Majority Leader Ryan, Will You Support Bike Lanes on Smith Street?

In late summer 2019, Providence installed a two-way protected bike lane on Eaton Street, near Providence College. Some people who lived near Eaton Street felt that the bike lanes made Eaton Street dangerous to people driving cars on Eaton Street or walking on the adjacent sidewalks. I disagree with that opinion and I attended a public meeting on September 4th to express my disagreement. The effort to remove the bike lanes was led by Providence City Council Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan, of Ward 5. This morning, Majority Leader Ryan sent an email saying that the city was now planning to remove the bike lanes and re-stripe Eaton Street. I’ve pasted that email below, or you can see her announcement on her Facebook page.

Here’s what I sent to Majority Leader Ryan. (I addressed her as Councilwoman Ryan, but I’ll be sure to address her as Majority Leader from now on. I apologize for the error).

Dear Councilwoman Ryan,
I was dismayed to learn that the city will be removing the bike lanes from Eaton Street. Because these lanes used a new design that has not been seen in the city before, I can understand that some people were afraid that the lanes would cause safety issues. By narrowing the street, these lanes caused people to drive more slowly. This was a significant safety improvement. If the Eaton Street lanes had been left in, drivers would have gotten used to them and we would all come to appreciate the safety benefits for people in cars, people on bikes and people walking.
Unfortunately, as you said in your email, the city is going to return Eaton Street to its previous configuration. I think this is a bad decision, but I guess it’s already done. I hope that you will take this opportunity to learn more about the benefits of protected bike lanes and work to implement them on other streets in Providence.
I attended the September 4th meeting at St. Pius V and if I remember correctly, you said that you are not against bike lanes, that you were just against how these bike lanes were designed and implemented. Several people at the meeting suggested that Smith Street would make a better location for a protected bike lane. From what I’ve heard from city officials, RIDOT controls Smith street because it is designated as a state highway. The city officials have also told me that RIDOT is resistant to the idea of building a protected bike lane on Smith Street.
As an elected official, you have a great deal of influence. You have used that influence in what you saw as a service to your constituents in getting the Eaton Street bike lanes removed. Will you will use that influence again to convince RIDOT to install protected bike lanes on Smith Street? I admire the amount of effort you put in to return Eaton Street to its previous configuration. Will you work just as hard to create a protected bike lane on Smith Street?
Sincerely,
-James-
(I signed it with my full name and address, but I don’t like to post that information on this blog)
Here’s the text of Majority Leader Ryan’s email sent this morning:
Dear Neighbors,
I wanted to let you know that Eaton Street will be repaved to its original traffic pattern.
Making our streets safe and accessible to all is one of my top priorities. We need to balance all new initiatives with the needs of the surrounding community, particularly when it is a matter of public safety. After hosting two community meetings and hearing your incisive observations, I am pleased to report that the Mayor has agreed with us.
I want to personally thank you for working together to address these genuine issues of public safety. Our voices were heard loud and clear. This change is happening because of you, and that is something to be proud of.
The work on Eaton Street will begin in a timely fashion, and when I have the full details, I will let you know so that you are prepared for any potential delays that may occur due to the restriping.
Also, I want to thank Mayor Elorza, and I applaud his vision for a City that is responsive to multimodal transportation. Although the plan that was rolled out for Eaton Street did not fit or serve our community’s needs, I genuinely thank Mayor Elorza and his Directors for their professionalism and their willingness to engage with us to reconsider this plans implantation.
Therefore, due to these recent developments, the community meeting that was tentatively scheduled on October 2, 2019, at St. Pius V Church has been canceled.
As any additional information regarding this important community issue arises, such news will be shared on the City Council web page and social media:
You can follow the City Council on Facebook @PVDCityCouncil, Twitter @PVDCityCouncil, Instagram @PVDCityCouncil, and on the web at council.providenceri.gov.
Thank you for being vocal and caring community members! I appreciate you and your willingness to engage on these important issues.
If you have other neighborhood concerns, I invite you to join us at my monthly community meeting which is held the first Monday of every month (if Monday is a holiday it falls on Tuesday of the same week) at Mt. Pleasant Community Library from 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM.
If you have other concerns, you can always call my office at 401-521-7477.
Sincerely,
Jo-Ann Ryan, Majority Leader
Providence City Council
Councilwoman – Ward 5

STIP Major Amendment 19

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation has proposed eliminating, reducing, or significantly delaying about $20-$37 million in funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition has all of the details on this.

On August 15, 2019, I went to the public comment meeting about this proposed change and saw many people speak against the change. It was great to see so many people articulate the variety of reasons why this change is the wrong thing for the State Transportation Improvement Plan. There are so many reasons, but this is what I could put down in an email to the Transportation Advisory Committee. If you would like to do the same, please see RI BIKE’s easy instructions on what you can do. I don’t get involved in public activism much, but I feel like we all must do what we can to on every front to fight for every environmental improvement we can.

Dear Mr. D’Alessandro and Members of the Transportation Advisory Committee,

Thank you for holding the two meetings for public comment regarding STIP Major Amendment 19. I was able to attend the meeting in Providence on August 15th where I gave my public comment. I have also emailed my comments to you previously, but after seeing many members of the public speak against this amendment, I wanted to add to my comments.

