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News and commentary from the world of biking and walking.

Coffeeneuring Challange banner image.
Image credit: Chasing Mailboxes.

Coffeeneuring Challenge returns in 2022 for its twelfth year

Fall is here, which means Coffeeneuring weather. Coffeeneuring is the annual challenge where we ride our bikes and drink hot, autumnal beverages. Although we call it a challenge, this is a laid-back event that anyone who rides a bike can join.

The full rules are posted on the Chasing Mailboxes website, but here’s the short version:

  • between October 7 through November 20, 2022,
  • ride your bike to 7 different places,
  • at least 2 miles round trip each time,
  • drink 7 cups of coffee (or another fall-type beverage), and
  • document your coffeeneuring (either photos, Strava tracks, journal entries, control card, etc.).

The official website’s rules also describe how to submit your rides and get a finishing prize at the end of the challenge, so you will definitely want to check that out.

Readers of this blog may remember that I video-journaled last year’s challenge. I might do that again this time, but the nice thing about Coffeeneuring is that you can always do it in your own style. You can ride almost anywhere you want and document it however you want. It’s all about just riding your bike, enjoying hot drinks, and having fun.



A photo of a group of fancy women riding bicycles.
Photo credit: Fancy Women Bike Ride.

Over 200 cities participated in the 2022 Fancy Women Bike Ride

The Fancy Women Bike Ride is an international event where women dress up in fancy clothes and ride bicycles as a group. The event celebrates World Car Free Day and aims to push cities to create welcoming spaces for women to cycle. This year, on September 18, over 200 cities around the world hosted it.

You can learn more about the program on their official website. Here’s an excerpt from their manifesto:

Every year on World Car Free Day, women will be on the streets with their bikes to show that everyone can ride a bike, and it is even possible to cycle with a fancy dress. Woman’s visibility in urban spaces is key to claim the right to the city. Cycling is a particularly powerful way for women to become visible in the society and a complete new way to interact with the city. Fancy Women Bike Ride is an event for women, organized by women to remember the liberating joy of cycling and to inspire more women to use bicycle in the cities.

The event began in 2013 in Izmir, Turkey, and now it’s grown into an international movement. Several cities in the United States participated this year, including Charlotte, Raleigh, and Tampa in the Southeast.

All of the local events are organized by volunteers. If you wish your town could participate, their official website has contact information to help you get it started. They’re also active on various social media platforms.

Next year’s Fancy Women Bike Ride will be held on September 17, 2023.


The first data on U.S. pandemic-era bike commuting is here

The League of American Bicyclists has new reports based on federal data for how Americans are commuting without cars, available on data.bikeleague.org.

You can read their announcement about the new data here.

These listed reports are especially notable:

The data portrays a mixed bag of news. The pandemic disrupted our status-quo of how people commuted to work. More specifically, many people stopped commuting entirely. With that context, it may not be surprising to see that biking and walking commutes also dropped. Almost everywhere in the nation has fewer people biking and walking to work compared to two years ago.

What the data does not capture is that many areas have experienced a “bike boom” during the pandemic, attributed to reduced car traffic and people’s need to get outdoors. We can see that the boom has not spread to commute patterns, at least not that are reported. The announcement notes that this data only represents about 10% of all biking and walking trips.

However you read into these reports, it seems clear that we’re not yet at a tipping-point where most people are ready to start biking and walking instead of car-commuting. We still have a lot of progress to make.


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.