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Bike Walk Life

News and commentary from the world of biking and walking.

A photo of a parked bicycle with baskets full of groceries.
A grocery run from Errandonnee 2017.

Erandonnee returns for 2021 in “Hyperlocal Edition”

Errandonnee is an annual challenge for running errands by bike or on foot. After a pandemic-induced hiatus last year, it’s back for 2021.

Read the announcement and rules here.

Errandonnee: Complete 12 errands in 12 consecutive days, and ride, run, and/or walk a total of 30 miles. This year, you pick the 12-day stretch that works for you. Must be between April 15 and June 30.

The term “errandonnee” is a hybrid of “errands” and the French word “randonnee.” String 12 errands into one long ride (or run, or walk) interrupted by sleep and other diversions, and you have an Errandonnee. It’s that simple!

You are not limited to riding a bicycle. You can run, walk, or ride your way to the Errandonnee finish line – or any combination of the three.

Since we’re still recovering from the pandemic, they’ve adjusted the rules to provide a more liberal definition of errand for people who may not be going out in public much anymore. New categories include “history lesson” and “helping hand,” for example.

It still has my favorite category, though: “You carried WHAT?!”

Errandonnee is more formal compared to its sister challenge, Coffeeneuring, but it’s still primarily about getting outside and having fun. You’re given a lot of freedom within the rules, and creativity is encouraged. I’m looking forward to seeing what our fellow Errandonneers come up with!

A bit of personal trivia: I completed Errandonnee for the first time in 2017, and I was the first finisher ever from Georgia. I still have the patch I earned from it.



Historic photo of Springer Opera House.
Image credit: Georgia Archives & Digital Library of Georgia.

When streets were for everyone: Columbus, GA in 1900

Bike lanes, mixed-use trails, and public transportation aren’t just modern fads. For most of history, our streets hosted a diverse mixture of mobility methods. What if we could see exactly how our streets would look without cars dominating them? Thanks to historical archives, we can!

Last year, we saw the 1906 “A Trip Down Market Street” video restored in 4K. One of the stunning things about this video is how radically different this street looked during that time period. To quote Arian Horbovetz’s analysis:

Trolleys, carriages, bikes, cars and pedestrians—count the number of different forms of mobility in this video. The streets were truly for everyone, regardless of speed, size, or socioeconomic status.

This got me thinking: what if we could promote similar visuals from the rest of our cities? So I began searching the Digital Library of Georgia for images in my current town of residence, Columbus, GA. The results were limited, but I found this particularly notable photo:

Historic photo of Springer Opera House.

Image credit: Georgia Archives & Digital Library of Georgia.

According to the DLG’s metadata, this was taken between 1895 and 1900. It depicts the Springer Opera House in downtown Columbus, a place which is still standing and operational today.

Although the photographer may have focused on the Springer, I’m more interested in the streets around it. We can see people on foot, horses, trolleys and even a bicycle just like in the Market Street video. We can tell that they’re all moving at about equal speeds. It’s far safer, slower, and more diverse than our car-dominated version of the same street.

Google Street view of Springer Opera House today.

The modern version of that corner is sterile in comparison. The diverse mobility styles have all been replaced by cars. It is too dangerous, not to mention illegal, for people to walk in this street now.

The point here is not to idolize the past, but to recognize how our current “complete streets” ideals are not just modern novelties. Before we re-engineered society to prioritize cars, our streets were already “complete” in the sense that they accommodated any mode of transportation. Diverse mobility isn’t just modern, nor is it just traditional. It’s timeless.

By making these historical streets more visible to the public, we can also challenge the misconception that car-dominance is naturally the norm. Does your town have archived images of what its streets once looked like? Maybe it’s time to find those and raise awareness of what kind of streets were once, and still are, possible.


Bicycle infrastructure improvements coming to Atlanta

Atlanta, Georgia is planning some big upgrades for its bicycling infrastructure for the upcoming year. Atlanta Magazine has a summary of what’s happening.

Changes are coming on multiple fronts: bike lanes within the city of Atlanta, trail extensions through the PATH Foundation, and mountain biking trails in several parks. There should be something for everybody included.

Improving bicycle infrastructure is always good news, but this is an especially critical moment. With the lockdown-era “bike boom” upon us, public demand for bicycle accessibility is high. The Cities Down South podcast recently compared our current moment to the 1970s bike boom, and they argue that the 70s movement was ultimately smothered by a lack of infrastructure investment. Now is our chance to improve from the mistakes of our past.


New podcast “Cities Down South” discusses bicycle advocacy in Georgia

Cities Down South is a new podcast about “the places we live and how we get around them.” It’s hosted by Scott Berson from the Coastal Regional Commission of Georgia. He interviews Georgia locals about the issues affecting their communities.

