Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Bike to Work Day/Week/Month as an opportunity for assessing the biking as transportation agenda

In the DC region, Friday is Bike to Work Day.

-- Here Is Your Bike To Work Day Pit Stop Map, DCist
-- Bike to Work Day MetroDC

Sustainable transportation and the Five "E's".  In bike and pedestrian planning they refer to the "Five E's" of planning:  Engineering (infrastructure); Encouragement (promotion); Education; Enforcement; and Evaluation (planning).

Where bicycle planning needs new and renewed emphasis is on "Enforcement" and "Equity," the "sixth E."  And "Engineering" needs to move beyond infrastructure and expand its focus on "facilities."

Cycling for transportation is rising.  New data from the US Bureau of the Census (Modes Less Traveled – Bicycling and Walking to Work in the United States: 2008-2012) shows an increase in the rate of bike-based community ("Biking to work increases 60% in past decade," USA Today), although I hesitate to write about the percentage increase, because the general level is so low that the percentages increases are misleadingly high.

In any case, in places where there is great opportunity to capture trips, and where there is the addition of quality infrastructure, especially cycletracks and other separated cycling infrastructure, it appears that greater strides are being made.

See these past blog entries:

-- Best practice bicycle planning for suburban settings using the action planning method
-- Ideas for making bicycling irresistible in Washington DC
-- Paradigm change and setting goals for mode split for biking

Bicycle sharing and visibility.  It's been discussed a lot here and elsewhere but undoubtedly, bicycle sharing programs in major cities in North America have been essential in raising awareness of biking, especially within the media.

Lots of cities want to take credit for this, but we probably owe the biggest debt to Paris, which was by no means the first city to adopt bicycle sharing, but was the first city to develop a bike sharing system at such a big scale, with more than 15,000 bikes and 1,000 sharing stations.

Encouragement: Biking to work needs a year round emphasis.  When I worked in Baltimore County, the metropolitan planning organization, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, was the coordinator across the Baltimore region for Bike to Work Day, which is the third Friday in May, the same in DC.

I said that the problem with focusing on "one day," is that it takes away from focusing on building ridership throughout the year, and that in any case, there should be follow up activities plan to leverage the "one day" involvement to something more.

This Local Motion information rack (on the right) includes the Alexandria bike map.

In Alexandria the other day, I noticed that the city's transportation demand management unit, branded Local Motion, has information displays about sustainable transportation including cycling, placed in many local businesses and shops.

Of course, I have argued that bike maps need to be displayed at transit stations and on street signage, etc., and that cycling trails need to be better marked, not just for informational purposes, but also as a form of marketing.

NYC has bike parking shelters (repurposed bus shelters) with large bicycle maps posted inside.

Spreading events throughout the day.  In any case, I've noticed that some places which are more "origin-generators" of bicyclists but not their final destination are organizing afternoon and evening events on Bike to Work Day to welcome people back from work and to use that as an opportunity for additional organizing.

-- Columbia Heights afternoon pit stop, DC

Extending Bike to Work Day for a week or month.  Similarly, other places have developed Bike to Work Week ("Milwaukee celebrates Bike to Work Week," WISN-TV; "Bike to Work Week off and rolling in Fort Wayne," Fort Wayne News-SentinelBike to Work Week a growing affair in Salisbury," Delmarva Daily Times) or Bike to Work Month ("Bike Month | League of American Bicyclists; Federal Bike to Work Month Challenge," US EPA; "Bike to Work Day rally kicks off celebration of bike month," Salt Lake City Deseret News) to "draw out" and extend the programming effort and better leverage the activities.

Equity.  I wrote a couple months ago about how the Boston Bikes program of the City of Boston is formulating a broader emphasis on equity--biking for transportation tends to be practiced more by men of higher income--by treating "equity" as the "sixth "E"" within sustainable transportation planning.  See "Equity as the sixth "E" in bike and pedestrian planning."

Note that the Community Cycling Center of Portland also has a number of programs within this area and the Recycle a Bicycle program in New York City has a number of well developed programs focusing on youth.

Enforcement.  An entry in GGW "Driver assaults bicyclist, police ticket bicyclist," about a bicycle accident caused by an aggressive motor vehicle operator but resulting in a ticket for the cyclist reminds us that for the most part, the "E" focused on "Enforcement" fails in terms of balancing the relationship and privileges of motor vehicle operators versus pedestrians and cyclists. This happens all the time.

The "accident" end of motor vehicle operation is seriously weighted or privileged in favor of the motor vehicle operator in ways that condone illegal behavior based on the excuse of not paying attention (a/k/a "I didn't see...").

The legal system is set up to coddle motor vehicle operators, out of an expectation that "accidents happen" and it isn't the driver's fault. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece in the New Yorker Magazine, "Wrong Turn: How the fight to make America’s highways safer went off course," many years ago about this.

