Skip to content.

Bike Walk Life

News and commentary from the world of biking and walking.

The 2022 Climate Bill subsidizes cars at the expense of biking and walking

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, AKA the Climate Bill, is moving forward. However, its latest iteration has dropped a lot of the provisions for biking and walking and instead focuses on electric cars.

The Washington Post has the details: Bikes get slighted in compromise climate deal.

Dropped from the deal is a tax credit worth up to $900 to help cyclists purchase electric bikes. Also gone is a pretax benefit for commuters to help cover the cost of biking to work.

[…]

“It is difficult to understate the lobbying power that car companies have,” Zipper said. “We make jokes about Big Bike, but the reality is that it is a minuscule lobbying force supporting bicycles compared to what’s behind automobiles.”

There is scant little for walking either, although America Walks isn’t entirely pessimistic:

There is a bright spot in the transportation legislation: the Neighborhood Access and Equity Grants. This program dedicates $3.4 billion to infrastructure projects that better connect communities.

Getting fewer people driving, and more people biking and walking, should be a top priority for anyone serious about climate. Even if we switched every single car in the US to electric, it would only be a band-aid solution. The damage that cars do goes beyond their emissions numbers.

So even with a silver lining, the bill is a disappointment for bicycle advocates. This should not be surprising, though. Federal bills are historically awful at advancing biking and walking in our communities. I’m reminded of this interview with Strong Towns’ Charles Marohn about why he doesn’t see climate discussions as productive:

Look, the most dedicated-to-[addressing]-climate-change president that has ever been has just done a gas tax holiday. We’re not at some tipping point where people are serious about it.

People ask me: What’s the number one strategy we can do at the local level to build a strong town? I’m like, one, go out and plant trees. Street trees are the lowest-cost, highest-returning investment that can be made.

Two, get people walking and biking. Build a culture of biking and a culture of walking. Three, fill your parking lots with stuff. Get rid of parking lots and fill them with things.

Now, you tell me, if your strategy is to get the right people elected, they need to have the guts to pass the right package, to do the right stuff, so that we get some action on climate change… Or, we can make a bottom-up choice to emphasize communities that plant trees, get people walking, and get rid of parking–which one is going to be further along the race a decade from now?

I don’t even think it’s close.

As time goes on, it’s harder for me to disagree with his conclusion. Federal bills are not working, and are clearly not going to work in our foreseeable future. For most of us, it’s a waste of energy to even worry about them. But building a culture of biking and walking in our own communities, the bottom-up approach, can always be effective. Better yet, it’s something we can each go out and work on right now.



Bike Law's guide to riding on sidewalks in each US state

Riding bicycles on sidewalks can be confusing topic, and this is exasperated by the fact that many states have vastly different rules about it. Bike Law’s website can help with their page which lists the local laws for every state.

You can read the full list here: Is It Illegal to Ride Your Bike on the Sidewalk? – Each State’s Answer.

Knowing your state’s law is good, but I would also take all of this information with a little caution. My state, Georgia, has this:

Georgia law considers bicycles as vehicles in all circumstances, which means they are not permitted on sidewalks. The only exceptions are local ordinances that allow individuals ages 12 and under to ride on the sidewalk.

The reality is less clear-cut. It’s commonplace to see riders on sidewalks where I live, and I’m not aware of law enforcement planning to stop that. There are many situations where it makes practical sense to ride on sidewalks (as I myself often have to do). But there are still reasons why it’s good to know the letter of the law, for example if you’re in a crash and there’s a dispute over who is at fault.

There’s also a larger question about whether riders should be allowed on sidewalks in general. A lot of these laws are written with the assumption that all streets are safely designed (which is untrue) and have a diverse mix of pedestrians and vehicles. In a community with dangerous, car-oriented streets, then that safety concern becomes more complicated.

Anecdotally, I’ve spoken to numerous people who are surprised that I don’t ride on a sidewalk normally, and they consider sidewalk riding to be common sense. Even if they’re misinformed, they’re not entirely wrong either. This disconnect between common sense and the letter of the law is just another symptom of our confusing street design which prioritizes cars first and people last.


The broader potential of Portland-style "bike fun" culture

Shawn Granton of Urban Adventure League wrote a blog post titled “can Portland style bike fun culture take hold elsewhere?” It reflects on “DIY” bicycle events hosted by individuals rather than organizations.

You can read the whole blog post here: Can Portland style bike fun culture take hold elsewhere?

