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Bike Walk Life

News and commentary from the world of biking and walking.

"Good morning!"

One big rule of bicycle etiquette is to warn other people when you approach to pass them. Most cyclists around here shout “on your left.” I use a bell, since I don’t like shouting at people, but either one works. This past week, I encountered another technique in the wild.

As I was biking down the street, a man behind me shouted, “good morning!” just before he rode past.

It was an ordinary situation, but it stuck with me. Perhaps this says something about the culture of my town, but I’ve never noticed a bicycle rider say “good morning” (or afternoon, or evening) to alert me of their passing. The politeness of the phrase felt refreshing.

In our post-etiquette world, we have a tendency to reinvent old courtesies as soon as we realize they aren’t so obsolete after all. Most of the time, our reinventions are woefully utilitarian. Case in point: “on your left” to signal that you are approaching someone on their left.

Riding a bicycle in our towns can already feel dismal and oppressive at times. Why not add some charm and politeness to it? As much as I enjoy ringing my bell, I may start adding some more classic courtesies to my repertoire.



Riding bicycles and social resistance

BYCS posted an article about “the inherent resistance of cycling” by James Crossley. It summarizes how riding a bicycle goes against the grain of mainstream society, and so is an act of “resistance.”

When someone makes a voluntary choice to cycle despite the danger, this is a choice to put oneself in a position of vulnerability. While usually vulnerability equates to weakness, when that vulnerability is voluntary it becomes a challenge to a biased and inequitable mobility system that idolises strength and power. It questions ingrained urban hierarchies that too many take as scripture, and in doing so shows solidarity with those who cycle in adverse conditions for lack of other options.

I will note that riding a bicycle is only “inherently” resistant by accident of our present moment in history. The domination of car transportation is a deliberate design choice by our society. If we didn’t prioritize cars in our communities, and if biking, walking, and all other forms of transportation could compete on equal footing, then the dynamic would be much different.

But Crossley is correct, at least about our current culture. This is why I don’t always encourage everyone to bike commute even though I’m a huge proponent of bike commuting. It is, unfortunately, not for the faint of heart. Most people don’t want their daily commute to be an “act of resistance.”

We have many steps to take before we can make biking and walking first-class mobility options, but one of them is having enough people who are willing to shoulder the burden of resisting mainstream car culture. I think it’s important to be honest with ourselves about what our “resistance” is like, and why we do it.


Library book bikes got more popular in 2021

Book bikes are a growing trend for public libraries. They allow library staff to perform bookmobile-style outreach on two, or usually three, wheels. This past August had the second annual “Book Bike Week,” and interest doubled since last year.

Public Libraries Online has the whole story here.

According to David Kelsey, ABOS [Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services] President, “Book bikes are a valuable library outreach vehicle that are essential in connecting communities with books and materials from across the United States and around the world. Book bikes have the unique capability of popping up in neighborhoods and other community gathering places, providing library service to individuals who may never walk through the doors of a library building. Not only do book bikes meet library patrons at their point of need, but book bikes also celebrate and promote health, movement, exercise, and getting outdoors.”

In its second year, interest in Book Bike Week has doubled, with over 100 book bike programs across the United States and around the world submitting photos, testimonials, tips and tricks to this year’s social media celebration.

The Public Libraries Online article also has information about how your library can acquire and make use of its own book bike.

I’m slightly timid about putting too much weight into exact numbers right now, since 2020 and 2021 have brought so much disruption that has yet to settle. However, it’s hard to see this as anything but good news. Let’s hope that book bike usage continues to grow in 2022.


Technological utopias and mobility

I recently found a research paper signal-boosted by No Tech Magazine. One of its messages is that technology-based utopias can only succeed within narrowly defined systems. This quote struck me:

For instance, one liter of semi-skimmed milk, bought in a British supermarket, has an energy content of 380 kcal. However, to think of the milk in terms of energy also evokes the far-reaching social and environmental contexts that bring milk to the market.

[…] We might include the energy content of processed cattle feed, electricity used to run milking machines, cooling tanks, water boilers, and lighting, energy inputs in alkaline and acid detergents, diesel for tractors, and a wide range of other energy technologies used in production.

You can read the whole paper here: “System boundaries as epistemological and ethnographic problems: Assessing energy technology and socio-environmental impact” by Gustav Cederlöf and Alf Hornborg.

While many people will agree that our daily mobility uses far too much energy, few of us can comprehend its complete cost. To fully calculate the cost of driving your car down a block, we must add the cost of infrastructure, bureaucracy, land use, maintenance, policing, and not to mention human health and ecological damage. The list goes on. Driving a car can only be considered cheap and energy-efficient as long as we don’t consider the larger system.

Pseudo-utopian visions of all-electric vehicles doesn’t change that big picture. A car, no matter it’s energy source, will always be an inefficient and costly form of mobility.

Biking and walking are antidotes to this problem. Walking down the street relies on no more energy or infrastructure than what our ancient predecessors had. We must be open to embrace low-tech, or no-tech, solutions to our modern crises.


First study of bicycling’s economic impact in Georgia reports a $496 million value

Georgia Tech partnered with Georgia Department of Transportation to create the state’s first-ever report of bicycling’s economic impact. It shows that bicycles create close to $500 million in value.

You can read the announcement and the report on GA Tech’s website here.

