Stop de Kindermoord (Stop the Child Murder)

Most cyclists in America are aware that the Netherlands is a cycling country. So much so, that nationwide, 27% of all trips in the Netherlands are by bicycle. Digest that statistic for a moment. That means, over one quarter of all trips in the Netherlands are by bicycle. So how’d the Dutch arrive there?

A lot of articles on the subject point to a movement in the 1970s calls “Stop de Kindermoord” which literally translates to English as “Stop the Child Murder.” The following is a quote from David Hembrow on a blog post of his:

1973 was also the year that the pressure group “Stop de Kindermoord” (“Stop the Child Murder”) started. The object of this group was to point out the number of deaths caused to children and to campaign to reduce them. They successfully influenced the Dutch government to re-emphasize building of segregated cycle paths, and to make money available to pay for them. This resulted in both a rise in cycling and a reduction in cyclist deaths, reversing the previous trend. It has been a success not only for child cyclists, but for all cyclists, and indeed for the population as a whole.

In my opinion, campaigning for children is the best way to make progress in America. People for Bikes has recently taken this idea and started their own campaign: Build it for Isabella. It’s a simple concept: “Every new bike project should strive to be usable by a 12-year old.”

Here’s Isabella:

Isabella
Source: http://www.peopleforbikes.org/green-lane-project/pages/build-it-for-isabella

When considering current designs of infrastructure in the Denver area, I have a hard time imagining Isabella riding on most of our infrastructure.

For example, can you envision her sharing the road when sharrows are involved?

Denver Sharrows on Sherman St

What about even buffered bike lanes like this?

Champa St Bike Lane

Or is this more like it?

Bannock Cycle Track

The above looks like something Isabella could safely ride on, if she’s heading toward the photo. But what about the bike lane for those riding away from the photo?

I would also like to point out that protected tracks like pictured above are not enough. Protected intersections are also necessary. The Bannock cycle track posted above abruptly ends, leaving Isabella on the sidewalk, mixing with pedestrians and riding through crosswalks. (The sign in the photo below cautioning cyclists to slow has since been removed.) There is no clear indication of where she can safely ride from here.

Bannock Cycle Track Ends

We even have here in Denver, the first of what cycling advocates are calling a protected lane in the form of the 15th Street Bikeway. It has many positive design elements, such as:

  1. A protected buffer from the rest of traffic (done with plastic sticks bollards).
  2. Intersection treatments, like green zebra strips.
  3. Bicycle signals at the end of the track.

Here again though, the design has serious deficiencies that would keep Isabella’s parents from considering it safe for her:

  1. “Mixing zones” where cars need to turn left across the bike lane.

    Source: https://www.denvergov.org/bikeprogram/BicyclinginDenver/15thStreetBikeway/tabid/444594/Default.aspx
  2. A lack of interconnected routes.
  3. Abrupt ending of the lane where cyclists must merge back in with traffic.

Denver can and should do better. If we ever want to cycling to reach double digits modal share, or to see our children cycling like the Dutch we need to do better. This video is something that I think we can achieve in American cities:

How the U.S.’s Bicycle Infrastructure Fails the Rural Cyclist

Greetings long time readers. Thanks for bearing with me during my hiatus from posting as well as the moving around of things. If you’re still reading this, you’re a dedicated friend. ūüôā

I’d like to take a moment and discuss Cherokee Schill’s fight in Kentucky. The basic gist, she’s been fighting a court battle over whether or not she has the right to ride in the middle of a lane on a busy highway running between two towns in Kentucky. I’m not familiar with the highway or traffic conditions at all, so I’m not going to express an opinion except for this, she should have never have been placed in a position to have to make that choice.

The U.S.’s bicycle infrastructure has failed Cherokee Schill and has failed every other cyclist who has been forced to make the choice of taking the lane on a busy highway and possibly incurring the wrath of local law enforcement (even if the law allows you to take the lane) or riding in a shoulder poorly designed for cyclists. Either option is also not seen as safe by the general public, nor is either option pleasant for cyclists who chose to brave these highways.

We can do better. Infrastructure for cyclists, where it exists in the U.S., is piss poor. This is doubly so for rural highways where motorized traffic speeds are much higher.

