On Bike Lanes: We Can Do Better

Yesterday I was biking back to work after lunch (in this unbearable, gates-of-hell, filthy heat) and came across this on the south side of California Avenue in front of Old World Coffee:

IMG_20160726_133838741IMG_20160726_133854382

Apologies for the quality and angle of these photos – for reasons that I hope are apparent, I didn’t want to stand in the middle of the bike lane (or car lane) to take them.

What we see on the surface is two cars parked far enough (two feet?) from the curb that they obstruct more than half of the bike lane. What’s lurking just beneath the surface is pure laziness (or inexcusable lack of skill) on two other people’s part that resulted in very real and totally unnecessary danger to me, to other cyclists, and yes, to other drivers in the car lane.

As a cyclist coming into this situation, I had a full lane of traffic to my left (cars in front of, next to and behind me). While truly good drivers will be scanning ahead for situations like this one, realizing that there’s a cyclist coming up to an obstruction in the bike lane, and moving to the far left of their lane to give me room to scoot over, the reality is that most drivers aren’t devoting that level of attention to the road. Even if all the drivers in the car lane were to have given me that level of consideration and courtesy, the situation still would have been dodgy, since I wouldn’t have had the right angle or low speed needed to assure that no one was in those crappily parked cars, waiting to throw their driver’s side door open and send me flying. The result? I came to a full stop, waited around until the car lane cleared and then swung around the offenders to get on my way.

This might not sound like a big deal. My trip was delayed by maybe 20 seconds (and an additional voluntary 30 seconds to take the photos above). But to me, it IS a big deal, and here’s why:

  • It was completely unnecessary. Would I bitch if there was an ambulance parked in the bike lane, loading someone up? Probably not. How about a broken-down car, with an owner clearly in distress? Nope, because their situation is likely a little more dire than mine at this point. But what was the emergency here that necessitated this hasty, botched parking job? Is your noontime coffee stop really that urgent?
  • It leads to unpredictability, which leads to danger. Cars and bikes (and peds) get along best when everyone knows the score and acts predictably. But the cars driving next to me in this situation couldn’t predict what I was going to do – swing around, squeeze by, stop altogether? Following mutually-agreed-upon traffic laws is a form of communication, and when someone decides to go rogue, that communication breaks down.
  • Disregard for cyclist safety is contagious. Notice that there are two cars parked like jerks in this photo, almost perfectly lined up along an imaginary extended curb. Coincidence? Or did the second car come along, see the first one parked carelessly, and think, “Whatever, I guess this is how we park here.” I probably wouldn’t be making a fuss about this if I didn’t see cars parked this way on this stretch of California Street every damn day. Again, is this coincidence, or a spreading acceptance of the need for coffee, NOW, over the need for safety on this block?
  • This is indicative of a larger issue. From my perspective, the current transit climate in our fair city is like this: Cars own the streets, and everyone else is a guest. We have some bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, but the minute that infrastructure could be useful to a car, the cars can just take it back. We see this through my friend Andy’s veritable crusade against construction signs in the bike lane (JUST. MOVE. THEM. OVER.). We see this when someone rushing to get their coffee splays their car sideways in the bike lane and I have to deal with it. Cyclists feel this every time we see a “Bike Lane Ends” sign looming ahead as we approach a busy intersection, wondering what we’re going to do on the other side. And we see this when plans for new and improved streets in our busiest districts prioritize a handful of parking spaces over safe access for thousands of cyclists.

So what’s the solution? In the immediate, call out abuse of bike and ped infrastructure when you see it. Thanks to the comments on Addison’s excellent post on this issue, I called RPD dispatch at 775-334-2121 and reported the two cars and their plates. I’d encourage you to do the same when you encounter this level of carelessness. I didn’t expect a team of officers to surround the perps, but if all of us called out every offender we saw, some of them would start to get ticketed, creating a real financial incentive for drivers to behave better.