[Shatakshee Dhongde’s] analysis shows that Georgia’s biking industry has a total annual impact of more than $496 million and employs 4,529 people. Breaking down these numbers reveals that bicycle-related businesses generated $361 million, trail construction created $124 million, and events and organizations accounted for $10 million.

I haven’t read the complete report yet, but it appears conservative at a glance. According to the executive summary:

Based on the existing literature, the report undertakes an economic impact analysis of the following categories:

  1. Bicycle-related businesses.
  2. Bicycle trails.
  3. Bicycling organizations and events.

These categories don’t seem like they can encapsulate all of the economic benefits that bicycling offers. For example, a bike commuter can create economic value without ever visiting a bicycle-related business or attending a bicycling event. The most often-cited economic advantage to bike commuting is in how it saves the commuter money. Bicycles are not just consumer goods, but can be tools that generate value for their riders as well. That is valuable but not measurable in the same way that business revenue is.

The report also contains a stark reality: a mere 0.2% of Georgia’s population rides a bicycle to work. This isn’t completely an accident. Our towns have been deliberately designed to prioritize car transportation at the expense of all other options. This car-oriented design is much more expensive than most alternatives, especially bicycling. In order to fully realize the possible economic benefits of bicycling, we need a radical shift in our culture and our infrastructure.

Pattie Baker has a nice take on the report:

The economic growth opportunity in our state is astronomical if and when we create safe-access-for-all that meets NACTO guidelines. Therefore, no more greenwashing with too-narrow, unprotected paint-on-the-road or disconnected networks with frequent blockages! They are direct barriers to achieving our economic potential, at a time when that is needed more than ever.

Nonetheless, it’s unarguably valuable to have reports like this. I hope that in the future we’ll get to see more bicycling research for Georgia and for other regions where it’s currently lacking.


Pedal Power with Pattie, a newsletter by the creator of Traveling at the Speed of Bike

Pattie Baker, of Traveling at the Speed of Bike fame, is starting a newsletter series in September called Pedal Power with Pattie. It’s designed to align with her bike classes.

You can subscribe here.

Welcome to Pedal Power with Pattie — a series of seven fun and helpful free weekly newsletters September 2 — October 7, 2021. They will align with my proprietary Pedal Power with Pattie classes, designed to encourage you to ride a bike while centering your power and joy!

Along with this newsletter, Pattie has a blog post highlighting her “You Go, Girl!” free resources. These include Metro Atlanta bike routes, profiles of people advocating for inclusive bicycling, the aforementioned newsletter, and more.

It’s always great seeing people use their creativity to spread their passion for bicycling like this.


Alphonse and Gaston comic titled "You first, my dear." Dialogue: "You first, my dear Gaston!" "After you, my dear Alphonse!"
Source: Alphonse and Gaston on Wikipedia.

Illegal courtesies: what they are and how to handle them while biking

Illegal courtesies are when car drivers try to do something nice to bike riders, such as stopping to let them pass, but in doing so they are actually behaving illegally and dangerously.

BikeAthens has a short (under one minute) video on how to deal with illegal courtesies:

Anecdotally, I’ve observed illegal courtesies increase in my city as we built more bicycle infrastructure. Sometimes it feels like a “good” problem to have. After all, wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone was too polite to each other?

Alphonse and Gaston comic titled "You first, my dear." Dialogue: "You first, my dear Gaston!" "After you, my dear Alphonse!"

(Source: Alphonse and Gaston on Wikipedia.)

Unfortunately, we can have too much of a good thing. These seemingly-polite actions create dangerous situations, and they force bicycle riders to make uncomfortable decisions. To accept such a courtesy means illegally biking into traffic, and to reject it means being rude.

When a car stops unexpectedly, someone on a bicycle usually isn’t able to tell why it stopped or when the car will unexpectedly start again. There may be other cars driving nearby, and there’s no telling whether or not they will also stop. Accepting the driver’s kindness puts the bicycle rider at risk of a crash.

Like the video says, people on bicycles should always reject these courtesies, even if it seems rude. The kindest thing that drivers can do is simply drive predictably and obey the traffic laws.


Thoughts on the proposed Bicycle Commuter Act of 2021

If the Bicycle Commuter Act of 2021 passes, it will provide bike commuters a benefit worth up to $81 per month. I think this is positive, yet far from what we really need.

You can read about the bill on People For Bikes’ website here.

I’m afraid that this post may sound negative, so I want to make it clear that I’m in favor of any legislation that makes life better for bicycle commuters, this included. Only a tiny percentage of people in the U.S. bike commute. If an $81/month benefit is what it takes to nudge even just a few more people to start biking, then that’s a success.

However, I’m also skeptical of its effectiveness. There was a previous Bicycle Commuter Act, which was suspended in 2017, and I’m not familiar with any data on how it helped more people start bike commuting. It was a benefit offered through employers, and no employers I worked with ever participated in it.

One thing I do know, and there is a wealth of data to support it, is that fatalities among pedestrians and bike riders continuously increased over the past decade. In places with dangerous streets, which is almost everywhere now, then biking is simply out of the question for a reasonable person. This reality can’t be fixed with $81 per month.

I would go so far as to say that $81 is probably the minimum amount you would need to offer the average person in exchange for them to just try bike commuting once. Most people, in my area at least, probably wouldn’t even accept that deal.

I hope the best for this bill, but, whether it passes or not, we need to keep focusing on the real problems: our deadly-by-design streets, our lack of bicycle infrastructure, and our culture that prioritizes automobile comfort over human life.


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.