Thursday, December 31, 2009

Green inverted-U racks in Vienna

The Town of Vienna recently received a number of green inverted U racks that were provided by the Fairfax County bike program. The racks were purchased with CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality) funds and there are several other locations around the county where they will be installed.

There is a critical need for more and better bike parking in the county. Lack of bike parking is a major factor in preventing people from biking. During the past year I've had meetings at several county offices, and most don't have visitor bike parking. The locations include the county Health Department headquarters at 10777 Main Street, Fairfax, the Department of Transportation headquarters offices at 4050 Legato Road, and Fairfax County Public School headquarters offices at 8115 Gatehouse Road.

At places where there is bike parking, racks are often incorrectly installed, like those at the City of Fairfax library and Vienna Community Center. While we're thrilled to see new racks in Vienna, from looking at the photo it appears the rack was installed incorrectly [see Update below]. There should be 36" on the curb side to allow a second bike to be parked (according to Arlington Co specs).

The sooner Fairfax has bike parking guidelines, the better off we will all be.

Thanks to John Brunow of bikes@vienna for the photo and for working with Charlie Strunk, the county bike coordinator, to help get the racks for the Town.

[Update Jan 1, 2010] We had a chance today to see the new green racks in Vienna, and from this photo, you can see that the rack is installed correctly. The concrete to the left of the rack in this picture is not the curb but part of the sidewalk, which extends to the edge of the snow. Other new racks along Maple Ave were also installed correctly. We should have verified our earlier assumption by checking out the rack ourselves. Our apologies to the Town.]

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Creating a bike-friendly Tysons Corner

That's the title of a letter we recently sent to the Post regarding the article Shuttles for Tysons Metro stations in Virginia need grants that appeared on Dec. 22. The article notes that a shuttle bus system will cost "$9 million to buy the new buses and $5.8 million annually to operate the service."

For Tysons to become a true mixed-use, livable place there need to be many transportation options. We pointed out that a bike sharing system would cost very little and could be in place in a matter of months. Bike-friendly streets, long- and short-term bike parking, and other infrastructure will allow new residents a low-cost, pollution free alternative to sitting in traffic jams at all hours of the day.

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Portland cyclists ride through the snow

A little snow didn't seem to deter some cyclists in Portland. In fact, according to Bike Portland, cycling was faster than most ways of getting around during what was called the worst commute in 20 years. "But, through it all, people on bikes seemed to be not just moving along just fine, they actually seemed to be enjoying themselves. Imagine that!" Photo © J. Maus, Bike Portland.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

10 Mistakes that Can Derail Your Bike Injury Case

Doug Landau is a personal injury attorney who handles many bicycle cases. He handled the case of eight cyclists (the MS-8) who were ticketed by Loudoun County police for not stopping at a stop sign during an MS ride this summer.

He recently published 10 Mistakes that Can Derail Your Bike Injury Case, a book about bicycle crashes, how to avoid them, and what to do when they happen. The book is available as a free download (click on the Download link under Add to Cart) or as a $12 trade paperback. We've downloaded the book and look forward to reading it.

His list of 10 mistakes: 1. Being Unprepared, 2. Failing To Get Help, 3. Not Having Any Witnesses, 4. Not Having Any Evidence, 5. Not Contacting The Authorities, 6. Failing To Follow Up, 7. Not Having "Show & Tell", 8. Failing To Document, 9. Talking Too Much…, and 10. Losing Track Of Time.

Doug's office is located in Herndon, across from Zeffirelli's restaurant, not far from the W&OD Trail.

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W&OD Trail still not clear

We've posted some photos on the W&OD Trail Report showing icy conditions in the Reston area. While much of the trail is clear, there are several long, icy sections in the Reston area. One day the trail will be plowed in winter, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen this year.

The Reston Association plows their trails whenever there's a snow storm. In fact, at the bottom of this photo is a plowed Reston trail to the left. During the most recent storm they plowed a couple of times. Today I saw an RA crew clearing snow dumped by VDOT on one of the previously plowed trails. According to folks at RA, there is no damage caused to their trails by their small snow plows. Their trail plow was bought used from a Canadian company. Lot's of people walk and bike the trails in Reston, and the Association respects those modes by treating them like VDOT treats the roads.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

New Safe Routes to School Report

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership recently released the report Safe Routes to School: Putting Traffic Safety First; How Safe Routes to School Initiatives Protect Children Walking and Bicycling. As Fairfax County works toward making the county safer for kids to walk and bike to school, they can learn from the report which has many examples of how the SRTS program has improved safety.