I urge you to vote against STIP Major Amendment 19. Funding for bicycle, pedestrian, and ADA infrastructure is small enough as it is. This money was designated for these projects and we shouldn’t funnel it into RIDOT’s highway, bridge and other projects. According to some calculations, this amendment would eliminate or delay $20 – 37 million from bike and pedestrian projects.

$37 million goes a long way for bike and pedestrian infrastructure. At the same time as this amendment is proposed, RIDOT is proposing to add a lane to a small section of I-195 for an estimated cost of $70 million. That’s almost double the cost of the proposed bike and pedestrian budget cuts. RIDOT says that the additional lane on I-195 will help provide “congestion relief.” Decades of research has shown that adding lanes to a highway does not relieve traffic congestion because the additional capacity is quickly swallowed up by more people driving.

RIDOT is also on course to spend hundreds of millions of dollars rebuilding the I-95 viaduct and add a lane there as well. They are using “congestion relief” as the justification for adding a lane onto I-95 as well. When RIDOT wants to expand a highway, they have no problem finding the money for it. But when it comes to bike and pedestrian improvements (at a fraction of the cost), they have a much harder time finding the money, claiming that it is needed to repair deficient bridges. Meanwhile, they spend tens of millions of dollars expanding bridges which will only make it more expensive to repair in the future. It may be beyond this committee’s purview to stop RIDOT from spending money on unnecessary highway lanes, but you should at least do your best to make sure they spend every penny on bike and pedestrian infrastructure possible.

In a recent article in the Boston Globe, RIDOT director Peter Alviti said, “We have deficient bikeways in the urban core that get much higher use than a trail out to Connecticut.” This is obviously true, and RIDOT has often stood in the way of creating good bikeways in our urban core. We must create protected bikeways, the kind that have been proven to increase bicycle ridership. RIDOT touts its spending on bike and pedestrian infrastructure, but includes bike routes that are only marked by shared roadway markings (also known as bike chevrons or “sharrows”). Shared roadway marking do nothing to make cycling more safe, and do not encourage more people to ride a bike instead of driving a car. Recreational bike paths (officially “multi-use paths), like the trestle trail connecting to Connecticut are also an important part of our our overall bike infrastructure.

I’ve been commuting by bike in Providence for about 12 years, and I’ll ride on just about any street where it is legal to do so. (I prefer to use bike lanes when they are available, and I’ll go out of my way to do so, but there is no way to go more than a mile in town while riding only on bike lanes). I didn’t start out as a confident cyclist. I started as a 10 year old, riding my Schwinn BMX on a bike path in suburban Kansas City. When I turned 16, I started driving everywhere instead, and that’s what I did for the rest of my teens and twenties. But it was a recreational bike path that got me back on my bike. I started riding on paths, then I’d ride to work occasionally, and soon enough I was riding everywhere. Recreational paths like the Washington Secondary and Trestle Trail are a key part of getting more people on bikes, which leads to less car congestion and pollution.

For all of the small reasons above, you should recommend against approving this amendment. But there is a much bigger reason as well. According to a Washington Post analysis of national temperature data, Rhode Island is the fastest-warming state in the lower 48 states, with a 2 degree Celsius average temperature increase since 1895. We must significantly reduce carbon emissions in the next few years in order to avoid the more catastrophic effects of climate change. Can this committee stop climate change on its own? No, of course not. But at the very least, it must not be a contributor to climate change. It can assist RIDOT in being part of the problem, or it can be a small part of the solution. Highways are carbon infrastructure, just like coal or natural gas-fired electric plants. Funding bike and pedestrian infrastructure is your opportunity to do something better.

Sincerely,

[etc.]

Optimized Sharrow Usage

The term “sharrow” is a portmanteau of “shared lane marking arrow” or something like that. It’s a bike symbol and a couple of chevrons painted on a street intended to indicate the optimal place for a cyclist to ride.

Sharrow on Gano

It’s the weird looking thing in the foreground

Here’s what the Providence Bike Plan has to say about sharrows which it calls a “shared lane marking” or SLM for short:

The marking is intended to assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in a shared travel lane. The marking also encourages bicyclists to ride outside of the door zone of parked cars and to discourage wrong way riding. The marking also alerts road users to the lateral position bicyclists are likely to occupy in the travelled way. … SLMs can be used to connect short gaps between sections of bike lanes. SLMs can also be used in a right-turn only lane to assist bicyclists traveling straight through an intersection.

There was a time when I thought that sharrows were an interesting development, perhaps a new type of cycling infrastructure that could be successfully used as part of a city’s bike plan when full bike lanes weren’t possible. I even wrote a blog post when I saw the first ones in Providence over 3 years ago.

The Providence Bike Plan was released about a year ago. The best discussion I’ve seen about it is over at Greater City Providence in this post.  For various reasons, I did not participate in the discussion at the time the plan was released. Mostly because I was so disappointed in it and it seemed completely worthless to try to do anything about it. But now we are seeing the city implement the plan and it’s clear that all we are going to get is sharrows.

