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Archive November 2009 (14)
Bicycling is UP again in the Big Apple!

On the heels of 2008's unprecedented growth of 35% in commuter cycling, this year the New York City Department of Transportation measured an additional gain of 26%, putting the total 2007 to 2009 increase at a whopping 66%!

Of course much of that can be attributed to NYC installing 200 miles of bike routes in the past three years, including innovative amenities such as the 8th and 9th Avenue cycletracks that separate car traffic from bikers. Safer streets encourage more people to ride, more riders encourage more people to ride, more riders on the road means cyclists are more visible. It's a cycling mathematical equation that I'm sure "Cycling Al" Einstein would have approved of.

In fact, the numbers of cyclists on the roads have tripled since the year 2000. So we thought it would be good to get a reality check from riders as to how it is going out there. Overwhelmingly, folks we interviewed said it is getting quite crowded out there on our streets and bridges and in most ways that's a good thing!

To help cut busing costs, Fairfax officials suggest getting more kids to walk to school

By Fredrick Kunkle - Washington Post Staff Writer

Almost everyone has a grandparent who claims to have walked two miles to school every morning. Uphill. In the snow. Etc.

In Fairfax County, it could soon be your 12-year-old trudging to school.

Hard times have a way of making old ideas seem new. With nothing but grim budgets ahead, some members of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors want the county's schools to save money on buses by encouraging more kids to walk to school, perhaps by moving back the boundaries for bus-riding eligibility.

It's an idea that has received more attention nationwide in recent years as a way to fight child obesity, reduce air pollution and ease traffic. It became especially popular when diesel fuel prices climbed to $4 a gallon a year ago, and it's popular now as governments struggle through the worst recession in generations.

The cost of putting a school bus on the street is approximately equal to keeping a teacher on staff, said Linda P. Farbry, director of transportation for Fairfax public schools.

It also doesn't hurt that the campaign -- especially the "Walking School Bus" that encourages parents to coordinate neighborhood routes, wear safety vests and share escort duty -- fits with the baby boomer habit of reviving childhood practices. An oft-quoted study found that in 1969, 41 percent of students walked or bicycled to school. By 2001, that figure had dropped to 13 percent.

Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee) has his own childhood memories.

"The schools do nothing to teach the benefits of walking and biking to school," McKay said. "Somehow we got away from that, because when I went through the schools, they had presentations by police and others talking about the importance of walking and biking to school."

McKay's suggestion that more kids walk also reflects the growing financial tensions between the School Board, which sets school policies and answers mostly to parents, and the Board of Supervisors, which controls school funding and answers mostly to taxpayers. McKay said that one of the biggest complaints he hears from constituents is about the number of half-full school buses they see.

But there are also plenty of reasons why bucking a 40-year trend of transporting kids to school is not going to be easy. Fairfax, which occupies 400 square miles, was built around the automobile.

Noreen C. McDonald, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill who studies children's transportation habits, said that walking has declined as distances to schools have increased, the percentage of working mothers has doubled and attitudes about safety have changed.

"People have some very strong fears about leaving their children unsupervised," McDonald said.

Susan Mosios, 47, a substitute teacher and jewelry designer who lives in Lorton, said she allows her 9-year-old son, Jacob, to walk to school, but only so far. "I'd like it to be like the old days, when people could walk. But I worry about the people who could take the child," she said outside Laurel Hill Elementary School.

Fairfax transportation officials said they understand the concern. "We're already having difficulty with parents who live inside these boundaries, saying it's already too far for a kindergartner to walk a mile," Farbry said. "And we don't dispute that."

Under current regulations, elementary students ride the bus if they live more than a mile from school. Middle and high school students can use buses if they live more than 1 1/2 miles from school. And about 10,000 students who live inside the boundaries are eligible for busing because they face particular safety hazards on their route, such as a major highway crossing, or they have disabilities or belong to special programs.

The Fairfax district, which buses about 64 percent of its students, has tried to squeeze savings on buses, often to parents' dismay. It has eliminated some neighborhood stops and tweaked schools' daily schedules. The goal is to cut its fleet by 90 buses, or about 8 percent, from 1,150 last year, Farbry said. So far, the district has taken 54 buses off the street.

