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The Monday Roundup

Posted by Elly Blue (Columnist) on December 7th, 2009 at 8:30 am

Here's the news that caught our eye amidst all the wind, ice, and fog this week:

- The embargo has been lifted! San Francisco has begun to install all the pent-up bike infrastructure that it's been planning for three long years. They're jumping right in to the modern era with separated bike lanes.

- The new federal push for high speed rail is getting set to create jobs and boost the economy as rail companies will be required to source rail cars from US factories. GE is already trying to position itself to supply locomotives to US markets.

- Seattle has a new, bike-friendly mayor, strong bicycle advocacy, and more and more people out riding, but its laws haven't caught up to reality on the ground, as the case studies in this story show.

- On the public health front, a new study by Peter Jacobsen (of Safety in Numbers fame) shows that amount and speed of car traffic both have a significant effect on people's willingness to walk and bike.

- News coverage continues in the wake of recent findings about the dismal state of pedestrian safety in US cities, including two excellent, sobering pieces about places that stacked up poorly in the stats -- Florida and Baltimore.

- More on the troubles in Philadelphia, where public outcry and the recent tragic deaths of two people struck by bicycles is leading to calls for a bicycle registration law (and, perplexingly, a crackdown on fixies). Some have said, and one man with a video camera found that maybe efforts would be better spent enforcing red light laws for people driving cars.

- In Hartford, Connecticut, planners and politicians have worked hard in recent decades to boost downtown and compete with the burbs by adding more car parking -- tripling the parking spots available since 1960. Perhaps not coincidentally, during the same amount of time the city lost bigtime in jobs, population, and prosperity.

- Two LA traffic engineers have been sentenced and fined for hacking into the city's traffic control systems and snarling traffic during a strike.

- In Long Beach, California, the area's ongoing Car-Free Fridays campaign has been joined by many area restaurants, who offer discounts to customers who show up by bike.

- A look at the bike-related events and madness set to accompany this month's climate change talks in Copenhagen.

- Good news for new riders: a $10 bike helmet protects your head just as well as a $150 one.

- More on the bicycling gender gap in the US, this one with less pseudoscientific speculation, and a bonus call for policy changes that would help make cycling safer for everyone. Another story looks at how to make bicycling attractive to teenage girls.

- Thanks to a reader for pointing out this real estate story from SF that encourages people to move to the suburbs to save on housing despite increased transportation time and costs.

- Another reader brought our attention to this old-but-good essay from last January that calls for rethinking our interstate freeway system and using it as the basis for a high speed rail transportation network.

- Amazing photo of the week: A giant Santa freakbike in Berlin.

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  • John Lascurettes December 7, 2009 at 9:25 am

    … real estate story from SF that encourages people to move to the suburbs to save on housing despite increased transportation time and costs.

    And by "costs" we should say costs to us all in the form of pollution and consumption.

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  • peejay December 7, 2009 at 9:53 am

    I don't know why we'd want to put our high speed rail in the same alignments as the freeway system. Freeways are things you don't want to be near, and they don't go into most city centers.

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  • Nick V December 7, 2009 at 10:32 am

    #2 peejay,

    I can't find where you got that info, but my only guess about the reasoning is that there would be less excavation and civil/site/landscape work.

    And maybe the people in the cars would envy the people on the trains if/when they're stuck in traffic.

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  • Peter Smith December 7, 2009 at 10:36 am

    i guess we should say the SF bike injunction has been 'partially lifted'. it's definitely not 'all speed ahead' yet -- that'll happen, hopefully, sometime this upcoming summer -- June 2010 is the next hearing, i think, to decide whether the injunction gets lifted completely or whether we have to roll back everything.

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  • Nick V December 7, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Correction: Found the article.

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  • GLV December 7, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Why is a crackdown on fizies "perplexing?" Here's a good quote from the article:

    "I've seen guys fly down the hill on Spruce Street near 42nd," says Jeff O'Neill, a seven-year bicycle messenger with TimeCycle Couriers. "They get to the intersection, and they can't stop. You can see on their faces that they don't know what they're doing. They go right through the red light. It's scary to watch."

