Cool Animation About Idaho Stop Law

Back in April, when the Oregon legislature was discussing the Idaho Stop Law, I somehow missed a Bike Portland blog post featuring this nifty animation about bikes and the stop law.

One thing I really like is how it points out the difference in power generated by a cyclist vs. the amount generated by a car. After you’ve seen the video, think about all the “traffic calming”–such as speed bumps–that has to be done because cars are so overpowered.

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Fuji Suncrest, 1987 – 2008

Fuji Suncrest, 21, Beaverton, died Oct. 28 of acute frame fracture.

A remembrance will be held tonight, after dinner, over a few beers.

The Fuji was first in the possession of a bicycle shop owner in Watsonville, Calif., where he used it as a high-end mountain bike.

In 1989 the shop owner sold it to a college student, who used it as a mountain bike and as an all-purpose commuter. The student added a Blackburn rack to the bike, and rode it continually from 1989 until 1992, in place of a car. Much of this commuting was on the UC Santa Cruz campus, and some of it consisted of, arguably, one of the best 3-mile commutes in the world: down West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, Calif.

ATIS547, via Flickr

West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, Calif. Credit: ATIS547, via Flickr

The bike was a stalwart companion, despite impressive misuse including mountain bike crashes such as one at 25 mph, and a spectacular one off a bridge into a river.  On more than one occasion, the bike carried the student and his friend home on the rear rack, when his friend was too drunk to see straight.

In 1992 the Fuji moved to San Francisco and then to Palo Alto, where it served as a light-duty commuter and weekend mountain bike.

From 1996 until 2000, also known as The Dark Years, the Fuji sat mostly dormant in a garage in Oklahoma City, an inhospitable city for bicycling.

In 2000 the bike moved back to Santa Rosa, Calif., where it was fitted with slicks and served as a short-duty commuter.

In 2004 the bike moved to Beaverton, Ore., and in 2006 began a second era of bike commuting. The commuting started out as relatively short-hop: a 3-mile ride to the train station, then a 1.6 mile ride in downtown Portland. For close to two years the bike humbly and safely conveyed the same owner on commutes and trips around town, even as he added clipped pedals and fenders (a necessity in a city as rainy as Portland), and the seat post clamp wore out, the rear axle failed, and the bottom bracket broke.

By this time the bicycle was older than some of the mechanics that worked on it. Yet these mechanics never looked contemptuously at the bike. Instead, they typically nodded, impressed at the durability of the grizzled old warrior.

In the summer of 2008, when gas prices rose and Johnny-come-lately bike commuters flooded the trains, the owner began riding the Fuji the entire trip between home and work. Once again, despite being heavy and old, the Fuji performed without complaint, even as more of its components started to fail.

On October 27 in the evening, the bike conveyed the owner the entire 13 miles from work to home, carrying him along a rough path buckled by tree roots that runs down the Willamette River, across the carved-up pavement in the Corbett-Terwilliger area, up steep hills west of the river, and out through West Portland and Beaverton, a trip that includes two wooden bridges and numerous speed bumps.

The next morning, after a ride into work on a cool autumn morning, a fracture was discovered in the chain stay, near the rear derailleur.

The bike will be donated to the Community Cycling Center, for parts.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you take good care of your own bicycle.

Evil Drives a Pontiac Vibe

I had a close call yesterday. I was writing my bike to work when a white car — this car — passed me, then pulled to the curb right in front of me without signaling.

I stopped. I had to, because she’d cut me off. She pulled away and I followed, and I caught up with her at the next stop sign. I waved and tried to get her attention, but her eyes were riveted on the road. So then she pulled away again, and then did the same thing.

But since I’m not an idiot, I’d decided not to ride alongside someone that dangerous, so I was still sitting at the stop sign. She pulled away again, and about a half mile later, I caught up with her and took a picture of her car.

What kind of person threatens someone with their 2,700-lb. car? When I participated in the first Bike Beaverton even this past summer, I saw a woman get impatient with a trail of cyclists at the side of the road. She honked, sped up, straddled the middle lane, and passed the cyclists. Just in case you’re keeping karmic tally, that’s dangerous, unbelievably uncool (speeding next to children riding their bikes), and illegal. And why did she do all this? So she could turn left a half-block later.

A friend of mine calls these people “haters.” I guess you can’t keep people from hating, but I sure with you could keep haters from driving.

I reported my incident yesterday on the BikePortland.org close calls thread (it’s distressing how many of them there are) and to the Beaverton Police. I’ll let you know what happens.

In Praise of the Gyratory Circus

There’s a fairly remarkable article in the July/August issue of the Atlantic Monthly, called “Distracting Miss Daisy,” in which the author, John Staddon, argues that “the American system of traffic control, with its many signs and stops, and with its specific rules tailored to every bend in the road, has had the unintended consequence of causing more accidents than it prevents.”