Two years ago, a district study suggested that extending the distance that middle and high school students walk by half a mile would save $975,000 a year.

Montgomery County's school board also explored a similar maneuver to save money, voting in June 2008 to grant officials emergency powers to extend the bus boundaries if fuel prices rose further.

Brian Edwards, a schools spokesman, said that no change has been necessary and that the system continues to use boundaries of one mile for elementary school children, 1 1/2 miles for middle school students and two miles for high school students.

Fairfax is hunting for any savings in the face of a $315.6 million gap in fiscal 2010 that has forced County Executive Anthony H. Griffin to call for cuts up to 15 percent.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D) said she supports the idea of having more children walk if they can do so safely and said that considerable sums have been invested in trail and pedestrian improvements.

At Laurel Hill Elementary, three-quarters of its population walks, largely because it's close to residential housing. Principal Suzie Montgomery said that about 600 of 800 students walk.

"I think it fosters a sense of community," said Christine Morin, 39, a Laurel Hill parent who has coordinated a schedule with four other families to escort their children to school, including her second-graders, twins Ben and Chase.

On a blustery day last week, Morin gathered her gang at the school entrance and headed into a light rain.

"Everybody here? One, two, three, four, five, six -- okay," she said to herself, after negotiating an intersection with help from a crossing guard. Hidden under rain-whipped umbrellas, the six young walkers looked like walking backpacks as they headed down Western Hemlock Way into a subdivision so new that it's still mostly treeless.

Meghan Wommack, 8, braving puddles in sneakers and a fuchsia slicker, said she liked walking, even in the rain, and certainly more than taking the bus, as the kids used to. For one thing, she didn't have to bother with older kids.

Ben Morin, 8, agreed. "Walking is better, because people on the bus were cursing all the time," he said.

Annapolis Bicycle Friendly Community Feedback

Feedback on Annapolis’ application to be designated a Bicycle Friendly Community

The League of American Bicyclists is please to present Annapolis with an honorable mention in response to its Bicycle Friendly Community application. Reviewers were impressed with the potential and commitment to make Annapolis a great place for bicyclists, though considerable work remains to be done. Highlights of the application included hiring of a bicycle coordinator for the city; Safe Routes to School programming in 11 Annapolis schools; Bike Loaner program; and the Mayor’s proclamation and participation in Bike to Work Day.

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Columbia (Mo.) mayor says it's time to put pedal to metal

Says Columbia (Md.) needs to develop its bicycling potential

By Sarah Breitenbach - Colombia Flier

Columbia could learn a thing or two from a Missouri city that shares its name.

Darwin Hindman, the mayor of Columbia, Mo., visited Columbia, Md., Wednesday to tour the area and to talk about strategies for making Howard County more bike-friendly.

Hindman was invited to town as a guest of Columbia Tomorrow, a nonprofit dedicated to revamping downtown Columbia.

His visit included a two-wheeled tour on area bike paths and roads, and a lunch with representatives from nonprofits, businesses and local government.

“One of the things you've got to do if it’s going to work is take the people who don’t ride bikes now and get them interested in it,” he said.

Hindman told the group of 30 how his city used a $22.5-million federal grant to build bike paths, improve intersections and host city-sponsored bicycle safety courses.

“It’s beautiful here,” he said. “You’ve got an awful lot to build on.”

Hindman emphasized the health benefits of biking and its ability to decrease congestion when used as a means of commuting.

David Yungmann, founder of Columbia 2.0, an organization that seeks to involve younger people in the downtown redevelopment process, and a participant in the morning bike ride, said Columbia’s roads are not conducive to commuters on bikes.

“We were in people's way,” he said. “People are trying to park, trying to drive.”

County councilwoman Jennifer Terrasa, a Democrat who lives in Kings Contrivance, said while the county’s roughly 100 miles of bike paths are great for recreation, routes are not well connected.

“It’s almost like a strategic plan,” she said. “You have to go ‘OK, how am I going to get across (U.S. Route) 29? I can get over here, but how am I going to get across that road?' ’”

Terrasa said funds are not readily available to develop more bike paths or create dedicated lanes for cyclists, but bike usage will be a part of the planning process to redevelop downtown Columbia.