This needs to change.

1. I argue that we should consider moving the special traffic enforcement functions of police departments to transportation departments, with a concomitant upgrading in the training and skill level of the officers as it relates to sustainable transportation modes. (Some transportation departments have parking enforcement duties, but I don't think any agency has taken on the traffic enforcement units from police departments.)

2. Initiatives like "VisionZero" type programs focused on reducing traffic-related deaths are a step forward (this has come to the fore in New York City specifically, see "" from ), but don't address how motor vehicle operation laws favor reduced responsibility for operators of motor vehicles, when motor vehicle operators should have heightened responsibilities because of the speed and power and ability to harm that lies within the operation of motor vehicles.

-- The original Vision Zero initiative was in Sweden.
-- "The Quest For Zero Fatalities," Public Roads Magazine, about a program in Utah
-- the first such initiative along these lines that I came across was in Minnesota, and there Minnesota Towards Zero Deaths program.

3.  I recommend that we work towards the adoption of Dutch "sustainable safety" laws and practices, which require that motor vehicle operators take on much more legal responsibility for the operation of motor vehicles vis-a-vis accidents, especially concerning pedestrians and bicyclists.

In the Netherlands, motor vehicle operators are responsible outright for at least 50% of the cause of an accident involving pedestrians or cyclists, and this can rise to as much as 100% depending on the actual circumstances.  See "Strict liability in the Netherlands" from Bicycle Dutch (which is also the source of the image).

This is much different than in the US, where in many states contributory negligence laws obviate claims by pedestrians or cyclists if they contributed to the accident, and where police officers accustomed to operating motor vehicles generally presume that the pedestrian or cyclist was automatically at fault.

4.  The first thing most motor vehicle operators will counter with is that cyclists run stop signs and red lights.  It's true, we do, and there are many good reasons for doing so--not if there is oncoming traffic, but if there isn't, it makes sense to encourage cycling rather than hinder and cripple its efficiency and this is one area to do so (see writings on the "Idaho Stop" for more, especially in Washcycle).

Clarendon bike fixit stand
The Clarendon Metro Station in Arlington County, Virginia has covered bicycle parking and a repair stand with an air pump.  Flickr photo by BeyondDC.

Engineering (infrastructure) and a greater emphasis on support facilities.  The next stage of infrastructure development beyond cycletracks and other separated infrastructure are a greater focus on providing the facilities that support the cyclist throughout the trip, including air and repair and parking.  Arlington County is installing bike repair stands at Metro stations in their jurisdiction.

See "Bike "fix-it" stands appear at Arlington Metro stations" from GGW.  (My 2008 piece "Ideas for making bicycling irresistible in Washington DC," argues that all Metro stations should have air pumps...)

Parking is still hit or miss but has the opportunity for great improvement.  Also see the past blog entry "Best (or at least better) practices in bike parking and bicycle facilities implementation."  These are particularly good resources for parking:

-- Bicycles at Rest, bicycle parking, Capital Walk and Bike, Victoria, BC
-- Cycling Support Services Study - Strategic Plan, Translink transit agency, Greater Vancouver, BC

Interestingly, today's Express has a piece ("Locked and overloaded: D.C.’s bike racks can’t keep up with demand") about skyrocketing demand for bike parking in DC.

Evaluation-planning.  For a number of years I have argued that the next stage of bicycle planning needs to:

1.  integrate the provision of programming more directly into bike programs using what I call the action planning method

2.  moves to move from the city or county wide level to the sector/district/neighborhood level, including the integration of programming

3.  including within parks and recreation departments.

We are starting to see some of the changes, but it's still a few years out.

In the meantime a variety of ground up responses are increasing visibility and take up ranging from bike co-ops like the Bike House Co-op in the Petworth neighborhood of DC, familiy oriented initiatives like Kidical Mass, and women and race-based equity initiatives such as BlackWomen Bike effort in DC and the League of American Bicyclists' Women Bike initiative and the equivalent effort locally by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, and their Women & Bicycles program.

And in the meantime of course, bicycle retailers have been stalwart in all the time that bicycling has been out of fashion.
A new cycletrack on First Street NE is being constructed and is partially open, and has special paint treatment for the entire length of the route.

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At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

a piece came up just now in GGW about the retarded bike lane in PaAvenue which will NEVER attract large numbers of cyclists because it is just too dangerous and cannot be fixed. One of the commentors said it was time they considered other locations on the avenue for it- I am sure that Europeans laugh at us for placing it there- it is geared soled for athletic racer cyclists and you do not see many women or children using it- if this were Europe it would be on the sidewalk- but there seems to be a HUGE TABBOO here about sidewalk bike tracks. For some reason that is almost like incest to the bike planners. These people need to get their heads out of their a-holes and smell the roses instead of the sewage..