Check out Cities Down South here, or in your podcast app of choice.

In the pilot episode, Scott interviews John Bennett, the Safety Education Programs Manager for Georgia Bikes. They discuss topics ranging from Bennett’s history of advocacy in Savannah, to e-bikes, to the new “bike boom” set off by recent lockdowns.

One small detail I enjoyed was when Bennett referred to himself as a “walkist” when he walked around Savannah. As I’ve written previously, we really need a better word for “person who walks.” I’m not sure if walkist is the right one, but I do like it better than the status quo of pedestrian.


A screenshot of the stopsigncam stream.

Stopsigncam: a stop sign where “98.73% of vehicles don’t stop” goes viral on Twitch

Bored internet users have a knack for creating niche communities, and “stopsigncam” is one of the latest. It’s a Twitch stream of a stop sign. The twist is that, according to its description, “98.73% of vehicles don’t stop.”

Stopsigncam’s Twitch stream is here, although its recent surge in popularity has changed the streaming schedule. Nathan Grayson at Kotaku wrote a deep dive here about the stopsigncam sensation.

The users in the chat get a thrill every time a car approaches the sign, begins to slow down, and then just keeps driving. On the rare event that a car does stop (supposedly 1.27% of the time), the chat goes wild and celebrates. Who knows when such a historic moment will happen again?

Aside from being a quirky internet sensation, this also demonstrates how traffic engineering can clash with reality. A stop sign means that drivers must stop for their safety and the safety of others. Disobeying the sign is not only dangerous, but illegal. Yet, here we see a sign that virtually nobody obeys. Why is it even there? How does it make the street safer?

Stopsigncam’s viral livestream may be an anomaly, but the sign itself isn’t. All around our communities, there are signs and markings on our streets that no one obeys, or that people would be crazy to obey. Consider the 35 MPH speed limit signs on giant roads where drivers can comfortably speed to 45 MPH. Or consider the crosswalks located far away from where people actually need to cross the street. We respond to how our streets are actually designed more than to their signage.

Most of our streets don’t have an audience placing bets on which drivers will actually obey law or not, but we can imagine the possibilities. “Bikelanecam: 98.73% of vehicles park in it instead of the parking lot around the corner,” or “crosswalkcam: 98.73% of vehicles don’t yield to pedestrians.” Those streams don’t exist yet, but they could.


2020 drastically changed walking in suburbs, but brought new safety challenges

The pandemic brought about a lot of changes in the way we use our streets, but a recent report shows that it changed walking in suburbs more than in city centers.

Cailin Crowe, writing for Smart Cities Dive, has a summary:

  • Walking in city centers or downtowns remained high throughout the pandemic, and fluctuated just 10% compared to 2019. But the rate of pedestrian activity outside of city centers saw the most dramatic changes in 2020 compared to 2019, with some pedestrian activity increasing or decreasing by up to 100%.
  • In the Orlando area, for example, pedestrians were 19 times more likely to be hit by a driver in the surrounding Holden Heights area compared to Orlando’s city center.

Reading this, I suspect that suburbs saw the largest fluctuations because their pedestrian numbers were lower to begin with. It’s easier to double a small number than it is to double a large number.

But the real story seems to be that the increased activity also brought increased deadliness. This supports what we already know: our streets are deadly by design. In suburbs, especially, streets are engineered for moving cars as quickly as possible. This comes at the expense of the safety of everyone else on the streets.

If people want to walk, whether it’s in downtowns or in suburbs, then we certainly need to make sure they can do so safely. Crowe puts it well in her article: “To make streets safer, local leaders should consider lowering speeds, narrowing travel lanes, adding crosswalks and avoiding broad curves at intersections.”


30 Days of Biking card.

30 Days of Biking begins on the first of April with “a community of joyful cyclists”

In one week, the 30 Days of Biking challenge will begin on April 1st and run through the end of the month. The challenge is simple: ride a bicycle every day for 30 days. And there’s no pressure, since pretty much anything counts as a ride. Their motto is “a community of joyful cyclists.”

30 Days of Biking is a pledge to ride your bike every day in April and share your adventures online with the hashtag #30daysofbiking.

There’s no minimum distance — down a hill and around your garage count just like a 20-mile commute or a 350-mile charity ride.⁣⁣

⁣If you miss a day, no worries. Just keep riding and don’t give up! It’s all for fun, or as serious as you want it to be. What matters is we’re all in this together.⁣⁣⁣⁣

Learn more about getting involved at the 30 Days of Biking website.

You can also read the story of how the challenge began here.

With National Bike Month, May, coming up afterwards, it looks like we’ll have plenty of excuses to ride bicycles for a while.