Earlier this week, the Howard County Council introduced legislation outlining General Growth Properties Inc.’s plan to bring 5,000 residential units, 5 million square feet of office space and 1.25 million square feet of retail space to downtown Columbia.

Cycling is safe - a point of view

Last Sunday Baltimore cyclists gathered to honor a cyclist that was killed (Baltimore Sun coverage) by a right turning truck (that did not signal) and a lot of conversation was about how dangerous it is to bike in the city.  And if you look at all traffic fatalities in the city it does indeed look like a very frightening place to ride.

Map of all traffic fatalities 2003-2007:
All Baltimore traffic fatalities map


But the world I see when I bike is this:

Map of Cycling fatalities 2003-2007:
Cycling fatalities Baltimore map

That's what cycling fatalities look like here.  And the tragically ironic bit is too many of our bicycle crashes are because people feel unsafe cycling on our streets so they try their best to stay out of the way of cars by adopting unsafe practices like riding against traffic or even worse, riding against traffic on the sidewalk where no motorist is looking for traffic. So while it may feel initially safe to be out of the area of attention of motorist or to be able to "see it coming" the cold hard fact is for safety we need to ride our bikes as part of traffic, not invisible or contrary to traffic. Aggressive motoring calls for assertive cycling, timid cycling on an aggressive motorist road/time of day just does not work, that's the basic law of the jungle. 

Being assertive is often considered rude but being a aggressive motorists is even more rude.  So the question is how do we cope and ride safe in this environment? My first recommendation is reading a few articles on Ken Kifer's site and then watch the video produced by MDOT filmed mostly in Baltimore and hosted by Bike Maryland (note there are 5 parts to the video, when done with one part click the next part under the video.)

From conversations I have had, the people that are still reluctant to ride because they feel that the more people that ride the more bike crashes and fatalities will happen. But there is ever increasing evidence that is not the case, as one example, data from Portland, OR which has seen tremendous increase in cycling yet their cycling crashes remain fairly constant:
Portland's bike use and bike crash data

In conclusion: Cycling is good for you, your health and the environment and the more people that ride, the safer it is for everyone.  So while some "street smarts" is required for safety, it's not rocket science.  Oh ya, it's also fun and practical way to go places, get things done and enjoy life.

Which cities are the safest for pedestrians? Which are dangerous?

Some of the most dangerous places for pedestrians, according to a new report, are cities in the South – in areas that built streets mainly for automobiles. Not surprisingly, the safest cities have many miles of bike lanes or sidewalks.

By Ron Scherer | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

New York - Some of the most dangerous places to walk or ride a bicycle in America are in the South – in fast-growing metropolitan areas that have built their streets mainly for automobiles.

In fact, four of the five worst metro areas for walking or biking are in Florida: Orlando-Kissimmee, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, and Jacksonville. The other metro area in this group of five is Memphis, Tenn.

This list of the most dangerous metro areas – as well as the safest – was part of a report released Monday by Transportation for America and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, both advocates for what they term "complete" streets. These include separate areas for walking or biking, or at least roads with clearly marked space for other forms of transportation.

The metro areas that are the most hazardous were designed after World War II and are mostly automobile-oriented, says Anne Canby, executive director of the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership. "Walkers and bicycles were not considered, leaving those who wish to walk with unsafe situations," she said in a conference call Monday with reporters.

If cities promote walking and bicycling, it might also help them cope with health issues such as obesity and heart disease, said Linda Degutis, former president of the American Public Health Association.

"When people don't feel safe and comfortable, they do not get out to exercise and bike," Dr. Degutis said in the conference call. "A lot of communities need to think about retrofitting their streets not only to make them safer places, but also to improve public health."

Adding sidewalks and bike paths could especially help the elderly, said Elinor Ginzler, director for livable cities at AARP, another participant in the conference call. "The infrastructure is not geared towards older individuals, which contributes to their higher death rate," she said.

The report cites a California case in which an 82-year-old woman was given a $114 ticket for crossing the street too slowly.

