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Bike Walk Life

News and commentary from the world of biking and walking.

City of Baltimore sued due to poor sidewalk accessibility conditions

Disability advocates have pushed Baltimore officials to improve the conditions of their sidewalks for a while. Since city hasn’t been responsive, the people are now suing.

Cinnamon Janzer at NextCity has an article about it here.

Both Lafferty and Mike Bullis, the executive director of the IMAGE Center of Maryland—an organization dedicated to helping those with disabilities live independently—say that they’ve reached out to the city to try to work with them, but that the city has been unwilling to come to the table.

[…]

Lafferty says that the plaintiffs aren’t asking for monetary damages beyond the attorney fees and costs associated with going ahead with the lawsuit. What they really want is change. Bullis is hopeful that changes can come without having to go through the often long and drawn-out legal process.

Although it’s sad that the situation has come to this point, it’s inspiring to see people going to bat to make changes happen. Think of all of the people who have to live without accessible infrastructure and without any political power to improve it. Just recently, I spotted a person on a mobility scooter who was forced to ride it in the road due to a blocked-off sidewalk. It isn’t just people with disabilities affected by accessibility problems–it’s everyone.

I hope that Baltimore succeeds in fixing its sidewalks, and then it may be a model for advocates in other cities and towns. But we’ll have to see what happens.



The economic benefits of bicycles

Our 21st century roads are far too expensive. But when we use bicycles for transportation, we save ourselves and our neighbors an enormous amount of money in road maintenance.

Planetizien has a new article that breaks down the math for this: Biking’s Billion-Dollar Value, Right Under Our Wheels by Richard Dion.

Reconstructing existing lanes for a four-lane, five-mile road in a large, urbanized environment (nearly $3 million x 5 miles x 4 lanes) is over $58 million. To resurface those same lanes would cost about $17.9 million. That certainly is not cheap.

[…]

Not only are bikes significantly lighter and thus less damaging to roads, they also do not come with the constant drip of fluids from cars in traffic, which breaks up asphalt quicker over the long-term.

These are “invisible” costs. Most people aren’t aware of them, and it would indeed be difficult for us to even accurately guess them. Perhaps this is why transportation spending is largely exempt from mainstream criticism, even when calls to cut government budgets are fashionable.

Yet these invisible dollar amounts are only part of the problem. We can see the other costs as well: more land use, more construction, giant parking lots, personal costs of car upkeep, noise, exhaust, hotter neighborhoods, crashes (not to mention deaths), and so on. Even if we can rationalize justifications for these, no one can deny they’re a problem.

Dion concludes his article by proposing that we should tackle the issue through marketing:

It would bring no greater value to the United States than having a core of America’s best marketers to communicate the billion-dollar advantage of biking.

This may seem like a naïve solution to some people, but I think it’s a great starting point. Marketing alone can’t re-engineer our streets, but it’s a tool to build public trust. When was the last time you saw someone promoting the communal benefits of bicycle transportation on anywhere that wasn’t a blog like this? We are in desperate need a cultural shift.

All of this is part of why I’ve said that we need to regularly show our appreciation to people who bike commute. Whether they realize it or not, they’re doing the rest of us a great favor. Some people will never bike commute (for valid reasons) but we need their support as well. I don’t believe it’s sufficient for only us bike-enthusiasts to cheer each other on. We need non-bike-commuters on our side too, and spreading awareness of these fiscal realities can help us reach that.


What to know about Georgia's new 3-foot passing law

You may have seen that Georgia recently passed a new “3-foot passing law.” This is good news for bicycle riders, so let’s look at what it means exactly.

What is a “3-foot passing law?”

This is a law that requires car drivers to give at least three feet of space to bicycles when they pass. Several states have their own variations of this “3-foot passing law.” Although their legal wording may differ, they are all based on the same concept.

But wait, wasn’t there already a 3-foot passing law in Georgia?

Yes, Georgia passed a similar 3-foot passing law in 2011. This was itself a huge step forward for street safety in the state. But, ten years later, it was due for an update.

One specific problem with the 2011 law was that it required drivers to leave safe space between themselves and bicycles “when feasible.” As you can imagine, allowing drivers to only consider the life-and-death safety of others “when feasible” was inadequate and legally ambiguous.

What’s in the new law?

You can read the text of the bill here.

  • It removes the “when feasible” language, so it now requires drivers to always leave three feet of safe space when passing bicycles.
  • It requires that drivers move into adjacent lanes to pass, if possible.
  • It requires that drivers passing in the same lane to slow to 10 MPH below the speed limit or 25 MPH, whichever is higher.
  • It specifies that “any violation of this Code section shall be a misdemeanor punished by a fine of notmore than $250.00.”

When does it take effect?

It is in effect now! It started on July 1.