When some people ask why should the community spend money on bike facilities when so few people current use bikes for transportation, it's important to remember that "In more recent years, bicycle sales have passed new automobile sales in the United States by nearly 1.7 million annually, and more than 70 percent of all children age five to 14 ride a bicycle." Most kids own bikes but rarely use them for a number of reasons. Bicycle education is almost non-existent in the schools. Bike routes to many schools are not safe, especially for untrained, young bike riders.

The Safe Routes to School program addresses these issues and many others with the five E's; Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, Engineering, and Evaluation. The new report contains profiles of five communities where the SRTS program has made walking and biking conditions safer for kids.

With help from the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, bike crashes in that state have been reduced: "An analysis comparing bicycle crash rates for the eight years before the Bicycle Safety Education Program was implemented (1992 to 1999) with the first eight years the program has been offered (2000-2007) reveals a 51 percent drop in bicycle crashes for children aged 10-14."

It's time for Fairfax County to make better use of the Safe Routes to School program. To date they've received less than 1% of Virginia SRTS funds, money that could be used for education, new facilities, traffic calming, and other measures.


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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

McDonnell announces Transportation chief

Today Governor-elect Bob McDonnell appointed "Sean Connaughton, former Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and later Administrator of the Maritime Administration in the United States Department of Transportation, as Secretary of Transportation." Connaughton will replace Pierce Homer, who recently received Virginia Bicycle Federation's Bicycling Friendly Award.

Living in Triangle and having served on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors he is familiar with transportation problems as they relate to Northern Virginia. PW County has one of the only transportation departments in the state. The county is not know for it's bike-friendliness. This is the extent of the bike information on the DOT website:
Bike Trails Bikers can enjoy the bike trail that runs parallel to the Prince William Parkway. A new bike trail will also follow the path of Liberia Avenue from the Parkway to Route 234. The Virginia Department of Transportation plans a bike trail from Liberia Avenue to Montclair along Route 234 as part of the widening project

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Monday, December 21, 2009

New specs for bicycle traffic control devices

The new version of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) was recently released. See related posts at BikePortland, LAB, Wash Cycle, Rails to Trails, and VBF.

Major changes in Part 9. Traffic Controls for Bicycle Facilities include the new Shared Lane Markings, formerly called Sharrows. These have been used experimentally along some on-road portions of the Mt. Vernon trail in Alexandria. They can now be used without special permission. They indicate to motorists, on roads with a speed of 35mph or less, that bicyclists will be sharing the road.

The "Bicycles May Use Full Lane (R4-11) sign" is another significant addition that "may be used on roadways where no bicycle lanes or adjacent shoulders usable by bicyclists are present and where travel lanes are too narrow for bicyclists and motor vehicles to operate side by side." It can be used with the Shared Lane Marking.

There are many locations in the county where these signs will help cyclists where there is no room for wide outside lanes or bike lanes. An example is on Old Courthouse Rd leading into Tysons. Bike lanes are located to the west. The road narrows as cyclists ride uphill approaching Freedom Hill Park where there are many mature trees and a steep bank that make widening the road very difficult. The new signs will indicate to motorists that cyclists belong in the center of the lane because the lane cannot be safely shared.

Another example is on Idylwood Rd between Hurst St and Idyl Ln. Cyclists coming from the W&OD Trail riding north to Tysons and McLean must take the lane and are often harassed by motorists. There are extensive utilities located adjacent to the road and the county estimates it will cost over $1,000,000 to provide paved shoulders. Shared Use Lane markings and Bicycles May Use Full Lane signs are a low cost measure that would help educate motorists about cyclists rights.

Also of note are new bike route wayfinding signs that include destination information, mileage, and arrows. These are used extensively in Oregon and some other western states but were not part of the official manual until now. They can now be used for the planned bike route signs in McLean, on the Fairfax County Parkway Trail, and elsewhere.

A minor change that makes a great deal of sense concerns the use of "Bike Lane Ahead" and "Bike Lane Ends" signs. Use of these signs is no longer required, which could save money where there are either short sections of bike lanes or short gaps in existing bike lanes.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Signs of progress in Virginia

From the Virginia Bicycle Federation blog:


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NVTA bashes bicycles once again

The Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance (NVTA) claims to be "the only organization focused exclusively on working to make better transportation a reality for Northern Virginia citizens and businesses." However, according to NVTA, using a bicycle to get to work, to shop, or otherwise get around doesn't qualify as transportation.