In the long-term, we just need better bike infrastructure. This Slate article does a great job of demonstrating that a disconnected series of unprotected (and unenforced!) bike lanes does not constitute an acceptable transit network. So show up to community meetings when transit is on the table, tell your Councilmember that safe infrastructure for all travelers is a priority, and above all else, get on your bike and ride.

Advertisements

How to Bike In a Skirt

My least favorite season has descended on Reno with a stifling hot vengeance. I ride home every day for lunch in addition to my regular ride during commute hours, so when temperatures are in the 80s and 90s as they have been for the past couple weeks, I feel the brunt of that heat. At this point in the year, wearing long, fitted pants is basically out of the question, so you can find me most days riding to and from work in a dress or a skirt.

6-10-16_Skirts.jpg
Here’s one way to do it. Could be a bit much for a Reno summer, though.

A lot of people (and clothing manufacturers) make a pretty big deal about riding in a skirt. How can it be done?! Won’t yards of lace get tangled in the spokes? Won’t our dignity be impeached? Lucky for you, readers, I have put together an exclusive Reno Bikes two-step guide to riding a bike in a skirt:

Step 1: Put on a skirt.

Step 2: Ride a bike to your destination.

It really is that easy. A typical dress for me is semi-roomy (no yards of extra material but not skin-tight) and hits just above the knee, and I bike in these with no other special accommodation most days with no incident. In my experience, the dress rides up maybe to the mid-thigh level, still keeping things far more covered than an average pair of shorts. Occasionally, a sturdy gust of wind will introduce a little flutter into the skirt, such that a little more leg is exposed and I have to readjust the material. What can people see as I bike toward them in this getup? Not much. First off, I’m pedaling in a dress, not standing stock still in the nude. Even if they could see right up the old skirt, it would only be for an instant, and all they’d see was some fairly tame leg. Second off, all the information they’d get from this rare glimpse is readily available at your nearest public pool. This is just one fairly body-confident woman’s opinion, but I don’t see the presence of skirts as a good excuse to avoid riding, or as a reason to spend a bunch of money on very specific bike-friendly technical skirts with uncomfortable built-in shortlets to preserve the delicate modesty of my more uppity neighbors. If you are wearing a skirt and you want to ride a bike, you have my permission to just do it.

6-10-16_Dresses
Rad ladies, rad clothes. Dignity in tact.

If covering up a little more when you’re wearing a skirt or dress would make your ride more comfortable and pleasant, then by all means, do it. On extremely windy (or cold) days, or with quite short dresses and pencil skirts that I have to hike all the way up around my bum just to get on the bike, I’ve been known to slip on a pair of bike shorts underneath so I don’t have to think about it. If you don’t have bike shorts, a pair of low-profile regular shorts will work just fine as well. The point is to just to wear whatever makes you feel comfortable in your own skin on the bike, and to know that your choice of attire doesn’t have to dictate your choice of transportation.

Here’s to Small Victories

I’m easing back into work this week after a bike-filled vacation (more on that in a few posts to come), and it feels like a good time to take things slow and celebrate some small victories, in no particular order:

Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve has started saying some positive things about green bike lanes. This doesn’t exactly sound like the start of the revolution, but it’s nice to see our mayor adding positive things to the conversation about bike infrastructure, safety and culture. Even more encouraging are the slew of comments on that Facebook post, the vast majority of which are from cyclists and drivers alike in support of better bike infrastructure. This article goes a little deeper, including a nice quote from bike-friendly Coucilmember David Bobzien about the importance of connectivity when considering an alternative transportation system. We can’t rely on Reno’s fantastic proximity alone – we need sensible connections and I’m happy to see that on the City Council’s radar.

I don’t need any additional reasons to love outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia with my whole heart and soul, but they gave me one this week: the company’s Reno distribution center matched every mile their employees rode during Bike to Work Week with a $1 donation to the Reno Bike Project, for a total donation of $5,535! What a fantastic idea. Biking to work made those employees happier and healthier, their awesome employer benefited from the boost in morale and matched that good feeling with a donation to an organization that gets more butts on more bikes, which ultimately leads to increased demand for safer and more streamlined bike infrastructure, which loops right back around and benefits those original employees. This is how it should work, folks. Like many people in Reno, I have personal connections to Patagonia, but even if I didn’t I would love this company.