    I see the same thing at the base of the Broadway Bridge all the time in the morning. If you have the requisite skill to ride a bike without brakes, great. If you don't (i.e., if your bike is a fashion statement), they're actually quite dangerous.

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  • GLV December 7, 2009 at 10:42 am

    fixies, oops.

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  • Michael M. December 7, 2009 at 10:42 am

    And, this morning, a Portland-based report on cargo bikes on NPR.

    What happened in Philadelphia is really horrible. I don't really understand the 'hit-and-run' mentality when anyone does it, but I find it especially shocking when someone on a bike does it. I mean, the cyclist had to have seen and had contact with the pedestrian he or she murdered -- what kind of person can just walk (or, in this case, ride) away from that?

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  • Eric In Seattle December 7, 2009 at 11:27 am

    re: "crackdown on fixies"--it's not perplexing at all. Just as I don't want cars that can't stop out on the roads, I don't want bikes that can't stop out there. I don't care if you're the reincarnation of Major Taylor himself, you can't stop a fixed gear bike without a brake as quickly as one with a brake. Don't even get me started about skidding. A skidding wheel (especially one that you've unweighted to get it to lock) cannot stop as quickly as a braked rolling wheel. The laws of physics are strictly enforced and saying or wishing won't change that. Put a front brake on, dangit (unless you are racing on the track)!!

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  • Peter Smith December 7, 2009 at 11:32 am

    re: "crackdown on fixies"--it's not perplexing at all. Just as I don't want cars that can't stop out on the roads, I don't want bikes that can't stop out there.

    in other news, fixies can't stop, and now i have to stop riding my coaster-braked bike, too. darn.

    i guess we should outlaw all vehicles without ABS, whether motorized or not. maybe by the time we're done, nobody will be able to go anywhere. shweet.

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  • Eric In Seattle December 7, 2009 at 11:43 am

    The interstate rights of way between cities would be *great* for high speed rail. They connect pretty much every city, and are already owned by the public. A little regrading/rerouting/tunneling may be necessary in a few spots because of maximum grade and/or minimum turn radius differences between trains (especially high speed) and cars, but for the most part the interstates go everywhere you'd want a train to go. Inside cities, they may not go everywhere, but they usually get pretty close to the center of the city.

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  • sabes December 7, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    #10 - thanks for totally missing the point. The problem is bikes without brakes, not bikes with coaster brakes. Saying "I guess we should outlaw all vehicles without ABS" totally misses the point. Riding a bike without a brake is dangerous, not only to the rider of the bike, but to everyone around him/her. Whether a car has ABS or not, the car can still stop. How about making cars without brakes lawful? The car can still skid to a stop if you turn the wheel hard properly and get the car moving sideways.

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  • Paul Johnson December 7, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Not sure what California or Germany or Seattle has to do with anything...especially California; who the hell cares about California? If we did, we'd live there already. This is Bike Portland...let's stick to that subject.

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  • Peter Smith December 7, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    #10 - thanks for totally missing the point.

    first, i am not a number, i am a free man!

    but i don't believe i missed your point -- i think it is _you_ who missed _my_ point, unfortunately. if a coaster bike has 'brakes', then a fixie has 'brakes' -- it's as simple as that. fixies start and stop, speed up and slow down all day long. i don't get why this is confusing to you.

    Whether a car has ABS or not, the car can still stop.

    correct. just like a fixie.

    How about making cars without brakes lawful? The car can still skid to a stop if you turn the wheel hard properly and get the car moving sideways.

    i honestly hope i'm not having a conversation with a spambot. that would be really embarrassing.

    but i would love it if they made cars without brakes. in fact, they should make all cars without brakes. shweet!

    Not sure what California or Germany or Seattle has to do with anything

    looks like someone has a case of the Mundays. :)

    dude -- it's the Monday Roundup. Relax. No city is an island. The more SF and Seattle and other cities do for biking, the easier it is for Portland advocates to do their work. If you were an advocate, you'd know this.