One goal of the groups is to get more money spent on pedestrian and bicycle safety. According to Geoff Anderson, co-chair of Transportation for America, pedestrian deaths represent 11.8 percent of all traffic fatalities [Maryland is 19.4], but only 2 percent [Maryland is 0.6%] of highway funds are spent for pedestrian safety. "We think they need to dedicate a proportional amount," said Mr. Anderson, noting that several bills before Congress would fund "complete-street programs" (read: here and here).

Perhaps it's not surprising, but the safest cities for walking and biking have many miles of bike lanes or sidewalks. According to the report, the top five safest metro areas are Minneapolis, Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, and Seattle.

"When you look at those that are safest, they are mostly older cities – except for those who have focused on a full variety of options," Ms. Canby said. "Minneapolis, for example, is one of those places that has spent a lot of money to make it safer to walk and bike."

Some cities that ranked low in past reports show improvement in the new study. One is St. Petersburg, Fla. Since embarking on a "Vision 2000" plan, the city has installed 83 miles of infrastructure for bicycles, added 13 miles of sidewalks, and improved crosswalk safety.

St. Pete has reduced pedestrian crashes by more than 50 percent since 2000, and serious injuries are down even more.

Montgomery draws a car-free blueprint for growth

By Miranda S. Spivack - Washington Post

The County Council, after weeks of intense debate over the county's growth policy, unanimously agreed to give developers discounts to build dense developments near transit stations as long as they also construct bike paths and walkways, put shops and other amenities nearby, and use environmentally friendly construction methods.

Most suburban growth plans -- including Montgomery's, until Tuesday -- discourage development in congested areas, including those near public transit, and encourage construction in more sparsely populated communities, on the theory that new developments should arise where traffic is still tolerable.

But Montgomery's new plan takes a different tack, one that smart-growth advocates say is long overdue. With the population nearing 1 million, the Washington suburb is substantially larger than the big city to its south but is still managing growth as if everyone can hop in a car and quickly get where they want to go.

Dangerous by Design - Transportation For America's Report

Solving the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths (and Making Great Neighborhoods)

Transportation For America issued a report Dangerous by Design in which it highlighted that Maryland ranked 49 out of 50 for per capita spending on bicycling and walking projects. As well as ranking the Baltimore metro area 45 out of 52 for per capita spending of Federal money for biking and walking. Additionally the Fatality Analysis and Reporting System ranked Maryland the 6th wost for the pedestrian fatality rate.

Per the Baltimore Sun the State explains how the money they do spend on bike/ped projects is under reported, while this is true but as the old joke sort of goes: twice of next to nothing is still next to nothing but the real question is the State doing what is necessary to reduce the pedestrian fatality rate which is now at an all time high? In the League of American's Bicyclists report they highlighted how no Congestion Management and Air Quality (CMAQ) funds were spent on bike/ped projects in the Baltimore Metropolitan Area and these funds must be spent in areas whose air quality is classified as non-attainment such as the Baltimore Metropolitan Area. But wait there's more, the State failed to commit $14.5 million in CMAQ funds so that went back to the Federal Government.

We also have to question Douglas H. Simmons, deputy state highway administrator statement "For smaller-scale projects it's a little easier to go through the state process." especially in light that most of the Baltimore County bike master plan is not implemented because of the lack of funds. Where can we find a few million dollars to start moving this stuff along when the State under commits spending Federal dollars that can be used for bicycle and pedestrian projects? As an example Baltimore County tried to get funding through a bond for a trail but it failed. This is exactly the kind of stuff that Federal Aid is supposed to help with but State policies that are out of line with Federal polices are causing significant problems throughout the State.