In an earlier post we noted their disparaging comments about funding for bike sharing in DC. In their most recent alert entitled Pedal Power: Is Beijing's Past Washington's Future?, NVTA criticizes MWCOG for wanting to build bicycle facilities to reduce congestion in the region as part of their vision for 2050.

The alert references a recent Post article on the decline of the use of bicycles in China, stating that the only reason the Chinese used bikes was because they couldn't afford a car. The alert ends by stating: "Let's Promote Bicycling as a Quality of Life Benefit. Let's Also Recognize that Absent a Major Economic Implosion, it is Unlikely to Reduce Congestion."

What NVTA didn't mention was that the Post article went on to state that the Chinese are learning about the many downsides to relying too heavily on cars:
"some commuters are realizing that owning a car may bring a certain prestige as a sign of affluence but also comes with gasoline prices, parking fees, the odd traffic ticket and the notorious traffic jams.

"My family bought our first car in the 1990s, but we sold our car last year," said Bai Liping, 45, a saleswoman in an insurance company and an e-bike rider. "Having a car is not that convenient, compared with an e-bike."
Many of the very affluent citizens of Copenhagen have discovered that riding a bike is a great solution to congestion, air pollution, and for creating a livable community. They have a mature transportation system, not one that relies almost entirely on single-passenger autos.

MWCOG are to be commended for trying to create a mature transportation system in the DC Metro area, one that promotes the use of bicycles as a viable part of that transportation network. In places such as Portland, Oregon and Copenhagen, Denmark, where safe, convenient bicycle facilities are provided, people will choose to ride bikes. Even with as few as 5% of commuters on bicycles, our congestion levels would be greatly reduced.

One wonders why NVTA is so opposed to spending comparatively little of the area's transportation budget on bicycle infrastructure improvements. But then what do you expect from a transportation advocacy organization that spells the term "transporation."

If you know someone on the NVTA Board, why not ask them why they support an organization that doesn't recognize bicycles as an integral part of the N. Va. transportation system.


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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Virginia bicycle coordinator leaving

Jakob Helmboldt, State Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator at VDOT, is leaving to join private industry. He will be taking a position with Vanesse Hangen Brustlin (VHB). VHB provides "multidisciplinary planning, design, engineering, and consulting for some of the nation's most complex infrastructure and development initiatives." They were primary contractor for the Wiehle Ave/Reston Parkway Station Access Management Study.

Jakob did a good job as the state bike coordinator and his expertise and enthusiasm will be missed. He was the first Virginia Safe Routes to School coordinator before becoming the bike coordinator. That's Jakob in white in the photo above after a tour with FABB and local county/NVRPA staff to review needed changes to the W&OD Trail. We wish him well.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

E-bikes in China

It's sad that bicycling has fallen so far in China. When I was there in the late 80's, the peak of bicycle sales in China, bicycles were everywhere. Large bike lanes dominated most streets in Beijing and there were very few cars. Now the reverse is true.

While the use of conventional bicycles in China is decreasing, electric bikes have been taking off for the past couple of years. According to "E-bikes keep China's bicycle culture alive" in today's Post, 20 million electric bikes (e-bikes) will be sold in China this year. China is still the leading producer of bicycles in the world, producing approximately 60 million a year, many of which are exported.

The realities of too many people driving too many cars is starting to sink in:
"My family bought our first car in the 1990s, but we sold our car last year," said Bai Liping, 45, a saleswoman in an insurance company and an e-bike rider. "Having a car is not that convenient, compared with an e-bike."
They are also learning about the other problems associated with the switch from active transportation to cars:
There may be one unintended side effect of the explosion of e-bikes and fewer people going to work through pedal power: According to the Health Ministry, 22 percent of Chinese adults are overweight and 7.1 percent are obese. In the cities, those numbers rise to 30 percent overweight and 12 percent obese. The statistics mark a dramatic rise from the 1990s, the ministry said.

"People are lazier than before," said Jin Shan, director of the sports culture research center at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences. "Before, no matter how far it was, the bike was your only choice. Changing from bikes to cars and e-vehicles is one reason Chinese people are getting fatter."

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Local filmaker produces bike commuting documentary

David Cranor of The Wash Cycle is one of the people featured in the documentary of bike commuting in the DC Metro area, Pedal Power Final Cut. According to The Wash Cycle, the film was made by Mike Kurec who "is a grad student at American University whose thesis project is a documentary centered on bicycle commuting in the DC area."