The first sharrows I saw in town were on Gano street back in 2011. But the first sharrows that appeared as part of the new, improved Providence Bike Plan (that I saw) were on Olney Street between North Main and Arlington Street.

Olney Street

https://www.google.com/maps/@41.8356893,-71.4039324,16z

It’s easy to separate Olney Street into the part that’s west of Hope Street (WOH), and the part that’s east of Hope Street (EOH). WOH Olney is a wide street with a handful of multi-family houses, plus a high school, church, medical office building and a large apartment complex. EOH Olney is narrower and there are more single-family houses plus another church and the grounds of a different high school. On EOH Olney the traffic is relatively slow and calm. WOH Olney serves as a connector between Hope Street and North Main. There’s more traffic on WOH Olney and it’s moving faster (mostly well above the 25 MPH speed limit). There’s one thing that both WOH Olney and EOH Olney have in common, free parking on both sides of the street, on the entire street. The big difference, there are many cars parked EOH Olney, but very few parked on WOH Olney. But both WOH Olney and EOH Olney have sharrows.

On EOH Olney, the sharrows kind of make sense. It’s a a quiet residential neighborhood and people are driving their cars at reasonable speeds. It’s not heavily traveled by bikes or cars, and it’s relatively narrow.. But it is simply idiotic to have sharrows on WOH Olney. It’s easy to see this when you look at a picture of where the sharrows were painted.

olney-sharrows

Green arrows point to the sharrows.

If you can make out the sharrows in the picture above, you’ll note that they are right where the cars are driving. This means that the city wants cyclists to ride way out there rather than at the side of the street.

What’s the city’s excuse for not installing bike lanes on WOH Olney Street? Did they want to preserve parking for the homes and businesses on the street? All of these places have their own off-street parking. I’ve been up and down Olney many times and there’s hardly anyone parked on WOH Olney. Because there’s no one parked on the street, it doesn’t even make sense for cyclists to use the sharrows. If a cyclist were to use the sharrows when there are no cars parked on the street, she would be putting herself in the middle of the lane, which many motorists will interpret as blocking “their way.” Motorists will pass to the right of the cyclist, or go around to the left, or try to intimidate the cyclist into moving to the right. I’ve seen motorists pass other people in cars on WOH Olney, treating it like a 4-lane road rather than a 2-lane street.  Instead of using the sharrows, most cyclists are going to ride close to the curb so the speeding motorists will pass them with plenty of room to spare. The city could have easily eliminated parking on this section of the street allowing for the creation of bike lanes in both directions. If they wanted  a more parking-friendly solution, they could have put a bike lane on the eastbound side of the street (uphill, where the cyclists are going slower) and put in sharrows and allowed parking on the westbound side of the street. I’ve seen this configuration on wider streets in Seattle that were on large hills. We don’t even have to go all the way to Seattle to find something similar, Alfred Stone Road (at the northern end of Blackstone Blvd.) has bike lanes eastbound and sharrows westbound.

The description of sharrows in the Providence Bike Plan includes “SLMs can be used to connect short gaps between sections of bike lanes.” These sharrows on Olney aren’t connecting anything. They are just a cheap way for the city to look like it is installing bike infrastructure, when really it’s doing nothing.

Olney street was a the first place where I saw the bike plan put into action and it’s nothing but a disappointment. In recent months, I’ve seen sharrows go in on Hope Street, Thayer Street and Broad Street. Here they are on Broad Street:

Broad Street Sharrows

Broad Street Sharrows

Hmm, what’s that to the right of the sharrow? It’s a completely unused parking lane!

If sharrows are meant to indicate where cyclists are supposed to ride, I suggest cyclists do exactly that – en masse. If the city wants to put in sharrows as part of their plan to encourage more cycling in the city, let’s show them what happens when many cyclists use this inferior cycling infrastructure at once. Let’s all ride on the sharrows as one big group and use them the way they were designed to be used.

I’m suggesting a semi-organized ride, along the lines of a critical mass, but with a few key differences. 1. We obey the letter of the law. No running lights, no riding two abreast. 2. We ride as safely as possible using the sharrows: stay out of the door zone, stay within the area defined by the sharrows. Are you interested in this? We could call it the “Sharrow Utilization Ride.” I’d call it the “Sharrow Appreciation Ride,” but I’m not sure if anyone would get the irony. I’m open to other suggestions for names.

[sidenote about the sharrows: it seems like they are all installed outside of the doorzone while the the Broadway bike lane is about 30-50% in the doorzone. What’s up with that?]

In a recent post, Transport PVD makes some interesting comparisons between the movement for marriage equality and the movement for safer bicycle infrastructure. In short, he argues that the State of Rhode Island is preventing Providence from installing better bike infrastructure. He says that much like San Francisco started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples to force California into addressing marriage equality, cities should install proper protected bike infrastructure in order to force the state to get with the times on what cities around the world are discovering: that good bike infrastructure is a good investment.

