Friday, December 26, 2008

One less car in Virginia

Most families in the Fairfax area have at least two cars, some have more depending on the age of their children. There are very few who have a single car, and almost none go without a car altogether. The other day FABB member Paul Kent stopped by our place with his trailer to pick up some supplies. He recently sold his second car and is now getting by with only one, a hybrid. It wasn't an easy decision. With two children in the household, there are many events to attend, errands to run, etc.

The family is learning to live with only one car. The kids often ride their bikes to school. Paul commutes either by bike or bus. As you can see from the robust trailer, he can haul lots of stuff with his bike (one of several. Just because he only has one car doesn't mean he doesn't have many vehicles. Each of the kids has a bike and Paul has several). It's the personal choices we make on a daily basis that make a difference.

Below is a photo of the door that Paul hauled home the other day.

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New edition of Fairfax County Bike Map available

Copies of the newest version of the Fairfax Co Bike Map should soon be available at your local bike shop and through the County. The map was printed last week and copies arrived at most bike shops earlier this week. One of the changes is a new symbol for routes that are included on the map for connectivity, but riding conditions are poor, such as Route 1, sections of Route 29, Baron Cameron Av and others.

Another change is the inclusion of locations of local bike shops. A few minor errors were corrected as well. There is a price of $2.00 printed on the map cover, but for now the County is not charging for the map. Given the County's dire financial situation, that may change in the near future. Electronic copies of the map are available on the County bike program page (It appears that the new edition of the map is not yet available but should be soon).
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Friday, December 19, 2008

Senator Whipple calls for more bike lanes

Senator Mary Whipple represents the 31st District which includes much of Arlington County. She is chair of the health care subcommittee of the Senate Education and Health committee, and it was in that capacity that she recently attended a health care conference sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures. As reported in her most recent Richmond Report, she understands the importance of living an active lifestyle that includes bicycling.

"The most important lesson is that more attention must be given to chronic disease. We learned that chronic diseases ( heart disease, cancer, stroke, COPD, and diabetes) are the #1 cause of death and disability in the U.S. and patients with chronic diseases account for 75% of the nation's health care spending.

The vast majority of cases of chronic disease could be better prevented or managed. For example, the doubling of obesity in the last two decades accounts for nearly 30% of the rise in health care spending.

The lesson is clear: living a healthy life means a higher quality of life, less illness and lower costs. The World Health Organization estimates that at least 80% of all heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes and more than 40% of cancer would be prevented if only Americans were to do three things: stop smoking; start eating healthy; and get in shape. All things we know we should do!

What can we do to promote wellness? Multiple examples from many states were offered. Such simple design changes as making stairs as prominent and accessible as elevators, and not hidden in back halls, can encourage physical activity. Community design that includes mixed-use development, more sidewalks, safe bicycle lanes and bike racks can really help. The idea is to make the healthy choice the easy choice."
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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Transportation Secretary nominee Ray LaHood

We are encouraged by what we read on Austin Bike Blog that Transportation Secretary nominee Roy Hood (R) is a member of the Congressional Bike Caucus, was a co-sponsor on Congressman Blumenauer's Bicycle Commuter Act and voted "in favor of restoring funding for the Transportation Enhancements program in the 2004 Transportation Appropriations bill".

However, according to StreetsBlog, Hood received a "low score from the League of Conservation Voters (he’s never surpassed 50%)." That is certainly not good news, but at least he seems to be aware of the importance of bicycling as a transportation mode and we remain optimistic. We will have to wait and see.
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Cheap oil

OPEC is getting worried. Many OPEC members rely on higher oil prices to subsidize their economies. When the price of oil was high, consumers started to cut back on the use of gas, driving less, using other modes of transportation. This loss of revenue is causing problems back home, so one solution is to try to elevate the price of gas once again.

According to a recent Post article, OPEC Plans Drastic Cut In Oil Production, "Facing its biggest test in a decade, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is planning to make a major cut in oil output at a meeting in Oran, Algeria, tomorrow in an effort to stop the slide in oil prices, which have dropped by two-thirds since July."

"Confronted by sputtering world oil demand, the cartel is expected to make production cuts of about 2 million barrels a day to reduce the size of world inventories and to boost prices back up to the $75-a-barrel level that Saudi King Abdullah has called reasonable. It will be the group's fourth meeting in four months as it tries to adjust to the weakening world economy."