Does this mean our streets are safe for bicycles now?

As always, passing a law is just one piece of the solution. Not only do we now have a duty to enforce it and educate the public about it, but we must continue to grapple with the fact that most of our streets are deadly-by-design, and that our cars themselves have become less and less safe over the years. Fortunately, having the law on our side is a great step in the right direction.


America Walks advocates teaming up with local libraries

Advocacy group America Walks has a new post on how to team up with your local library to improve the walkability of your community.

You can read it here: How and Why to Team up with your local librarian by Noah Lenstra.

Who is working with public librarians, and what are they doing with them? By understanding public librarians as partners, you too unlock their potential for your community’s walking movement.

He describes ten walking projects sponsored by libraries from across the continent, from Toronto to Florida. They are also quite timely–the projects are all from between June 21 and June 30 of this year.

If you’re looking for a partner to help with a walking project, or if you’re a library staffer looking for inspiration, then this guide looks like a handy resource. As the example projects indicate, walking advocacy is not a stranger to local libraries.


New study asserts that building bicycle infrastructure does not harm local businesses

Reallocating street space to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians is usually contentious, and a common concern is in how it will impact local businesses. The usual fear is that removing lanes or parking will reduce the number of car-driving customers, and that biking and walking customers won’t pick up the slack. A new paper examines the data and finds little evidence to suggest that these fears are founded.

You can read the full paper here: Economic impacts on local businesses of investments in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure: a review of the evidence by Jamey M. B. Volker & Susan Handy.

Taken together, the 23 studies we reviewed indicate that creating or improving active travel facilities generally has positive or non-significant economic impacts on retail and food service businesses abutting or within a short distance of the facilities, though bicycle facilities might have negative economic effects on auto-centric businesses (like gas stations, auto repair shops, auto parts stores, and large home-goods stores). The results are similar regardless of whether vehicular parking or travel lanes are removed or reduced to make room for the active travel facilities. Overall, the available evidence suggests that fears of disastrous consequences for local businesses are unfounded.

The paper takes past studies and examines the patterns among them. Each study is modeled differently, so the aggregate results are a little complicated, but even a skeptical eye will have a hard time finding any overriding negative effect of adding biking and walking infrastructure. At worst, it’s a neutral force.

When we advocate for improving our streets for biking and walking, it’s important to remember that our opponents may have reasonable concerns. Certainly, it does seems logical for a business owner to worry about his or her customers who typically park their car in front of the store. We can’t convert everyone, but studies like this can be a valuable tool to help us communicate with, and gain trust from, some of the skeptics.


NextCity argues for National Cool Communities Standards to fight “heat islands”

Everyone has to deal with summertime heat, but some people have it worse than others. An under-appreciated problem in our towns is that different districts can have drastically higher temperatures than their neighbors, a phenomenon called “heat islands.” According to V. Kelly Turner and NextCity, it’s time for a “National Cool Communities Standards” to correct this.

You can read Turner’s whole article here.

We can’t control the weather, and in the longer term, even with major climate action from world leaders, some warming is already baked into our climate system. But there is one aspect of extreme heat we can control. Cities are hotter because of how we build them, and they can be cooler if we build them differently.

It’s time for federal regulations to limit how much buildings, roads, parking lots, and other urban features are allowed to heat up the neighborhood.

I’m not an expert in federal policy, so I have no insight into this specific proposal. However, I’m generally in favor of anything that helps us get the temperature under control. Unlike the larger climate, these heat islands are local problems caused by local factors. Expansive parking lots, wide roads, and lack of trees are all examples of things that damper natural cooling mechanisms. Ideally, this wouldn’t be complicated or controversial to correct.

This is especially an issue for people who bike or walk for transportation. Walking through hotter neighborhoods can be more challenging than walking through cooler ones. Even if this fact isn’t reported on often, I believe most people will cite heat as a reason why they don’t want to walk outside.

When I wrote about this phenomenon last year, I found out that my own city is in the top-ten list of places with the “heat island” problem. This didn’t surprise me. I know from my own bicycling that the temperature shifts between neighborhoods can be surprisingly drastic. Some local groups have done work to help, such as planting trees, but we still have much more work to do.


A collage of photos from Errandonnee 2021.

Errandonnee 2021 wrap-up

Errandonnee is a challenge where you have 12 days to complete 12 errands by bicycle or on foot. This post completes my series of entries for the 2021 challenge.

You can read more about Errandonnee here.

I finished my Errandonnee challenge last week. It was a lot of fun, but a surprising amount of work. I bike commute a lot every week, but I usually follow a few basic routes for regular necessities. The Errandonnee rules require that you try a variety of “errands” and encourage creativity. Some of my rides ended up being much further and more complicated than I expected. If you haven’t started yours yet, or if you plan to participate in upcoming years, then my advice is to make a plan with a schedule and stick to it.

