Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bicycles don't belong, because they don't pay their way?

It's the age-old, constantly-debated question, and a weapon of choice for motorists who resent cyclists on the road. "If they want to be on the roads, they should be paying registration"... have to buy insurance, etc. Cyclists aren't paying their fair share, goes the reasoning.

I saw THIS ARTICLE recently: "Drivers get Rolled," by Christopher Caldwell. It is well-written and somewhat sympathetic to cyclists, but Caldwell contends that motorists are picking up the tab. He feels cyclists are getting more than they deserve, when they get to share lane-space with cars. His bludgeon is number-of-drivers, compared with number-of-cyclists.

"According to the U.S. census, 120 million people drive to work every weekday, and 750,000 bike. In other words, there are 160 drivers for every biker. Bike use is growing—but even at 40 times the present level it would still not be sensible public policy to squander a quarter, a third, or half of the lane space on a busy rush-hour artery for a bike lane."

Interesting and valid point, and on its own, it might be an argument for banning bicycles from roads, at least those roads that don't have adequate bike lanes.

But it seems strangely at odds with this, from the same article: "The problem is that our transportation network, built at the cost of trillions over the decades, is already over capacity... It is not so easily rejiggered. Unquestionably we have misbuilt our transport grid. It makes us car-dependent. It should better accommodate bikers and walkers. But for now it can’t."

So - he really offers no solution to the problem of overcrowded roads and bike riders, but his point seems to be that bikes impede car traffic, so they don't belong. And that must change at the expense of the cyclists who will use the facilities, or it's not fair to the motorists.

There are some other "cues" that seem to explain his viewpoint:
1) He begins with a story about a large group of recreational cyclists taking over the highway in rural New Hampshire.
2) He seems to think that cyclists are mostly affluent and upper-class. (Which may be somewhat true for recreational/sport cyclists, but certainly not for transportation cyclists! Look around, Mr. Caldwell! Lots of people ride a bike because they can't afford a car!)

Frankly, I share his resentment toward weekend-warrior bike riders who, en masse, make driving frustrating for motorists. Almost without fail, the motorists who resent cyclists recount stories of such groups and their lawlessness and lack of courtesy. (If you think I'm wrong, you're not paying attention.)

Mr. Caldwell uses numbers-on-the-roads, but overlooks the source of revenue for road building and maintenance. (Which most motorists seem to believe comes exclusively from license plates and gas tax.) I know it varies by jurisdiction, but in most places roads are supported via income tax, property tax, etc., as well as those "user fees." In our community (ACHD), property taxes are a bigger slice of the revenue pie than anything else - substantially more than the "highway users fund" (gas tax and registration).

Here's yet another way to look at how money might be allocated for road projects. Congressman Earl Blumenauer from Oregon - who is easily the most "pro-bicycle" elected official in D.C. - points to this disturbing statistic... cyclists and pedestrians account for 15 percent of all highway deaths, but only get 1 percent of safety-related highway funding. (Article HERE.) I s'pose if they were banned from the roads, they wouldn't get killed so much. Is that the direction we want to go as a society?

The Oregon Bicycle Transportation Alliance has recently begun a new "Who pays for our roads?" awareness campaign that has already been called into question, but they make the contention, among others, that it would take 9600 bicycles to damage the roadways as much as one car. (Chart HERE.) Pretty much any position can be defended with "facts and figures." As Mark Twain is alleged to have said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Mr. Caldwell's beef seems to be with a cyclist - particularly a recreational cyclist - who is exclusively occupying a motor-vehicle lane, and indeed that's an unfortunate reality, when a bike lane or breakdown lane isn't available.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Greenbelt to Eagle Status Report

I'd not ridden downstream on the Greenbelt for awhile, so when a beautiful Saturday came along, I decided a survey was in order.

In mid-September, Eagle city officials ordered some clearing action, and moving the pathway in a couple places where it infringed on private property; story HERE. And then later in the month, the Army Corps of Engineers threw a new bureaucratic wrench in the cogs, declaring that they hadn't authorized a the pathway through designated wetlands; story HERE. (It's always something, isn't it?) I wanted to see for myself if it was currently passable.

As expected, even though most of the autumn leaves are gone, the scenery was lovely. And the pathway was pretty decent, as well. People on their 22mm skinny tires might find a couple of uncomfortable stretches, since the last couple miles are dirt of varying quality. But my 28mm tires did fine. I wouldn't hesitate to take my 6-year-old granddaughter for a ride, from one end to the other.

Hopefully the photos below are an accurate representation of what you might expect, if you ventured that way.

There used to be a bona-fide bridge over the canal. It collapsed under somewhat mysterious circumstances a few months back. The debris has been cleared away. As of Saturday, there's a beam spanning the canal, roughly the width of a railroad tie. So, drunk people, especially those with bad balance, should avoid it. I didn't ride across, but I didn't feel uncomfortable at all carrying my bike... and while I was paused there to snap a photo, another fella came along in the other direction on his skinny-tire bike. He carried his over, as well.