Here’s his take on top signs:

Stop signs are costly to drivers and bad for the environment: stop/start driving uses more gas, and vehicles pollute most when starting up from rest. More to the point, however, the overabundance of stop signs teaches drivers to be less observant of cross traffic and to exercise less judgment when driving—instead, they look for signs and drive according to what the signs tell them to do.

The larger point is that “By training drivers to drive according to the signs rather than their judgment in great conditions, the American system also subtly encourages them to rely on the signs rather than judgment in poor conditions, when merely following the signs would be dangerous.”

Staddon’s proposal is to adopt something like the British traffic system, including the roundabout: “when traditional intersections in the U.S. have been replaced by roundabouts, collisions have typically been reduced by about 40 percent, and fatalities by up to 90 percent.”

If you drive in the U.S. (or Canada), I highly recommend reading the entire article (it isn’t long), though afterward you may behave like I did, like a traffic libertarian.

I also recently read a short paper by Joel Fajans and Melanie Curry, both bike commuters from Berkeley, Calif., titled “Why Bicyclists Hate Stop Signs” (FYI, it’s a PDF. The image above is from the article.) Fajans is a physicist, and tackles the problem by looking at how many watts of propulsion an average cyclist generates.

For example, on a street with a stop sign every 300 feet, calculations predict that the average speed of a 150-pound rider putting out 100 watts of power will diminish by about forty percent. If the bicyclist wants to maintain her average speed of 12.5 mph while still coming to a complete stop at each sign, she has to increase her output power to almost 500 watts. This is well beyond the ability of all but the most fit cyclists.

Then the authors put the estimates to the test on a bike route in their home town, which happens to run parallel to a busier route which has fewer stops. In two tests, he was 30 to 39 percent faster.

Because the extra effort required on California is so frustrating, both physically and psychologically, many cyclists prefer [the busier route to the bike route], despite safety concerns. They ride … the official bike route only when traffic on Sacramento gets too scary.

The authors note that “a cyclist who rolls through a stop at 5 mph needs 25 percent less energy to get back to 10 mph than does a cyclist who comes to a complete stop.”

Clearly, stop signs are tricky for bicyclists. On one hand, they increase safety by decreasing the number of cars on a road, and slowing the remaining ones. On the other hand, they make cyclists work much harder to maintain a reasonable speed. For a commuter choosing between a car and a bicycle, the extra exertion can be a serious deterrent.

If you’re not a bike commuter, you may not think this is a big deal. But it is. Many commuters can’t shower at work, so they don’t want to break a sweat. Luckier ones like me can shower, but on weeks when we commute all week, we get run down from the effort (which include going over speed bumps, a great example of a traffic calming device that we face — only without shock absorbers).

I’m thinking the roundabout is the solution for this, too. Motorists would be forced to look for obstacles in the road; cyclists wouldn’t have to come to a complete stop unless traffic was heavy. Plus, roundabouts would help increase traffic flow, instead of the irritating stop-start experience of driving in a residential neighborhood.

BTW, the title of this blog post comes from an anecdote in Bill Bryson’s excellent book, The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got that Way. He relates an anecdote that the word roundabout was actually coined by an American living in England, who was working on some BBC commission on English. Before the American’s improvement, a roundabout was known as a “gyratory circus”!

The First Bike Beaverton Event

I decided to make a detour on the way home and join Beaverton‘s Bike Advisory Committee in its first (hopefully annual) “Bike Beaverton” event. Mayor Rob Drake stood on a bench and gave us the official opening word (he also rode at the head of the peloton for a while), and then we set off on a 7-mile loop.

Word amongst riders was that there were 90 people who had signed up (i.e., signed waivers), including a good number of families with their kids. For the suburbs, it was a nice bit of civil obedience.

Jonathan Maus, who runs the Bike Portland blog, did a little advance journalism about the event:

Beaverton’s Senior Transportation Planner Margaret Middleton says the event came about because the advisory committee wanted to, “invite people to ride their bikes in Beaverton.” She adds that, “The ride will be a little bit of education, of course, a lot of fun and a lot of community interaction.”

That’s a pretty apt description of what happened. The most educational part of it for me was the cultural difference between riding in downtown Portland (where I work) and in Beaverton. On a seven-mile trip, I counted four cars that honked at us. In other words, in Portland there’s occasional friction between cyclists and motorists when sharing the road. In Beaverton, motorists are still secure in their delusion that they own the road.

I also watched one woman get impatient with a trail of cyclists at the side of the road. After honking, she decided to speed up, straddle the middle yellow lane, and pass all of them. That was dangerous, unbelievably uncool (you’re speeding? next to children riding their bikes!?), and also illegal. Oh, and that was so she could wait to turn left on the very next block.