Pedal Power Final Cut from Mike Kurec on Vimeo.

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Bikes can be part of the Tysons traffic solution

Daring to dream of reducing Tysons traffic is the title of an article in today's Washington Post about measures being taken to get more cars off the road in Tysons, especially during the construction of Metrorail and the I-495 HOT lanes. A couple of new transportation options are now being offered.
A new free Tysons Connector shuttle loops around the malls and banks and restaurants at midday. And, starting next year, carpoolers will get points they can redeem at stores in Tysons, where 120,000 people work but only 17,000 live.
a new express bus service operated by PRTC OmniRide will bring commuters from Woodbridge to Tysons on weekdays.
One of the most obvious solutions to congestion isn't even mentioned: bicycles. A Tysons bike share system could handle many of the short, lunchtime trips, at a very low cost compared to the transit options. Bikes can be used for many commute trips for people living within a 5 mile or greater radius of Tysons, especially when combined with trips on Fairfax Connector buses, all of which now have bike racks. For those who drive, even short trips are now taking a very long time:
Pam Minett found another option entirely: She moved to Tysons. Life was good in her Vienna apartment until this year, when the trip to the small law firm where she works as office manager began to take over an hour.

"We're talking 6.92 miles," Minett said. "That's painful."

Her rent on WestPark Drive jumped 30 percent, but she says it was worth it. "That's how bad the traffic was."
At a very slow pace, cycling 6.92 miles takes just over half an hour.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Secretary LaHood defends bicycle infrastructure funding

As we've noted in the past, Senator Coburn (R) of Oklahoma doesn't like bikes or bike infrastructure. He and Senator McCain tried to remove Transportation Enhancement funding from the upcoming Transportation bill. That move was soundly defeated as have all attempts to strip TE funding.

Most recently he singled out some bike projects that were funded by Recovery funds. It's refreshing to see that Transportation Secretary LaHood agrees we need better bike facilities. In a recent blog post Coburn Report dismisses Recovery-supported bike paths LaHood defends the Recovery spending:
"We've worked hard this year to get our Recover Act dollars out to the states quickly and effectively. Yes, some of those projects include bike paths, a key ingredient in our livability initiative to allow people to live, work, and get around without a car.

We don't call that waste; we call it progress."

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David Byrne at the Newseum

It was a full house last night at the panel discussion sponsored by the Brookings Institute that included musician and cyclist David Byrne, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, and Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner, New York City Dept. of Transportation.

David Byrne is the author of the new book "Bicycle Diaries [which] chronicles David’s observations and insights — what he is seeing, whom he is meeting, what he is thinking about — as he pedals through and engages with some of the world's major cities." His talk was more about liveable places and less about bicycling. In his first slide of Columbia, MD he noted that his parents moved there several years ago and now that they don't drive, find it very difficult to get around. "They're stuck." As are many people who have depended on driving for much of their lives and now need other ways to get around.

He mentioned some of his favorite books about places including Twenty Minutes in Manhattan by Michael Sorkin, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs, and The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander.

After discussing cycling in various cities of the world he noted the transformation of Portland, Oregon into a bicycle-friendly city. Merchants who at first resisted removing on-street parking for bike corrals, are now requesting them. Replacing two on-street parking spaces makes way for 25 bike parking spots. And instead of having a van blocking the view of the store, motorists can clearly see through the bikes.

Congressman Blumenauer continues his efforts for cyclists, whom he sees as indicator species for liveable communities (Sadik-Kahn says that families on bikes are indicator species for bicycle-friendly communities). He has a vision of kids, who aren't obese and who once again get to school under their own power. He hopes to expand the Safe Routes to School Program to include high schools.

The bike industry in Portland, which Blumenauer has represented in Congress for 10 years, is worth $100 million in economic activity each year. Families there spend $2500 lees for transportation each year. To foster active transportation choices in the U.S. he plans to sponsor the Active Transportation Fund of 2009 bill in Congress. (See the proposed legislation (pdf)). Portland "has been able to increase its bicycle mode share by 400% in the last two decades for the cost of one mile of freeway."

The final speaker was Janette Sadik-Khan who has lead the transformation of New York City streets. Noting that bicycle standards documents haven't kept up with some of the more innovative bicycle facilities being implemented in Portland, New York City and elsewhere, she announced the formation of Cities for Cycling "a project of the National Association of City Transportation Officials to catalog, promote and implement the world's best bicycle transportation practices in American municipalities."