Sometimes an important part of a movement is a little bit of civil disobedience. I’ve shied away from writing about this for a number of reasons. One of them: right now there’s a much more important protest movement going on, and I don’t know if there’s room in the Providence mindspace for anything else. And it’s hard to say that bike lanes are as important as protesting against racial discrimination in police practices (and that’s a mild way of framing that issue).

But I’m sick of this shitty bike plan. Cities like Pittsburgh and even Kansas City are starting to put in better bike infrastructure than we are. Providence has the bones to be a potentially great city for biking. We just need to make a few kind-of tough decisions. Well, no, not really. Just one tough decision: we need to say that bike infrastructure is more important than overly abundant, under-utilized free parking.

It’s been a mild winter so far, but the real cold weather is about to start, so I don’t think we could organize a sharrow ride any time soon. Is anyone else interested in a mass demonstration of how useless these things are?

Un-American Cycling Part 1: Riding A Bike In Cambridge, England

I recently traveled to a foreign country (no, not Canada, that doesn’t really count) and I rode several different bikes there. I have lived to tell the tale. I visited two cities in England: Cambridge and London. First, let’s take a look at Cambridge.

Cambridge is the home of The University of Cambridge. It’s old – 13th century old. The University is made up of many different “colleges” including Darwin College, where Spouse was attending a conference and I was lucky enough to tag along for a ride. Un-American fact #1 about The University of Cambridge: Darwin College? Darwin? You think that shit would fly in God’s United States? I don’t think so.

dcsa-logo

This is the logo for the Darwin College Student Association. Not only does it reference a godless idea like evolution, it also implies that some students may want to “walk in their own direction!”

Along with godless logos, there were also tons of beautiful old buildings all over the place. I probably should have taken a bunch of pictures of old stuff while I was there, but I always feel a little odd doing that. So, take a moment and go to your favorite internet search engine; type “University of Cambridge” and search images. Now look at all the pretty buildings for a few minutes and then come back here.

Nice, right?

Instead, I take pictures of bike stuff – even then, I should have taken more so I could capture the state of the “bike culture” there. So I’ll have to describe the bike culture using boring old words. Bikes are big in Cambridge. Estimates vary, but Cambridge may have the highest bike mode share of any city in the UK. Depending on who you believe, bicycle commuters make up somewhere between 20-30% of the people getting to work on a regular basis. (For g-d’s sake, don’t quote me on this, go find something authoritative). All I know is that bikes were everywhere. And while Cambridge is certainly a college town, it’s definitely not just University students who are riding bikes. I saw many bakfietsen out on the streets of Cambridge, usually piloted by a woman between the ages of 25 – 40, often with a small child or children riding happily in the box. Here’s a bakfiets parked at Darwin College:

Bakfiets at Darwin College

Bakfiets at Darwin College

Even more popular than the bakfiets, I saw many tricycles that looked like a mashup between a bike and a jogging stroller. I’m pretty sure that I was looking at a Zigo Leader Bicycle. They all went by too fast for me to catch a picture, but once again, internet search engine image search comes in handy:

zigo_leader

Parents riding around on bikes (or trikes, or whatever), carrying their kids – that’s definitely a sign of a healthy bike culture.

Aside from the abundance of dedicated child-portaging bikes, the bikes in use would not have looked out of place in an American city. That is to say, it was a collection of crappy old mountain bikes & hybrids with the occasional road bike, fixie bike, and BSO thrown in for good measure. The only difference is that the factories in China & Taiwan where these bikes were made put different names on the tubes depending on if they ship them to the US or the UK. Still, a BSO, is a BSO, even if you gussy it up with some fancy custom paint work.

Bicycle Shaped Object

This BSO sports a Rocky-inspired custom decal. APPROVED.

The streets are narrow in Cambridge. How narrow? Imagine that part of Benefit street that is really too narrow to be a two-way street with parking on one side. The part where cars have to pull to the side to let each other pass without hitting each other or the parked cars (but we’d never get rid of the free on-street parking, right?) The streets are even narrower than that.

There’s a fair amount of cycling infrastructure leading into the city center, but not much once you get there. Instead, cyclists navigate narrow streets along with buses and cars that pass very close. At first look, I was a little taken aback by how close the cars are when they pass cyclists. But, I wanted to try it for myself, so I rented (erm, hired) a bicycle for the day and set out.

Part of my bike from City Cycle Hire

Part of my bike from City Cycle Hire

I rented the bike from City Cycle Hire. It was a no-frills hybrid with a 3 by 6 drivetrain, but it had many features that are great for a hired bike in the city.

  • Fenders – important for a wet climate
  • Generator-operated lights – in case you want to get anywhere when the sun is not up
  • Chainguard – to protect your pants from getting grease stains
  • A rack – for carrying items that you might purchase
  • Integrated lock – so the bike doesn’t get stolen

Spouse was busy at a conference, so I had the whole day to explore the city. I had noticed a long, green bike path on the google map, so I set out in that general direction. It turned out to be a popular commuter route between Cambridge and the small village of St. Ives. The bike path went alongside a “guided busway” which is some sort of dedicated bus route where the buses seem to run automatically.

