Category Archives: Advocacy

Non-Car in a COVID-19 World

There has been a lot of discussion as to what is ‘safe’ in terms of outdoor exercise and transportation over the last few weeks with the implied threat of COVID-19 infections.

Unfortunately, early on in the onslaught of information, there was a lot of poorly done ‘research’ into the subject of how the disease was being spread, and people with little grounding in infectious diseases and epidemiology jumped into the fray adding noise to the signal. The result is that there remains a lot of misunderstanding about the risks of riding, running and walking outdoors during this time.

Now we are finally beginning to get some fairly balanced information from multiple sources that indicate a very different reality. One that is telling us that we need to stay active both for our health, and for our ability to combat the virus if/when we are infected. What we are also discovering is that running, walking and cycling, while practicing social distancing are good options, for both transportation and fitness.

Why you’re unlikely to get the coronavirus from runners or cyclists (Vox.com)

One of the aspects of all of this that is going to be a challenge as we reopen the world is a new dynamic. Public transportation, like busses and heavy rail are going to problematic. Ride sharing solutions like Uber and Lyft are also facing harsh new realities. Individual personal light transportation platforms are poised for a huge surge. That means bikes, e-bikes, e-scooters, e-skateboard, and many other options are suddenly rising to the forefront of both fitness and transportation worlds.

To such a degree, that the World Health Organization has made statements directly addressing this with an announcement that cycling is encouraged, both as transport and as a way of staying healthy during the global crisis.

In a statement the organisation said: “While cities around the world are introducing a broad range of measures to limit physical contacts to prevent and slow down the COVID-19 pandemic, many people might still have a need to move around cities to reach their workplaces when possible, meet essential daily needs or provide assistance to vulnerable people”

“Whenever feasible, consider riding bicycles or walking: this provides physical distancing while helping to meet the minimum requirement for daily physical activity, which may be more difficult due to increased teleworking, and limited access to sport and other recreational activities.”

Most of the United States infrastructure is ill equipped to handle this new reality, with few non-car transportation, non-public transit corridors. It will be important for cities and communities to quickly embrace this new reality, with short and long term plans to deal with the slow return of cars to the roadways mixed in with the broad reemergence of other non-car transpotation models.

Ride Guides: When to Filter on the Right

A common question in the cycling world is when is appropriate to filter to the front of a line of traffic.

As with so many things there are multiple approaches to the question, but let us provide a guide to work with here. 

First things first, what is the legality of filtering on a bicycle in Georgia?

The relevant law in Georgia is 40-6-43

O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-6-43:

(a) The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass upon the right of another vehicle only under the following circumstances:

1) When the vehicle being overtaken is making or about to make a left turn; or

2) Upon a street or highway with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lanes of moving vehicles in the direction being traveled by the overtaking vehicle.

(b)  If otherwise authorized, the driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety.  Such movement shall not be made by driving off the roadway.

With that in mind, if there is enough road space to the right to pass, a bike may legally pass on the right, particularly in light the ta bike MAY use a shoulder, while a car cannot.

Establishing that bikes CAN pass on the right, and when that is appropriate is fairly easy.  The secondary and perhaps more important question becomes SHOULD they pass on the right, and when is it appropriate.

The question of should boils down to road knowledge and awareness. If you do not know the road, then it is not a good choice to filter forward until you do know the road or can see the other side of the intersection. More important to the decision of if it is appropriate to filter forward is not a question of do you have space on the near side of the intersection, but does that space continue to the far side of the intersection? If the space exists on the far side of the intersection, and allows for a reasonable and safe space to merge into traffic if needed on the far side of the intersection, then for a single rider, or up to about 4 riders it is usually appropriate to filter. There are exceptions, like if the light signal is about to turn green, then holding your place in line is probably the better choice.

For groups though, once there are more than 4 riders together, it is rarely appropriate to filter forward. With a couple of exceptions, the one that seems to crop up the most often is the stop on a steep uphill.  Lights are usually placed on plateaus in hills, and since bikes are at MUCH higher risk of falling during starts on steep uphills, if there is space, a group should slide to the flatter space to reduce the risk of a crash or fall on the hill.

When filtering though, it is never appropriate to ‘swarm’ cars.  Filter along the right, but do not give in to the urge to also flood up the left.

Like most things, this will require situational awareness, and individual ride leaders may opt for slightly different approaches, so please allow them the leeway to dictate how their rides will be run.

Speed Limit Sign

Drivers, please note the wording of a speed sign. It is a speed limit right? 

consider the operational word: limit

limit
[ˈlimit]
NOUN
a point or level beyond which something does not or may not extend or pass.
“the limits of presidential power” · [more]
a restriction on the size or amount of something permissible or possible.
“an age limit” · [more]
synonyms:
maximum · ceiling · limitation · upper limit · restriction · curb · check · [more]
mathematics
a point or value that a sequence, function, or sum of a series can be made to approach progressively, until it is as close to the point or value as desired.
VERB
set or serve as a limit to.
“try to limit the amount you drink” · [more]

Is it a ‘speed recommendation’?