America Magazine takes an interest in bicycle commuting

A non-bicycle publication has a new article about the merits of bicycling: John Miller, writing for America, argues that bicycles may be the solution to our many modern problems.

What would Jesus ride? For this pilgrim, the answer is obvious. The technological incarnation of love—for yourself, for your neighbor and for the planet—is a sleek aluminum frame, mounted by a human rider, propelled by two wheels, powered by pedals, crank and chain.

[…]

It is hard to name a societal ill that cannot be addressed by societies choosing bikes over cars en masse. And this engine of peace is already invented, perfected and mass-produced. There are an estimated two billion bicycles in the world. In 30 years, there could be as many as five billion. It can’t happen soon enough.

He presents a solid case for the various benefits of bicycles, and readers will probably notice some arguments familiar to the bicycling-blogosphere. It’s great to see these points get traction in circles that aren’t bicycle/mobility/urbanism focused.

Miller also adds some important historical context. A little over a century ago, bicycles were a revolutionary invention. They offered a new kind of mobility and freedom for people. Even though our interstates and suburbs keep car culture dominant today, the original promise that bicycles offer is still there for us.

They can even help fix some of the new problems we’ve invented in the past century, too.


Unsafe streets perpetuate unjust enforcement in marginalized areas

Marginalized communities always have a couple of things in common, unsafe streets and oversized law enforcement. These aren’t together by coincidence; unsafe street design necessitates extra policing. Recently, the US House transportation committee had a hearing on this topic.

Transportation for America has a blog post about the hearing and the broader issue.

Equitable enforcement of traffic rules is a major national discussion. But under-discussed is the role dangerously-designed streets play in putting Black and brown people in a perilous position: break traffic law and risk interacting with police, or put themselves in harm’s way when navigating unsafe infrastructure. Here’s our recap on a recent House hearing on equitable enforcement of traffic rules.

An under-appreciated fact is that these communities didn’t develop dangerous streets by accident. It may be tempting to think that this was a sin of omission, that engineers simply forgot to include safety in their plans, but the reality is that most of these streets are deadly by design.

For decades, we’ve used land in marginalized communities to build infrastructure that was too ugly, too noisy, and too deadly to put in politically-influential communities instead. The roads that now go through these areas are optimized for fast traffic packed with SUVs. This benefits the people who drive through those roads, but comes at the expense of the people who have to live near them.

This compounds with the fact that there is often no safe alternative to the deadly roads. Residents are forced to “jaywalk” just to get from point A to point B. This makes them vulnerable to not only traffic crashes, but also law enforcement.

This system is deadly by design, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The Transportation for America article has some good ideas for national-level policies that will help. On the local level, we can keep pushing to make all of our streets safe for everyone.


Just-for-fun challenge: Three Speed April 2021

Another just-for-fun bicycle challenge is coming up: Three Speed April, hosted by Society of Three Speeds.

Announcement | Full details

The overall challenge consists of five different sub-challenges:

  1. Ride your three speed at least fifteen miles (25 km) in one ride.
  2. A climb of 5% or more grade, with a cumulative elevation gain of at least 100 feet (30 m).
  3. A bit of unpaved/dirt action, of at least a cumulative one half mile (1 km).
  4. Coffee outside via three speed.
  5. A bike overnight or bike camping trip by three speed.

And here’s what you get if you do the Three Speed April 2021 Challenge:

  • Do at least one challenge, get two stickers.
  • Do three of the challenges, get the two stickers and a patch!
  • Do the Overnight as a camping adventure, you’ll get the “Three Speed Camping” sticker in addition to other prizes!
  • Do all five of the challenges, get an extra sticker!

I’m a big fan of these kinds of challenges. They mix athleticism, adventure, creativity, and just having fun on a bicycle. The world could use more events like this. And although these aren’t new, they’re a great fit for our socially-distant era.

Alas, I ride with a derailleurs, so I won’t qualify for this year. Perhaps I’ll go to the dark side by 2022.


A photograph of a bicycle handlebars over a bicycle lane marking.

Three modes of bicycle commuting

We all recognize the main bicycle categories, such as mountain biking, BMX, touring, and commuting to name a few. But when we zoom-in to commuting, then the landscape seems less neatly categorized. Even though commuters may collectively use diverse styles of bicycles and equipment, they all seem to do basically the same thing with them. Despite this, I’d argue that commuting works in three basic modes. These modes aren’t based on what kind of gear you use, but in your mindset and behavior.

  • Mode one: you ride your bicycle as if you’re walking, but faster.
  • Mode two: you ride your bicycle as if you’re running, but faster.
  • Mode three: you ride your bicycle as if you’re driving a car, but slower.