I was out for a run early this morning – I’m getting back into running after a hiatus – when I came across a striping crew putting in (or maintaining?) a crosswalk at California and Nixon! This might not faze too many of you, but for me it’s a red letter day. Many of my running routes cross California at Nixon, and the traffic flow combined with a somewhat blind corner mean that I’m forced to either stand around for minutes waiting for a clean traffic break or play a dangerous game of Frogger. I am 100% DELIGHTED by this crosswalk. One little victory in the fight for a ped- and bike-friendly city!

IMG_20160601_134426316_HDR
This tiny bit of infrastructure will make a real difference in my day-to-day as a pedestrian in my neighborhood. Thanks Reno!

One of my coworkers has started riding his bike to work regularly (with a sweet ride he picked up at the Reno Bike Project, of course), and it makes me smile every time I hear him wheeling his bike through the office.It’s easy to start feeling like a mild freak when you’re the only one showing up to work slightly sweaty and helmeted day in and day out, and it’s just so nice to be “one of the bike people”, instead of “the bike person”. On a related note, summer has descended on Reno and the masses have taken to their bikes! Throughout winter, I consistently see 4-5 other cyclists on each leg of my commute; now, there are almost that many bikers waiting at each intersection. It makes me so happy to see the simple and lovely phenomenon of people getting it right and riding to work.

Finally, Sundance Books and the Reno Bike Project are hosting an evening of bike chat and yummy food next Wednesday, June 8 from 7 – 9pm at Sundance. Elly Blue is one of the speakers/hosts/whatever, which I’m stoked about since she wrote Bikenomics, a story intertwining my first and second loves. I’ll definitely be there. Tickets here.

Five Takeaways from the ReImagine Reno Focus Group

4-28-16_ReImagine
From the cover of the ReImagine Reno Draft Guiding Principles and Goals [PDF]. A bike:kayak:car ratio of 3:2:1 seems about right to me.
As previously mentioned, I participated in the ReImagine Reno focus group at City Hall on Tuesday night. The format was decent, snacks were provided, and I think we got some good work done. Rather than marching through a recap, I thought I’d share a few things I took away from the session:

  1. There are a lot of people in Reno who are way more awesome than I am. Don’t worry, I was already aware of this, but it was brought home at the focus group. I spoke with people who are regularly biking more than a dozen miles each way to get to work, in spite of substandard bike infrastructure. I spoke with people who have owned businesses in MidTown for years and have been steering the city toward transit-friendliness and walkable neighborhoods the whole time. I spoke with retirees who are active and invested in the reinvigoration of Downtown as a walkable, attractive neighborhood. Renoites are a great bunch, and I feel lucky to have stumbled into their weird and wonderful ranks.
  2. Planning takes forever, and parts of it are boring. We are in Phase 2 of the ReImagine Reno process, where we are trying to define the specific goals that will guide the Master Plan. As in, we are literally dithering over the wording of the goals. This meant that most of the evening was spent debating the relative merits of words like “functional” and “comprehensive” and whether “encouraging” something is the same thing as “incentivizing” it (spoiler alert: it’s not!). I am a professional copywriter and I still found this shit crazy boring. However…
  3. Words are really important. The reason we spent a whole boring evening parsing synonyms is that the words that we choose to define the City’s overarching goals really do have substantive meaning. When we decide to develop a “functional” transportation system for all modes of travel, rather than a “balanced” system, we are deciding to focus on actual results – can I use this system to get from A to B? is it functional? – rather than on perceived equity. Much later in the process, when we’re trying to establish actual policies based on the overarching goals, we can point to this wording and show that it’s not enough that you put in a few bike lanes (there are lanes for bikes and lanes for cars: see? balanced!). Those bike lanes need to connect to each other and get me safely all the way to my destination (that’s a functional system).
  4. We all basically want the same stuff. I haven’t met a single person who wants Reno to become a dystopian resource-annihilating hellscape, and yet that seems to be what we all suspect of others who don’t share our views on the nuanced topics of city planning. I don’t want cars to be wiped off this earth – I get a lot of benefit from mine and I recognize that even if I went car-free, the society I depend on could not. At the same time, the more car-oriented transit advocates at these meetings probably don’t just want to pave over the entire state and call it good. We just need to see that there really are ways to accommodate everyone. Proper street design and thoughtful planning can allow us to have a 20-minute town that you can still navigate safely and easily by bike or on foot. We all basically just want to get around a pleasant city without fearing for our lives or sanity. We can get there.
  5. Everyone is appalled by the current treatment of the majestic Truckee River. Can we just start here? Can we make it so that no crappy institution can ever back itself up against the Truckee ever again? Can we as a metropolis make a pact to dust off this natural and economic jewel and to never mistreat it for as long as we live? The new Virginia Street bridge is a great start. I vote for more of that, forever.

