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Black Leaders Discuss Their Efforts to Promote Equity in Mobility Advocacy

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Moderator Sahra Sulaiman with panelists Tamika Butler and Zahra Alabanza. Photo: Jean Khut

Editor’s note: Streetsblog Chicago sent writer Jean Khut to Atlanta last month to report on The Untokening and share lessons from the event that could be applied to transportation justice efforts in our city. We’ll be running another post on the main Untokening activities in the near future. 

In early November, mobility advocates from across the United States gathered in Atlanta for The Untokening, a “convening” to address equity issues in transportation and public spaces. The event was an extension of this year’s Facing Race Conference, held in Atlanta earlier that weekend.

In conjunction with the convening, The Untokening and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition hosted a panel discussion called “LA X ATL Exchange: Race, Place & Justice,” featuring Tamika Butler, director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and Zahra Alabanza, co-founder of the Atlanta chapter of Red, Bike, and Green. Sahra Sulaiman, a communities editor at Los Angeles Streetsblog, served as the moderator.

Walking, biking, and transit advocacy groups often struggle with how to define equity in their work. During the panel Butler said some bike advocates she knew felt there weren’t enough voices representing people who’ve been marginalized by systemic prejudices.

Since starting her position at the LACBC in 2014, Butler has become one of the most prominent voices promoting equity in active transportation. She grew up in Omaha and previously worked as a civil rights lawyer. Butler wasn’t into biking until a friend convinced her to do AIDS/Lifecycle, a fundraising bike ride from San Francisco to L.A. It was there where she met her wife Kelly and found her passion for bikes.

Butler said she has dealt with her share of of racism and sexism in the bike world. One common criticism she gets is that she isn’t “bikey” enough to lead an advocacy organization, which begs the question of what this term actually means. Are her critics saying she isn’t riding her bike enough for transportation and/or recreation to be a bike advocate? Butler doesn’t know the answer, but feels that she wouldn’t face the same criticism if she were a white male.

Likewise, Alabanza didn’t fit the profile many other Atlanta bike advocates were used to. She moved to the city fifteen years ago with a background in community organizing, focusing on LGBTQ issues and reproductive rights. Eventually, her interest in social justice and biking intersected. She saw the need to create spaces for people of color to use biking as a way to form relationships and build community.

RBG originated in Oakland, California in 2007, and Alabanza co-founded the Atlanta chapter in 2012. At first many in the Atlanta bike scene didn’t know what to make of RGB and were surprised that they didn’t address some of the issues bike advocacy groups have traditionally focused on, such as promoting bike lanes and helmets. The volunteer-run group, which describes itself as “exclusively Black,” uses biking a way to address economic, environmental, and mental and physical health issues that impact African-American communities.

Alabanza said her work with RBG allows her to be “unapologetically Black.” Even though she helped create a positive, empowering space for African-Americans, she has faced some backlash, especially during the group’s first year. Alabanza has been accused of reverse racism from people who didn’t understand the need for an all-Black space.

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Bikes Belong on Main Streets Because Bikes Are Not Mainly for Commuting

Broadway, Salt Lake City. Photos: SLC.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Trivia question 1: Of all the trips taken by U.S. adults, how many lead to or from somewhere other than work?

The answer is 78 percent.

Trivia question 2: Of all the bicycle trips taken by U.S. adults, how many lead to or from somewhere other than work?

The answer is 79 percent.

Americans use bicycles in the same situation they use any other tool: whenever it’s the right tool for the job. These days, lots of U.S. cities and towns are trying to make bicycles a more useful and appealing tool. But people sometimes forget that the best way to do this is to make bicycles a useful tool for many jobs — not just commuting to work.

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Why a Struggling Industrial City Decided Bikes Are the Way Forward

Reading, Pennsylvania, isn’t your stereotypical biking mecca. It’s a low-income, largely Latino, post-industrial city of almost 90,000 people.

But without much of anything in the way of bike infrastructure, Reading has the third-highest rate of bike commuting in Pennsylvania and is among the top 15 cities on the East Coast.

Some civic leaders in Reading have seized on the idea of better serving people who bike as a way to improve safety and community, as well as to help reverse the legacy of sprawl and disinvestment.

We’re excited to be the first to post this video from the Portland-based publishing crew Elly Blue and Joe Biel.

The film is part of a short series that Elly and Joe produced to show a broader cross-section of regions and people working on bike issues. They made the films while traveling around America on their Dinner and Bikes Tour.

