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.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Follow up to posts on Bike Month and planning: Iowa; Seattle; Boston

The posts "Bike to Work Day as an opportunity to assess the state of bicycle planning: Part 1" and "Bike to Work Day as an opportunity to assess the state of bicycle planning: Part 2, building a network of bike facilities at the regional scale," discuss how National Bike Month can be better leveraged to promote bicycling as transportation in the Baltimore-Washington region (and by extension to other places).

Since writing those posts last week, I came across three interesting things that need to be incorporated into such writings going forward.

Des Moines Register photo.

1.  Iowa creates bike-based pavement condition test vehicle.  The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is doing something supra-innovative, they have created a bicycle-based equivalent of a "pavement condition tester" to use to test the pavement condition of the area's 600+ miles of trails in Central Iowa.  They call it the "Iowa Data Bike."

From a DMAMPO press release:
The primary function of the Iowa Data Bike is to collect data on the pavement conditions of the trails – providing useful information to trail managers as they budget maintenance dollars.

A camera mounted on the back of the bike will take geolocated photos of every section of trail in the network and make them available online for trail managers for easy reference.

Additionally, the data bike will capture 360-degree images to upload to Google Street View, giving anyone with an Internet connection a panoramic, on-the-ground view of any trail at any point in Central Iowa.

“This is a powerful new tool for the many people, governments, and organizations who work together to make the paved trail network such a great asset for Central Iowa,” said Todd Ashby, executive director of the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. “Before now, we haven’t had a data-collection vehicle we can use for the trails. The data bike is an investment in the future – to assure the paved trails are here for decades to come.”

The Iowa Data Bike is a proof-of-concept project by the Des Moines Area MPO in partnership with the Iowa Department of Public Health and Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF). ...

The condition of Iowa's streets are already tracked and scored, using laser-equipped trucks to measure imperfections. But there’s no data for paved recreational trails, said Gunnar Olson, an MPO spokesman.

“As the system is aging we’re going to need to shift more dollars toward maintenance as a region,” Olson said. “We came up with this concept to get good, accurate data on trail conditions.”
DMR photo.

The Des Moines Register had a front page story on the Iowa Data Bike on Monday ("'Data bike' pinpoints trouble spots on central Iowa trails"). I don't think bike issues are likely to make the front page of the Washington Post any time soon!

The DMR article has a video interview with Gunnar Olson of the DMAMPO.

Contrast this to my point that the unofficial DC-area "Capital Trails Coalition" should instead be an official function of our MPO.

Note though that the DC-area does have an image-based trails database, but I don't think such databases substitute fully for maps and printed information.

More places need to create their own "Data Bikes" and collect and act on this kind of information.

2.  In terms of getting more people to bike regularly for transportation, what matters more, bike infrastructure or bike facilities?  I suppose the answer is that they matter equally, but I guess the point I try to make is focusing on infrastructure primarily isn't enough to get people to shift their behavior and routinize biking over automobility.

I think the Seattle Times proves my point about the vital importance of facilities in the article, "Which come first, the bikers or the bike lanes? How Seattle can increase two-wheeled commuting."

The article makes clear that the organizations that complement access to bike infrastructure with high quality bike parking, showers, and other facilities have a much higher percentage of people commuting to and from work by bike.

As an example, the Allen Institute has 21% of its 375 employees regularly commuting by bike.

From the article:
Which come first, the bikers or the bike lanes?  A new analysis by Commute Seattle offers some added ammunition for bike advocates.

There are a bunch of large employers, Commute Seattle found, that have a radically higher percentage of bike commuters than the city average. What do those employers have in common?

A couple things, but most notably they’re all near a bike path or a protected bike lane.

Of the 15 businesses with the highest percentage of bike-commuting employees, all are within five blocks of a protected bike path. The top seven businesses for bike commuting are all a block or less from a protected bike path.

When the Allen Institute moved to South Lake Union from Fremont in 2015, they realized that traffic would be worse and parking would be more expensive, Essmeier said. They wanted to encourage biking as much as possible.

“When they were building this building they really tricked out the bike parking and the facilities, with lockers and showers and all that,” Essmeier said.

That’s the second thing that every top business for bike commuters has in common — amenities that make it a little bit easier to ride a bike to work.

All 15 of the top bike-to-work companies provide indoor bike storage. Fourteen of the 15 provide showers. Six provide bike-repair stations. And four even provide the bikes themselves.

Jonathan Hopkins, executive director of Commute Seattle, said that a company’s culture in encouraging bike commuting makes a big difference. He noted that for the price of building one underground parking spot, a company can usually supply sheltered, secure bike storage for all its employees.

“Employer support makes a big difference. If people don’t have a safe place to ride and a safe space to store their bike, they’re probably not going to do it,” Hopkins said. “If we never built roads nobody would drive to work, either.”
The point is that without a focus on creating the right set of complementary bike facilities, people aren't going to go out of their way to start bike commuting.

So the answer is really threefold:
  • High quality bike infrastructure that is organized into a system of bikeways
  • a network of high quality bike parking and support facilities such as showers, lockers, etc., to support bike commuting
  • a system of programming and other assistance to help people make the transition to biking and to adopt biking for transportation as a routine activity and behavior.
A fourth point is that it is very important to regularly conduct research, collect data, learn from it, and report it out.

For example, looking at these results in the context of DC, which is home to many federal agencies, the NOAA Montlake facility in Seattle, home to the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, has 16.9% of its workers commuting by bike. I can't imagine any DC-based federal building has a similar percentage of bike commuters.

