Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cycling on the Mall with Ed Begley, Jr.

Ed Begley, Jr. is a committed environmentalist who walks the talk or in this case bikes the talk. He uses his bike for transportation. He's had an electric car since 1970. His home is solar powered. He even uses a stationary bicycle to generate the power for making his morning toast.

Ed was in DC yesterday as part of his campaign to raise awareness about the importance of saving energy through more efficient home heating, Bike ride for change, a tour of 5 northern cities. We joined Ed and about 35 other cyclists yesterday on his tour of the monuments and we wish him well in his quest to help Americans become more energy independent.
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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cyclist killed in Tysons

According to ABC 7 news a bicyclist was killed while riding along Route 7 at the Beltway some time last night/early this morning. Police assume he was riding eastbound in the right lane on Route 7 and he was struck from behind. This is a very dangerous section of Route 7, with fast moving traffic entering and exiting the Beltway. It's a critical link into Tysons without any accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists. Many people cross here on foot and by bike because they have almost no other option.

The cyclist, who has not been identified, was left lying in the road and the motorist left the scene. According to the news article, the police "still know nothing specific about the striking vehicle, but say it may have minor damage to the right front portion. Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Solvers by phone at 1-866-411-TIPS/8477, e-mail at, text "TIP187" plus your message to CRIMES/274637 or call Fairfax County Police at 703-691-2131."
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Vulnerable roadway users

All roadway users are not equal. Motorists are surrounded by a metal shell, usually cushioned by air bags during a crash. Cyclists, pedestrians, and other non-motorists don't have that protection and are more vulnerable in a crash with a motor vehicle. However, in our legal system there usually is no distinction between a crash involve motor vehicles and one involving a vehicle and a vulnerable user. Often only minor penalties are levied against motorists who injure or kill bicyclists.

The concept of vulnerable users is common in Europe. Oregon was the first U.S. jurisdiction to enact legislation to acknowledge the existence of vulnerable roadway users and to create enhanced penalties when a crash involves a vulnerable user. In 2007 the Oregon Legislature passed HB 3314, creating an enhanced penalty for careless driving if it contributes to serious physical injury or death to a "vulnerable user of a public way". The bill went into effect January 1, 2008. The above link is a good history of the process leading up to passage of the bill.

On November 20 of this year a similar bill, H.B. 4861, Vulnerable Users Bill, passed both houses of the Illinois General Assembly and we assume will be signed into law soon. We plan to discuss this topic at future FABB meetings.
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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fairfax Bike Crashes 2005-2008

As we mentioned earlier, FABB met recently with a representative from the Fairfax County Police. During the meeting we were shown a list of bike crashes between 2005 and 2008. It was only a partial list, showing the locations with the greatest number of crashes. There were six crashes at Sunset Hills Rd and Wiehle Ave, the highest number during that period. There were five at Shreve Rd and Virginia Lane. Three locations had four crashes. (In the map section above, the purple pin indicates six crashes, the yellow pin, 4 crashes)

What wasn't reported was that most of the top crashes were adjacent to the W&OD Trail. You can almost trace the Trail by following the crash locations. Since the Trail is the most heavily used bike facility in the county it's not surprising. However, it would be useful if the statistics included this information. When crashes are recorded, the closest road intersections are used. We may request that if a major multi-use trail is nearby (W&OD, Fairfax Co Pkwy, W Ox), then that information be recorded as well.

The crash stats only reflect those crashes where there was damage (over $1,000?) and/or an injury. Many, many crashes either go unreported or are not recorded by the police. We may ask police to experiment with recording all bike crashes in an area during a given time period, and compare that info with the official crashes. I would guess that the ratio would be about 3 or 4 reported crashes to 1 recorded crash.

We created a map showing the locations where there were 2 or more crashes. Eventually we want to have a map showing all recorded the crash locations during this time period.


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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Congressman Blumenauer in Parade Magazine

We've written about Congressman Earl Blumenauer many times before. He's a bike commuter and he originated the Bicycle Commuter Act that passed as part of the Wall Street bailout bill (which ironically he didn't support). Blumenauer is interviewed in today's Parade Magazine, an insert in the Sunday Post (hat tip to WashCycle):

"Your city—Portland, Ore.—is very bike-friendly. What has worked? We have expanded the number of bike lanes, established bike routes throughout the city, and turned major streets into "bike boulevards" so there is less through traffic. It’s making a huge difference. People in Portland use their cars much less than the American average. That translates into savings of more than $2500 per year per family. There should be a bicycle master plan for cities large and small."

Fairfax has a long way to go before becoming bike-friendly. We don't have a bicycle master plan; that's FABB's number one goal.

We hope the rumors about him being a potential candidate for Transportation Secretary are true.
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Friday, November 21, 2008

Bike Your Drive

REI sponsors the site Bike Your Drive: "Riding a bike for errands, shopping and commuting is easier-and more fun-than you think. There's no need for special clothes, fancy shoes or Lance-like legs. Ease into the saddle with REI's roundup of cycling tips and resources."

