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News and commentary from the world of biking and walking.

Another bike bus appears as the idea gains traction

Last year, a PE teacher in Portland made national headlines with his “bike bus.” The idea was to replace the regular school buses (or car drop-offs) with bicycles. Each morning, he leads a parade of children on bikes through his neighborhood to school. Now one of WIRED’s editors has gotten her own bike bus off the ground.

Read the story on WIRED: “I Started a Bike Bus, and You Can Too”.

The author, Adrienne So, discusses the importance of getting kids biking in general, but also how meaningful the bike bus specifically can be to residents. One quote: “…it’s empowering to see children take control of their lives in a way that we simply haven’t seen since the start of the pandemic. It’s probably why people get emotional when they see it.” She also outlines advice for other parents interested in starting their own.

You can read the Bike Walk Life post about Sam Balto’s original bike bus here.

Bicycling Magazine asks: what are sharrows? Do they work? Do we need them?

Since they first appeared in the 90s, “sharrows” have been a contentious topic for bicyclists. They’re those icons painted on roads that depict a bicycle beneath chevrons. They aren’t bike lanes. In fact, most people don’t know what they are. Bicycling Magazine published a new article that tries to explain them.

You can read it here: “What Is a Sharrow? Our Guide to the Notorious Shared Lane Marking”.

I have several problems with sharrows. My main problem is the first one highlighted by the article: the public does not know what they mean. Unless you have signs that people can understand, then the signage is useless.

That brings us to my second problem: what do they mean? The issue is that there isn’t a clear answer. Other markings on the road have specific legal meanings, such as “park here” or “don’t cross here.” Violating those markings invites consequences from law enforcement. Sharrows are different.

Sharrows are just suggestions. They say, “hey drivers, maybe you should pay attention to bicycles,” and “hey bicycle riders, maybe it’s a good idea to ride in this spot.” Unlike bike lanes, drivers are free to drive on sharrows as much as bicycles are free to ride outside them.

As far as I know, the presence of sharrows doesn’t even affect the legal consequences in case of a crash, although a lawyer may correct me on that.

Bicycling Magazine goes into more detail with the pros and cons. Their conclusion is that sharrows can sometimes make people on bicycles safer, but only if they’re used effectively. Often, perhaps most of the time, they aren’t effective. My takeaway is that suggestions which maybe-sometimes-kinda might help, but which also may make things worse, are best avoided completely.

How Japan won the "traffic war" that the US is losing

Even though traffic deaths have been rising for years in the United States, the same isn’t true in all countries. Japan is especially notable, with over five-times fewer per-capita fatalities. I recently read this fascinating Bloomberg article from last September that explores this.

You can read the article here: “How Japan Won its ‘Traffic War’”.

The article is good at explaining the issues concisely. It identifies four main actions that Japan has taken to minimize traffic deaths:

  • Invest in trains.
  • Drive small cars.
  • Remove on-street parking.
  • Build cities safe for children.

The United States, in spite of every “vision zero” traffic death plan or public safety campaign, has taken the exact opposite course for each one. Only a tiny percentage of Americans have access to trains. Our cars keep getting bigger and more deadly. Parking has consumed most of our space. And our cities are so dangerous that letting children alone in them is often considered abuse.

So when US leadership tries to deflect the blame to other variables, such as smartphone use, it’s important to remember what real solutions to traffic deaths look like.

NYT asks: "widening highways doesn’t fix traffic. So why do we keep doing it?"

The New York Times published a new article critical of highway expansion. It looks at several of the widest highways in the United States, their recent efforts for widening, and the resulting effects.

You can read the article here, although it’s behind a paywall. An archived copy can be found here.

For a newspaper article, it does a good job at explaining the reality that widening highways just doesn’t work. Even though politicians have touted widening as a fix for traffic, the opposite inevitably happens. After just a few years, the increased induced demand catches up and traffic becomes worse than before.

The article falls short of directly answering its own question, “why do we keep doing it?” One big answer is our modern growth Ponzi scheme. Our transportation system, especially our urban highway system, can only continue to exist if we continuously build more and more lanes. Every new lane is only paid for by future growth, and more growth necessitates more lanes.

This is one reason why highway expansion needs to end sooner than later. Like any Ponzi scheme, it’s impossible for it to continue indefinitely, and the longer it goes on, the more fallout it causes when the music stops.

A cartoon in which two persons walk across a car parking lot full of cars and then spot two e-scooters parked. They say "These shit e-scooters are everywhere!".