Cambridgeshire guided busway

Cambridgeshire guided busway

The buses zoom along on the special road in between towns with no cars to get in their way, and once they get into town, they drive on the streets like a regular bus. It seems like a smart system that combines some of the best of a commuter rail with the best of a local bus service.

It seems to have been built on a railroad right-of-way, so the path was very flat. Unfortunately, it was also rather boring. Where were the subtle, majestic vistas of the English countryside? Certainly not on the 15 mile stretch of bike path between Cambridge and St. Ives. But there was a free-range chicken farm…

chicken farm outside Cambridge.

chicken farm outside Cambridge.

… and I’m always happy to take pictures of chickens.

The bike path ended at the town of St. Ives. What can I say about St. Ives? I’ll just say that not every small English town is picturesque. I turned around and headed back, and that’s when I noticed that I’d had a slight tailwind on my way out, and now it was hitting my square in the face. I plowed into the wind as best I could, and made it back to the cycle hire store with a few minutes to spare before they closed.

City Cycle Hire was closed the next day, but I found another pleasant little cycle hire shop in the middle of Cambridge. This bike was not quite as nice as the one I had the day previous, but it was serviceable enough. It had finders, wide tires, and a simple 1 X 7 derailleur drivetrain. Before heading out, I stopped near the University to take a few pictures of how people lock their bikes in Cambridge, that is to say, barely.

bike locked in CambridgeMany of the bikes I saw were simply locked to themselves. An enterprising thief could just roll up in a van and pile all the bikes in there and cut the locks at his leisure. (We’re in England here, so be sure to pronounce “leisure” as “LEH-zhur.”) In many cases, the bikes were just propped up next to a wall with the lock casually stuck through a wheel. I thought I had seen some of the worst bike racks in the world, but in Cambridge, they have bike parking facilities that seem to come from the Middle Ages:

That's a bike rack?

That’s a bike rack?

I guess the ring in front of the wheel slot is for Ye Olde Bi-cycle Chaine Locke or something. Here’s how people use these today:

bike in the slotAghast at the state of bike locking in England’s Bike-friendliest City, I set out along the River Cam. I started out on a popular recreational bike path:

River CamPicturesque as all get out, right? How about this:

canal lock on River Cam

Because I was traveling in a foreign land, I only had access to the magic of google maps while I was in range of a friendly wi-fi signal. While I was out on the road, I used a map app I had downloaded to my smartphone. It seemed to indicate a bike route along much of the River Cam. However, the map made little distinction between a bike path and a foot path. After a few miles, the bike path ran out and I found myself on this:

not exactly paved

not exactly paved

Not that I’m complaining, it was actually kind of fun. I’ve always wanted to take a trip on England’s famous network of public footpaths, but that seems like a very slow way to travel. Now I’ve had just a little glimpse of the footpath network and it was pretty sweet. I do realize that they are called “footpaths,” but I didn’t see a sign that said “no bikes allowed” so I just kept going and figured I’d play the dumb foreign tourist card if anyone was upset. I did see this great sign:

free range chicken signUnfortunately, I didn’t see any chickens on this particular property. That’s the funny thing about the public footpath network in England. They are on private property, but the public has the right to access them. As we have learned from a recent US Supreme Court decision, that concept is downright UnAmerican.

Although the route was scenic, riding on the footpath is slow going. Each property has a fence with a complicated gate. It’s not too hard get through on foot, but fitting a bike through was rather difficult. There were also people using the footpath for walking. I would excuse myself as I passed them, apologizing for forcing them to move over on the path. The footpath ramblers would apologize right back at me. It was practically Canadian. Unfortunately, I got to a sign that said “no bikes allowed” and it was on private property, so I decided to turn back.

In the next installment of UnAmerican Cycling, I’ll tell you about the wonders of using a bike share scheme in London. That makes it sound so sinister.

It’s getting real in the Whole Foods parking lot

Complaining, whining, moaning, being a jerk. Sure, we all do it. And does it get us anywhere?

YES IT DOES!

First, let’s go back in time to February of this year.

 

Good times there, right? I’ve seen snow piled up on a bike rack before, but this was particularly egregious. Every car parking spot in the lot was cleared. Not a spot of snow to get in the way of people parking their cars. So where to put that snow? Well, let’s just dump it on top of the bike rack. Evidently, fellow Providence bike-twitterer, @papabybike was displeased as well. But instead of just dropping a snarky tweet like me, he went in and talked to the manager about it. After a few other tweets, I hear through the grapevine that this particular Whole Foods was planning to install a new bike rack in April. Well it’s April now, and what do you know? Check it out:

Whole Foods Waterman Providence Bike Rack

Now that is some quality bike parking! Sure, there’s only 4 hoops, but there’s lots of room in between them and it looks like it will easily accommodate 8 bikes parked there at once. In fact, there’s so much room, you could park a cargo bike there!

Cargo bike parked at Whole Foods Waterman

photo credit: @papabybike

Other Providence bike twiterrers were pleased to see the rack as well.

Bike parking at Whole Foods Waterman

photo credit @goldenmeanie

I realize that this blog is full of snark, cynicism and negativity, but I’ll try to suspend that for a moment and just say THANK YOU, to the management of this particular Whole Foods for taking the time to install a bike rack that looks like it was actually designed by people who ride bikes. It may have taken a while, but they got it right.