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  • GLV December 7, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    correct. just like a fixie.

    Incorrect. The brakes on a fixie are dependent on the physical strength of the rider, many of whom lack the necessary strength/skill to handle the bike safely. That was the point of the original quote I posted from the article and my follow-up comment. Neither a coaster nor a car has that limitation.

    And do they still manufacture cars without ABS? If they do I bet it won't last too much longer.

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  • Peter Smith December 7, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    The brakes on a fixie are dependent on the physical strength of the rider, many of whom lack the necessary strength/skill to handle the bike safely.

    whether someone is strong enough, smart enough, tall enough, old enough, skilled enough, etc. is a totally different conversation, and it's a conversation i'd be happy to have -- after all, we know that the problem with most cars is that even though people know how to use the brakes, and are probably capable of doing so, they choose not to. :)

    so, you're now arguing that some riders are not strong/skilled enough to be riding fixies -- that's a long way off from 'fixies don't have brakes.'

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  • are December 7, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    elly, thanks for the link to the seattle crosscut article. the most cogent argument i have seen for a vulnerable user law, and at the state level.

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  • Dave December 7, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    A brake is a device which converts kinetic energy into some other form. Usually this means using friction to generate heat, and dissipating that heat to the air, as in a brake pad on a rim or a coaster brake on a drum. In a fixed gear you can argue that your muscles constitute a mechanical system converting kinetic energy to body heat, but it's a fantastically inefficient one even compared to a cheap coaster/drum brake.

    By the same logic, downshifting a car and using engine braking to stop is also an acceptable substitute for mechanical brakes. There are plenty of drivers out there who do exactly that, but none of them have been stupid enough to disconnect the primary brakes. If someone did and then failed to stop in an emergency, I think they'd find themselves spending rather a lot of time in prison for reckless endangerment and manslaughter.

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  • Peter Smith December 7, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    man, fixie arguments are boring. :)

    but i do think the whole 'concern troll' phenomenon as relates to bikes is weird. first it was the helmets. then it was the stop signs. now it's the fixies.

    who or what will be the next concern of PEOPLE WHO ARE REALLY WORRIED ABOUT ALL SORTS OF THINGS AND STUFF?

    there are things we should actually be concerned about -- everything from cars, all the way up to and including...cars.

    trying to force cyclists to wear helmets, stop running stop signs, and put front brakes on their fixies is just not helpful. if people aren't hurting people, then let them do what they want.

    look, i too, am jealous of those free-spirited kids, riding their fixies with abandon, risking their lives every day, don't have jobs they hate, not a care in the world -- but i'm not trying to crush their fun just because their risk-taking makes me a bit uncomfortable.

    if fixies start killing little old ladies in crosswalks, then we can talk about cracking down on fixies, but unless and until that happens, do what Pink Floyd said and just leave them kids alone.

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  • Peter Smith December 7, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    sorry - forgot a comment.

    There are plenty of drivers out there who do exactly that, but none of them have been stupid enough to disconnect the primary brakes.

    what you describe here would be the equivalent of a free-wheel bicycle (like a 10-speed) with no brakes. i've never seen one of these on the streets, either.

    the problem with describing fixies as having 'no brakes' is that it's dishonest. that's why we have these stupid conversations about fixies -- skinny jeans-haters are out there trying to clamp down on the hipster set by claiming that "fixies don't have brakes" -- it's a good scare tactic, and it's dishonest.

    there are a couple of possible dignified and truthful answers to the question, "Do fixies have brakes?"

    1) sort of.

    2) no, not what we commonly think of as conventional brakes, but there's a sort of two-part, or two-tier, braking system that lets them slow down and/or stop when they want to. so, no, but yes. got it?

    as for required strength to ride a fixie -- have you seen the kids riding those bikes? they're 90 pounds, soaking wet -- not exactly bodybuilder types. i suspect it takes a bit of skill to learn to get some weight off the back wheel without crashing, but i doubt anything more than average biker strength is required. super-powerful fixie riders, feel free to weigh in and correct me!

