Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

May 3, 2014
by julie
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In Memoriam: Jim Oberstar (1934-2014)

Former Congressman and longtime transportation champion Jim Oberstar died unexpectedly Saturday morning at age 79. News outlets are all posting the usual obituaries that one expects for a man of distinction and achievement.

He was a giant for transportation, not only in Minnesota, but in the United States. He was a member of the House Transportation Committee for his entire term of office (1975-2011). I met him several times, the first time being in 2010 while he was Chair of the House Transportation Committee. I was in Washington for the National Bike Summit. He hosted the Minnesota delegation, first in his office — which was a place of pilgrimage for many of the Bike Summit attendees, not just the Minnesota group — and then in the committee chamber for the Transportation Committee. We got to see one of his bikes, parked safely in his office. He and his staff were warm and welcoming, which was a treat after some of the group had visited some of the other Minnesota congressional representatives.

This was not a man talking the talk. When I had opportunities to ride with him, he was wearing bike shorts that had seen miles. He had calves, serious calf muscles, despite his age and despite his profession (which involves a lot of sitting and bloviating). He averaged 2,000 miles on a bike a year, and had been the victim of a car-bike collision. He knew what it’s like for a biker on the streets, on trails, by day and by night.

Oberstar was a passionate advocate of a carbohydrate-based transportation system. He’d taken up bicycling as a response to grief after the death of his first wife, and converted members of his staff to bike commuters. He co-authored, sponsored and helped pass the milestone SAFETEA-LU legislation in 2005. SAFETEA-LU provided not only for bridges and roads, but for public transportation support and alternative transportation. It was the launchpad for Safe Routes to Schools, a program intended to support and encourage kids to again walk and ride to school. It was also the source of $25 million in federally funded improvements for the city of Minneapolis to encourage bicycling as a significant mode share, under a program known as the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program.

There’s plenty else to be said of Mr. Oberstar’s career, his congressional defeat in 2010, and his overall voting record — including transport issues, as he was an expert in aviation security and served through the years immediately following 9/11. However, there is almost no arguing that without his influence, Minneapolis would not have more than 11% bike/ped mode share. Minneapolis was the feature city in the NMTPP because the program was Oberstar’s brainchild and baby, and despite Minneapolis not being in his district (he served in MN-8, which is the Iron Range), he procured the $25 million for Minneapolis. That money paid for scores of operational projects, numerous infrastructure projects, education programs including many educational programs, additional support for Safe Routes to Schools in the local area, and even the establishment of some of Minneapolis’ first bike boulevards.

He was also a friend and ally of Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, first elected to Congress in 1996, and currently one of the great friends of multimodal transport in the current Congress.

After his 2010 defeat, he remained active in the Minnesota community and continued to advocate for carbohydrate-based transportation programs. He attended multiple Minnesota Bicycle Summits, as well as events across the country.

So today, raise a glass to the memory of Jim Oberstar, a man who helped make Minneapolis the bike-friendly metropolis it is today.

This post also published at http://streets.mn/2014/05/03/in-memoriam-jim-oberstar-1934-2014/

March 14, 2014
by julie
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Accidents Are Not Caused By “Crowds”

In Austin, Texas, during SXSW, an automobile driver drove his vehicle into a crowd of people killing 2 and injuring at least 23.

Naturally, this has become an opportunity for people to shriek about SXSW getting “too big!”

Is SXSW too big? There are arguments to be made. But this accident isn’t an argument in favor or against. This incident was caused by a driver attempting to evade police doing DWI checks. The presence of crowds provided opportunity for more injury — but the culpability for this was not the crowd, or the festival. The individual at fault — and yes, innocent until proven guilty, but the initial evidence is compelling — was the person responsible.

This isn’t dissimilar to the facts of several pedestrian fatalities in Dinkytown in 2011 — the sidewalk being filled with pedestrians didn’t cause injury, the driver driving on the sidewalk caused injury.

It’s extremely trendy in many circles, ranging from interactive to music, to ponder if SXSW is too big, not cool enough, too mainstream. And that’s perfectly okay, because interactive, especially, does enjoy navel-gazing and justifying its own coolness.

But this isn’t an argument against festivals, festival size, or crowds. It’s an argument against bad drivers, which can happen even in small density situations. It may be an argument for enhanced traffic calming during festivals (although the DWI screening may have been a part of that).

But let’s not blame victims for congregating or having a good time.

March 13, 2014
by julie
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Accept the Consequences of Opposing Density

The Lakes of Blaine

If you oppose density, don’t be surprised if you don’t gain any of the benefits of density.