Statistics

Date range
May 9 through May 20
Total errands
12
Total mileage
67 miles

The mileage is a conservative estimation since I didn’t always run my GPS. I stopped worrying about it once it was clear I’d be well over the minimum of 30 miles anyway.

Errands list

  • Errand 1, May 9: church.
  • Errand 2, May 9: grocery shopping.
  • Errand 3, May 10: Midtown art.
  • Errand 4, May 11: MLK Jr. Outdoor Learning Trail.
  • Errand 5, May 12: beer run.
  • Errand 6, May 13: historic district.
  • Errand 7, May 14: fishing in the Chattahoochee.
  • Errand 8, May 15: biking to work.
  • Errand 9, May 16: church again.
  • Errand 10, May 17: coffeeneuring.
  • Errand 11, May 19: breakfast.
  • Errand 12, May 20: bike around midtown.

Posts with details about each errand

As always, Errandonnee was a great challenge. I’m looking forward to 2022.


A photo of a bicycle beside a sign saying "BIKE TO WORK DAY."

Bike to Work Appreciation Day

Today is Bike to Work Day where I live. This is a special day where we ask each other to leave our cars at home and commute by bicycle instead. But I believe that it’s equally important to show that we appreciate the people who always bike commute every day, so I also consider today Bike to Work Appreciation Day.

Why bike to work?

When we encourage people to bike commute, we tend to mention its benefits for the individual: you save gas, you get exercise, you avoid parking, you won’t be stuck in traffic, and so on. These are great points, but they only take us so far. For a person who lives in a car-dependent area, then biking to work can be stressful and difficult. They may not feel like getting exercise and saving gas is worth the hassle of biking.

Then there are people who embrace the difficulties of bike commuting. They openly accept its hardships like a kind of penance. They think: someone needs to put in the work make our streets safer and stop climate change, so it might as well be me. They feel that if their struggles make our world better for the next generation, then that will all be worth it. Encouraging selfless virtue isn’t as effective of a marketing strategy as promising instant gratification, but it’s still important.

And then there are people who bike commute because it’s their only choice. These are the invisible riders. You often see them in areas with the worst bicycle infrastructure, with the fewest bicycle shops, and with the most dangerous streets. I’m unaware of statistics for this category, but most riders I see anecdotally seem to fall within it. They ride in spite of the fact that so little of our bicycle policy or infrastructure is made to include them.

No matter why people ride, let’s show our appreciation

We need to let everyone who rides know that we appreciate them. We appreciate people who ride for fun, who ride in spite of its difficulties, who ride out of necessity, or ride just to prove something. This is because bike commuting isn’t just about saving gas, getting exercise, or even stopping the climate crisis. It’s a critical thread in our mobility tapestry. Whether thousands of people bike to work in your town or just a few people do, they need our appreciation and support. Today is a great day to offer exactly that.


A group photo of bicycle riders.

Errandonnee 2021: errands 11 & 12

Errandonnee is a challenge where you have 12 days to complete 12 errands by bicycle or on foot. This page is part of a series of my entries for the 2021 challenge.

You can read more about Errandonnee here.

Errand 11: breakfast

I already visited one coffee shop earlier during this challenge, so I mixed it up this day and rode to Parker’s Pantry. It’s a restaurant right by one of Columbus’ main public parks. In spite of the area’s lack of official bike parking, it’s a pleasant place to bike or walk to.

My bicycle in front of a storefront.

Date
May 19, 2021
Category
Non-store errand
Total mileage
61.98

Errand 12: bike around Midtown

On the final day of my 12-day errand spree, I joined a group ride around the Midtown area. This was an official event sponsored by Midtown, Inc. and came with a police escort. This neighborhood is already quite bikable, so the escort was more of a bonus than an necessity. Anyone comfortable on a bike could follow the same route on their own.

A group photo of bicycle riders.

Image credit: Midtown, Inc. on Instagram.

Date
May 20, 2021
Category
Wildcard
Total mileage
67.68

A photo collage of my bicycle in several locations.

Errandonnee 2021: Errands 8, 9, & 10

Errandonnee is a challenge where you have 12 days to complete 12 errands by bicycle or on foot. This page is part of a series of my entries for the 2021 challenge.

You can read more about Errandonnee here.

Bike Week has officially begun just as I’m nearing the end of my errand spree. Here are my latest three entries before the finishing stretch.

Errand 8: biking to work

I bike to work most days already, so this almost didn’t feel like a real errand to me. I’m privileged to have a commute route that mostly consists of bike paths, bike lanes, flat elevation, and light car traffic. The few spots where I need to climb a hill or cross traffic are relatively safe and manageable.