Is it a ‘speed requirement’?

Is it a ‘speed minimum’?

No. It is a limit. max, and unless otherwise posted, there is no minimum, and no legal expectation that it is an expected speed of travel either.

Irreconcilable Actions

There are so many things about anti-cycling aggression that I simply cannot reconcile. Obviously, I spend an enormous amount of time in advocacy efforts both online and in person.  I also ride, a lot. As I ride, I get to see a great number of behaviors from people that range from respectful to frustrated to aggressive, all the way to potentially deadly.

For the past week I was on vacation.  I took one of my bikes with me, and I rode at least 30 miles every day, using a mix of road, bike lane, road attached bike path and even some off road trail. Some miles in cycling kit, some not, some even without a helmet *gasp*, which is not something I normally advocate, but I was testing a theory.

The week was spent in a beach destination location, Destin, FL in the panhandle, where bikes and pedestrians are a prominent fixture within the infrastructure, though the infrastructure is incomplete, and in many ways, VERY broken.  Still largely a car centric beach town, there are bike lanes, bike paths, sidewalks, and lots of infrastructure elements that should make cycling fairly attractive. In addition to the infrastructure, the roads are completely and utterly overwhelmed by automotive traffic. One would think that in this environment, all kinds of non-car options would be popular and desired. The reality is far worse than it should be.

If you do not know the area, it is a peninsula of land between the ocean and bay about 25 miles long. At its widest it MIGHT be 4.5 miles.  For most of the way, there is one main road, US-98, and at various points, 1 or 2 alternate routes stretching from the Okaloosa Island bridge to the end of the bay north of Grayton Beach off of 30A.  There is a bunch of residential and visitor lodging along here, and that translates to a very high number of cars.

To combat this, many visitors get to their destinations and rent bicycles or golf carts to get around for the duration of their visit. Bikes are everywhere. People of all ages are riding them.  Barefoot, flip-flops, swimwear, no helmets, no safety equipment.  They are traversing bike lanes and bike paths, often on sidewalks. They use bike racks. In short, they treat bikes like transportation.  They have fun on them, and respect them while they ride them, all while getting frustrated with drivers that do not give the right of way to the bike paths or the walkers blocking the paths walking 5-7 wide.  Then they park the bikes.  They walk or jog on the same paths and sidewalks and get angry at the bikes crowding them, while railing at the cars that fail to respect the bike paths and sidewalks.  Then it is time for lunch, dinner or a grocery run so they hop in the car, and immediately disrespect the bike paths, sidewalks and bike lanes that they just enjoyed.

And even with all of this, when they go home, they cannot see a bike as anything but a toy.

In 7 days of bike rides along this corridor, I lost count of the number of drivers who pulled in front of cyclists and pedestrians alike at the various intersection conflict points, realized the error and shouted ‘sorry’. The drivers did not take anything from those conflicts, since I saw several do it several times in a single drive ( the joy of riding a bike when car traffic is stop and go and averaging just 6-10mph ). These same drivers fail, consistently to respect the bike and pedestrian spaces, even while they enjoy using them, complete with complaints towards the cars that do not respect them.

Then of course there is the same level of disconnected infrastructure that plagues most of the country.  Bike Lanes that begin and end with little to no warning.  Bike Lanes on roads with 65mph speed limits. Sidewalks that stop and start at random intervals. Bike Paths that are multi-use paths, where bikes really aren’t welcome. Poor signage indicating what is and is not legal. For example Florida is one of just a handful of states in which bikes may indeed use the sidewalks.  It is also a state that requires the use of a bike lane if it is present, unless it is unsafe to use ( which is sadly the case for most of them, but local law enforcement seemed determined to stick to the first part of that while ignoring the later and they really do not like non residents pointing that out to them ). Helmets are not required, and only the serious cyclists will be seen wearing them with any regularity.

It is a beautiful thing to see so many bikes, pedestrians, skateboards, scooters and runners out an about without their cars. Lots of smiles.  People waving, chatting, enjoying the outdoors.  It only marred by the disconnect that occurs as soon as we get behind the wheel of a car.

While riding on the same roads as the rented mopeds and golf carts, having the occupants cheer as a bike rides past them, moving over to make space for the bike, and then mixing with cars who go out of their way to block the same bikes from passing. This is a behavior that I have seen for years away from bike friendly infrastructure when dealing with cars. 

The only conclusion that I keep circling back to is this:

Something about the operation of a car has a fundamental psychologic impact upon us.  When we get behind the wheel of a car, we become almost pathologically selfish and isolated, with a must get ahead of *that* person, as all costs.  We take obscene risks with other peoples lives in the interests of getting somewhere just a few seconds faster.

When it comes to advocacy of anything that is not a car, that is the one thing we have to change.  Everything else is slapping a bandaid patch onto that problem. 