You can learn more about the ReImagine Reno effort here. I’m hoping to participate and update throughout the process, and as always your thoughts and input are welcome in the comments.

Life at Biking Speed: The Hobo Art Walk on Riverside Drive

IMG_20160424_100236244_HDR

One of my favorite things about riding a bike is that it really combines the best of all transportation worlds. For errands within town, I often find walking to be prohibitively slow, which could point driving as the obvious choice. When I’m driving, though, I miss the level of observation that I get when I’m on foot – I like to be able to slow down and say hello to people that I know (read: pet all the dogs) or check out a shop or an event without the hassle of maneuvering the car and finding parking. Bikes shine because they get you around town almost as quickly as cars do, but they’re super nimble when you want to stop and explore. This came home to me this weekend when, while biking home from a grocery run, I stumbled upon the Hobo Art Walk.

IMG_20160424_100655567

Several times as I’ve walked, jogged or biked along Riverside between the Hub and the Booth Street bridge, I’ve noticed little piles of river rocks that suddenly come into focus as mini sculptures. The first time I saw one, I thought it was a cute one-off. Then I started seeing them more and more frequently, though always just one or two at a time. This weekend as I biked by, I noticed that there were a whole bunch of them dotting the grass up and down the riverbank. When I actually saw a guy tinkering with one, I pulled my bike over to say hi and check them out more closely.

It turns out the force behind the rock sculptures is a friendly guy named Cyrus, who was happy for me to take some photos and stop for a chat. I was surprised to learn that he’s been making this kind of art off and on for more than 25 years. Even more surprising was that he takes the sculptures down every night and puts them back up every morning. He seemed to like the ephemeral nature of the project, making little adjustments and moving his figures around as the seasons and the river change. As I spoke to him, he was adjusting the posture of one of his reclining figures, and it was basically magic how fast he was able to shuffle the rocks around and give the piece a whole new attitude. This guy probably knows the physical dynamics of river rocks better than anyone on the planet.

IMG_20160424_100551008
Cyrus, the artist, was perfecting this little guy’s coiff when I rolled up.
IMG_20160424_100400940
Gah!

Cyrus told me he had just hosted his fifth “Hobo Art Love” event the day before. For these events, he makes more permanent sculptures (still made from river rock, but bolted together) and sells them on Riverside. But instead of keeping all the proceeds, he asks the buyers to pay the price forward to those on the street that need help. He estimated that the weekend’s event put $500 into needy hands. Regardless of your opinions of the Downtown homeless population and the ethics of giving money to people who beg, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a nicer guy who’s making a more positive impact in a community that matters to him.

IMG_20160424_100142924
My favorite, of course.

Cyrus seemed genuinely content to see people out enjoying his creations, but he also had a bucket for donations, so next time I go by I’m definitely going to bring a few bucks to contribute. When I got home I found a nice KOLO piece with a little more information about the Hobo Art Walk, which you can check out here. If you’d like to see it in person, take your bike down to the Hub on Riverside for a coffee and have a wander along the river. It’s such a mellow, positive, community-based way to spend a half-hour: in short, all the things I love about bikes and Reno.