The best mobility meme of 2022

Twitter’s Cycling Professor (@fietsprofessor) recently held 2022’s “Most Powerful #MobilityMeme” contest. The winner pulled in 77% of 6,310 votes.

Here is the winning submission (Twitter link):

A cartoon in which two persons walk across a car parking lot full of cars and then spot two e-scooters parked. They say "These shit e-scooters are everywhere!".

You can view the other mobility meme candidates at the Twitter link above, as well as the winners from previous years. I look forward to seeing what new memes, comics, and other creative mobility messages 2023 brings us!

A photo of a sandwich, a mug of coffee, a bicycle helmet, and a GoPro camera on a counter.

My 2022 Coffeeneuring Challenge results

The 2022 Coffeeneuring Challenge has come to an end, and here are my results. This is my second time documenting my rides by video.

If you’re new to Coffeeneuring, you can read about it here on its official website.

Last year, I used the Coffeeneuring Challenge as an opportunity to video-document some typical bike rides in my community. You can see a summary of that year’s effort here. For this round, I picked up the GoPro again but took a slightly different approach. Instead of hosting on YouTube, I used TikTok (and mirrored the videos on Instagram).

I don’t have any strong preference to any platform, but so far TikTok has been the best at connecting my videos with like-minded bicycle riders. I had to get used to trimming the footage down into bite-size lengths, but that also seemed like a good exercise for distilling their most valuable parts. In the end, I believe these are much better than my videos from last year.

These are the details for each ride. I drank coffee in all of them.
Ride #DateTotal milageLocationVideo
1October 83.9 milesMidtown CoffeeWatch on TikTok
2October 96 milesIron Bank CoffeeWatch on TikTok
3October 196.4 milesStarbucksWatch on TikTok
4October 226.3 milesFountain City CoffeeWatch on TikTok
5November 13 milesParker's PantryWatch on TikTok
6November 63.9 milesBurger KingWatch on TikTok
7November 123 milesLakebottom ParkWatch on TikTok

I tried to include a diverse group of locations and routes. This mostly consisted of hip, photogenic cafés, but also some decidedly un-cool chains like Burger King. Biking and hot beverages don’t exist in a bubble, after all. We should be able to bike anywhere in our communities.

You can see more about each individual ride in their respective videos (if you don’t mind dealing with TikTok’s interface). My objective was to convey what it’s like to ride to each of these places. Hopefully, people who don’t ride much outside of bike paths can see these trips as new possibilities.

As always, it was a pleasure to see other bicyclists share their Coffeeneuring trips on social media. One of the best parts of this challenge is the (virtual) camaraderie as we all get out and celebrate our rides.

A special thanks is owed to the Coffeeneuring organizers. And I look forward to next year!

World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims 2022

November 20 is World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. This is a global event to remember the people killed or injured in traffic, to pay tribute to emergency responders, and to advocate for ending traffic violence.

Find out more on the official website.

People are holding World Day of Remembrance events around the United States and worldwide. Their site has a list of events here. Even if you aren’t able to participate in one, then this is also an opportunity to simply help spread the word, for example, on social media (hashtag #WDoR2022).

Traffic violence was once a much more controversial topic here in the US. We even used build monuments to collectively commemorate its victims. But, in recent decades, political and corporate interests have been largely successful at normalizing it. With traffic deaths getting worse year after year, we need every opportunity we can get to reverse this trend.

This blog has often written about the victims of road traffic violence. You can read a few of my articles from the past year:

On this year’s World Day of Remembrance, we can hope that we will move closer to ending traffic violence worldwide.

Is Daylight Saving Time good for bicycling?

We in the U.S. turned our clocks back this week, ending Daylight Saving Time until next year. DST gets a lot of flak from the public. It confuses us for two days every year, and pseudoscientific myths surround it. For better or worse, making DST permanent has become politically popular now. But that may not be a bad thing, at least not for biking and walking.

Popular Mechanics published this article last spring, “Daylight Saving Time Is Actually a Good Thing,” which challenges the notion that DST’s benefits are only imaginary. Its thesis boils down to this: more of us go outside in the evening than in the morning, so giving us more daylight during that time helps us stay happy and safe. The list of activities that decrease during DST months includes: crime, traffic crashes, and watching TV. On the other hand, the outdoor industry benefits from it.

The article cites scientific studies to back-up this claim, but I think the basic idea seems obvious. We all go outside more when it’s light and less when it’s dark. Daylight makes us safer, both in the outdoors and in car traffic. Without daylight, we just say inside and watch TV.