Now, what do we have to do to get Eastside Marketplace to install a decent bike rack?

Eastside Marketplace Providence Bike Rack

That rack is so bad, the NEXT bike doesn’t even want to lock to it. I mean, I’ve seen better bike parking in a video game that’s based on the idea of stealing cars and running over people with them.

video game bike parking

Joan Vennochi’s recent column in the Boston Globe

Joan Vennochi, columnist for the Boston Globe recently wrote a column called “Don’t mix bikes and politics.” It’s intended as a response to a previous Globe opinion piece by Jordan Michael Smith called “Conservatives’ new enemy: Bikes.” Smith’s column was an analysis of how some conservative politicians and pundits are using bikes and bike lanes as a culture war wedge issue. Vennochi’s column seems to be saying “hold on, liberals can hate bikes too.”

I’ll address my comments to the author, Joan Vennochi.

You begin your column by setting the scene with a look at what I guess is your daily commute.

“As Boston traffic inched forward during a recent rush-hour snowstorm, a cyclist scooted in front of my car. His back wheel skidded on the icy street, but he righted the bike and cruised across two more lanes of oncoming automobiles.

First of all, why is traffic only inching forward? Maybe it’s all of those cars that are in your way, am I right? I’m sure the snow has something to do with it too.  People seem to freak out when there’s a little bit of snow on the ground. I’m a little confused about your description of the scene. You say the cyclist “cruised across two more lanes of oncoming automobiles.” Are these two lanes of autos inching along as well? Is it a gridlock situation, or did he force the drivers to stop while he crossed in front of them? If he forced other people to stop, that’s a real dick move, in my opinion (not to mention dangerous and illegal). Was he going the wrong way up a one-way street? If it’s a gridlock situation, how did this harm any of the motorists stuck in traffic? This is the opening scene of your column, yet I can’t tell what you are trying to say. And what do you mean by your follow up?

Naturally, he wore no helmet.

How is this relevant?  If he had been wearing a helmet would he have been able to get those other cars out of your way? What does wearing a helmet have to do with you being stuck in a traffic jam?

Why does your helmet observation make up its own one-sentence paragraph?

There’s hostility on both sides. A recent encounter between a driver and cyclist on Commonwealth Avenue that went viral after it was captured by camera on a cyclist’s helmet attests to that. The driver was straddling the bike line. The cyclist didn’t like it. Profanity flowed.

“The cyclist didn’t like it.” Do you want to guess why the cyclist didn’t like it? We often encounter drivers like this guy who edge into (or just outright drive in) the bike line. It’s not a matter of convenience, it’s a matter of being endangered by reckless people operating 4,000 lb machines that could kill someone. I’d say the cyclist showed great restraint with just a bit of profanity after dealing with this driver’s anti-social, malicious behavior. “There’s hostility on both sides.” No, there’s people trying to get somewhere using a variety of methods. Some of them are jerks. The jerks who drive cars are far more dangerous to other people than the jerks who ride bikes.

Unlike Rush Limbaugh, I would feel terrible if my car door knocked down a cyclist. But there’s something about a guy waving his middle finger as he hurtles against traffic on a one-way street that brings out the anti-bike in me.

Did you catch that? “I would feel terrible if my car door knocked down a cyclist.” Does your car door have agency? Does it randomly open on its own? If so, you might want to get that checked. If not, let me fix that sentence for you “Unlike Rush Limbaugh, I would feel terrible if I knocked down a cyclist with my car door.” Makes more sense, right? I’m sure this is what you meant, right? I would also feel terrible if I hit someone with a car door, or any other part of a car (I still drive every once in a while). But you know what, it’s pretty easy to avoid. Before opening a car door, I turn and look over my shoulder to see if anyone is coming. That way I can be sure I won’t hit anyone with the car door. You should try it too.

“But there’s something about a guy waving his middle finger as he hurtles against traffic on a one-way street that brings out the anti-bike in me.” I lived and biked (and drove a car) in Boston for 4 1/2 years and somehow I never saw the middle-finger waving wrong-way cyclist. I also never saw him in 2 years of living in Edmonton or 6 1/2 years living in Providence. Nor have I seen him in the many cities I’ve traveled to. Yet anti-bike columnists seem to always be running into him. Maybe Vennochi is right. Maybe it’s an encounter with this rare creature that turns someone against bikes. Mythical creatures are known to have magical powers. If you have actually encountered this beast, then let me apologize on behalf of all cyclists. We try to control the jerks as best we can, but guys like this just don’t show up to our meetings. I’ve encountered many jerks driving cars (including going the wrong way down a one way street, driving right at me) and yet I’m not anti-car.

I’m kind of confused by this comparison:

But envision the typical man tailgating you in a pickup truck because he thinks you’re not driving fast enough. Now imagine him on a bicycle, propelled by the same attitude.