IMG_20160424_100307424_HDR

 

ReImagine This: Bikes Pay for Our Roads, Too

 

4-21-16_Share
…because it’s nice to share, but especially because we all paid for it.

 

I’m a little irked today, friends.

This week, we received the draft of the ReImagine Reno Guiding Principles & Goals [PDF], which will be discussed in a focus group at City Hall next Tuesday. As far as I can tell, this is a document designed to guide the ReImagine Reno initiative, which itself is a multi-year effort to redesign the city’s Master Plan, which is supposedly informed by but does not fully include the Reno Sparks Bicycle & Pedestrian Master Plan [PDF]. Never mind this telescoping set of initiatives and plans-to-create-plans-to-guide-plans; what’s ruffled my feathers is a little one-off comment included in the Transportation section of the guiding principles document (page 17, bottom right, for those of you following along):

“Nobody rides a bike in Reno. Stop narrowing the streets to inconvenience thousands of people a day for one bicyclist, who doesn’t pay any road tax. Focus on the 99%: the drivers.”

First, is it no cyclists, or one cyclist, or a minimum of 20 cyclists (1% of 2,000)? Mathematical mockery aside, what the hell is up with the City of Reno including blatantly counterfactual statements in its discussion section, couched as “what we’ve heard”? Whoever wrote this comment clearly doesn’t believe that cyclists shouldn’t be considered in road design. That’s their opinion, and they’re free to share it. But when they start tossing around one-offs like “bicyclists don’t pay road tax”, and the City chooses to incorporate that comment as if it’s a valid opinion and not simply a false statement, I get annoyed.

I’m not going to write a super-thorough explanation of how cyclists do pay, and in fact over pay, for the roads crisscrossing our cities, states and nation because the point has been so well made in so many other venues. If you want a nice, broad technical analysis of the subject, go read this 2003 paper [PDF] from the Brookings Institution. Otherwise, here are the highlights of the argument:

  • The money to build roads in this country comes from a variety of sources, including but not limited to vehicle taxes and fees, property taxes, general income and sales taxes, tolls and gas taxes. As you can see, some of these sources are specific to car drivers, but some are general, paid for by everyone, regardless of whether they walk or bike or drive or never leave their house.
  • Most of us who regularly bike also own cars, which means that we pay for roads through the same licensing and registration costs that regular drivers do. The only things we pay proportionally less are gas taxes and tolls.
  • Motorized vehicles cause far, far more damage to the roads we all share than bikes do – this should be pretty intuitive. Check out this handy infographic from the Oregon Bicycle Transportation Alliance – according to their sources, it would take nearly 10,000 bikes travelling along a road to equal the damage done by just one car.
  • When you look at the share of road funding that comes from car-specific taxes vs. general taxes and compare that to the relative damage (i.e. road-building and maintenance costs) that drivers, bikers, transiters and walkers incur, it turns out that non-drivers are actually heavily subsidizing drivers on the roads. If we all actually paid for the costs we incurred, I’d be looking for my refund check in the mail. Surprise!

These are the facts. They’re readily available and they’re actually pretty obvious. But if you’re not familiar with the issue and you read a breezy, thoughtless, totally false comment in an official city document discussing the future of transportation in our region, even if it’s couched as an opinion, then your starting point for thinking about transit is that bikes are freeloaders who are just taking advantage of the rest of us and yeah, maybe they should get off our roads. That’s why I’m disappointed that this comment is taking up precious space in this document, and why I’ll be there on Tuesday, attempting to make sure that the plan that guides the plan that informs the real plan reflects the facts as well as the opinions of all who live in Reno.

What Motivates People to Give Bikes a Try?

As I mentioned last week, I haven’t always been a bike rider. One of the things I’m interested in exploring in this blog is what motivates people to start thinking of bikes as transportation options, so I’ll share how I got started.

