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African American Cyclists — And Others — Weigh in on Race and Biking

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Yesterday I wrote about a complicated subject: the links between biking and race in the United States.

It’s the first in an ongoing series over the next three months that will finish with a report about ways that marginalized Americans are pushing for protected bike lanes and other quality infrastructure. In our first post, we looked at the fact that African Americans use bikes at a slightly lower rate than other Americans even though African American heads of household are twice as likely to live without a car.

We asked “Why don’t more African Americans ride bicycles?“, and as we hoped, we’ve received many thoughtful replies so far. Here are a few. I’ve boldfaced some of the writers’ key points.

Marven Norman, vice president of the Inland Empire Biking Alliance in central California:

Every single day, I continue to see hundreds of people of color(s) on bikes bumping along on sidewalks or hugging curbs of hostile arterials. Yet, absolutely nothing is done for bikes in those areas where they’re often most needed. For example, there’s not even so much as a ‘sharrow’ in a lot of LA south of I-10. The “MyFiguerora” project stops right by USC and the enhancements on MLK aren’t even worth talking about in the context of connecting the community further than again, USC. The same trend is repeated in other cities all throughout SoCal and is a pattern I’m sure any community activist in other parts of the country can relate to as well: black/brown communities lack bike accommodations.

Then there’s the issue of the metric being used. The fallacy of measuring bike demand/usage solely by ‘commute trips‘ rears its ugly head highest when we’re discussing the segment of the population that has higher unemployment than the population at large. As it is, people are more apt to jump on their bike for a ride to a shop maybe 2 miles away than to ride 10 to get to work. (Yes, I’m aware that of plenty people actually do ride farther than that, myself being one of them on occasion.) Yet, measuring only commutes, especially given the aforementioned biases, continues to result in in the conclusion that there’s no reason to build anything.

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Why Do African Americans Tend to Bike Less?

Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks, right, in Copenhagen with Downtown Denver Partnership Director Tami Door.

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

It took a week in Copenhagen for Albus Brooks to start thinking seriously about bicycling.

The Denver City Council member, 35, had never owned a bike. By the time he headed home from a study tour in Denmark last month, he knew those days were over.

“We biked every day, so I found myself, on a personal point, increasingly happy,” Brooks said, laughing, in an interview last week. “I was a very happy person by the end of that trip.”

So Brooks came home and bought his first bicycle, a Danish-style city bike. When he rode it to a meeting of other African American community leaders, eager to spread his conclusion that bike transportation could be as important as mass transit to improving central Denver, he got a first-hand lesson in the size of the task he had decided to tackle.

“I came in in a suit and a bike helmet,” he recalled. “These were all middle-class African Americans that do not ride bikes. And they looked at me as if I was an alien.”

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Streetsblog NYC 28 Comments

The Citi Bike Deal Is Great News for Other Cities Too

Bay Area Bike-Share, shown here in San Jose, is one of several systems that should be able to fulfill expansion plans quicker after REQX Ventures acquires a controlling stake in Alta Bicycle Share. Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

Andrew Tangel at the Wall Street Journal had an encouraging update this week on the Citi Bike buyout plan first reported by Dana Rubinstein in Capital New York. It looks like the city is days away from announcing a deal in which REQX Ventures, an affiliate of the Related Companies and its Equinox unit, will buy out Alta Bicycle Share, the company that operates Citi Bike. The implications are big — not just for bike-share in New York, but for several other major American cities as well.

REQX would acquire a majority stake in Alta Bicycle Share, bringing new management and a much deeper reservoir of financial resources to the company. Vexing problems with Citi Bike’s operations, software, and bike supply chain are expected to be addressed, though it’s not clear yet where the next round of bikes will come from.

For New York, the terms of the deal mean the price of Citi Bike annual memberships will rise from $95 to the $140 range, while the service area will expand substantially. A source familiar with the situation said the plan is to get new stations operating by next spring. The larger service area could reach as far north as 145th Street, according to the source, while extending into western Queens as well as a ring of Brooklyn neighborhoods around the current boundaries.

One aspect of the news that hasn’t been getting much notice is that several other bike-share systems will also be affected. As Payton Chung noted last week, Alta-operated systems in Chicago, DC, Boston, and San Francisco have all been hamstrung by bike supply problems the company had been unable to solve. The buyout should break the logjam holding back expansion plans in those cities and allow system launches in Baltimore, Portland, and Vancouver to progress.

The last two years have been simultaneously thrilling and frustrating for American bike-share, with rapid adoption in major cities accompanied by performance glitches and long waits for system expansions. The outlook for 2015 seems a lot sunnier.

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Satirical “Bicycle Lobby” Twitter Account Fakes Out Media Giants

The parody Twitter account "Bicycle Lobby" jokingly claimed to have placed white flags on top of the Brooklyn bridge this week. Reporters from the AP and New York Daily News didn't get it.