But the idea of a mass of DIY bike events is pretty uncommon. Portland is one of the few places where this happens regularly.

[…]

I remember the early Pedalpalooza calendars (when it was two weeks in June) having maybe 50 to 75 events. Now Pedalpalooza is all summer long (June through August). Last year had 600 events! The majority of events are hosted by a single person unaffiliated with an organization. Think about that for a moment.

He goes on to describe the multi-decade history of how Portland got to where it is now, and how other cities have tried but haven’t achieved it yet. One takeaway is the large amount of hard work and persistence it takes from volunteers year after year. It’s one thing to have an organization host an event, but it’s another thing to build up a critical mass (pun intended) of regular people who are willing to keep the ball rolling organically.

His exact experiences in Portland and Vancouver won’t be directly applicable everywhere, but I think his story of successes and failures contains lessons for everyone. We can all can benefit from a bottom-up, bicycle-oriented culture.


A reflection on the joys of cycling from NPR

NPR’s Bill Chappell published a short reflection on bicycling. “Just like life,” he says, “riding my bike doesn’t always make sense. But that’s why I love it.” It’s part of their I’m Really Into series.

You can read the full essay here.

I make the most and the least sense when I’m riding my bike.

It’s one of the rare things in life that lets you escape from the world, while also connecting you to it. I love to spin my way through forests, around lakes, and into little communities I never knew existed.

One thing about bicycling is that everyone has their own connection to it. Even though there are some common reasons why most people ride, each person’s exact relationship with bicycles is unique. I think that personal stories like Bill’s are a good way to show how riding a bike isn’t a cookie-cutter experience.


Dangerous by Design 2022 cover image.
Image credit: Smart Growth America.

Dangerous by Design 2022: traffic deaths are getting worse, especially in the Sun Belt

Smart Growth America released their annual “Dangerous by Design” report for 2022. The results show that traffic deaths continue to rise nationwide, but some places are worse than others.

You can view the complete report here.

The pandemic magnified what we’ve always known: Our nation’s streets are dangerous by design, designed primarily to move cars quickly at the expense of keeping everyone safe. The result in 2020 and 2021 was a significant increase in all traffic fatalities, even with less driving overall.

The report goes into detail about the specific factors that brought us to where we are today. It also offers guidance on what kind of changes we need to help stop the rising rate of deaths.

One interesting piece of data is the twenty most dangerous states. They’re almost all in the southern half of the country.

A map showing the top 20 most dangerous U.S. states.

This isn’t surprising. Those are the regions that saw most of their growth happen after the 1960s, when the government aggressively poured money into high-speed highways and sprawling suburban developments. That transportation design is highly dangerous, and it now dominates the Sun Belt.

To make it worse, all of these twenty states have gotten more dangerous compared to the 2011-2015 period. All of their fatality rates have risen. But that isn’t a problem exclusive to the South. Only four states in the entire country managed to lower fatalities (New York, North Dakota, Massachusetts, and Montana).

Geography isn’t the entire story. Ethnic minorities, people living in low-income communities, and the elderly are also disproportionately represented in the fatality statistics. Again, this isn’t surprising. Almost everywhere in the nation, we can see our most dangerous roads cut through the middle of low-income neighborhoods.

The full report delves more deeply into these statistics and the issues that surround them. It also has recommendations for how our governments can take action to reverse the trends. Those are easier said than done, though. The report somberly notes: “improving safety isn’t a mystery, but inertia is hard to overcome.”


A promotional graphic for "Drive Less, Bike More" showing a woman riding a bicycle.

The "Drive Less, Bike More" challenge aims to log 2 million miles in 2022

The League of American Bicyclists has launched their “Drive Less, Bike More” challenge for 2022, and their goal is for Americans to collectively bike at least 2 million miles this year.

Read about Drive Less, Bike more on their official website.

Last year, the League of American Bicyclists and Love to Ride challenged you to transform 1 million car miles into bike miles and you beat that target by a whopping 500,000 miles. Are you ready for your next mission; to ride 2 million miles for transportation?

Be part of the League of American Bicyclists’ goal to inspire more people to see the bike for all of its possibilities: for fitness, for transportation, and for fun!

To participate, you need to register a free account and then log any rides you complete. The rides can be for recreation, commuting, or anything else. The organizers are especially promoting commuting. Since most daily trips in the US are less than three miles, those can become easy bike rides. A lot of small trips help add up to the 2 million goal.

As of this writing, they’ve logged just over 131,000 miles, with a bit less than 1,869,00 left to reach their goal.