In a way, the current state of the pathway is probably a good thing... if it were glass-smooth asphalt from end to end, with a nice, safe bridge, it would probably be more crowded on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. (I saw maybe 3 other cyclists, a couple pedestrians, and a few fishermen.) But I can't be greedy, or think I should have such a beautiful resource all to my self.

Clancy has mentioned his dream in the past... punch it all the way through to Eagle Island State Park (another couple miles downstream), and then allow bike-adventurers to ride down there and camp overnight, and then ride home the next morning. That would be a fantastic family outing! Clancy, you have my vote for governor, if you ever decide to run!









Monday, November 4, 2013

Do you live in a happy city?

I happened across an article, "The secrets of the world's happiest cities." (Guardian, UK)

Intriguing! I scanned it - when Provo, Utah wasn't listed by name, I just about dismissed it outright.

(That's a joke! Provo, home of BYU, is located in a place the locals call "Happy Valley." But despite my occasional visits there, it's never struck me as happier than any other small city. I'd rather live in Boise.)

What would make a city "happy"? Prosperity / lack of crippling poverty? Health? Lots of bowling alleys and bars? A sweeeet mall?

According to the article, the common denominator of the happiest cities has nothing to do with the wealth of its inhabitants, or lots of name-brand shopping, or even its super-smart politicians. Rather, it is based on an urban design that minimizes auto-dependence and maximizes opportunities for its citizens to enjoy the outdoors and "connect with others."

It describes the transformation of an unlikely city - Bogota, Colombia, "a city with a reputation for kidnapping and assassination." The author followed the reform-minded mayor, Enrique Peñalosa, as he rode his bike partway across town to meet his son after school and accompany him home. Mayor Peñalosa raised eyebrows when he "declared war on cars," scrapping an ambitious roadway expansion plan and directing the funds toward expanding bike infrastructure, making open spaces more user-friendly with sidewalks, parks, etc. But he hasn't been thrown out of office, and his citizens seem happy with the evolution. (Maybe TOO happy - at the end of the story it says the facilities are stretched to the breaking point because of their popularity, but funding hasn't kept up with demand.)

Some interesting and provocative quotes from the story:

"If one was to judge by sheer wealth, the last half-century should have been an ecstatically happy time for people in the US and other rich nations such as Canada, Japan and Great Britain. And yet the boom decades of the late 20th century were not accompanied by a boom in wellbeing. The British got richer by more than 40% between 1993 and 2012, but the rate of psychiatric disorders and neuroses grew."

"The more connected we are to family and community, the less likely we are to experience heart attacks, strokes, cancer and depression. Connected people sleep better at night. They live longer. They consistently report being happier."

"A Swedish study found that people who endure more than a 45-minute commute were 40% more likely to divorce. People who live in monofunctional, car‑dependent neighbourhoods outside urban centres are much less trusting of other people than people who live in walkable neighbourhoods where housing is mixed with shops, services and places to work."

Two Zurich economists "found that a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40% more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office. On the other hand, for a single person, exchanging a long commute for a short walk to work has the same effect on happiness as finding a new love."

Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychologist: "Most good and bad things become less good and bad over time as we adapt to them. However, it is much easier to adapt to things that stay constant than to things that change. So we adapt quickly to the joy of a larger house, because the house is exactly the same size every time. But we find it difficult to adapt to commuting by car, because every day is a slightly new form of misery."

Speaking for myself - I dislike a 30-minute driving errand, on account of sitting in traffic, etc. (Granted, I'm not used to that treatment.) I'd probably become homicidal if I had to do a 45-minutes-each-way, 5-day-a-week car commute! Homicidal is unhappy... right?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Trends in automotive high-tech

I remember a few years back, seeing an aftermarket in-dash DVD player, and thinking what an insane idea that was. What the?!!? Drivers watching movies, instead of the road? But for several years now, cars have been available from the factory, with big, colorful screens built into the dashboard or center console, where the driver can use navigation (GPS receiver), communication, climate control, etc.

Wonderful! But, as a cyclist I worry about drivers that are staring at that big colorful screen, when maybe they should be looking at the road ... ?

And now, there are car commercials on the teevee, showing some high-end models, with technology that supposedly intervenes and automatically applies the brakes to prevent collisions.

Maybe I'm just Mr. Paranoid, but I worry that motorists will rationalize that since their car will prevent accidents, they don't have to pay quite so much attention. I don't think my concern is unfounded - after all, in 2011, 3,331 people were killed iun crashes involving a distracted driver, and 387,000 people were injured. (Source:

But maybe there's some technology that could affect driving in a positive way. According to the UK DailyMail, a gizmo placed on the driver's head has 14 sensors that detect brain activity. "The headset can tell whether a driver’s attention goes from the road to the radio, when their neural activity dips, or when their blink rate slows significantly. A gyroscope in the headset can also detect when a driver significantly turned their head away from the road."

Interesting concept, somewhat similar to a device that DUI offenders have to blow into, to start the car.

One comment is amusing: "It monitors the Sheila ogling cortex to determine if they're distracted."

Yeah, that too!