For the very beginner, there are some simple videos on Cycling Basics such as putting on the front wheel and clipless pedal basics. There's a section debunking 12 Cycling Myths: "Myth #4: Biking takes too much time. Reality: It does require a little extra planning to ride, but, depending on the distance and traffic, it might actually take less time to bike than it does to drive. Plus, you burn calories and can run errands while you ride."

There is also an informative Biking Q&A: "Q: Isn't biking on the road a risky proposition? A: By riding responsibly, predictably and with caution, you'll greatly reduce your risk."

I'm sure REI would love to sell more bike gear, which may be a partial reason for the site, but they are a good, collective organization and they do good deeds in the local communities, including sponsoring Bike to Work Day here in Fairfax.
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Bike lanes on Old Courthouse Rd

Bike lanes were recently striped on Old Courthouse Rd near Tysons Corner (map). There is a wide section of the road just west of Gosnell Rd with a speed limit of 25 mph. It is used by many commuters as a route to Tysons. Because of it's width, most motorists exceed the speed limit (even more so than elsewhere). Residents have long complained about the problem, and VDOT recently proposed a solution; narrow the motorized travel lanes and add bike lanes.

Like the new bike lanes on Westmoreland Rd in McLean, the lanes are too short and end where cyclists really need better conditions, in this case at the narrow section leading towards Wolf Trap to the west and the narrow, uphill section to the east leading to Gosnell Rd. But it's a start, and now there should be additional incentive to improve the narrow sections. In either case, we're very encouraged that VDOT is finally adding bike lanes to Fairfax roads. We now have about 20 miles of bike lanes out of approximately 6,000 lane miles in the county.
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Thursday, November 20, 2008

FABB meets with Fairfax County Police

Master Police Officer Beth Benham attended last nights FABB meeting. She gave an overview of bicycle crash stats over the last couple of years and fielded many sometimes heated questions about the lack of enforcement of motor vehicle traffic violations. We also discussed what constitutes harassment of cyclists. Many of us have been yelled at, honked at, had things thrown at us, been passed too close (less than 2 feet), and otherwise bullied by motorists.

These are all illegal behaviors and can and should be reported to the police. There are two ways to report them. You can call 703-691-2131 as soon as possible after the incident occurs to report it. Or it can be reported on the Aggressive Driver report form. If reported by calling the police, you must be prepared to file charges and appear in court to testify against the offender. If reported on the Aggressive Driver form, and the information matches vehicle records (license number and description of vehicle), a letter is sent to the motorist.

We also discussed pedestrian and bicycle safety enforcement campaigns, arguing that some of us feel that cyclists are often targeted for not coming to a complete stop and putting a food down at a stop sign, while motorists roll through stop signs or turn right on red and are not ticketed. The intersection in the county where the most bicycle crashes have occurred recently is Wiehle Ave and Sunset Hills Road in Reston. Motorists regularly turn right on red without hesitating. Here's a recent video clip taken at that intersection showing cars turning right on red. Officer Benham said that police are supposed to enforce all violations, not just those against bicyclists and pedestrians. However, when the campaigns are conducted by the bicycle police, it's hard to see how moving violations against motorists can be enforced.

We hope the meeting was the beginning of a dialog between FABB and the police. I think we can work together to educate motorists and cyclists (and the police) on our shared responsibilities.
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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why don't more kids ride bikes to school?

We've been working recently with a parent who wants to ride her bike to school with her child. The school does not have a bike rack. The parent asked for a rack and was told that the school is undergoing renovations and it's not safe to ride to school. The school administrator would not even discuss installing a rack until after the renovations were completed.

It's hard to believe that a safe location for a bike rack cannot be found on school grounds. The school has found a way to safely get kids to school on school buses. Teachers drive and park safely. Parents drop kids off at school and the kids walk from the dropoff point. I assume a teacher could decide to ride to school and would also want a bike rack. And yet it's not safe to park one's bike at school.

The school did finally agree to install a rack after the renovations. However, the renovations are expected to take up to another year.

I've often wondered why more kids don't ride their bikes to school. I think one answer is that they are not encouraged to ride to school. Some schools actively discourage kids from riding bikes to school. Where did this attitude come from? It seems especially odd in a country where the number one cause of death for teens between the ages of 15 and 20 is car crashes. See the map of teen car crashes in Fairfax Co for 2007-2007 for an idea of the magnitude of the problem.

Kids are now taught from the very beginning that they have to rely on a motor vehicle to get around. They ride in school buses or parents drive them to school. There is little to no bicycle education in schools; why should there be when kids are discouraged from riding?

There are some positive signs. Louise Archer Elementary School now has a Safe Routes to School Program that includes incentives for kids to ride to school (go to the school website to view a video of this year's walk to school day). Parents at Wolftrap and Westbriar Elementary Schools are working with school administrators to set up SRTS programs and to get racks installed for kids. Let's hope this trend continues.