Take a look at this video:

This is great cycling infrastructure from the Dutch. They’ve got this figured out.

Compare that to conditions that Cherokee Schill encounters on her commute:

Yes, Cherokee had a shoulder. It’s difficult to tell, but there is a rumble strip on that shoulder that is no fun for cyclists to cross. It also difficult to see if and what kind of debris exists on the shoulder. That’s not a road that the large majority of people in the U.S. would ride their bicycle on, much less on a daily basis for their commute. Kudos to Cherokee for braving that road.

Bicycling will never become mainstream for transportation in the U.S. until we step up our game and design and provide infrastructure that is on par with that of the Dutch.

Making Denver a Cycle Haven pt. 2: Better Bike Share

Denver B-Cycle is great. I’ve used it many times during the last season. Let me say though, it has huge room for improvement.

A few ideas:

  1. Make B-Cycle a year round thing. I was disappointed when they closed B-Cycle for winter hibernation. While I can sort of understand the reasoning, its utility is severely diminished when it gets closed for a few months out of the year. Then, I get an email today that they delayed its reopening by two weeks.
  2. Saturate the city with kiosks, expand beyond Denver. This should go without saying. B-Cycle should have a thousand kiosks in the Denver area with ten thousand bicycles. For now, I’ll settle for some more outside of the core of Denver.
  3. Kiosks that actually work. I was extremely frustrated last year with some of the touch screens. They didn’t work, became unresponsive, and few times, the station two blocks from my house hadn’t woken up yet. I was unable to retrieve a bike.
  4. Bells on the bike that the hammers don’t break off of.
  5. Cheap prices, similar to Dublin’s bike share. Did you know, that for only ten euro (about fourteen U.S. Dollars), you can get a year long subscription? Much better than B-Cycles sixty-five dollar cost.

Really, I’m being very critical of B-Cycle. It is a great system. I would be entirely happy with it if I could get a bike throughout the entire year.

Making Denver a Cycle Haven pt.1: Colfax Bike Lane

Colfax Ave in Denver is a 26 mile long arterial that stretches from the west end of Denver all the way to the east end of Denver. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but it is often thought of as the longest continuous street in Denver.

It serves as an important arterial, with two of RTD’s busiest bus lines running down it (the 15, 16 and respective Ltds). It is also often considered a blight on our fine city. Many sections of Colfax are run down with crime and poverty. The local communities have tried many things in an attempt at urban renewal with mixed results.

I’m not saying this is going to be a panacea for all of Colfax’s problems, but what if, an easy fix were to take away the car traffic and make a 22.6 mile bike lane along Colfax? It could easily become a heavily bike trafficked corridor with safe and easy access to much of Denver’s neighborhoods.

My idea, would be to run a bike lane from where Colfax meets US6 near its west end in Golden to the intersection of Colfax and Tower Rd near its east end in Aurora.

22.6 miles of bike lane

Now of course there would have to be significant re-engineering of Colfax and traffic lanes removed in many sections. Particularly at the viaduct of I-25 and the train tracks. It also gets rather narrow as it passes through the old sections of Capitol Hill.

I’m not saying this would be easy by any stretch of the imagination. I do believe, however, it is possible and would love to see some municipalities start this initiative.

Becoming Even More Bicycle Friendly

Was sitting on the bus today, watching a cyclist hug the curb of Wewatta St in Denver. Obviously, he was aware that the street was safer for him than the sidewalk, but he still wasn’t positioning himself in the safest position in the lane.

So, I ask the question many vehicular cyclists want to ignore. How do we get ordinary citizens on the road, cycling in a safe manner?

How can we make bicyclists feel comfortable riding on a big span of concrete and asphalt such as the picture below?

Wewatta and Park Ave
Stolen from Google Maps

The answer does not lie in vehicular cycling dogma. You can tell cyclists all you want that the safest position for them is in the center of the lane. You can even tell motorists the same. There will still be conflicts, there will still be cyclists who fear the street. Who can blame them? Roads like these were obviously designed for cars with any other users simply an afterthought.

Let’s turn to Copenhagen and Amsterdam and the other famous cycling friendly cities in Europe. They’re doing something right if 37% of commuters in Copenhagen ride bicycles.