In Blaine, there has been a very suburban kerfuffle: Within a large, multi-builder housing development, there were several commercial plots. Despite the housing boom in the area, no one would step up to develop them as commercial, because no one wanted to occupy a potentially developed property. Why?

Lack of density, of course. While most of the development was planned for low- and medium-density housing, one of the biggest protests in Blaine City Council history was when a builder proposed a 157-unit luxury apartment complex on a nearby plot. Nooooo, not luxury apartments! Why, they can ruin a neighborhood! They might be… too luxurious? (Of course not. They might somehow become Section 8.)

Due to neighborhood protest, the plan for this added density was shot down.

Now, many of the same residents who opposed the apartments are shrieking that they were “misled” because they were prooooomised retail! And now those mean builders want to build more homes instead! One city council member bemoaned people who invested in homes based on a “dream” who were being denied that dream.

The reality is that without high-density housing nearby, no one is going to want to be a retail unit in that neighborhood. Even small retail with high-end appeal (childcare? yoga? coffee?) requires a degree of density to support the cost of the property and reasonable financials. Neighbors have suggested businesses they would like to see, but have no real explanation for the lack of business plan that can support such businesses given density and traffic patterns.

Neighbors now want the city to build them another park, because even low-density housing matching their own is a terrible idea, apparently. The city has basically told them to pound sand, because money. The city has already supported Lakeside Commons Park, which has not been without its own controversies.

To residents, there is surely a plus to the city allowing the change of the properties from commercial to residential: there’s going to be another parking lot.

And that’s what you get when you oppose density. A nice parking lot.

This post originally published at streets.mn.

January 24, 2014
by julie
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Bike Lanes in Winter

Witness: The struggle that is a bike lane in winter, via these (poor) images, taken from inside a car.

Hennepin Bridge Bike Lane Hennepin Bridge Bike Lane
That glacier is the bike lane.

Now, certainly, over the railing is a well-cleared sidewalk. It is an option. It’s actually an appealing option. But if you’re coming right off Marshall, once you commit, you are committed to at least De La Salle, and if you don’t bail there, you’re there all the way over the bridge. Taking the lane is your only option.

I would like to encourage bikers, like the ones I saw this morning, to do such a thing. Trying to hug a glacier is going to get you killed, most likely by a Metro Transit bus. It will hurt. A lot.

And City of Minneapolis? I realize there are issues with “where to put snow” when clearing sidewalks and lanes on this bridge. I get it. But you really need to find a dumper to get the snow off the bridge entirely. Stick it in the river BEFORE it becomes a heinous black glacier that will melt into it.

Thanks.

This post originally published at streets.mn.

Biker family

August 13, 2013
by julie
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Sharing The Road with a Trailer-Pulling Human

Child 1 in trailerWe talk a lot about road-sharing as cyclists and cycling advocates. The three-foot rule, where it applies, is magical and good.

But things change a little when sharing with a cyclist pulling a trailer, much as sharing the highway with a U-Haul pulling Ford Escort changes highway behavior. This is an incomplete list of considerations motorists should embrace when they see someone hauling a child/dog/gear trailer:

  • Someone with a trailer has a strange turning radius. Depending on the contents of the trailer, trailers often have odd balance. Left turns are actually much easier than a right turn. If I am right turning, I am unlikely to be hugging the turn lane, especially if I must stop before turning. The closer to the curb I bring my bike, the more likely I am to tip my trailer, which helps no one.
  • Apply the three-foot rule to the widest part of the cyclist/equipment. Trailers, depending on variety, can range from 20″ – 40″ wide, which is wider than most pedal cranks (typically the widest part of the bike).
  • Realize that potholes and giant dead squirrels in the lane are more likely to cause trauma to a bike with trailer.
  • Realize that our ability to dodge and weave is going to be lower, for the same reason our turning radius is whack.
  • I may ride further from the curb, based on the width of my trailer wheels. Getting one of those in a curb ridge is unpretty.
  • Don’t lean out your window and yell GET A CAR at me. I have a car, thanks. My bike trailer does a far better job of getting my younger child to take a motion-induced nap.
  • If you are a fellow cyclist, be especially careful about wheel overlap. It applies to my trailer as well as to my bicycle’s wheels. Use caution while passing. I am a slow moving wide load.
  • If you are a fellow cyclist, stop making yuks at me about speed. I am towing 50+ pounds of child. My hamstrings feel this. Don’t be a doofus about it.

Obviously, motorists without consideration for cyclists aren’t going to be any kinder to a trailer. But those who show basic consideration don’t always realize the differences with a trailer. The turning radius thing is huge. Space to curb is also pretty significant.