Strangely, I was glad to be there for that. Why? A blogger named Colin Beavan, whom I admire, once mentioned that “biking on city streets is subtly activist (because statistics show that the more cyclists on the streets the safer it is for everyone).” So for this evening, even though I was riding at a fraction of my typical get-there commuting speed, I was happy to be one more cyclist by the side of that road, helping to complete the chain and being a subtle activist.

(One guy I was riding with had a sticker that said, “That SUV Makes You Look Fat.” That’s a bit too confrontational for me.)

But overall, the trip was still fun. One of the great things about cycling is you can ride alongside someone and chat. In a car? Not so much. I didn’t get to meet as many people as I’d have liked to, since I had to scamper home and have dinner and reset for the next day of work, but I was still glad I went.

Put the Fun Between Your Legs

Sure it’s a callow double entendre, but if it’s good enough for a bicycling t-shirt, it’s good enough for a headline. I ran across Paul Dorn’s Bike Commuting Tips website today, which merits a mention for those of you waffling about whether or not to dust off the Schwinn. Besides, May is Bike Month. Saddle up!

Paul’s site has plenty o’ tips about commuting, but he isn’t one of those sniffy foot-in-the-clips-and-holier-than-thou types, as he documents the many mistakes he made (clothing, choosing routes, etc.) along the way.

One quoteworthy part:

A big reason why many people don’t commute by bike is because they think like motorists. As drivers, they know that the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B is by Route C. Unfortunately, Route C features abundant high-velocity traffic, plenty of potholes and rough pavement, a few steep hills and several dangerous intersections. Not very attractive even for a seasoned cyclist, let alone a beginner. (Not very attractive for a motorist, for that matter.)

However, there just may be a Route D that runs parallel to Route C. Route D features slower – and thus less abundant – traffic, and is flatter with good pavement, more trees, interesting scenery and many smiling pedestrians.

I did this too, riding on a stretch of a busy road with a 45 mph speed limit. Yipes! Not only that, while I was hauling ass to get off that stretch as fast as possible one day, I got attacked by a dog* (*well, if a Chihuahua counts as a real dog).

Now I avoid the big streets and ride on the quiet ones, just like Paul.

One other cool part of his site are some of the biking quotes he found:

“The automobile has not merely taken over the street, it has dissolved the living tissue of the city. Its appetite for space is absolutely insatiable; moving and parked, it devours urban land, leaving the buildings as mere islands of habitable space in a sea of dangerous and ugly traffic.”–James Marston Fitch, New York Times, May 1, 1960

“Driving a car versus riding a bike is on par with watching television rather than living your own life.”–Bruce MacAlister, Calgary cyclist

“This is the basis of car culture, the idea that the world and all of the world’s people are merely in its way.”– Travis Hugh Culley

“The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets.”–Christopher Morley, American writer and editor, 1890-1957

That last one, surely, should be any writer’s motto.

Ridin’ with the Gizmo

This summer I signed up for a Portland State University study to track bicyclist behavior. The study is in two parts: a phone survey that happened earlier this year, and now a second phase that uses Global Positioning System units to study the actual routes that riders take. I’ve had one of the GPS systems for a week.

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The gizmo is the thing strapped to the bike rack, and it’s the size of a Palm. It lives in a zip lock bag. That’s not my bike, by the way. Mine is much dingier.

I thought I’d share some of my experiences, starting with the day I received it. Instead of going home that evening, I had to go to a committee meeting that was in Forest Heights at 5 pm. So I did this super-cool ride, up the McCall Waterfont Park, then a portage over the train tracks at Union Station, then across the Pearl and NW up to my friend’s house on NW Raleigh, where I parked my bike. And, of course, since it was my first ride with the gizmo, I did something wrong and when I got to his house, the device was off. It probably didn’t log my ride. D’oh!

Then I got the hang of it, and figured out how to log trips the way the kindly grad student showed me. Since then, the only wrinkles have been that it’s a bit more equipment to take with me and manage. And I’ve had to acquire satellites.

When you first flip up the antenna, the screen says “Acquiring satellites.” Because I’m slightly compulsive about getting things to work right after my maiden voyage, I now wait for the screen to change to “Logging Data,” even though I don’t have to.

Which makes for some interesting situations, such as today at lunch, when I had my burrito in my pannier, and had set up the trip, and was all set to go—as soon as I got me a satellite. Let’s paint the picture. I was dressed in business casual attire, except for my grotty commuter-shoes, my pant cuff tucked into my sock, and my bike helmet. And I was standing on a busy sidewalk downtown, holding an electronic device that wasn’t a cell phone or a camera, and I was trying to act natural.

And in fairness, I should mention that I didn’t have to get a burrito today. I could have eaten my clump o’ leftovers instead. But it was a nice day, a burrito sounded good, and all things being equal, I thought I’d show bicyclists’ behavior includes dining out, albeit with odd electronic devices.