The good news there is additional support that is coming. At the last Baltimore Regional Transportation Board Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Group Sylivia Ramsy presented the latest in Maryland's Trails: Strategic Implementation Plan which should go on-line soon. Highlights are a statewide bicycle network for transportation as well as areas for recreation. The Plan also highlights areas of need which Baltimore Metro has several. Additionally in the presentation Ramsy noted the problem with the State's 50:50 match (Federal Policy is 20:80.) In general we are excited to see more attention to biking and walking issues by Maryland Department of Transportation and State Highways but the arbitrary boundary between State roads and local roads has to go, all roads need to accommodate biking and walking traffic especially where there is need. We need to turn the emphasis to locate barriers to biking and walking and then find the appropriate remedy whither it is a trail or on-road facilities. Just spending something somewhere is not cutting it, the State needs to get smarter on how it is spending its money and where it is spending its money and One Less Car is working to make that happen.
2009 Honorable Mentions for being a Bicycle Friendly Community
Annapolis, MD; Baltimore, MD; ... Cumberland, MD; ... Rockville, MD;...
The League of American Bicyclists promotes bicycling for fun, fitness and transportation, and works through advocacy and education for a bicycle-friendly America. The League represents the interests of America's 57 million bicyclists, including its 300,000 members and affiliates. For more information visit

Congratulations and thanks to these cities for helping to make Maryland a better place to bike!

Mr. Blumenauer goes to New York City to ride bikes

It's not everyday that you get to ride bikes in a big metropolis with a member of Congress, even one who loves to bicycle whenever he can.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer dropped by Transportation Alternatives' offices to take a quick excursion around mid-town with Executive Director, Paul Steely White, and Senior Policy Director, Noah Budnick. They checked out a few standard (painted) bike lanes and some of the newer (physically separated) facilities, of which the latter Mr. Blumenauer thought were superior. Along the way he offered much commentary about the state of biking and livable streets in the nation.

With a new, Congressional transportation bill due to percolate to the surface sometime in the near future, Mr. Blumenauer believes the next decade will be the one when we can finally achieve some balance for pedestrians, bikes, and livable streets. For the sake of our planet, our health, and the green growth of our cities - cheers to that.

Baltimore Bicycle Friendly Community Feedback

Thanks again for applying for the BFC designation and congratulations on your honorable mention. I know Baltimore is going to get the bronze soon, so keep up all your excellent work! I have attached feedback that was compiled from the application review. You will find a few significant measures that should be taken to improve the community’s bicycle friendliness in addition to program and policy measures in each of the Five E’s. The BFC application is broad and no one right or wrong answer will put a community over the edge either way. In our experience, it takes a breadth of programs across each category to make a truly Bicycle Friendly Community.

Each question of the BFC application is designed to point the community to a good measure for improving cycling. So, please use this document in conjunction with the BFC application as a roadmap to building a great community for cycling.  

Best regards,

Bill Nesper
Director, Bicycle Friendly America Program
League of American Bicyclists

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MBPAC Resolution and Cover Letter to Maryland State Police

We would like to thank the members of the Maryland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee for the following action and resolution and helping to clarify that cyclists do not have to ride in a shoulder no matter how narrow, and cyclists should not be weaving in and out of shoulders with multiple hazards.

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Coverage of the original "accident" by the Washington Post

Cycling or Walking to School Will Not Be Tolerated!

By William Volk - Huffington Post

According to the Surgeon General, more than 12.5 million children -- 17.1% of children and adolescents 2 to 19 years of age -- are overweight in the U.S., up from 13 % in 1999.

So, one would expect schools to be encouraging students to exercise more. Perhaps to even walk or bicycle to school. Hey, it could save some energy ... even reduce CO2 emissions a bit.

One would be sadly mistaken.

I first noted this a few years ago when our neighborhood school removed the bike parking. Then I stumbled upon this gem.

In Saratoga Springs, New York students are banned from walking or cycling to the Maple Avenue Middle School.

Recently Seventh-grader Adam Marino and his mother, Janette Kaddo Marino decided to challenge this policy by biking to Maple Avenue Middle School on Route 9.

The biking debate started last spring, when school district officials told Kaddo Marino that Adam was violating school rules by biking to class. Walking to the school also is not permitted.

Kaddo Marino challenged the policy and asked the school board to change it. The district charged a committee to review the rule, which was instituted in 1994.

At the start of school in September, Kaddo Marino thought that she had a nonverbal agreement with school officials to allow her son to ride his bike until a new policy was resolved. But on the night before classes started, school authorities called parents to say that walking and biking to school would not be tolerated.

Odds are good that the lunchroom's got a soda machine with the local beverage distributor kicking back funds to the school.