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FHWA’s New Goal: Eliminating Pedestrian and Cyclist Deaths in America

Pedestrian and biking safety has been lagging. Can federal officials reverse the trend? Graph: FHWA

Pedestrian and cyclist deaths account for a growing share of traffic fatalities in America. Can federal officials reverse the trend? Graph: FHWA

The Federal Highway Administration wants to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist fatalities “in the next 20 to 30 years.” In a new strategic plan [PDF], the agency calls for reducing serious injuries and deaths 80 percent in the next 15 years, which would be an intermediate goal on the way to zero.

FHWA also calls for boosting the share of short trips Americans make by biking or walking. It defines short trips as five miles or less for bicyclists and one mile or less for pedestrians. The agency’s goal is to increase the share of these trips 50 percent by 2025 compared to 2009 levels.

Now for the bad news. As admirable as these goals may be, federal transportation officials have limited power to see them through. Decisions about transportation infrastructure and street design are mainly carried out by state and local governments.

Nevertheless, the feds do have some means to influence street safety by changing design standards and using the power of persuasion. FHWA can certainly help move local decisions in the right direction. To encourage safer transportation engineering, the agency says it will ramp up its professional training and recognize states for making progress on walking and biking.

Here’s a look at some of the more promising ideas in the agency’s plan.

Promote safer streets through better design standards

One obstacle to safe streets is the widespread application of highway-style engineering strategies to local streets where people walk and bike. Wider and straighter roads might be better for cars-only environments, but they are terrible for pedestrian and cyclist safety.

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Atlanta Looks for Options Where Bidirectional Protected Bike Lanes Intersect

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities connect high-comfort biking networks.

Bidirectional protected bike lanes, which put both directions of bike traffic on the same side of a street, aren’t ideal. But they can be useful in a pinch.

Like all protected bike lanes, well-designed bidirectionals are more comfortable to more riders than having no bike lanes on busy streets.

This month in downtown Atlanta, something interesting is happening for the first time in the United States: two bidirectional protected bike lanes are crossing each other at a four-way intersection.

Fortunately, both of them are on the “left” side of signalized one-way streets. This is generally the best way to use a bidirectional protected bike lane, in part because it prevents total chaos in situations like this one.

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Boston Globe Columnist Tweets Out History’s Dumbest Anti-Bike Rant

I hesitated to even respond to Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby‘s odious tweetstorm against cycling in Boston, because the man is obviously just trolling for attention.

But boy, Jacoby made it hard to hold back. In response to the death of Amanda Phillips, 27, who was struck and killed by a truck driver earlier this week, Jacoby went straight to the old bike ban argument:

Yep. Bikeless streets are clearly the solution to America’s 35,000 annual traffic deaths. At least Jacoby provided a fat target.

So Jacoby doubled down with this gem:

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A Hit-and-Run Driver Killed 5 People on Bikes, So the Press Lectured Cyclists

The five victims of a hit-and-run driver Tuesday in Kalamazoo. Photo retrieved from Mlive.com

The five victims of hit-and-run driver Charlie Pickett. Photos: Mlive.com

A hit-and-run driver killed five people on a group bike ride in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Tuesday. Four others were seriously injured in the horrifying crash, caused when a driver hit their training group — known as “the Chain Gang” — from behind.

Charlie Pickett, whose Facebook page proclaims his love of stiff liquor, was arrested in the death of five cyclists outside Kalamazoo. Photo: Facebook

Charlie Pickett, whose Facebook page is emblazoned with a logo that says “100 Proof,” was arrested for killing five cyclists outside Kalamazoo. Photo: Facebook

Police arrested 50-year-old Charlie Pickett (right), according to Mlive.com, and charged him with five counts of second-degree murder.

The incident resembles a fatal collision that happened in the Akron area in September, when an SUV driver crashed into five cyclists on a training ride, killing two. The driver, 42-year-old Timothy Wolf, initially refused a breathalyzer and was eventually acquitted of vehicular homicide in February. (In this case the driver turned left into the group of cyclists. Wolf blamed sun glare.)

At the very least, you would expect that horrific cases like these would hammer home what an enormous responsibility drivers bear and how careful we should be when we get behind the wheel of a car. But even when the circumstances overwhelmingly point to negligence on the part of the driver, the impulse to lecture cyclists remains strong.

Following the Kalamazoo tragedy, the Grand Rapids’ ABC affiliate took the opportunity to air a segment about “bike safety,” warning cyclists to ride single file, stay close to the white line, and signal when they are turning. The piece eventually notes that there is no indication the Kalamazoo cyclists were doing anything wrong. Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press warned cyclists to wear helmets — because helmets are magical objects that protect your whole body when a driver hits you from behind at high speed.

The same tacit victim blaming was on display after the Akron crash as well. Cleveland’s ABC affiliate also made the case for helmets, even though the people who were killed were wearing helmets.