Because really, it might just be the car that is the problem.

Why Not Ride On The Right Line?

When you ride on the roads a lot, you learn that lane positioning and movement directly impact driver behaviors around you. Unfortunately, no amount of prevention can overcome the oblivious driver, as evidenced by the frequency of rear end crashes that occur daily, not just involving bikes. Sometimes it is interesting to see just what it is like to ride the white line as so many drivers think they want.

In the video, this is one ride, 11 miles in the middle of October. There are no bike lanes to be in, and the rider is aggressively trying to ‘share the road’…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAYqlz-Ahzs

Do Our Streets Make Us Unhappy?

Quite an interesting OpEd in the Washington Post. Some of the numbers quoted in the piece are very specific to Washington DC, however, the averages around the country for metro cities in terms land use are pretty close to those. The number of non-car homes is much higher in DC than many cities (like Atlanta that lacks robust transit options).

One particular quote really stands out, and it is something that we are hearing more and more from city planners, both large and small:

“We’ve built an unsustainable transportation network that makes all of us feel isolated, vulnerable and embattled, no matter how we’re getting around.”

While even if we have rich and robust non-car support in our transportation budgets and spaces, many people will still opt to drive, but the path we are on makes driving the only viable option, and that just makes the problems worse.

http://Do Our Streets Make Us Unhappy?

My Love/Hate Relationship with the “Group Ride”

After 30 years in the saddle, one would think I would have come to terms with most aspects of cycling, and resolved my own conflicted thoughts on some of the dynamics that exist within the sport and activity of cycling. Over 100,000 accumulated miles ridden, at an estimated average speed of about 15 miles per hour, that is over 6500 hours of time to ponder life, the universe and everything cycling. By now I should have solved all of the worlds problems. In reality, I haven’t solved any of my own, and when it comes to the “Group Ride”, I think all of that time has served only to muddy the issue for me.

As a cyclist, I view the dynamics of the Group Ride as a mixed bag because it brings out both the best and the worst aspects of cyclists on the whole. At the same time, it also represents one of the single best tools for engaging and educating new riders, while also serving to alienate drivers around them that may be potential cyclists. Hopefully, you see the issue. The Group Ride is both a very good thing, and a very bad thing at the same time, and reconciling the good versus the bad against each other is incredibly difficult.

Let me take a step back and explain, for the non-riders and those who eschew the Group Ride, why so many riders look to the Group Ride:

  • Learn to ride on the roads without the exposure of being on the roads
  • Comfort that if you have a problem, there are other riders to help you get home
  • Safety in numbers, with a group of riders on the roads, cars are forced to be aware of the group
  • Learn to ride in close quarters with others
  • Learn to draft
  • Social engagement with others who share a common interest in cycling
  • See roads outside of the comfort zone

The bad however is not a short list either:

  • Hammerhead “Type A” personalities that turn every group into a race
  • Cycling elitism (bikes, kits, accessories, Strava)
  • Automotive antagonism
  • Teaches some ‘bad’ road etiquette
  • Increased risk of bike to bike crashes
  • Not really ‘training’ opportunities
  • Teaches riding to other people’s pacing
  • Fails to reinforce strong bike handling skills
  • Fails to teach good safety practices on the roads

A few of these issues, others will quibble with. If there is a universal truth in cycling, it is that no group of cyclists can agree on anything, ever. However, for me, these are the core issues. Some of them can be mitigated by the culture of a given group ride, but the biggest one really is a struggle, and that is the antagonism that a Group Ride creates between drivers and cyclists, and there is no way to really combat the issue.

There are some common methods advised, and even employed by groups, but they are really ineffective, because no matter what action a group takes on the roads, it simply cannot make itself as easy to pass as a single rider, which even a single rider riding as far right as practicable makes challenging for drivers on roads that have failed to take into account the mixed needs of slow and fast moving traffic sharing a single space.

So, with all of that said, do the merits of the Group Ride outweigh the negatives? I think they do, but it falls upon the ride organizers to work to mitigate potential conflicts of the various negative issues. However, I suggest two additions, and it is something that I am working to incorporate into the Group Events that I lead and organize.

  • Reduce the size of the sub groups within a Group Event to no more than 10-12 riders per
  • Choose routes that incorporate roads that are better able to support larger groups

The second item is going to cause some consternation amongst both drivers and riders alike.

You see, this means going counter to the current trend of routing group events out of towns and onto lesser travelled “back roads”. Instead, we will be using more 4 lane parkways, both with and without bike infrastructure where we can. It also means targeting roads with existing and emerging bike facilities. Why? because these are locations where a group can significantly mitigate the inconvenience factor that generates the antagonism as the additional lane provides an easier passing space while clearly marked and available bike facilities paired with bikes using them sends a clear message that bikes are expected to be there.

All of that said, for solo and small groups of riders (less than 5), it is important to remember and reinforce that every road that is not part of a limited access highway is a bike lane.