Reporters from the AP and New York Daily News took a tweet from the @BicycleLobby account a little too seriously.

The @BicycleLobby Twitter account is a parody inspired by last year’s unhinged rant about bike-share from Wall Street Journal columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz. Its running joke for the past 13 months has been that “the all-powerful bike lobby” envisioned by Rabinowitz is real — and yes, it controls the universe.

Sample tweet from July 20: “Today is the 45th anniversary of the day we faked the Moon landing.”

So when someone noticed this morning that the American flags atop the Brooklyn Bridge had been replaced with white flags, naturally @BicycleLobby took credit:

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The funny thing is, some big news organizations took the bait. First the New York Daily News and then the Associated Press reported that bicyclists had claimed credit for the prank. Not long after, those early reports were scrubbed from the Daily News site and the paper was calling it a mystery. But News 1130 in Vancouver, BC, was still carrying the AP story at 2 p.m.

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Study: People Living Near Biking and Walking Paths Get More Exercise

Walking and biking activity increased for people living near new facilities, in three U.K. communities examined. Connect2 is the name of the nonprofit group that helped install the infrastructure. Image: American Journal of Public Health

New bike/ped infrastructure in three UK communities (labeled “Connect2″ — the name of the nonprofit group that helped install the infrastructure) led to more physical activity. Graph: American Journal of Public Health

People who live near safe, high-quality biking and walking infrastructure tend to get more exercise than people who don’t, according to a study published last week in the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers surveyed randomly selected adults before and after new bike/ped infrastructure was built in three communities in the U.K. Two of the selected communities opened bike and pedestrian bridges with well-connected “feeder” infrastructure. The other community upgraded “an informal riverside footpath” into a boardwalk during the study period.

Over two years, about 1,500 people responded to annual surveys about their walking and biking habits as well as other exercise behavior. During the first year of the survey — before the bike/ped improvements had been completed — there was no difference in biking and walking levels between people living close to the project areas and people living farther away. But by the final survey year, after the new infrastructure had been built, a disparity began to emerge.

Researchers found that people living within 0.6 miles of a protected bikeway got about 45 minutes more exercise biking and walking per week than people living 2.5 miles away. For every kilometer (0.6 miles) closer respondents lived to the infrastructure improvement, they exercised roughly 15 minutes more per week. People without access to a car were most likely to exercise more in response to the infrastructure improvements.

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What’s the Best Way to Make Biking Mainstream in a Car-Centric City?

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Researchers forecast that a combination of protected bike lanes on arterial streets and “self-explaining” traffic calming on residential streets (the orange line) could vault bike mode share in Auckland from 2 percent to 35 percent — far more than the city’s current bike plan (the red line).

How can you turn a car-dependent city into a place where most people feel safe cycling for transportation?

Researchers in Auckland, New Zealand, created a predictive model to assess how different policies affect cycling rates over several years. In a paper published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives [PDF], they concluded that a combination of protected bike lanes on all wide arterial roads plus traffic calming measures on neighborhood side streets would have a far greater impact on bike mode share than Auckland’s current bike plan.

Only 19 percent of Auckland residents say they currently consider cycling to be “always or mostly safe.” The city’s bike commute mode share stands at 2 percent. While the region has set out to achieve a 35 percent combined biking and walking mode share by 2040 (the walk commute rate is currently 5.5 percent), its actual policies are not that ambitious. The Auckland bike plan calls mainly for un-protected lanes and off-street paths.

Using prior studies, travel surveys, interviews, and historical data, the researchers created a model designed to factor in the complex interactions between bicycling rates and traffic speeds, motor vehicle volumes, street design, the number of cyclists on the road, the number of actual injuries, and subjective perceptions of safety.

Then they plugged four different policy scenarios into their model: the current Auckland bike plan; redesigning residential streets for slow speeds; adding protected bike lanes on all arterial streets; and combining residential traffic calming with bike lanes on arterials. Only the combination scenario had the power to achieve Auckland’s bicycling goals, according to the model.

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3 Ways LeBron Can Help Get Cleveland Biking

Lebron James often commuted to practice and games in Miami. Photo: JackNruth on Twitter

In Miami, LeBron often rode his bike to practice and games. Photo: @JackNruth

Well, the Decision Part II is official, and northeast Ohio’s prodigal son LeBron James is heading back to Cleveland. The most immediate result is that the Cavaliers are going to get much, much better.

Aside from his phenomenal basketball skills, LeBron has moonlighted as a bit of a bike advocate. For years, he’s held a charitable bike ride in his hometown of Akron. He and teammate Dwyane Wade crashed a Critical Mass bike ride in Miami. He also took to bike commuting to AmericanAirlines Arena during his time with the Heat.

