Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

Bicycle Headlights

April 3, 2013
by julie
8 Comments

On Cyclist Fatalities & The Meaning of Statements

Bike LightLast Friday, a young cyclist named Elyse Stern was killed in a collision at Lake and Cedar Avenues in Minneapolis. The time was 2:15 a.m.

There has been a lot of hubbub, and in certain cases outrage, that the Minneapolis police specifically called out that the cyclist was not wearing either a helmet, or using lights on her bicycle as required under Minnesota Statute 169.222.

Here’s the thing. There is a reason they say these things. And it’s not necessarily that a helmet would have saved the cyclist, or that lights provide protection in hit-and-run accidents with drivers suspected of driving while intoxicated. It’s because they hate cleaning up these accidents. And it is even worse knowing that because of issues like the lack of lights (and there were no lights on the bike or within the accident scene), the charges against the motorist are likely to be reduced significantly over what they’d like to see applied. And so, there they are, making a statement, trying to find something to say. So they choose to try to pass a message of safety to others who are still standing, and still have a chance of being in an accident where these things can help them survive. They don’t think the helmet would have saved this rider. They think a helmet might save someone else, and make it easier to prosecute another accident of this nature.

The Minneapolis police, and police almost everywhere, hate drunk drivers. They hate seeing drunk drivers kill people. And they hate seeing the charges against these drivers get reduced. Prosecutors hate having to explain to the families of the injured and the deceased why the charges don’t seem to fit the severity of the results. And when there are factors that can be used to mitigate responsibility — like a lack of legal bike lights — it angers and saddens them.

As a result of factors of the accident, including the lack of lights, the driver in this collision is not being charged with criminal vehicular homicide, which is the most serious charge possible. Instead, the charges have been downgraded to felony hit-and-run, and DWI. City Pages points out that on paper, the accident merits the more serious charges. However, the legal system also has an element where prosecutors have to use state resources wisely, including ensuring that the charges they apply will “stick.” The prosecutors may not be so much concluding that the cyclist was “as responsible” for the accident as the driver so much as they are concluding that the risk of trying to prosecute with that involved in the case becomes a risk factor. Given a choice of some consequences, or a risk of nearly no consequences, they have to take the pragmatic path.

And that is why the police will always call out the helmet and the lights, even if the helmet didn’t have a chance in hell against what came at it.

Let’s be careful out there, okay?

Bike Hazard Sign - Portland OR

March 6, 2013
by julie
1 Comment

National Bike Summit 2013: Comments & More

US CapitolLast week, on streets.mn, I posted a review of the recent legislative record of the League of American Bicyclists and the National Bike Summit. It led to a series of comments about the importance of having a national gathering of bicycling advocates, which is actually something I stated was important within the post.

Entertainingly — at least to me — as coverage of this year’s festivities has filtered in, some of my positions seem to be supported via things being said:

  • The League itself went over research on the acceptance of cycling on Capitol Hill. A few of the findings?
    • Cycling advocates are perceived as sore winners over their response to MAP-21. Hey, I admit that as victories go, I don’t find it especially fantastic. I can see where that perception comes from.
    • The message of “bicycling!” is accepted as a mode of transportation; advocates need to relate it more strongly into a multi-modal system of transportation now. (Something, I’ll note, advocacy in Minnesota, as well in a few other places, do a great job with.)
    • Dedicated funding is not something Congress is going to embrace. State/local control is the current wave.
    • Advocates need to stop asking for dedicated funding and find ways to get the funding pools that exist allocated to their programs.
    • Advocates need to present bicycling as complementary, not alternative, and be less arrogant.
  • Meanwhile, Bike Portland covered a PAC fundraiser for cycling. The key point?

    “For the bicycling agenda to have any chance of competing on Capitol Hill, it will take cash donations to members of Congress and direct lobbying. That might be an inconvenient truth to idealistic advocates; but insiders say it’s simply how the game is played.”

Minneapolis bike boulevard sign

People have been asking me why I’m a crank. In some ways, these points help sum it up. I do think that national gatherings are important, but I’m not sure that the League is really the “unified voice” of cyclists, or that in trying to represent cycling alone, they are a key point of progress. The proposed merger last year of the Bike League, Bikes Belong, and the Alliance for Biking & Walking was a potential step in creating a more unified voice — with Bikes Belong being the organization with the strongest financial argument, and the Alliance having better cross-modal ties. That merger fell apart, as many corporate mergers do. And like corporate mergers, it likely fell apart over primacy (who gets to be lead dog) and money.