Traffic Skills 101 Impressions

Over the last weekend, I took part in the LAB‘s Traffic Skills 101 course. The league describes the course as:

Gives cyclists the confidence they need to ride safely and legally in traffic or on the trail. The course covers bicycle safety checks, fixing a flat, on-bike skills and crash avoidance techniques and includes a student manual. Recommended for adults and children above age fourteen, this fast-paced, nine-hour course prepares cyclists for a full understanding of vehicular cycling.

I found the course quite interesting and useful. It is a rare situation when you get cyclists together from all walks of life. We had a man about my age there who didn’t even own his own bicycle – he borrowed his friend’s Huffy. We also had a few cyclists who had done some amazing road rides such as the Triple Bypass. We had a director from the local bike advocacy group there – as a participant! – as well as other people from various advocacy groups.

As for the actual course content, it was a mix of discussing the local traffic laws, bicycle maintenance and vehicular cycling. Despite the description above, there was very little trail discussion.

The “classroom” discussions were kinda dry and boring. Involved talking about local traffic laws (such as Colorado’s Three Feet law), types of crashes and how to avoid them, and the ever interesting discussion on bicycle clothing (*yawn*).

The fun came with the part where you actually sit on the saddle.  We started out in a parking lot where the instructors had placed halves of tennis balls in various configurations.

The first exercise was the quick stop maneuver. Easy enough, simple pull on the brakes, the front harder than the rear, and slide your ass back off the saddle as far as you can.

Second exercise was a quick turn. We approached the turn, and just right before the turn, flipped the handlebars to the left, then punched it to the right. This made for a very high speed right turn. Perfect for avoiding those right hooks.

Third exercise was a rock dodge. Simple, just flick the handlebars in either direction to avoid the rock and with some miracle of physics, the front wheel goes on one side of the rock and the rear goes on the other side.

The final exercise was the funnest. Involved going through a slalom at varying speeds and varying “tightness”. Helps you get a feel for how the bike handles with just leaning. The tough part was to make it through the slalom without turning the handlebars at all. Doable, but very difficult.

Then came the road course. We took off on a few (of like a billion) of Aurora’s high speed arterial roads. Even involved a bit of a six lane road with 45mph speed limit. Using proper Vehicular Cycling techniques, one can easily ride on these roads without too much headache. The one big advantage we had was being a group. Its hard to miss eight cyclists in one big long line.

We maybe spent a total of 15 minutes on a local bike path. This is understandable. IMO, a bike path is easy to ride. The biggest rules are keep it slow and yield to pedestrians. Its also nice if you keep right and announce your passes (please, please, please announce your passes).

Do I think TS101 is a necessary course? Oh god no. However, if you live in neighborhood where your local road opens up to a high speed arterial and you’ve had too many close calls on them sidewalks, you might wanna look into it. It may give you the confidence and necessary knowledge to handle it safely.

(Disclaimer: This does not mean I’ve become one of the John Forester, anti-bicycling facilities maniacs. I’m still all for well designed infrastructure for cyclists, including bike lanes, sharrows, bike paths, separated bike tracks, bike boulevards, etc)

A Few Words on Sharrows

Sharrows? What are those funny things?

If you’ve ever driven through Denver, you probably have seen these funny looking things but have no idea what they really mean. Denver has been using these things for years. They’re not something new.

According to the Wikipedia article on “Shared lane marking“, the term sharrow is a combination of SHared lane and ARROW.

Sharrow + Handlebar
Sharrows on a Denver Street

Now these are relatively recent markings in the history of pavement markings. Sharrows really only serve two purposes:

  • Assist bicyclists with lateral lane positioning
  • Alert other road users to potential bicyclists on the road

A proper sharrow is placed far enough away from the curb as to encourage cyclists to ride out of door zones and in a more visible location on the road.

Sharrows on Sherman
Sharrows down Sherman St in Denver

In a recent San Francisco study, sharrows have been shown to encourage cyclists to ride further out into the road and away from the “door zone” of parked cars. Cars have also been shown to give cyclists a wider birth when they pass in the presence of sharrows.

So now, when you see a sharrow lining the city streets, you have a better idea of what those funny looking things that aren’t quite bicycle lanes are.