At 11:13 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The Pennsylvania Ave. cycletrack is an example of something else, unfortunately, politically-driven decision making.

Blame Earl Blumenaur, Rep. from Oregon/Portland, who should know better.

At a presentation many years ago on PA Ave., Earl Blumenaur said (paraphrased) "Pennsylvania Avenue's so wide and there is all that space in the middle of the street, you could put a cycletrack there." (David Byrne also spoke, it was after his book came out, and the program was sponsored by NACTO.)

Rather than respond, "that's really a bad place to put a cycle track" the city instead took up the challenge.

It's highly visible though and people are using it more. Friday, bike to work day, will be a great day to get photos of people using it, like I did a couple years ago:

BUT, it was a bad thing to do.

But you can argue incementally it has helped to push forward some of the other infrastructure.

But yes, it would have been better to reconfigure the street and put cycle tracks in each direction on the right most side of the street.

But that would have cost a lot more money.

At 12:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

too much money for real infrastructure? I do not buy that. I for one would rather see a streetcar track down the middle of PennAvenue where it used to exist.Planners in DC are too timid to put real bicycle tracks on the worst streets and avenues- the bike track on 1st street by Union Station looks great but its out of the way and out of mind.

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

just more money to do "the right thing" vs. what they did, which is some signals and paint.

You could have done a road diet, and put curb separated "sidewalk like" lanes for biking on each side of the road.

It would have cost a lot more. I don't have experience with that kind of cost estimation, but it would have cost more.

It would have looked better and would have been an incredible example of great infrastructure, seen by people all across the land, when they visit DC, but it would have cost a lot more than likely was available.

At 2:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blumenauer is a vehicular cyclist

At 3:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

WABA can say all they want about trying to get women to cycle but if they keep pushing vehicular cycling for everyone they are NOT goin gto get many women to bicycle at all- except a few hardy and maniacal souls ..they really need to reappraise their strategy and stop with all of the racing athletic garbage and "road training" classes that teach cyclists to co-exist with speeding cars, buses and trucks. None for me thanks.

At 9:23 AM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

A few thoughts.

First: The Pennsylvania Ave Cycle track does just fine. Riders DO NOT bypass it. DDOT has data on this from their bicycle facility evaluation:

Bike traffic on Pennsylvania went from below average to well above DC's average after installation. Peak Hour usage increase 250%.

Second: the reason it runs in the center is because that's where the fewest conflicts along that street are. Simple as that.

Third: all the talk about road diets and spending more money and whatnot are useless without a) proof of concept, and b) demand for the facility.

The beauty of these paint-only projects is that they are quick to implement and prove the concept. Those that would rather hold out for a more expensive, more permanent design are letting perfect be the enemy of good.

None of DC's cycle tracks to date would've been implemented if not for the willingness to improvise and experiment with low-cost solutions.

It is much easier to transition at a later date to a higher cost, more permanent solution. But you can't ever expect that to happen without the proof that it can work.

NYC learned this with their bike lanes and pavement-to-plazas program. None of those plazas went straight to final design and construction, they were all 'tested' with low cost projects first.

In other words, don't denigrate the current state of various bicycle infrastructure as the result of a lack of political will. Those projects are creating the political will.

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

exscept that it is dangerous to ride in the street with cars. Granted- the PaAve bike track eliminates "dooring" but it is still too dangerous for most people other than jocks to use. The way I see it- and the way most people I hear from Europe see it- American bike planning is catering to bike racers and those who want to pedal fast and it completely leaves out everyone else. Pa Ave has super wide sidewalks - I use them all of the time and have NO PROBLEMS because I go slower and use a bell. To US planners- sidewalk bike tracks are like incest- they simply never consider them because cycling is suburb and speed oriented to such an extent that no one would ever ride a bike slowly or in a leisurely fashion. This mentality must change- and transitions may help- but ignoring the underlying disease also is holding us down big time. We can do much better than this.

At 2:52 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Alex B. -- 1. generally, agreed. It's a lot easy to spend "more money" once there is demonstrated need. And there is no question that people need to see something before they are willing to commit.

Being able to do prototype kinds of projects is really important and it is good that it is now "allowable" when not too many years ago, few DOTs would venture to do so.

2. I know about the "data" but it has only been recently when I've begun "seeing" noticeable numbers of riders on PA Ave.

Part of the reason is that this is a street that isn't a key "commuting" route for people, just based on the spatial organization of the neighborhoods around the core vis a vis the central business district + the topographical issue that is posed as you approach Capitol "Hill" going eastbound when you can avoid it via Mass. Avenue or D Street.

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