Not only is OPEC decreasing production, because of the low cost of oil, many oil firms are reducing their exploration and research: "'We are already putting down the seeds for a new oil spike,' Gheit said, noting that the drop in exploration and development spending would mean lower production capacity in the years to come."

The sooner we wean ourselves from our oil addiction, the better off we will all be.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Leaner nations bike, walk, use mass transit

It's well known that the majority of the population is overweight. According to a recent Harvard Men's Health Watch newsletter, more than two-thirds of all Americans weigh more than they should. "All in all, obesity and lack of exercise are responsible for about 1,000 deaths in the U.S. each day."

Most bicyclists know about the health benefits of bicycling, especially bicycling to work which provides a daily workout while simply getting to work. According to the Associated Press article Study: Leaner nations bike, walk, use mass transit, "New research illustrates the health benefits of regular biking, walking or taking public transportation to work, school or shopping. Researchers found a link between 'active transportation' and less obesity in 17 industrialized countries across Europe, North America and Australia."

'Countries with the highest levels of active transportation generally had the lowest obesity rates,' authors David Bassett of the University of Tennessee and John Pucher of Rutgers University conclude."

Also featured in the article is the above bike commuter: "Jim Richards is no kid, but he loves to ride his bike. At 51, he has become a cycling commuter, pedaling 11 miles from his home in the suburbs to his job in downtown Knoxville.

'It really doesn't take that much longer' than driving, he insists.

And he gets 40 minutes of exercise twice a day without going to the gym, which he attributes to a 20-pound weight loss."

Hat tip to Paul for pointing out this article.

Visit co-author John Pucher's website for some excellent bike-related research publications.
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Time for a gas tax increase?

In a recent editorial, Start Making Sense: America must end its denial about gas taxes, Washington Post editors make the case for increasing the gas tax. Higher gas taxes "would stimulate the market for new fuel-efficient cars; defund mischief-making petro-states; and cut carbon emissions. Not only that, it would reduce traffic, curb urban sprawl and, by giving drivers an incentive to drive more slowly, improve highway safety."

When the price of gas was $4 a gallon, we drove less and used other forms of transportation like bikes and transit. Now that the price is well below $2, this trend will likely be reversed. With the price of gas fluctuating greatly, gradually adding small tax increments would likely have little effect on most of us, especially considering that the Federal tax on gas "has held steady at 18.4 cents since 1993", and the current price of gas is equivalent to 1980 prices.

"Congress should enact a steep, inflation-indexed hike in gas taxes, one big enough to alter consumer incentives and habits permanently...even if Congress were to triple the tax to 55.2 cents, gas would still be cheaper, in real terms, than it was in 2005." Several Post readers agree.


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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bike transportation should be part of Economic Recovery Plan

President-elect Obama recently outlined his vision for an Economic Recovery Plan: "We have faced difficult times before, times when our economic destiny seemed to be slipping out of our hands. And at each moment, we have risen to meet the challenge, as one people united by a sense of common purpose. And I know that Americans can rise to the moment once again.

But we need action - and action now. That is why I have asked my economic team to develop an economic recovery plan for both Wall Street and Main Street that will help save or create at least two and a half million jobs, while rebuilding our infrastructure, improving our schools, reducing our dependence on oil, and saving billions of dollars."

Bicycle transportation projects should be an integral part of any economic recovery package. Rails-to-Trails, America Bikes, and Thunderhead Alliance have "collected a list of hundreds of ready-to-go active transportation projects from communities across the country. These projects would create new jobs and revitalize communities by funding trails, bike lanes, sidewalks and other infrastructure." To support this effort, sign the petition on the Rails-to-Trails website.
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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cyclo cross race at Lake Fairfax Park

The Capital Cross Classic race was held on Sunday Dec. 7 at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston. The course "is roughly 3.1k in length and consists of a paved start and finish, grass and hard pack terrain, a paved descent and some off camber turns. The course will have one man-made obstacle and 2 natural obstacles." The man-made obstacle was a series of large wooden beams placed on the route at the bottom of a very steep uphill section. There was one person who was able to hope the beams and ride uphill, but most riders hopped off their bikes and ran to the top of the hill.