Unlike your opening paragraph, I think I can picture what you’re talking about, but I don’t understand the point you’re trying to make. I can visualize driving a car with a jerk tailgating me in a pickup truck. This has happened to me many times.  If I have to stop quickly, he won’t have time to react and hit the brakes. This means he could rear-end my car causing significant damage, injury or death. Tailgating me also means he’s more likely to get rear-ended. Now I’m imagining someone on a bicycle tailgating me while I’m driving a car. Okay, that’s a bad idea on his part, but it’s not particularly intimidating to me. If I have to stop quickly, the cyclist could rear-end me causing at most a scratch to the car I’m driving. The cyclist could end up with a wheel that looks like a taco shell, or he could fall and hurt himself. In short, if this jerk is tailgating while driving a pickup truck, he’s potentially deadly, if he’s tailgating while riding a bike, you might get a scratch.

You wrapped up the column with this gem:

Traffic jams haunt the city. On narrow, clogged streets, jaywalking pedestrians add to the chaos — and so do bikers.

It’s not the pedestrians or the cyclists creating the traffic jams that “haunt” the city. It’s people driving cars.

And don’t get me started on jaywalking.

Thanks to twitter user @nicolegelinas for pointing out the Vennochi column in question (and thanks to @miller_stephen for retweeting).

2013: The Year In Pictures

This week marks the return of The New York Times‘ “Year In Pictures” feature which takes over the Sunday Review this time of year so that we don’t have to read “humorous” pieces complaining about the color blue. Inspired by the old gray lady and hoping to cash in on some of the year-end fever for listicles of pictures (pisticles?), here’s the CarFree in PVD 2013 Picture Round-up. I promise it won’t be as depressing as the NYT’s pictures of disasters and wars from around the world. Unless you’re like me and you get depressed by pictures of poorly-designed bike racks.

Let’s start things off right with a picture of a bike rack I use all too often, the Whole Foods Market on Waterman Street in Providence:

IMG_1432

So, what are we going to do with all of the snow in this parking lot? I know, let’s just dump it in front of the bike rack, no one will know the difference. I shouldn’t complain since it’s only the spots on the end of the rack that are useful at all. This reminds me, back in August, this particular Whole Foods proudly announced some new picnic tables they were installing:

Additional #outdoor seating in the works! pic.twitter.com/heJpTzWbWC

— Whole Foods Waterman (@WholeFoodsProv) August 9, 2013

To which I responded with:

Maybe add a decent bike rack while you’re at it? RT@WholeFoodsProv Additional #outdoor seating in the works! pic.twitter.com/89a40eL6r1

— Car Free in PVD (@carfreepvd) August 9, 2013

And they were all like:

.@carfreepvd Funny you should ask! The handicap spot is moving over and 2 NEW bike racks are going in that first spot! Can we get a woohoo?

— Whole Foods Waterman (@WholeFoodsProv) August 9, 2013

I only gave them a “favorite” and a “retweet” but I refused to give them a woo-hoo for I only give woo-hoos to successfully installed bike racks. I’m still holding onto that woohoo, because it’s 5 months later and still no sign of a new bike rack. And now I feel dirty for giving them that “favorite.” They used me.

Enough griping (for now, more griping to follow). Here’s a pic from a solo ride I took in February up into the wooded hills to the northwest of Providence:

Log Road, Rhode IslandJust an example of one of the beautiful places you can ride to in our little state.

We had a serious blizzard later that month, fortunately, I was ready for it with a pair of metal-studded tires on Spouse’s old MTB.

metal studded bike tires

When getting ready to bike in a blizzard, one must not only prepare one’s bike, one must also prepare oneself:

ready for the blizzard bike

Looking at the rainy streets right now, It’s kind of hard to imagine that they looked like this almost a year ago:

blizzard bike in action

I took a trip to Austin in March where I found that they have some pretty good bike infrastructure. However, they also have things like this marked as a “bike path” on their official bike map:

Austin Texas bike pathTo give them credit, sometimes I’d prefer to ford a small stream than deal with Rhode Island drivers. Maybe bike paths like these are just a way of encouraging Texas cyclists to pull themselves up by they bootstraps (or their granny gears, as the case may be):

Austin Texas bike pathNow that’s some bicycle infrastructure, Texas-style!

(to be fair, Austin has created more and better bike infrastructure in recent years than Providence has).

In other bike-parking news, The Hope Artiste Village installed this bike rack early in the year:

Hope Artiste Village bike rack

Another example of what is marketed as a “9-bike rack” but really, there are  only two spots where someone can properly lock the frame of the bike. I used to think that people installed this type of bike rack because they were cheaper than the alternative, but a quick search will bring you to a much better rack for the same amount (or less).

How about some good bike parking? Rhode Island Public Radio held a discussion on the state of cycling in Providence. It was hosted by the excellent Providence Athenaeum with bike valet service provided by Recycle-A-Bike.

recycle-a-bike bike valet

Local bicycle celebrities included Susan Mocarski, from Cleverhood, makers of a fine rain cape for city cycling.

recycle-a-bike and cleverhoodThat’s a Recycle-A-Bike board member on the left, and Susan Mocarski on the right and Susan’s super-sweet Alternative Needs Transportation basket bike in the middle.

Here’s another example of good bike parking. I found this in  New Haven, not far from Yale.