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It Just Got Easier for Cities to Design Walkable, Bikeable Streets

The federal government threw out 11 rules that prevented cities from building walkable streets Photo: NJbikeped.org

The federal government threw out 11 rules that prevented cities from building walkable streets. Photo: NJbikeped.org

We probably haven’t seen the last of engineers who insist on designing local streets like surface highways. But at least now they can’t claim their hands are tied by federal regulations.

Last week, the Federal Highway Administration struck 11 of the 13 design rules for “national highways” — a 230,000-mile network of roads that includes many urban streets.

The rule change eliminates a major obstacle to safe street design around the country. The old rules applied highways design standards — wide lanes, no trees — to streets that function more like main streets, with terrible consequences for safety and walkability.

In October, FHWA proposed eliminating all but two of the old standards on streets designed for speeds under 50 mph, citing a lack of evidence that the rules improve safety. Now, those changes are official.

Ian Lockwood, a consultant with the Toole Design Group and formerly the transportation director for West Palm Beach, Florida, said the changes are important. The new rules open the door to treatments like road diets, bike lanes, and street trees — the kind of street designs that lead to a safe pedestrian environment, not high-speed traffic.

“This allows the designs to better support the place and not so much how fast people can drive through it,” he said.

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How Can Cities Move More People Without Wider Streets? Hint: Not With Cars

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Here’s how many people a single traffic lane can carry “with normal operations,” according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

How can cities make more efficient use of street space, so more people can get where they want to go?

This graphic from the new NACTO Transit Street Design Guide provides a great visual answer. (Hat tip to Sandy Johnston for plucking it out.) It shows how the capacity of a single lane of traffic varies according to the mode of travel it’s designed for.

Dedicating street space to transit, cycling, or walking is almost always a tenacious fight, opposed by people who insist that streets are for cars. But unless cities make room for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders, there’s no room for them to grow beyond a certain point.

NACTO writes:

While street performance is conventionally measured based on vehicle traffic throughput and speed, measuring the number of people moved on a street — its person throughput and capacity — presents a more complete picture of how a city’s residents and visitors get around. Whether making daily commutes or discretionary trips, city residents will choose the mode that is reliable, convenient, and comfortable.

Transit has the highest capacity for moving people in a constrained space. Where a single travel lane of private vehicle traffic on an urban street might move 600 to 1,600 people per hour (assuming one to two passengers per vehicle and 600 to 800 vehicles per hour), a dedicated bus lane can carry up to 8,000 passengers per hour. A transitway lane can serve up to 25,000 people per hour per travel direction.

Of course, it usually takes more than changing a single street to fully realize these benefits. A bike lane won’t reach its potential if it’s not part of a cohesive network of safe streets for biking, and a transit lane won’t be useful to many people if it doesn’t connect them to walkable destinations.

But this graphic is a useful tool to communicate how sidewalks, bike lanes, and transitways are essential for growing cities looking to move more people on their streets without the costs and dangers inherent in widening roads.

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London’s New Mayor, Sadiq Khan, Pledges to “Accelerate” Cycling Progress

London bike advocates proved they were a political force to be reckoned under Mayor Boris Johnson. After cyclists demonstrated that they would not be satisfied with half-measures, Johnson started to make serious headway on safe bike infrastructure in his second term.

London's new Mayor Sadiq Khan says he wants to do better than Boris Johnson on cycling. Photo: Sadiq Khan on Facebook

Newly-elected London Mayor Sadiq Khan, left, says he wants to build on the progress for cycling under Boris Johnson. Photo: Sadiq Khan/Facebook

It looks like that progress will continue even with a new mayor from a different party.

Last week, Londoners chose Sadiq Khan of the Labour Party to succeed Johnson, a Tory. His resume includes a stint as Transport Minister in the government of Gordon Brown. He took office today.

Streets and transportation are a top-tier responsibility of the London mayor, who appoints the board of Transport for London, an agency that controls not just streets but also the London Underground. All five of the major mayoral candidates pledged to support cycling — and Khan was one of the more enthusiastic ones. He signed on to the London Cycling Campaign’s policy agenda and promised to see through Johnson’s plan to triple the number of protected “cycle superhighways.”

Campaign platforms don’t always translate to concrete policy once candidates are in office, and Khan has missed the mark with some of his public statements. But his statements indicate that the expansion of the city’s bike network will continue under his leadership.

Here’s a look at his positions and public statements about streets, cycling, and transit.

On bicycling and street safety

“My aim is to make London a byword for cycling around the world,” Khan told the Guardian. Speaking to Cycling Weekly, he said he wants to “build on” and “accelerate” the progress made under his predecessors.

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