Read this reflection on living a year without a car, and with kids.

Gracy Olmstead is a writer and a Strong Towns board member. For her July newsletter, she published a reflection of what it was like to live for a year without a car and with three children.

You can read the newsletter here.

Walking my commute, especially when the weather was nice, also provided opportunities for the sorts of serendipitous encounters that built friendship and community: I constantly run into people I know, and have found this one of the most important factors in cultivating a sense of belonging in a given place.

[…]

The mental endurance is important to emphasize here, I think, because (as long as you aren’t asking them to go too far) walking is not difficult for a child. It’s the mental hurdle of embracing the tedium of walking, the slow process of getting from point A to point B, that is often harder. Walking teaches a child patience. Let’s be honest—it teaches adults patience! We’ve all grown accustomed to instant gratification when it comes to transportation.

The entire piece is worth reading, but those points stuck out to me. Living without a car, especially when you walk a lot, requires you to alter your mindset. A car-centric lifestyle trains you to be impatient, to view other people as obstacles, and to only focus on how quickly you can reach your destination. Without a car, you’re more rooted in your present moment and your present place. Meeting people is (or at least can be) a pleasant part of your day.

When I commute on my bicycle, I gravitate towards routes that have the most people, whether they’re on trails, sidewalks, or front yards. The experience of waving as you ride past neighbors isn’t something that our engineers can directly build, like they can build bike lanes, but it’s still an important part of living in a healthy community. I’ve found that most routes can either have lots of people or lots of cars, but not both.


My video of a truck’s dangerous pass went viral

On May 28, I uploaded a six-second video to TikTok showing a truck pass me dangerously and illegally. Within a week, it received over 129 thousand views and over 700 comments.

If you aren’t familiar with TikTok, it’s less follower-oriented compared to other social media platforms. “The algorithm,” as people call it, gives you a random mixture of videos that it thinks you’ll want to watch. As a result, unexpected videos will often get picked up and appear on the screens of millions of people. For whatever reason, this video found the algorithm’s favor.

@johnridesabike Share the road. #bicycle #biketok #traffic ♬ Happy frog has a mango on a fork - xsuyuu

Background for this video

Ever since I got a GoPro camera, I almost always keep it recording when I ride my bicycle. This past January, I began posting these on TikTok. I recorded this particular video in February while I rode home from work one evening. After I recorded it, I forgot all about it. The truck’s pass was dangerous and illegal according to Georgia’s 3-foot passing law, but not especially memorable afterwards.

A week ago, I was scrolling through my old video files. The “everyone underestimates me” sound was currently popular on TikTok, and when I saw this footage it gave me an idea. I synced the sound with the video, added a caption, and shared it.

If it wasn’t for the existence of that sound, I would probably never have gotten around to sharing the footage. I didn’t create the video to make any specific point. Although I am happy to increase awareness of traffic safety, I mainly use social media to have fun. Even subjects like dangerous driving need a touch of playfulness.

The video’s response

The enormous number of views and “likes” it received was unexpected, but the comments were even more of a surprise. A lot of bicycle riders shared their sympathy and frustration that the incident happened. A few people criticized me for not taking the lane (and they have a point), but a large number of people took it as an opportunity to share their hatred towards bicycles.

For every hostile comment, someone else would respond with a rebuttal. These arguments got uglier as time went on. Soon, my phone was overflowing with notifications, dozens of comments in a row from random people insulting each other back and forth.

It reminded me of Andrew Tierney’s fight against anti-bicycle trolls. I admire people like him, but I just don’t have the patience to respond to these comments. Engaging with trolls seems to offer me nothing to gain but a lot of time and mental energy to lose. Again, I use social media to have fun. I’m here to share videos and enjoy myself, not argue with strangers. (I opted to not have comments on this blog partially for the same reason.)

My takeaway

Nothing riles people up more than video evidence of deadly and illegal behavior happening casually and in broad daylight. Not only did it upset people sympathetic to bicycle riders, but it made people who hate bicycles even more angry. The fact that people reacted by trying to defend or justify the driver’s behavior, or even vilify me for being there and filming it, seems telling. (I didn’t directly accuse the driver of anything in the video. I just recorded it happen.) I think that, deep down, people really know that there’s something wrong here, and that fact makes them uncomfortable.

