the humanity! Unless us taxpayers pony up, expect potholes and collapsing bridges!

Watch your backs, people! Idaho's governor (who likes to think of himself as a Libertarian) is leading the charge to drastically increase the registration fee for a vehicle. (So you can share the pain, whether you drive 50 miles or 50,000 miles per year. Of course, the result will be far fewer vehicles registered, so they'll have to figure out some other way to squeeze blood out of the turnip.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Boise's Golden Girl

Her name may not be as well-known as Michael Phelps, but Kristin Armstrong is bringing an Olympic gold medal home to Boise, Idaho! WOO-HOO!!!

She won the women's individual cycling time trial, completing the 23.8km course in 34 minutes, 51 seconds, almost 25 seconds faster than the silver medalist, the UK's Emma Pooley. That's about 24.5 MPH average, if my calculator is working. (A long-time hero of mine - Jeannie Longo - finished 4th at age 49!)

Kristin: "It's the most amazing day of my life... I've been working for this for the last eight years, especially the last four, and to time everything right on one day is an accomplishment of its own."

Talk about a "Hometown Girl Makes Good" story! Even the National Peanut Board congratulated her. (Kristin likes yummy peanut butter. You wannabes - listen up!)

Kristin says she wants to come home and bask in the glory for awhile, then get on with her life.

BUT - She also realizes she's become a role model and has a "bully pulpit" that she never had before.

THIS cycling brother dreams that she might promote bicycles-as-transportation, and bike safety. I envision spot TV and radio commercials, with Kristin encouraging us to ride bikes, get exercise, wear helmets, go with traffic not against it, use a headlight, etc. Danielo wrote about how Kristin inspired his son with her performance and accessibility at Boise's Twilight Criterium, the last race she did before heading for China. "Thanks, Kristin, for boosting my efforts to raise a son that loves cycling. Huzzah!"

Maybe I'll get lucky and cross paths with her someday out on Hill Road... just before she drops me like a bad transmission! My brain-bucket is off to you, Kristin Armstrong!

Los Angeles Times
Idaho Statesman
KTVB Television

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Survival Instinct

I don't know if plants have "instincts," but they certainly display a will to live and propagate. (Of course, the first plant that comes to mind is the wily Goathead, which seems to take root and thrive everywhere!)

I've been admiring this vine for a couple weeks as I've ridden by. It's on Fairview Avenue, near downtown Boise.

The vine is growing up through the center of the signpost, and branching out at the top. You don't see such a magnificent stop sign very often...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Transportation Efficiency

(NOTE: The masthead of my blog reads, "... the most efficient form of human transportation ever devised - BICYCLES!" Am I prepared to back that up? Should I elaborate from time to time?)

Late last month, I wrote a little about the Car of the Future, a PBS Nova episode exploring future transportation.

Among other things, the program pointed out that a typical internal-combustion vehicle is extremely inefficient, in converting fuel into transportation energy. (Since much of the power is scrubbed away "between the engine and the rear wheels," and also because most of the remaining power is devoted to moving the vehicle itself, rather than its occupants or payload.)

One of my cycling brothers, bob t, replied, "... I was wondering if any studies had been done regarding the efficiency of a bicycle." He searched and found some info, "Pedal power probe shows bicycles waste little energy." (Click HERE to link.) Engineers at Johns Hopkins University determined that a bicycle is at least 81% efficient, in using energy for transportation. Amazing, particularly when you consider that the standard "safety bicycle" design hasn't changed significantly in almost 130 years. (If anything, it's become more efficient as bicycle weight has dropped significantly in that time.)

Of course, it's difficult to make an objective comparison in transportation efficiency between a car, a bus, a train, a bike rider, etc. How do you measure the amount of energy expended?

A guy - a biology professor named Vance Tucker at Duke University - tried to do just that in a study he conducted a few years back. (He had been studying the amount of energy expended by various bird species while flying, and got the notion of expanding that study.)

He came up with these numbers:
Automobile (1 occupant) - 1,860
Transit Bus - 920
Transit Rail - 885
Walking - 100
Bicycling - 35


Tucker's conclusion: "Statistically, the most efficient animal known in the entire universe is a human being on a bicycle."

If somebody has some conflicting or more recent data... BRING IT! I'd feel awful if I were perpetuating lies or myths.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Anti-Bike-Nazi

Batman has The Joker.

Superman has Lex Luthor.

And I may have run across the archenemy of Bike Nazi.