Both Blumenauer and DDOT director Gabe Klein mentioned that the powers that be need to hear from cyclists. Blumenauer issued a call to action by saying "we've been too accepting of the status quo. We need to agitate more." We need to challenge people who say we shouldn't be spending money on more bike and ped facilities because most people drive. About 1/3 of us don't drive, the disabled, elderly, young, and those who choose a different path. We're not spending 1/3 of our transportation dollars to accommodate them and we should.

I hope Congressman Blumenauer is correct when he states "You will be stunned by what happens in the next 10 years" in the way of bicycle infrastructure improvements.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Possible funding for county Bicycle Master Plan

Fairfax County recently submitted an application for a grant from the Centers for Disease Control under the Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative. The purpose of the initiative is to reduce obesity and tobacco use. Fairfax County decided to request funds for obesity reduction.

Programs will focus on prevention using a holistic approach: "Our common philosophy is based on the belief that preventing rather than solving problems improves the lives of children, youth, families and the entire community. We see children and youth in the context of their families, and we see families in the context of their neighborhoods and communities. Therefore, our systems approach to prevention includes strategies that build on the strengths of individuals, families, neighborhoods, and communities."

Prevention efforts will include programs to encourage better nutrition and increased physical activity. Bicycling is an obvious, lifelong physical activity that can solve many problems related to obesity. However, it's difficult to encourage more people to use bicycles for transportation without a well-planned, connected network of bicycle routes. Fairfax County does not have a bicycle master plan, which is the first step in creating a bicycle-friendly Fairfax. The Board of Supervisors agreed by endorsing the concept of a bicycle master plan at their October 5, 2009 Board meeting.

Recognizing this grant as an excellent opportunity to improve bicycling in Fairfax, the county is requesting funds for a countywide bicycle master plan as part of the CDC application.
The bicycle master plan for Fairfax will outline policy directives, goals, objectives, and recommendations to make bicycling an integral part of the multi-modal transportation system in the county. License plate information recently collected of parked automobiles at several park and ride lots and transit stations throughout the county indicated that over 40% of the vehicles at these facilities were registered to homes within two miles of the transit facility. If these trips were converted to bicycling and walking, significant improvements to the environment and personal health could be realized.

The bicycle master plan will build upon the existing countywide trails Plan (large PDF) and recently completed Fairfax Bicycle Route Map by identifying network deficiencies/opportunities, identifying connectivity barriers to park and ride lots and metro/transit stations, establishing standards for public and private developments, providing guidance on land use decisions in order to make bicycling an integral part of all new and redeveloped sites and defining actions that will encourage the use of bicycles for all trips less than three miles.
We are excited about the possibility of the county finally having funding to create the plan. This is the number one goal of FABB and it will be a milestone for the county bicycle community. Thanks to the county for included this component in the grant application. The anticipated award date is February 2010.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Bike news around the world

A couple of bike-related articles caught our eye recently. Dc.Streetsblog and others mentioned a series of papers in the medical journal The Lancet entitled Cutting carbon, improving health (registration required). Articles include a discussion of climate change and the impact on people's health in the future.

In the paper Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: urban land transport, researchers estimated "...the health effects of alternative urban land transport scenarios for two settings—London, UK, and Delhi, India." They compared doing nothing with using low-emission vehicles vs. increased active travel (bicycling, walking). They concluded that a
"...combination of active travel and lower-emission motor vehicles would give the largest benefits, notably from a reduction in the number of years of life lost from ischaemic heart disease (10—19% in London, 11—25% in Delhi).

Increase in the distances walked and cycled would also lead to large health benefits. Largest health gains would be from reductions in the prevalence of ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, depression, dementia, and diabetes.
In another climate change-related article, a recent post by Biking Bis, How bicyclists are trying to make an impact on climate conference in Copenhagen, summarizes how bicyclists are trying to influence the UN Climate Change Conference that begins next week in Copenhagen. There's a link to an article in the NY Times, Danes Showcase Cycling Culture Ahead of Copenhagen Summit
The Danish government is taking advantage of the United Nations climate summit next week in its capital, Copenhagen, to promote it as a City of Cyclists. "Whatever the outcome of Copenhagen will be, the success of the fight against global warming depends on the efforts that all of us will be making as individuals," Joergen Molde, the Danish ambassador to Belgium, said on Tuesday.

"Using your bike going to work is one such small effort that you can make," Mr. Molde said, noting that about half of the commuters in Copenhagen used their bikes to get to their jobs.

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