Archive for July, 2007
Tuesday, July 31st, 2007
After all the words that have been written and conjecture and perspective that has been thrown around related to this year’s Tour, leave it to the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, to sum it all up perfectly. Here’s what the Mayor said in a story about his efforts to get the Tour back in London again soon. “It is a unique event, and I do not think a handful of riders breaking the rules diminishes the achievements of those who do not.”
That’s it. It really IS a totally unique event with its own lore and unwritten rules. Each day pits rider against rider at the limits of their endurance (drug-enhanced or not!) and their will to push on through the pain. It’s compelling TV and it’s a drag when the actors change, but the next episode is always worth watching. I can’t wait for le Tour 2008.
Tuesday, July 31st, 2007
We all remember that feeling. It’s that sensation of speed, freedom, and mobility we got when we first started riding. It’s what we remember about riding a bike as a kid, and in many ways what continues to fuel our desire to ride as adults. As a father, one of the next best things to that childhood sensation is the thrill I see on my son’s face as we ride together in our neighborhood.
My son is eleven years old and like others his age he usually doesn’t go out biking any extended amount of time. Usually, he just rides around the neighborhood with his buds, or hops on his bike to go visit someone down the street. I used to ask him if he wanted to go riding with me, but about a year ago I stopped asking because usually he said no. But in the last couple weeks, he’s been asking if he can come along when I’m going out for my regular after-work ride. I figure that a ride with my son will always be more fulfilling for the both of us—and certainly for me—than a ride on my own even though I might sacrifice the workout I would get if I were on my own. (And actually, I’ve figured out how I can get the workout I want and still not leave him behind.)
From the moment he got on a bike at about five or six years old, I told him that someone had to be outside when he’s riding, and “don’t go out into the street!” While well intentioned, that regularly-blurted warning may have served us well back then but is now coming back to challenge us. Telling a child this over and over again, and cautioning them about the dangers of cars and the need to pay attention, is pretty much telling them, “ride on the sidewalk!” But as we ride now on our neighborhood streets, and as I have over the years become a more experienced rider of the road, it is becoming obvious—at least to me if not my son—that riding on the sidewalk is not a safe thing to be doing.
On our ride yesterday, I started cautioning him when a good examples arose that, for example, when that particular car backed out of the driveway, if he was about another thirty feet in front, the driver might not have been able to see him in time, or that he might not have been able to stop his bike. I’m not going to force him to do the entire ride with me on the street because I don’t want to scare him to death either, but he has started to ride certain parts with me on the road.
All the while, I’m thinking, I don’t want to kill the thrill for him. Of course, I want him to pick up good riding skills. But, I want him to stay in touch with that feeling that got so many of us to be life-long riders.
Monday, July 23rd, 2007
The terms “bike safety” and “bike etiquette” are most often used in reference to the many challenges of biking on roads alongside cars and other motor vehicles. It wasn’t until I began spending summer evenings biking on the Custis Trail, a popular bike path in Northern Virginia, that I started considering the complexities of biker to biker and biker to pedestrian interactions.
On a narrow and twisty trail like the Custis, passing is the foremost issue for all users. With an abundance of joggers, walkers, people with dogs and mothers pushing strollers, bikers are inevitably the biggest passers (one would hope). When passing other cyclists or any of the aforementioned slower moving users, bikers have three options: they can remain silent, call out a simple “on your left,” or ring a bell.
It seems that the best possible option is to cause as little disturbance as possible. If someone is using the trail properly on the right side and appears to be maintaining a direct line of movement, it makes little sense to announce your presence loudly and abruptly upon reaching them. Chances are they have heard your bike chains behind them, so only if completely necessary a very calm “on your left” should ensure that your path will not be obstructed.
Ringing a bell makes little sense for a number of reasons. First, just as getting honked at while driving can make a person unnecessarily flustered and anxious, a bell can be equally as shell-shocking to a trail user. Having someone ring their bell at me while I’m biking makes me immediately assume I am doing something wrong or am about to get rear-ended by the cyclists. Common sense will tell you that ringing a bell provides no direction or specific information. Do you want someone to get out of your way? Do they need to move more right? Or are you really just trying to say “I know you’re slowly jogging well to the right of the trail, but I just wanted to announce to everyone that I am flying by you.”
As bicycle advocates we should encourage all types of people to use urban trails and not make them feel that they are moving too slowly or are a hindrance to bicyclists.
Wednesday, July 11th, 2007
Research summaries often state trends or “facts” in overly-simplified terms, using measures that are easy for us to grasp. About five years ago, I recall hearing in a public radio piece that more than half the households in the world do not have access to a telephone. Later, because this “fact” seemed hard to believe, I did some hunting on the internet and learned that this generalization was not based on any research, but the story wound up becoming something of an urban legend that started getting mentioned in numerous broadcasts and publications.
I read a similar generalization, and couldn’t help but wonder if it was true or was another urban legend getting tossed around by cycling enthusiasts. The generalization: there are more people in the world who commute to work by bicycle than by automobile. There were no ratios, no numbers, trends, nothing. And, if it is true, is that ratio of bike commuters to car commuters increasing or decreasing?
Here’s one more “fact” that I heard last week. In a report about a joint World Bank/Chinese government research project on health and pollution in China, it was said that each day a thousand new cars are introduced into the streets of Beijing. In the aggregate, I suspect that a certain number of cars are being taken out of circulation each day because they’re no longer operable or people are moving out of the city, etc. But, it is a significant number of cars for each day in the year. For a city known in the past for its “river of bicycles” I can’t help but think that if bicycle commuters outnumber car commuters now, it won’t be for long.
Thursday, July 5th, 2007
You won’t often see me write these words, even though I’m a [new] Virginian. We don’t have the most progressive state legislature or DOT or transportation commission in the country (and that massive understatement confirms my English upbringing), but for once the state is making me proud.
You may have read this week that penalties for serious traffic violations have gone up significantly – particularly in the form of administrative fees and penalties attached to various driving offences such as speeding and drinking and driving. So now a speeding ticket in Virginia might cost you $3,000 if you were way above the speed limit and driving erratically or too close etc.
Personally, I love it. For the first time in the 15 years I’ve lived in Virginia people are actually talking about having to behave behind the wheel of their car! I think that’s good news for cyclists in the state.
The only down side I can see is that the fees were levied to raise funds for a transportation funding package that will “improve” roads all over the state. Based on VDOT’s track record, and that of most local agencies in the state, that isn’t going to be so good for bicyclists. But, we can do something about…we can “stick it to the man” by not speeding or running red lights or driving too close or driving under the influence.
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