Lake Fairfax is very bike accessible by riding on neighborhood streets through Reston to the Park entrance. There is even an entry point off the W&OD Trail at Michael Faraday Ct leading to an unpaved trail into the park. There was a small but hearty crowd braving the freezing temperature and strong wind to see one of the few organized bike races in Fairfax County.
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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Virginia Climate Change Report recommends more bike commuting

In December 2007 Governor Tim Kaine established the Governor's Commission on Climate Change. "The commission will prepare a plan for Virginia that identifies ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions." The final draft report was just released, and several of the recommendations note the importance of increasing the number of Virginians who bike.

The main emphasis of the transportation goals is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to driving: "3. Virginia will reduce GHG emissions related to vehicle miles traveled through expanded commuter choice, improved transportation system efficiency, and improved community designs."

The Commission recommends that the state Transportation Plan "include coordination of transportation and land use as a key policy goal and to require the Plan to include quantifiable measures...and achievable goals relating to greenhouse gas reduction. Suggested goals include reduction of GHG emissions from the transportation sector, transit riders per mile of transit infrastructure, percentage of Virginians who walk or bike to work, and percentage of freight carried by rail. Progress towards the goals should be monitored through the annual Transportation Performance Report."

It's noted in the report that "the CTB has amended its road construction standards to make new or upgraded roads more pedestrian- and bike-friendly." It goes on to note that the policy means nothing without funds: "The CTB should ensure that funding is available for localities to implement these standards, develop and provide funding and technical assistance to encourage local governments to construct pedestrian and bicycle improvements, and compile and coordinate local and regional plans to develop a pedestrian and bicycle network." This makes it all that much more important that Fairfax County has an up to date bike master plan.

One way to provide better bike facilities is to make all our streets complete streets: "VDOT should adopt a "complete streets" policy to design and operate roadways to allow safe, attractive, and comfortable travel for all users."

And last but not least, the Commission recommends that the State provide better support for bicyclists who bike to work: "Virginia agencies and institutions should implement programs to promote alternatives to driving, including creating new or expanded benefits for state workers who take transit, walk, or bike to work, and create program examples for local governments and private businesses. These benefits should be equal to or greater than those provided for state employees to park their personal automobiles at work. All office buildings owned or rented by the Commonwealth should provide bike racks. Where possible, all office buildings owned or rented by the Commonwealth should be located near transit facilities."
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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Proposal to increase crash damage threshold

Last year Senator Creigh Deeds introduced Senate Bill 39, "Traffic accident reports; increases amount of damage threshold to be reported by law enforcement." The bill would raise the vehicle damage threshold for requiring a written police report from $1,000 to $1,500.

This change could have an impact on reporting of bicycle crashes. For most of us, the current threshold is too high. Most cyclists ride bikes valued much less than $1,500. As we mentioned earlier, in Oregon bicyclists are considered vulnerable roadway users. Different criteria for reporting crashes are being used based on the new vulnerable roadway users bill.

According to Bike Portland, Portland police have lowered the threshold for reporting a crash that involves an injury to a vulnerable user. With Sen. Deeds bill, Virginia would be going in the other direction, leading to fewer bicycle crash reports.

Below is the text of a letter sent to Senator Deeds. While the idea of having no damage threshold for bicycle crashes is not realistic, there needs to be a middle ground. We'll pass on any response that we receive:

Dear Sen. Deeds,

I am concerned about the impact that SB39 will have on bicyclists involved in crashes. Currently many bicycle crashes go unreported because the damage to the bicycle, which is almost always less than $1000, does not meet the reporting threshold. Raising that threshold to $1500 will only make the situation worse.

Because bicyclists are especially vulnerable users of the roadway, they should have special protections. We would like to see all bicycle crashes reported to obtain a better picture of the problem that is currently grossly under-reported. We also would like to see justice. All too often bicycle crash victims are marginalized in a traffic crash reporting and judicial system centered on motor vehicles.

I am asking if you would consider including an exception to the proposed $1500 threshold when a bicycle is involved in a crash. One option could read: "A. Every law-enforcement officer who in the course of duty investigates a motor vehicle accident resulting in injury to or death of any person or total property damage to an apparent extent of $1,000 [ $1,500 ] or more except for bicycle crashes, which would require no damage threshold],".

If at all possible I would like to discuss this issue with your staff.


Bruce Wright
Chairman, Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling
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