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Monday, November 10, 2008

New York Times bike sharing article

European Support for Bicycles Promotes Sharing of the Wheels is the title of an article in today's NYT about how bike sharing has taken off in Europe:

"In increasingly green-conscious Europe, there are said to be only two kinds of mayors: those who have a bicycle-sharing program and those who want one.

Over the last several years, the programs have sprung up and taken off in dozens of cities, on a scale no one had thought possible and in places where bicycling had never been popular."


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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hot, Flat, and Crowded

Pulitzer prize winning author Thomas Friedman writes about the state of the world. His previous books include From Beirut to Jerusalem about the Arab-Israeli conflict, The Lexus and the Olive Tree on globalization, and The World Is Flat, how inexpensive global telecommunications has equalized economic competition among the world's countries. His latest book is Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution - And How it Can Renew America.

What does this have to do with bicycling in Fairfax? Friedman has a profound message for the world; because of global climate change we must change the way we travel, heat our houses, generate our electricity, and treat the natural world. Bicycling can be part of the solution. Friedman is a cyclist. He says that we talk a lot about being green, but "we have not tried even the obvious stuff that we do know would have real effects and would not involve fundamental changes in our lifestyle."

He goes on list many small changes we could make. "Forcing everyone to ride a bike to work would involve changing our lifestyle. But requiring municipalities to set aside bike lanes running from suburbs to inner cities doesn't strike me as cramping anyone's lifestyle (and might make our whole society healthier)."

I highly recommend reading Hot, Flat, and Crowded. President-elect Obama, who is also a cyclist, has read the book:

"Then Obama talked about the current book on his nightstand: 'Hot, Flat and Crowded,' by the New York Times op-ed columnist Tom Friedman. ...Obama said he shared a commitment to improving America's 'energy technology.'"
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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

President-elect Obama supports bike lanes

In a speech earlier this year Obama spoke out about the need for long term solutions to our energy problems:

"If we are going to solve our energy problems we've got to think long term. It's time for us to be serious about investing in alternative energy. It's time for us to get serious about raising fuel efficiency standards on cars. It's time that the entire country learn from what's happening right here in Portland with mass transit and bicycle lanes and funding alternative means of transportation. That's the kind of solution that we need for America."
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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Report on Springfield Mall redevelopment hearing

We attended the Fairfax Co. Planning Commission public hearing on proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan to allow mixed-use development on the site of the Springfield Mall. The owners of the mall plan to build residential, commercial, and retail buildings surrounding the mall, which will be redesigned. New streets will be added.

To allow the redevelopment, the Comprehensive Plan must be changed, and the applicant must file for a rezoning. The rezoning application public hearing is scheduled for February 12, 2009.

During the developer's comments, they mentioned proposed bike lanes on the perimeter roads on the east, south, and west. Providence Commissioner Ken Lawrence noted that for bicycle transportation to work, other bike facilities are needed such as racks, showers, and changing rooms.

When we testified we reinforced Commissioner Lawrence's comments about bike parking. We also suggested some changes to the Plan text to more recommend that a bike circulation plan be developed similar to the pedestrian circulation plan. We also noted that since the developer offered to build bike lanes on their side of the road, VDOT and the County should figure out a way to have both sides striped at the same time. Travel lanes could be narrowed and the lanes could be shifted to accommodate bike lanes.

Lee District Commissioner Rodney Lusk, in whose district the development is being proposed, said he was well aware of the need for good bike facilities, noting that the chair of the Lee District Land Use Committee bicycles to transit regularly. Commissioner Lusk said that he would make sure that my comments were included in discussions of developer proffers when the rezoning application is heard.
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Monday, November 3, 2008

Active Transportation for America

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy recently published Active Transportation for America: The Case for Increased Federal Investment in Bicycling and Walking (pdf). The report describes the quantifiable benefits of transforming our auto-dependent transportation network to one that supports walking and biking.

"This report quantifies, for the first time, the benefits that America can expect from elevating the priority of bicycling and walking in our nation's transportation system. This case statement for increased investment in bicycling and walking infrastructure evaluates benefits in the areas of transportation, oil dependence, climate change, and public health, and puts dollar estimates to the economic value of these benefits."

"According to the 2001 National Household Travel Survey, 48 percent of all trips were three miles or less and 24 percent were one mile or less."

The report is filled with valuable statistics that can be used to make the argument for investing in bicycle infrastructure. On page 17 there's a chart that shows the direct relationship between investing in bike facilities and how many people ride.

On page 18 are the results of a survey of Americans on how they would allocate transportation funding (22% for biking and walking) vs. how much is actually allocated (1% to biking and walking). The results are very similar to a survey conducted by the Tysons Land Use Task force (pdf).

It's worth spending a few minutes to scan the report (44 pages with lots of graphics).
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