New Haven bike parkingNote how a cyclist can lock both the frame and the wheel to the bike rack, thus providing an additional level of security.

Are you ready from some smugness? How about a bicycle pannier stuffed full of kale purchased at the farmers’ market?

bike kale

yeah, that’s a garage door opener in the mesh pocket of my right-hand pannier, thus mitigating the smugness

I spent several days in Seattle this year. AND IT WAS SUNNY THE WHOLE TIME! Spouse and I rented bikes for a day (but neglected to take any pictures). If you are visiting Seattle and looking to rent a passable road bike, I’d recommend Recycled Cycles where you can pick up an aluminum late-model Raleigh with a Shimano 105 group for $30/day. Or you can hang out at a coffee shop early in the morning and wait for this guy to show up with his custom Vanilla:

custom vanillaYep, that’s a hand-built, highly sought after custom bicycle, casually left unlocked while the guy buys his hand-brewed, single-origin coffee. And when I say highly sought-after, I’m not kidding around. The waiting list to get a Vanilla currently stands at 5 years.

Vanilla Bicycles Waiting ListOh wait, I’m sorry, the waiting list was over 5 years long in June 2011, the last time Sacha White bothered to update this webpage! So, go ahead, leave that bike unlocked, no big whoop.

In more good news, I took two century rides this year. The first one was to Plymouth and back. To prove to you that I rode my bike the whole way there, here’s a picture of Plymouth:

Plymouth Massachusetts

And here’s a picture of my cyclometer after completing the ride (plus 8.28 bonus miles)

My first century plus 8.28

I also took part in the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen’s The Flattest Century in the East. I have to say, TFCE seemed significantly less flat than the Plymouth Century. I’m glad I did though. TFCE had three, well-staffed rest breaks and a rest area at the end. Plus there’s something about going on a long ride with about 3,000 other riders. It’s a very well-run event and I hope I can do it every year.

NBW TFCE

So that was two 100-plus mile rides with hardly any pictures to show for it. I also went on a long solo ride to Killingly, CT and back.

slow children

This Bike Climbed Jerimoth Hill (almost)

I’m considering printing up a small batch of “This Bike Climbed Jerimoth Hill” top-tube stickers. Who’s in?

I recently discovered that there’s a new section of the Woonasquatucket Bike Path. Somehow I missed when it was introduced – guess that’s what I get for skipping the Woonie Ride this year. It’s a short section, but it’s nice and it helps cyclists avoid a little more of the city streets.

Woonasquatucket Bike Path

The new section runs behind Rising Sun Mills, and there’s event a little bit of left over old mill stuff lying about.

mill bits and pieces

Back in October, I came upon this bike casually parked on Steeple Street.

doppelganger bikeWhat’s this?!? It’s the same bike as mine! Although it is a little smaller, and it has a very ugly bottle holder, and it appears to have almost all of its original components which means its owner isn’t riding enough. This is a 2005 Cannondale Road Warrior 400 (although it doesn’t say “Road Warrior” anywhere on the bike – it does say “Cannondale” six times). Since I bought mine in 2005 I have replaced the following:

  • Tires (multiple times)
  • Pedals (upgraded to clipless/platform flip/flops)
  • Rear Wheel (original freewheel failed – irreparable)
  • Front Wheel (wore through the braking surface and blew out the rim)
  • Cassette (multiple times, now with lower gearing)
  • Chain (mutliple times)
  • Small and middle chainring (big ring still going strong!)
  • Saddle (for more comfort)
  • Stem (to provide a longer reach)
  • Handlebars (wanted something with a little bit of a sweep-back)
  • Brake pads (Hah! Replaced too many times to count)
  • Front brake caliper (worn out)
  • Cables
  • Rear shifter (worn out)
  • Rear Derailleur (worn out, replaced with longer-cage to accommodate lower gearing)
  • I think that’s it

It’s a good old bike, still does just about everything I need it to do.

It will even haul a Christmas tree.

Christmas tree on the bike

One last item: The Providence Bicycle Plan was released this fall and I never got to write about it (although James over at Transport PVD has covered the topic pretty well). It was a busy period at work, blah blah blah. It’s one of those things where I feel like I could spend a long time taking down the bike plan point-by-point, but I don’t think that will really accomplish much. Plus, I didn’t get to attend much on the presentations of it due to other work-related reasons. So, my very simple analysis of the Providence Bike Plan: there’s not much there. Nothing ambitious, nothing that’s really going to change much of anything, nothing exciting. Cities across the country have started to realize that they need to make a serious investment in cycling infrastructure, but what do we get in Providence? Just some sharrows here and there, maybe a few more bike lanes. We have a good selection of bike racks in downtown Providence, but no commitment to bike parking in the other retail sectors of our city. For example, you can ride the entire length of Allens Avenue and not see a single bike rack (although you’ll see several restaurants providing valet parking for their car-driving customers).

Meanwhile, in a fictional universe where you can grab any car off the street and drive it as fast as you like, slamming into cars and running over pedestrians without consequence…

GTA V bike parking

… you’ll find ample, well-designed bike racks.