There's a blogger out there at "Bike Free Portland" who goes by Myra Walker. She claims to be an enthusiastic cyclist, but her comments are uniformly anti-cyclist. And - she refers to cyclists as "Bikenazi's" - like that's a bad thing!

And - she even designed a little bike nazi flag! Sieg heil!

The masthead reads, in part, "Stopping the bikenazi cold in their track ... it's time to put these idiots back in their place."

She has some novel ideas, and claims to do some enforcement work. For example, she advocates splitting bike-violation court fines 50/50 between the city and the police department... to provide more incentive for writing tickets. And when she sees a cyclist exhibit boorish behavior, she puts a "red lock" on the bike. Kinda like Zorro slashing a bloody "Z" on the bad guy... the red lock is her calling card.

Perhaps she's just voicing the frustration of thousands of motorists. I myself am resentful of cyclists who are either ignorant of the law or choose not to follow it, because they create Myra Walkers out there. Her venom is primarily aimed at cyclists who see themselves as "above the law." (She may have a point.)

I s'pose in a place like Portland, where cycling is much more a part of the culture, you're likely to see more BAD cyclists, since they're still a percentage of the total population.

She's gotten considerable feedback in the month or so she's been posting, some "pro-Myra," some "pro-Nazi." Which, I'm sure, is what she's hoping for... her writing is inflammatory. (And IMO, somewhat hard to read. Of course, it's likely people feel that same way about my writing, so I better be careful.)

"Bike Free Portland"?

Good luck with that, sista. Ain't gonna happen.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Indispensable Equipment

I blather about the merits of bicycle helmets somewhat regularly. There's another piece of equipment that has become essential for me, for riding on the streets... a REAR VIEW MIRROR.

I've used various brands of mirrors over the years, and I'm absolutely sure they give me a survivability advantage out there on the mean streets. If I know of approaching potential hazards - including from behind - I can usually predict their behavior, and have a contingency plan. Plus, the vehicles that approach from behind are typically the ones that get closest to you as you're riding. The more advance notice of their approach, the higher the comfort level.

The mirror I've settled comfortably with is the Cycle Aware Reflex model. Probably started using it 10-12 years ago, and it's worked for me. It is available directly from Cycle Aware, or you can probably save a few bucks by shopping around. (They also make a tiny mirror that sticks inside your eyeglasses/sunglasses frame; I have not tried that one.)

I prefer the Cycle Aware product because of its durability. It's made of flexible wire covered with a rubbery coating. (Remember Gumby? It's made of Gumby stuff.) So it's infinitely adjustable for optimum viewing, and it's break resistant. (I probably went through a half-dozen helmet mirrors made of stiff plastic, before trying the Reflex. The mirror stem would snap off on a regular basis if I bumped something with it, or had the misfortune of dropping my helmet. The Reflex lasts as long as the helmet... and you can even buy a replacement base for a new helmet, if the mirror is still intact.)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Stand Out in the Crowd!

Last autumn sometime, I was riding on the Greenbelt and about fell off my bike when a "cruiser" style bicycle came at me in the other direction. It had giant tires! We've all seen those mountain bikes with 29-inch tires... but they're TINY by comparison!

I asked my bike-expert friend Woody if he'd heard of a cruiser bike with huge (diameter) tires. Nope. Nothing bigger than the 29-inchers. And he wasn't aware of a 29-inch "cruiser" style bike. I was starting to wonder if maybe I had been hallucinating. (Dehydration or something.)

Well, LO AND BEHOLD, this morning I got an email from a work colleague. I thought you would be interested in checking out the "Monster Crusier" bike that is on the plaza today. It has 36" wheels.

Of course, I dashed right down to look it over.

(These days I'm parking at the CEO bike rack, rather than with the common rabble, so I don't always see the bikes in the outside rack. Or I certainly would've noticed THIS one.)


Ladies and gentlemen - presenting... (drum roll...) the "Coker Monster Cruiser."

I did a bit of web searching. It runs about $600. Replacement tires are $80. (Ouch!) And from what I can find on bicycle forums, etc., you better have some cash to support the thing, because apparently it's more of a novelty bike than a transportation bike - the componentry is proprietary, of marginal quality, and expensive to replace. Too bad, because riding on this thing would literally make you feel like a kid again!

A variation that might be more practical is the super-fat-tire Surly Pugsley. It's actually built for riding, and would be just the thing if you ride in snow and sand and such on a regular basis. And you control the build-quality, since it comes as a bare frame, and you spec it out.