Either consciously or unconsciously, you probably fall into one of these modes while you bike commute, or maybe you switch between them. Our transportation system is overwhelmingly designed for mode three. Trail systems are generally designed for mode two. Mode one is usually not a consideration in our towns.

Are any of these superior to the others? Let’s dive a bit deeper into each one’s characteristics.

Mode one: riding a bicycle as if you’re walking, except faster.

Imagine you want to walk somewhere. It could be down the street, across the neighborhood, or anywhere that would normally be a comfortable walk. But even a pleasant walk can be time consuming. With a bicycle, you can turn a 30-minute walk into a 5-minute ride, and you don’t even need to get your heart rate up.

You don’t need any special clothing or gear, besides maybe a basket (because you can’t use your arms while riding). And, by no gear, I do indeed mean no helmet too. If that seems scandalous, do you wear a helmet to walk down the street?

Mode two: riding a bicycle as if you’re running, except faster.

If you commute on trails or bike paths, then this may sound familiar. You do a bit of extra prep before leaving, possibly putting on workout clothes and packing an outfit for changing. You know you will break a sweat before you get to your destination.

This mode puts more importance on the gear. You will certainly wear a helmet. And even if you don’t have the fastest racing bicycle, you want to make sure your bicycle is well maintained.

Mode three: riding a bicycle as if you’re driving a car, except slower.

Once you leave your neighborhood, then this mode takes over. Legally, this is how you’re “supposed” to ride a bicycle on the street. Most states consider bicycles a type of vehicle and are thus subject to most of the same rules that govern cars.

When you ride in this mode, you always wear a helmet, signal your turns, ride with traffic, “take the lane,” stop at red lights, and wear reflective clothing. It may be necessary, but it’s not very fun.

Which is best?

I don’t believe there’s a “best” or “optimal” mode, only different ones for different situations. However, our transportation system’s overemphasis on mode three has created a toxic environment where the least enjoyable and least accessible mode is forced on us the most.

I don’t want to knock the rules of the road, but most people would rather not be literally a vehicle when they’re on a bicycle. It feels unnatural and dehumanizing to move your body with automobile traffic. It’s also extremely stressful, especially for someone who isn’t accustomed to it. Most people quickly realize that turning yourself into a “car, but slower” means that you might as well just drive a car, because you’ve forfeited all of fun of riding a bicycle.

Have you ever seen someone learn for the first time that they’re not legally allowed to ride on the sidewalk or that they need to ride with traffic? A common reaction is incredulity. However necessary these these laws may be, they certainly make bicycling unappealing.

But mode one, biking as if you’re walking, is a pleasure. There’s no need to stress over if you have the “right” kind of bicycle, what you’re wearing, or what the traffic is like. Of course, this presupposes that you live in a walkable area in the first place, which is not the reality for most of us in the US.

The mobility “food pyramid.”

I’m a huge fan of bicycling, but mainly as long as it goes hand-in-hand with walking. Imagine the food pyramid, but with transportation. I believe that our daily lives should be spent mostly walking (the base of the pyramid), with some bicycling when needed (the middle of the pyramid), and driving cars only occasionally (the tip of the pyramid). Each mode of transportation has its uses, but only walking should occupy most of our time.

When you see bicycle infrastructure around your town, what kind of bicycling is it for? Is it for no-stress, leisurely rides around the neighborhood (mode one)? Or is it for riding in hectic traffic (mode three)? Which kind do you think actually encourages your neighbors to ride their bicycles?


NY Times takes an interest against electric cars on the basis that they’re still cars

The New York Times published an opinion article by Farhad Manjoo, There’s One Big Problem With Electric Cars, and He cuts right to the chase on the first line: “They’re still cars. Technology can’t cure America of its addiction to the automobile.”

That problem isn’t just gas-fueled cars but car-fueled lives — a view of the world in which huge private automobiles are the default method of getting around. In this way E.V.s represent a very American answer to climate change: To deal with an expensive, dangerous, extremely resource-intensive machine that has helped bring about the destruction of the planet, let’s all buy this new version, which runs on a different fuel.

This is why I’m hesitant to discuss the fossil fuels when I write against car culture. It’s clear that the ongoing climate crisis is an ineffective talking point. Even for people sympathetic to the crisis, they’re more likely to drive a greenwashed car than they are to live car-free. The problem is that people simply cannot imagine living without their automobiles.

But I think that’s fine, because there are many other reasons to wage the war on SUVs. One of the most underreported, but most scandalous, is that they literally kill people. The more SUVs and pickup trucks we put on the street, the more people die. Not from their exhaust, but from their bullbars. Traffic crashes is one topic that hits close to home for everyone.

We don’t need to guilt car owners into just buying a different kind of car. We need to offer mobility alternatives that can free drivers from the cycle of car ownership.