Pictured below is my bicycle on my commute route with its super-professional-business-looking Ortlieb Urban pannier.

A photo of my bicycle in front of a "no motor vehicles" sign beside a trail.

Date
May 15, 2021
Category
Personal business
Total mileage
52.14

Errand 9: church again

Sure, this seems like it’s the same “errand” as my very first one, but I’m pretty certain that it still counts. (It’s really been a week since I began this challenge?)

A photo of my bicycle in front of the church's historic marker.

Date
May 16, 2021
Category
Personal care
Total mileage
57.18

Errand 10: coffeeneuring

It’s a crossover episode today. If you’re unfamiliar with coffeeneuring, it’s errandonneering’s little sibling, an annual challenge where we ride our bikes to drink hot beverages. For this errand, I rode to one of our local coffee shops, Midtown Coffee House, for breakfast.

A photo of a coffee cup on a table beside a bicycle helmet.

Date
May 17, 2021
Category
Non-store errand
Total mileage
60.98

A photo collage of my bicycle in several locations.

Errandonnee 2021: Errands 5, 6, & 7

Errandonnee is a challenge where you have 12 days to complete 12 errands by bicycle or on foot. This page is part of a series of my entries for the 2021 challenge.

You can read more about Errandonnee here.

Errand 5: beer run

This one was short and simple. I stopped by Maltitude, our local craft beer store, after work. One feature that makes Maltitude a pleasure to visit is that it has indoor bicycle parking! The owners are big bicycle supporters, so I’m happy to support them in return.

A photo of my bicycle parked inside the Maltitude store.

Date
May 12, 2021
Category
Wildcard
Total mileage
26.04

Errand 6: historic district

The Columbus, GA historic district is full of, well, history. There’s history in its architecture, its street designs, and in its parks and public spaces. It contains artifacts from the city’s past along with plaques and markers.

(As tends to happen with these things, some of their messages have aged better than others.)

Pictured below is one notable monument for the Confederate dead. Most of these kinds of monuments were built recently in rebuke to the civil rights movement, but this one was erected in 1879. Partially for that reason, it has so far survived challenges for removal. I believe its most recent challenge was in 2017, which you can read about here.

A photo of my bicycle in front of a monument.

Date
May 13, 2021
Category
History lesson
Total mileage
36.56

Errand 7: fishing in the Chattahoochee

I’ve never gone fishing by bicycle before, so I didn’t know what to expect. At first, I was mentally preparing to engineer a complex contraption to transport my tackle. This task turned out to be much simpler than I expected (which also made this a slightly disappointing entry for the “you carried WHAT?!” category). The key to its simplicity was that my top-tube bag and my rack cooler both have plenty of Velcro that can easily strap down a rod. All I needed to do then was fold the rod and stash the rest of my tackle in a pannier.

Another disappointment was that the fish weren’t biting today. But I still had a great ride nonetheless.

A photo of my bicycle carrying a fishing rod.

Date
May 14, 2021
Category
You carried WHAT?!
Total mileage
46.1

A photo of a bicycle in front of a public mural.

Errandonnee 2021: Errand 4 & Ride Spot for MLK Jr. Outdoor Learning Trail

Errandonnee is a challenge where you have 12 days to complete 12 errands by bicycle or on foot. This page is part of a series of my entries for the 2021 challenge.

You can read more about Errandonnee here.

For my fourth errand, I explored our new MLK Jr. Outdoor Learning Trail, a series of historic markers along the Dragonfly Trail Network in Columbus, GA. Each of the markers recalls the civil rights movement as it happened in Columbus.

When I read the markers, I was struck by how ordinary some of the locations appeared in contrast with their dramatic history. No one would ever realize the rich stories contained in these nondescript buildings if they only drove past by car. It’s a reminder that history is perpetually unfolding all around us. It’s not only captured in majestic monuments, but also in dentists’ offices and child day-cares.

This ride would easily fit in the “history lesson” category, but I went with “discovery” since the route was completely new to me.

I was pleased to find that the trail was a joy to ride on, but I was also disappointed that it wasn’t complete yet. I had embarked planning to visit all eleven historic markers and only was able to reach five. The remaining six that make up the “MLK Jr. Outdoor Learning Trail” are beyond where the physical trail ends. I explored a bit further on foot, but even the sidewalk there had crumbled and washed away. Considering that this area has multiple lanes of dangerous car traffic, I cannot recommend for anyone to try visiting all of markers at once.

Mismatched expectations aside, the ride itself was a pleasure. I look forward to seeing how the trail network continues to develop.

Finally, to make this a real errand, opposed to a recreational ride, I charted it on Ride Spot. This is my first time using that app, so I hope I did everything correctly!

You can view this route on Ride Spot here

Date
May 11, 2021
Category
Discovery
Total mileage
19.71