The opportunity is present in most of the center city-located federal buildings, but the right complement of facilities and programming is not.

-- 2016 Center City Commuter Mode Split Survey Survey Results, Commute Seattle

Boston Globe photo by Gina Rinaldi.

3. Boston bike advocates use a form of public art protest to challenge statements by the Mayor.  The Boston Globe reports ("Cyclists respond to Walsh comments with tactical urbanism cutouts") on a guerrilla messaging campaign by bicyclists asking motorists to take more heed of bicyclists.

 From the article:
Under cover of darkness, several cyclists late Sunday night placed eight large cartoon cutouts displaying advice about bicycle safety along portions of Massachusetts Avenue, sending a punchy visual message to drivers and city officials that more needs to be done to make roads safer for those on two wheels.

The guerilla art project was created by architect and bike advocate Jonathan Fertig, who posted pictures of himself on Twitter installing the artistic “buffers” Sunday night with a group of friends.

“Buffers can be much more than just paint,” Fertig wrote on Twitter, using the hashtag #DemandMore.

The project was done in collaboration with local artist Bekka Wright, who designed the large character cutouts.

Wright promotes bicycle advocacy and offers safety tips through humorous drawings and editorial cartoons on her website,
According to the article, Mr. Fertig had been working on the project for some time, and accelerated the placement in response to comments by the Mayor in a recent radio interview.

Cyclists and pedestrian advocates criticized the remarks for not according enough responsibility to motor vehicle operators for how their actions contribute to traffic safety and crashes ("Mayor Walsh says pedestrians, cyclists need to take more responsibility, Boston Globe).  

Bekka Wright has created what look to be two very cool biking promotion booklets ('zines?).  OMG: A Bike is a traffic safety publication targeting motorists, and Bike There is a how-to guide on biking for transportation in the city.

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At 9:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is the debate-should we settle for shitty bike infrastructure like "please door me" bike lanes next to parked cars- or legitimate Germany styled separated bikeways ? And when we put in enough low quality crap it will somehow attract the numbers of cyclists? I say this is bullshit and we ought to do the best quality NOW. Our transportation planners seem to opt for the vehicular cycling car oriented approach-sadly. Again- if more planners were women especially bike planners maybe things would change.......

At 1:06 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

To be honest, I think there are more women planners than men. Not so much as directors. But pretty much.

The problem is age/generational, and the fact that because the mobility paradigm is so dominated by the car, and civic affairs processes are dominated by older people less likely to bike means that most people can't mentally get a handle on alternatives.

This is an issue in my neighborhood now. I am on the ANC Public Works and Infrastructure Committee and we have to deal with an element of the MBT.

Some of the people "advising" the committee are adamantly against "nibbling back" Blair Road and replacing one lane with a cycletrack.

I've fought, probably successfully, their viewpoint, but they piss me off because they put themselves out there as "sustainable developer" and professional architect/planner but their positions on matters are generally inconsistent, more focused on status quo and deference to architects, facilitating development without concern about quality, and to me their judgements have proven faulty (given how I witnessed their general arguments being demolished by HPRB concerning a couple Takoma area matters).

BUT WHAT IS VERY INTERESTING, is that the other members of the committee, which isn't "all old" have zero experience with the cycletracks elsewhere in the city. Don't even really know that they exist, haven't seen them, definitely haven't ridden on them.

So we're likely to do a field trip.

PLUS, I keep making the point that MBT is a system and it is irresponsible to consider the few block stretch of the cycletrack proposal in a vacuum, independent of the MBT as a "continuous piece of infrastructure" from Union Station to Silver Spring.

At 1:09 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Yes, Germany, Netherlands, and Denmark are great examples. But increasingly, we have pretty good examples in the US generally and DC specifically.

The 1st St. cycletrack has a link to the MBT on L Street, and extends the MBT.

The 15th St. cycletrack goes from Pennsylvania Ave. to Meridian Hill Park and has improved significantly. The part by the park is at the level of Montreal.

And it links to unidirectional cycletracks on L and M Streets.

Those are definitely examples worth grading at worse a B+. I'd say they are an A grade.

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Oh, the 1st St. cycletrack is close to the 6th St./Brentwood Road cycletrack, and is going to be complemented with a cycletrack on Florida Ave., like the one on Blair Road, you can also consider that a simultaneous road dieting project.

At 12:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Note: Planners make recommendations. We get a lot done within the constraints we have to work with. If you don't like the outcome, direct your ire more towards elected officials who have the final say. Believe me, if we had our way, we'd love to rip up streets, demo some buildings, remove parking, and put in proper bike infrastructure. Women are plenty represented in planning these days, perhaps over-represented in some fields.

At 9:17 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I worked briefly as a planner for a county government and it was definitely an important learning experience for me.

1. I didn't understand til then how much employees are "constrained" in what they can do. The executive calls the shots. You work within that framework.

... it made me feel stupid for all the times I said to planners/govt. employees, "you should do X or Y" not realizing the extent to which they were not independent actors.

2. like what you said, in one instance, a citizen started lecturing me about the value and importance of sustainable transportation. I stopped him, I hope gently, and said something like this:

"I already know all that. But you're talking to the wrong person. You need to be telling this to your elected officials, because they make those kinds of decisions, not planners. We shape the action once they make the decision."

At 9:18 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt "tearing up roads," just had a bad experience with this with some MCDOT planners, which is part of an entry I am in the process of writing.


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