Given all that, I’m hoping, somewhat indulgently, that LeBron can help push Cleveland’s vision for a more bike-friendly city forward. Here’s an optimistic assessment of what he could do:

1. Model healthy transportation

LeBron’s primary home is in the distant suburb of Bath. But he also has a smaller condo in a lakefront building in the city. It wouldn’t hurt to have our hometown hero, perhaps the best-known athlete in the world, setting an example for the community, young and old, by using a healthy and active form of transportation to get to work.

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Streetsblog LA 36 Comments

Sheriffs Blame Cyclist Victim in Road Rage Bottle-Throwing Incident

Screen capture showing Gatorade bottle thrown at cyclist. Source: Youtube

Screen capture showing Gatorade bottle thrown at cyclist. Source: Youtube

On May 31, Bryan Larsen was bicycling on a crowded stretch of Pacific Coast Highway in south Orange County. He began to notice a pattern of harassment by the occupants of a large white 4×4 Ram Truck, with Texas license plate 65-500. When passing cyclists, the truck would spew thick, black, coal-rolling exhaust.

Larsen got out his phone and began to record video. He then captured this road rage incident. The truck swerved out of the car lane toward the cyclist in the bike lane. The truck slowed and its passenger threw a bottle full of Gatorade at the cyclist. When Larsen held his phone up and shouted that he had captured the incident on video, the truck blasted more exhaust and drove away.

In a television interview, Larsen describes the incident:

I was in a lot of fear. They came into the bike lane. The tires were as big as I was and I thought they were going to run me over.

Larsen posted the video online and reported the incident, submitting the evidence to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

OCSD responded that they were investigating that there was nothing they could do, since even though it was caught on video, no sheriff had been an eye-witness to the incident.

Meanwhile, the video went viral. The incident was reported in local media. Larsen approached Arizona-based advocacy organization Look! Save A Life, which produced an annotated version of the video, slowing down and clarifying what occurred. Just over a month passed with no response from OCSD.

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Courtland Milloy’s Bike Hate Gets the Smackdown It Deserves

Bicyclists, pacificists, and reasonable people everywhere are up in arms today about Courtland Milloy’s outrageous column, published last night on Washington Post’s website, in which he suggests drivers should go ahead and intentionally hit cyclists if they feel like it. By somehow casting people on bicycles as “bullies” and “terrorists” — for reasons that never become clear — Milloy sees fit to justify bullying and terrorizing the cyclists themselves.

Apologize, Courtland Milloy. Photo: ##http://www.washingtonpost.com/pb/courtland-milloy##Washington Post##

Apologize, Courtland Milloy. Photo: Washington Post

“It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District,” Milloy wrote, “but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.”

As the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) wrote in its response, “The ‘egregious’ behavior Milloy cites is simply slowing his car’s progress between stoplights.”

Not only does Milloy cackle about an all-too-real epidemic of violence on our cities’ streets, he reveals a shockingly myopic (to use his word) view of the streets as places where only cars belong.

Wash Cycle did the dirty work of correcting each and every one of Milloy’s erroneous statements, like:

They fight to have bike lanes routed throughout the city, some in front of churches where elderly parishioners used to park their cars. 

Just one. And in that case, elderly parishioners still park their cars there.

And:

Now, some of them are pushing to have a “bicycle escalator” installed on 15th Street NW.

Actually no one is doing anything of the sort. One person on GGW wrote a post about how one place has such a thing and asked if it would be useful on 15th, and most of the comments on it were negative about the idea.

And:
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Study: Motorists Give Cyclists in Bike Lanes More Room When Passing

Drivers give cyclists a wider berth on streets with painted bike lanes than on streets with no bike lanes, according to a new study by a Canadian research team with the University of Waterloo [PDF]. Common sense? Sure, but it’s more evidence that cyclists feel safer in dedicated infrastructure for a reason.

Motorists give more passing distance to cyclists in bike lanes, a recent study found, and they're less likely to veer into opposing traffic. Photo: Wikimedia

Motorists give more passing distance to cyclists in bike lanes, a recent study found. Photo: Wikimedia

Researchers from the University of Waterloo measured 5,227 individual incidents of cars overtaking bicyclists using sensors and handlebar-mounted cameras.

Passing at less than one meter was the threshold that the research team deemed unsafe.

On two-lane roads with no bike lanes, 12 percent of motorists gave less than one meter. No drivers passed cyclists that closely on two-lane roads with a bike lane. Meanwhile, on four-lane roads with no bike lane, 6 percent of passing maneuvers were within one meter, compared to 0.5 percent on four-lane roads with bike lanes.

On two-lane roads with bike lanes, motorists gave cyclists an average of 7.6 more inches of passing room, a 14 percent difference.

The researchers chose streets with “standard” width of 3.65 meters for general purpose lanes and between 1 and 1.2 meters for bike lanes. This suggests that the streets with bike lanes were wider than the comparison streets without bike lanes, which may factor into the differences the authors found.

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