I’ve met numerous bicycle riders who avoid biking at night, and we all know how unsafe it can feel walking outside in the dark. If we had the power to give these people more sunlight, then why shouldn’t we do that?

We all don’t like changing our clocks twice a year, but if Daylight Saving Time was permanent, then that wouldn’t be a problem anymore. That is what the Sunshine Protection Act proposes. The act is currently stalled in congress, but several states are now pushing to do the same thing themselves.

So, does DST help biking and walking? I don’t have any hard evidence, but only because I’m not aware of anyone who tried to measure it yet. However, that hypothesis is consistent with the similar studies I’ve seen. With the possibility of permanent DST on our horizon, I believe that we would be remiss to not test this theory.

Children’s “bike bus” is a success, cheered on by residents

It’s not really a bus, more like a caravan, but children in Portland are parading their way to school on bicycles thanks to a PE teacher’s program.

The Washington Post has the full story here.

The bike bus has become the students’ favorite way to get to school. The community likes it because it reduces congestion and pollution caused by buses and cars — while also promoting physical activity and fostering community.

“When we do bike bus, people come out of their homes and watch us. It’s kind of like a parade,” Downard said. “It’s palpable, the excitement in the neighborhood and community, and how much joy everyone gets just by seeing kids going to school and being happy and exercising.”

The idea began as a “walking bus” (walking to school, what an idea!) before it morphed into its current bicycle form. But in both versions, its success was partially due to how much the local community supported it.

Sam Balto, the bike bus’ creator, has written a short guide here on how you can start a bike bus of your own.

It’s hard to not feel hopeful when seeing this happen. We definitely need more heartwarming success stories like it.

A simple, low-cost plan for building your own bicycle trailer

For all you DIY aficionados, the Low-Tech Lab website has a new guide for building a bike trailer with hand tools and up-cycled materials. There’s no welding required!

Read the full guide here: “Simple wooden bike trolley - hand tools only - back wheel attachment.”

I haven’t had a chance to build it myself, but the instructions look easy, and it includes plenty of diagrams and photos. The author also indicates that they will update this guide as they continue to improve the trailer they made.

Photo of a roadside memorial.
A roadside memorial in Levittown, New York. Photo credit: Paultristis on Wikipedia.

The “most dangerous road for cyclists in America” gets profiled in Bicycling Magazine

Bicycling Magazine published a brutal report about what it describes as the most dangerous road for bicycles in America, Hempstead Turnpike. It illustrates so much of what’s wrong with our transportation system.

You can read the article here: “The Making of a Monster” by Dan Schwartz.

The whole story is powerful, and a summary could not do it justice. It focuses on the death of Andrew, a thirteen-year-old child who was struck by a car while biking, but it uses that as an anchor to discuss our epidemic of traffic deaths. These are disturbingly common across the country to the point where they’ve become numb statistics.

One detail that stuck out to me was how Andrew’s grieving family tried to sue the state for their son’s death, but they only have a case if they can prove that the road has a design flaw. Unfortunately for them, it seems to follow engineering standards exactly.

Their story exposes just how deeply institutionalized our deadly car culture has become. Death after death is spun as the victim’s fault, and responsible parties are shielded by a bureaucracy that doesn’t consider regular fatalities to be a “flaw.” The article also points out that the year of Andrew’s death was a year of all-time-high car sales, hardly a coincidence. These tragedies should be horrifying, but instead we treat them as the cost of doing business with the car industry. At best, they’re just another statistic.

California enacts the Freedom to Walk Act

The state of California has enacted their Freedom to Walk Act. This is the latest in our national trend to legalize walking by removing dated “jaywalking” laws.

America Walks has a summary:

As silly as that sounds, jaywalking laws were created by the auto industry in the 1930s as vehicle ownership started to increase. The goal was to keep people off the streets and make room for vehicles as they started to become a normalized way of transportation.

This act will do the following:

  • Decriminalize safe, commonsense street crossing, when traffic permits, whether or not a pedestrian is within a marked/unmarked crosswalk.
  • Remove a pretext for over-policing that has disproportionately hurt Black and Latinx Californians.
  • Recognize the rights of pedestrians to fair and equitable use of our public roadways.
  • End a traffic enforcement practice that places an undue financial burden on low-income residents through fines, fees, and penalties without increasing safety.

This is a reminder that, until about 90 years ago, walking in the street was a completely normal and legal behavior. Even if car-dominated streets seem natural to someone born today, that status-quo mainly exists by government fiat. We are now seeing more and more communities working to change that.