Getting people out of their cars and into public transit, or on bikes, makes them less fat, according to research from Rutgers University urban planning professor John Puche.


Amazing isn't it?

America’s top bike minds ask for (and receive) advice from Europe

[A trimmed down version from Bike Portland's blog:]

Jeff Olson, a planner with Alta Planning and Design asked:
If you were able to ask Mayors of large cities in the U.S. to go and ask Congress for anything, what should they ask for?

Niels Jensen:

“I’d ask for money”

Hans Voerknecht:

“Two things: Change the guidelines, and second would be parking. Change dramatically the way of parking. Allow no more parking in the streets 1/2 mile from homes and businesses so you remove all the short trips and people will know they don’t have the car in front of their door. You would also remove all this traffic noise and small particles in the air.

I don’t know if it’s true but I’ve heard Americans even use a car to post a letter around the corner. If you had to walk a 1/2 mile to get your car you wouldn’t do that anymore.”

City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield got the last question of the night (and it was a good one):

I want to ask about pricing the use of the automobile. In most of your countries and cities, it’s expensive to purchase a car, to get fuel, to park — and in addition, you’ve put restrictions on cars within your city. It’s simply not convenient to drive.

In the the U.S., that pricing is very absent. There’s very little political will to disincentivize the use of the automobile. We’re concerned that our goals for reaching higher mode split will be difficult to reach because of our inability to put price disincentives on car use. Is that a valid concern? How is it that you’ve come to have that political will?

Geert-Pieter Wagenmakers:

“While in Beaverton I saw all of these enormous rooms for all these cars… even a parking garage for cars! I asked, are you subsidizing this? If so, it’s socialism. You’re subsidizing a parking lot… and that’s out of the mouth of somebody from the business community.

In our country, every square meter is money and you have to use it as good as possible so it gains as much money as possible. And I know one thing, parking cars is not a beneficial way of industry.

Why are the tariffs for parking in the city so high [In Amsterdam, they're about $7 an hour, 24-hours a day]. First, it’s good for quality of life and second, for the people who really need to be in the city — like the people with their big Mercedes to go to the Gucci shop, or the business man who needs to go to an important meeting — now he has a place to park. In the old days, when parking was much cheaper, they had to search for a spot… so that’s good for business.”

Hans Voerknecht:

“One of the things is, if you would ask the Dutch public, ‘Would you rather pay less tax on your cars and pay less tax on your fuel,’ everybody would say ‘Oh yes!’ But the thing is we don’t ask them!

You shouldn’t ask all the time, ‘Do you want to spend money?’ Of course they say no. The thing is, if people are so narrow-minded, you need politicians… Democracy is not about doing the will of the people; it’s about choosing the best men and women out of the people who make the wisest decisions.

The costs of maintaining a road network is high and the users should pay for them… there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Fees work very well to affect the behavior of the people, but it also works well is to reward the people who do the desired behavior. In some cities, they have sort of a reverse congestion pricing: People whose cars aren’t seen in rush hour get up to 8 euros a day.”

Adelheid Byttebier chose not to directly answer the question, but instead shared some general advice for how to promote bicycling:

“Maybe we should look for best practices not only in the field of mobility or cycling but best practices that have worked in a completely separate field. What we have with our mobility problem is the means of transport itself — the car. It’s very socially accepted, it’s — certainly here in America — not so expensive, you can get everywhere with one, etc… On the other hand we know it’s not good for your health or for society in terms of sustainable living and so on.

This reminded me of the debate we’ve all had on smoking.

My father was a smoker and it was very social, not so expensive and it was about having a good time. But, at a certain moment, the decision was made to no longer have ads for smoking and to make it an issue and talk about the health aspects. it’s been a long struggle, but in Belgium we’ve just had a report on health and heart attacks and they’ve found we’ve had great results since we’ve restricted smoking.

Perhaps that experience will give us a good inspiration to try and do it a similar way concerning better modes of being mobile.”

As Portland (and the rest of America) strives to emulate places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, we’ll come face to face with some of these hard truths about our transportation culture. Are we ready to face them? Are there limits to how much we can emulate Northern Europe?

These questions are sure to play out in the coming years.