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.

Banning Cyclists Completely on 16th Street

The downtown Denver partnership is looking to ban bicycles completely from the 16th street mall after a tragic collision occurred between a mall shuttle and an elderly rider a couple Sundays ago.

From an article in the Denver Daily, the DDP spokeswoman says

‚ÄúWe still feel that bicyclists on the mall, when you combine the pedestrians and all the RTD shuttles, that that‚Äôs not a good equation,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúAnd I think Sunday‚Äôs accident illustrates that even though Sunday is a very low traffic day‚Ķwe need to look at Sundays and our bike policy on the 16th Street Mall.‚ÄĚ

Let’s keep in mind the following that comes from the cited Denver Post article above:

The driver has been ticketed for careless driving resulting in serious bodily injury, said John White, a Denver Police Department spokesman.

Some further details from an article on 9News’ website:

RTD Spokesman Scott Reed says the bus driver honked at the cyclist, but instead the noise startled him. Reed says a witness told RTD the cyclist then slammed on his brakes and flew over his handlebars and the bus driver ran over his right leg.

This is clearly the shuttle driver’s fault. The shuttle driver not only could have avoided the accident by hitting his brakes first, before honking his horn. Also, the shuttle driver was even cited by the police for careless driving.

How does this make sense? Instead of taking time to properly train the shuttle drivers, making sure that they drive safely and not carelessly, they’re just going to get rid of cyclists? What if the cyclist was a pedestrian instead? Would the DDP turn around and ban pedestrians as well?

This is a perfect example of the “sacred bull in society’s china shop.”

Instead of focusing on the real problem, the shuttle buses that are potentially deadly machinery, we focus on restricting the road users who are most vulnerable. This is very often the case with road safety campaigns. Ridiculous.

HB 1147 and the Culture of Fear

Helmets are all the rage in today’s cycling culture. Many feel that cyclists would be a lot safer if everyone wore these helmets while cycling. We’ve even gone so far as to mandate cyclists wear one in many municipalities.

The issue recently came up in Colorado with HB 1147, which in its original revision would have mandated anyone under 18 to wear a helmet while operating a non-motorized wheeled conveyance. A few people were shocked (such as @AndyMan1) when I called it a win for Colorado that the mandatory helmet law portion of the bill was cut out. After all, isn’t keeping brains inside the skull a good thing?

Continue reading HB 1147 and the Culture of Fear

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.

Denver’s New Bicycle Related¬†Ordinances

I know its a bit late, but I just read an article on BikeDenver’s blog about Denver’s new bicycle ordinances.

Alot was changed to reflect state law, but there’s a couple new ordinances that I like:

Riding on Sidewalks for the Purpose of Parking: Denver law will now allow bicyclists to ride on the sidewalk not in excess of 6 miles per hour if they are within one block of the location where they plan to park their bike.

Finally, a sensible sidewalk solution. FYI: Its a terrible idea to ride from point A to point B using sidewalks. However, what about parking? Previously, to be legal, you’d have to dismount and walk your bicycle. Now, you can ride to your parking location if you do it slowly as any good cyclist should do when on sidewalks.

Right to Ride on Roadways: Language requiring bicyclists to ride on adjacent pathways if available was eliminated from the City code.  This makes it legal to ride a bike on any Denver roadway, including Speer Boulevard.

I am so glad to see them get rid of the mandatory adjacent side path rule. Thanks to the rule, all of Speer Blvd and a few other roads were off limits to cyclists due to the adjacent paths. Unfortunately, these paths are not always ideal for cycling, and their on/off ramps don’t always occur often enough to be useful. Now, you can legally make use of the adjacent road ways.

Read the whole article on BikeDenver’s website.

Thousand Mile Report

Sometime last week, I reached one thousand miles on my bicycle since I purchased it in May. I must say, I am rather proud of my accomplishment.

What I have noticed about riding:

  • Short trips are quicker via bicycle than car or feet. (Less than 3 miles)
  • My endurance and stamina has increased dramatically.
  • My resting heart rate went from 75-80bpm to 60-65bpm.
  • I drink lots of water.
  • My coworkers think I don’t own a car.
  • While I used to think 20 miles was crazy via bicycle, I now realize its not that hard at all.

I have also upgraded a few components of my bicycle from stock form and added new things to it. I’ve probably spent way more on my bicycle than I originally intended, but it was well worth it.

Wanna start riding a bicycle more? I highly suggest doing it. You don’t even need to purchase a new bike. Use whatever you got.¬† Find something used at a garage sale, or on craigslist. Really, just about any bike will work for city riding.

Start by riding once or twice a week on a regular basis. Live within 10 miles to work? Start there. Trip to work too long? Try taking a portion of it via public transit. In Denver, all buses and the light rail have provisions for bicycles.

After a bit it becomes just another part of your daily routine. I now find myself drooling over new fancy bicycles and keep looking at new components to upgrade to.

In Colorado, bicycles have a right to share the road with motor vehicles.

Share The RoadSome resources:

  1. Bicycle Colorado – Statewide bicycle advocacy group
  2. Bike Denver – Citywide bicycle advocacy group
  3. CDOT Bicycle Manual – A great overview of rules and safety tips for riding bicycles in Colorado

Fighting Bicycle Ninjas

Having ridden my bicycle at night, I’m constantly amazed at how many cyclists don’t have lights. I call them bicycle ninjas.

Albuquerque has a great program fighting bicycle ninjas: It appears they are giving out warnings for improper equipment with free lights!

This would be a great idea in Denver. I’ve already sent an e-mail to the Denver Mayor in hopes that he might establish a program like this.