In spite of growing up in an incredibly bikeable area (the East Bay) and subsequently living in two of the bike-friendliest cities in the country (Berkeley and San Francisco), riding a bike for any reason at all basically didn’t occur to me until I was in my mid-twenties. Three things were key in motivating me to make the shift:

First, I started dating a guy who biked. The night I met my now-husband, I remember walking out of the concert where we’d been randomly seated next to each other and following him up to the bike valet so he could pick up his cool grey road bike. At the time, the only thoughts that passed through my head were “Jesus, a valet just for bikes? Get over yourselves.” and “That guy looks pretty cute leaning up against his bike, asking for my number.” As we started dating, I thought it was neat that he often biked to get around, but mainly considered it a quirk or a novelty. Even after we started living together, biking wasn’t a thing that we shared. It was in the back of my mind that I should probably get a bike someday so we could get around in the same way, but my established inability to ride without crashing and my cluelessness about where one finds a bike to ride kept these thoughts theoretical. I was going to need some external motivation to give two wheels a try, which brings me to my second key motivator…

I rode the bus to and from work every day, and it was absolute hell. I should clarify right off the bat that I think public transit is a fantastic resource, and that Bay Area Rapid Transit and all of the MUNI lightrail lines are top-notch. But as someone who suffers from pretty gnarly motion sickness, riding MUNI surface-street busses was grim. Even on lightly-used lines where I could nab a window seat close to the driver, I would have to spend the entire ride with my forehead pressed against the window, focusing on deep, slow breathing, if I wanted to get off the bus without feeling nauseous. The line I took to work, however, was not lightly used – it was one of the most popular routes in the city and most days I would wind up standing in the middle of the aisle, craning my head around someone else’s armpit to try to catch a glimpse of window for the entire 40-minute ride so I didn’t throw up right there on the bus. Every time I got off at my stop after work, I’d be green to the gills for an hour.

4-18-16_Bus
Misery in action: The 38L churning around the streets of San Francisco.

I realize that this is hardly the worst commute disaster ever suffered – after all, I was spending very little money riding a generally on-time, conveniently-located transit line through a gorgeous city. But the fact remains that I started and ended every working day feeling really ill, and that started to eat away at my normally sunny-ish outlook on life. I bitched to Morgan about this on a near-constant basis, and his reply was usually a mix of mild concern and no-pressure encouragement to think about maybe riding a bike to work one of these days. I ignored this advice until one super horrible bus commute (in which a blackout drunk guy in a business suit had fallen backward out of the open doors at a stop, his skull thwacking against the pavement with a sickening sound I can still hear now, five years later) finally pushed me over the edge. “Where would I even get a bike?!” I asked Morgan, exasperated. “I don’t know where to start.”

“If you want to give it a try, I have a spare bike,” replied my ever-calm partner. “My friend borrowed it, but it’s been sitting on his balcony for a year. You can have it. We’ll tune it up and you can try it out next week.” And that brings me to my final motivator…

A bike basically fell into my lap. Knowing nothing about bikes and being generally afraid of technical subjects, I wasn’t going to go out and figure out which bike was right for me. The only way I was ever going to start riding was if a bike magically appeared under me, and that’s essentially what happened. Morgan got the bike from his friend, his dad tuned it up and fit it to my octopus legs, and I scooted off to work by bike for the first time on December 1, 2011. I didn’t know how to come to a complete stop, I was terrified of going downhill, and I had to get off and walk the last mile to work because I couldn’t navigate downtown traffic. But what I remember from that very first ride was feeling thrilled, amazed, utterly elated to walk into work and not feel sick.

I’ve ridden my bike almost every day since. All it took for me was regular exposure to a happy, healthy biker, a significant daily struggle that could be easily avoided by riding a bike, and the presence of a free bike, tuned to my specifications, in my garage. I’m hoping that not everyone is as oblivious as me, but I’m curious, for those of you who ride: what motivated you to give it a try, and to stick with it?