One common reaction I saw was people questioning the wisdom of riding on a street susceptible these dangers. I appreciate the idea’s pragmatism, but it raises a question for me. Why aren’t we working harder to reform our streets? It harkens back to the idea I wrote about recently: Our transportation system is a disaster to human life, and no one cares. We shouldn’t be complacent with our dangerous streets and then blame the people victimized by them. (For the record, I ride on the street in that video regularly, and illegal passes are thankfully the exception, not the norm.)

Also, I was amused that TikTok added this warning label to the bottom of the video:

Participating in this activity could result in you or others getting hurt.

It’s a video of me biking home from work. Even TikTok knows that our transportation system is dangerous!

What does “viral” mean? Here’s some context.

Viral for me is not necessarily viral for everyone. In the TikTok world, the most popular videos get millions of views. Most of my videos get a few hundred. Occasionally, one gets lucky and reaches a few thousand. Here’s a chart from my video view statistics:

A bar chart depicting video views over time. A few small bars are on the left and large bars are on the right, showing peak views at 30K in one day.

The bumps on the left used to look like giant spikes, but then Memorial Day weekend came and flattened everything in comparison.

TikTok also provides numbers that tell me how my performance compares to “creators like you.” I don’t know how they classify creators, but this video is higher than 100% of the creators who are supposedly like me.

Most of my recent videos also score highly by that same measurement. Here’s one that has just over 300 views, apparently more than 82% of creators like me.

@johnridesabike A great day to ride across this bridge. #bicycle #biketok ♬ Disturbia - mbappegoals

If you want to share your experience riding a bicycle, then TikTok can definitely be a viable platform. But if something of yours does go viral, don’t let the explosion of attention wear down your mental health.


NPR takes an interest in our nation’s rising bicycle fatalities

Bicycle and pedestrian fatalities keep rising, and it’s clearer than ever that our transportation system is deadly by design. Although there’s no popular consensus on how to reverse this trend yet, many activists are working on it anyway. NPR just published a report on some of those efforts.

Across the country, the number of cyclists that are seriously injured or killed is soaring. According to the National Safety Council, 1,260 bicyclists were killed in 2020, up 16% from the year before and an increase of 44% over the past decade.

Preliminary figures recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicate cycling fatalities rose another 5% in 2021.

[…]

Improving urban transportation safety for all users starts with putting cyclists, pedestrians and those using scooters, e-bikes and other alternative mobility modes on a level playing field with car and truck drivers, says P.S. Sriraj, director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois - Chicago.

You can read the full article on NPR here.

It thoroughly explains the heart of the issue for an audience that may not be familiar with it. Its focus is bicycle fatalities, but I want to emphasize that car-centric design is dangerous to everyone. As I’ve written before, the public is largely apathetic about our deadly transportation system. We need to keep increasing awareness of just how serious this issue is.


Traffic fatalities spiked over 10% in 2021, reaching 16 year high

2020 saw an unprecedented spike in traffic violence, and 2021 got even worse. Deaths among drivers, pedestrians, and bicycle riders all went up. Smart Cities Dive has a summary of the latest report.

  • Traffic fatalities jumped 10.5% in 2021 from the prior year, according to an early estimate issued Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Fatalities on urban roads rose 16%.
  • NHTSA also estimated that 7,342 pedestrians were killed in traffic fatalities in 2021, a 13% increase over 2020’s already historically high number. Deaths among bicyclists were up 5% in that period.

You can read the full Smart Cities Dive article here, and the official NHTSA press release here.

The statistics are troubling on their own, but look even more unsettling when we put them in context of the bigger picture. In recent years, governments around the nation have pushed “vision zero” plans to eliminate traffic violence. Car manufacturers advertise their high safety ratings. Everyone, it seems, cares a lot about safety. But despite this nominal push for safety across the board, the opposite outcome is happening.

This isn’t the only apparent contradiction we’ve seen recently. In 2020, there was the pandemic traffic death paradox, where the number of cars on the road dropped, but the number of traffic deaths rose dramatically.

Our problem is not just that our existing safety programs haven’t gone far enough. Our car-centric streets are fundamentally hostile to human life. As long as our national and local governments keep prioritizing faster, bigger cars at the expense of every other option, then individual safety efforts simply don’t stand a chance. We need to re-prioritize humans by making people on foot central to our mobility infrastructure.


Traffic sign that reads: "GA ROADWAY FATALITIES THIS YEAR: 1182 / DRIVE ALERT."

Our transportation system is a disaster to human life, and no one cares

I have believed that one powerful argument in support of transportation reform is to simply show how deadly our car-centric system is. Millions of people have died, and will continue to die, in part from the volume of cars on our roads and how the roads themselves are engineered. But, as damning as that sounds, even die-hard car drivers don’t dispute it. Everyone is aware that our roads are deadly. They just don’t care.