I’m a big fan of local groups. People have noted I’m less critical of BikeMN and some of the local city-level groups. I think they get more done, and in the case of BikeMN, have less history of marketing bloat of achievements. I’ve always been a believer in local progress, as bicycles are inherently local.

Elections are also inherently local. If your representative is Michele Bachmann, no amount of citizen lobbying will make her a bicycle ally. If your representative is Keith Ellison, he’s natively pro-bike. Again, the influence of the lobbyist is low, save for providing anecdotes that help him in his day-to-day operation.

Viva la cranky.

February 25, 2013
by julie
Comments Off

Women’s Cycling: This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

…because, seriously, we can’t have women discussing women’s cycling, with women, without having everything become somehow sexualized or a reference to body image issues and booty, along with a gratuitous calling of a female “baby.” Because, you know, WIMMIN.

I could have hoped that the League’s new “equity council,” aka “hey look we know some non-white male people who bike!” would help some with this, but apparently not. Or apparently I’m the only one who is made to itch, seriously, by this crap.

walking to school

February 11, 2013
by julie
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Danish Finding: Biking or Walking to School Increases Concentration

Biking to School

Children in San Francisco biking to school. Photo by SF Bike Coalition.

As I continue to rant regularly about poor school location, poor school design choices, and ridiculous NIMFY shoot-downs of easy school access remediations, in comes a study from Denmark that shows that children who walk or bike to school performed measurably better on tasks demanding concentration. You know, like reading and math and the like.

Study after study is adding to a literature that shows that how we get around has as much impact on a child’s brain (and our own) as our destinations. It’s not enough to be going to school or work, but the means by which we navigate our surroundings impacts our ability to produce once at our destination. The Danish study showed that how a child got to school had a greater correlation to concentration than even a healthy breakfast.

Parents drive kids to schools and participate in the high-emission car line for multiple reasons:

  • Unreasonable fear of kidnapping — Stranger danger accounts for less than 100 child disappearances each year, and can largely be addressed via walking school buses and kid posses. However, in some places, schools bus kids less than 4 blocks.
  • Fear of traffic — This fear can be variably overwrought, and absolutely justified. The elementary school my own children are to attend is nearly impossible for a kindergartener to access safely, as from nearly all housing nearby (let alone outside of a quarter mile) children must cross 5 lane highways with 45-55 mph speed limits, and no crosswalks/traffic lights/medians to facilitate the process for little legs. In other cases, parents freak out over 4 lanes, sidewalks, and crosswalks.
  • Perceived convenience — This article from the UK justifies the choice to drive, as it takes only 5 minutes where walking would take 15 minutes. The attitude is not unique to the UK. The idea that driving is “faster and easier,” even for very short trips, is epidemic. I’ve talked about how much traffic would be calmed (and how much money would be saved) by if 20% of the trips under 2 miles were undertaken by bicycle or foot. Yet, it doesn’t happen — in part because of traffic fear, but also due to convenience beliefs.
  • Fear of cold — All right, sometimes it is really too cold for kids. I get that. But kids are pretty durable. Wrap them up good and let them go, so long as it’s not below 0, windy, blowing snow, low viz.

Parents, especially suburban parents, fall all over themselves to provide their children advantages — early preschool, immersion languages, sport participation, tutors, the right and most fashionable shoes. The Atlantic asks if perhaps studies like this Danish study will cause said parents to clamor for more contextual, walkable schools — that they then will allow their darlings to walk to. It’s a nice idea, but so long as people are hung up on kidnappings (and remain convinced that doing airport security shoe removal prevents terrah), I have my doubts.

Speed Limit 14

February 6, 2013
by julie
1 Comment

Speed Limit Reduction Ineffective at Traffic Calming: MNDOT

MNDOT released a video yesterday about speed limits and research.

The key takeaway on this: reducing the posted speed limit has no impact on actual driver behavior in the absence of speed traps and heavy enforcement.

Speed Limits: Why Do We Have Them?

Shouldn’t surprise anyone, honestly. In the absence of additional traffic calming, just slapping a different number on a roadway will be ignored by the average citizen. It’s cheap. And it’s ineffective.