Imagine if the US federal government instituted a giant project that impacted every single neighborhood in every single town in the entire nation. Then, decades later, a whistleblower exposed that this Big Government project had been directly responsible for millions of deaths. It’s not hard to imagine what would follow: protests, campaigns for defunding, and investigations into the project’s officials.

Yet, in the real-life version of this story, the scandalous data has always been out in the open. People are so unfazed that the government itself even advertises it:

Traffic sign that reads: "GA ROADWAY FATALITIES THIS YEAR: 1182 / DRIVE ALERT."

(Photo credit: B137 on Wikipedia.)

Our officials normally put those kinds of warnings on things that they want people to avoid, like tobacco products, but here our government is advertising how deadly its own infrastructure is. No one cares.

Maybe you think that you’re an exception, that you do care. Then I challenge you to ask yourself: does your concern truly match the seriousness of this issue? Do millions of deaths caused by a government project scandalize you? Have you written letters to your officials? Have you marched in the streets? Or is it just another bullet point on your list of reasons for reform in general?

This deadliness has become so normalized that it doesn’t even come up often among people who support transportation reforms. More commonly, we base our anti-car arguments around climate change, physical health, and monetary cost. (Just to be clear, those are good topics too.) When we do talk about traffic violence, we never treat it like it’s a scandal.

I believe that one element to this phenomenon is a failure of imagination. As I wrote before, people have trouble even imagining a version of their community that’s not car-centric. We can envision a world without wars, without taxes, and without gun violence, but not without cars. Sure, maybe those multi-lane roads through our neighborhoods are loud, ugly, and literally killing people, but the alternative, a world without those roads, seems absurd. It’s easier to convince ourselves that the status-quo is fine.

Our roads are very deadly. No one disputes that fact, so our only disagreement comes from a matter of perspective. Is millions of traffic deaths “just how it goes” or is it an unconscionable scandal? Is each death the victim’s fault, is it just an accident, or is it all of our faults for allowing this deadly system? I don’t know any easy way to change the public’s perspective, but we can start by treating the situation with the severity that it deserves.


The search for justice continues for Obianuju Osuegbu, the 17-year-old bicycle rider killed in 2020

In 2020, Obianuju Osuegbu was riding her bicycle on her way home from work when a car driver, who was high on drugs, struck her and ended her life. Law enforcement placed the blame on her and have yet to prosecute the driver. Now her family is doing what they can to make sure justice takes place.

You can see more about the story at WSB-TV and at FOX-5 Atlanta.

According to the initial toxicology report from the responding state trooper, Adam Dodd, Rawlins had four drugs in her system, including meth and valium.

Bruce Hagen, the attorney working with Osuegbu’s family, specializes in bicycle cases. He said this is a “prima-facie case for felony vehicular homicide.”

However, the Barrow County District Attorney won’t charge Rawlins because the trooper’s report lays the blame on 17-year-old Osuegbu. The incident report by the Athens-area trooper said that Osuegbu didn’t have a light on the back of her bike and she wasn’t wearing reflective clothing. The report also claimed that she should have been on the right side of the road despite the fact that she was about to turn left to go home.

In the state of Georgia, where this took place, bicycle riders are not legally required to have lights on the back of their bikes, much less required to wear reflective clothing. The fact that those details seemed to have influenced the trooper’s decision is a problem by itself, even before you consider that the driver was high on four different drugs.

When a teenager gets blamed for her own homicide when she did nothing illegal, and the driver high on drugs who hit her doesn’t get charged for it, then it doesn’t take a lawyer to see a misapplication of justice taking place.

The driver didn’t get away completely scot-free, though. She was charged with child endangerment. But that wasn’t because she killed a teenager. It was for the children in the car with her.

As ridiculous as this case is, we would be remiss to merely consider this as a failure of law enforcement. Here’s what the site of the crash looks like (on the right, you can see the ghost-bike memorializing Obianuju’s death):

A photo of a rural highway as seen from a car.

This does not look like a safe route for bicycles at all. Yet, we had a teenage girl rely on it to get home from work. Even without the drugs and the neglectful law enforcement, our underlying transportation system enables disasters like this to happen all the time.

If there’s any consolation, it’s that the Osuegbu family has lawyers working for them, and that the media has picked up the story. No matter the outcome of this case, it can serve as yet-another example of how much bicycle riders need justice on their side.