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  • Anonymous December 7, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    No, it's nothing like a freewheel. You can downshift a freewheeling cassette and it will have no effect on your momentum - the marginal drag on the wheel from the ratcheting mechanism is still exactly the same. You can however stop a car rather effectively with a good downshift, because the throttle body in a gasoline engine (or the exhaust brake in a so-equipped diesel) create a great deal of mechanical resistance, allowing a driver to convert kinetic energy into heat - just via compression instead of friction.

    I ride a fixie regularly. I also weigh north of 200lbs, and while I'm no trackstar I can summon some muscle on occasion. It takes very little effort or skill to do a skip stop, and it is very fun. A more controlled stop takes quite a bit of effort, and neither method is remotely close to as effective as a single brake front or rear. Backpedaling or skidding is a perfectly adequate way to stop if there isn't some kind of crisis going on in front of you. But it's also pathetically inadequate if there is a crisis - that's why my fixed gear has brakes too, and they've saved my ass more than once. I can go days or weeks without touching them, but I also don't have some innate need to prove that fact to other people by actually removing them. Likewise I can happily drive my car across town without grazing the brake pedal, but I don't need to advertise it with a fartcan muffler or a jake brake.

    So here's the more important question: WHY wouldn't you have a brake on your bike? The only honest answer is that you need to prove to somebody else that you can ride without one. And that's just fine, but once you rearend me at a stop sign because you can't get your Pista wrestled down from 16mph (!), you've crossed the line from "adorably insecure twentysomething" to "minor public menace".

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  • Dave December 7, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    No, it's nothing like a freewheel. You can downshift a freewheeling cassette and it will have no effect on your momentum - the marginal drag on the wheel from the ratcheting mechanism is still exactly the same. You can however stop a car rather effectively with a good downshift, because the throttle body in a gasoline engine (or the exhaust brake in a so-equipped diesel) create a great deal of mechanical resistance, allowing a driver to convert kinetic energy into heat - just via compression instead of friction.

    I ride a fixie regularly. I also weigh north of 200lbs, and while I'm no trackstar I can summon some muscle on occasion. It takes very little effort or skill to do a skip stop, and it is very fun. A more controlled stop takes quite a bit of effort, and neither method is remotely close to as effective as a single brake front or rear. Backpedaling or skidding is a perfectly adequate way to stop if there isn't some kind of crisis going on in front of you. But it's also pathetically inadequate if there is a crisis - that's why my fixed gear has brakes too, and they've saved my ass more than once. I can go days or weeks without touching them, but I also don't have some innate need to prove that fact to other people by actually removing them. Likewise I can happily drive my car across town without grazing the brake pedal, but I don't need to advertise it with a fartcan muffler or a jake brake.

    So here's the more important question: WHY wouldn't you have a brake on your bike? The only honest answer is that you need to prove to somebody else that you can ride without one. And that's just fine, but once you rearend me at a stop sign because you can't get your Pista wrestled down from 16mph (!), you've crossed the line from "adorably insecure twentysomething" to "minor public menace".

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  • Paul Johnson December 8, 2009 at 12:01 am

    Yes, vehicles are still sold without ABS. 4WD vehicles can't have ABS as that would cause a greater loss of control (then again, 4WD vehicles in general require a greater degree of skill to handle safely in general). Pretty much anything with air brakes does not have ABS, and air brakes aren't going away any time soon (in fact, if air brakes lose air pressure, they lock up so solid you'll break the engine and/or transmission before you get the vehicle to roll!)

    I don't see a problem with fixies, but do all of us a favor and put a token handbrake on that thing. It does need to work (this is part of the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, so by no means unique to the US: Most of the world says you need a real brake), but nobody says you have to use it if you prefer to stop by other means that doesn't involve colliding with something other than the ground...

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  • GLV December 8, 2009 at 10:13 am

    4WD vehicles can't have ABS as that would cause a greater loss of control (then again, 4WD vehicles in general require a greater degree of skill to handle safely in general).

    That's not true; I own a 4WD with ABS.

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  • Paul Johnson December 8, 2009 at 10:14 am

    GLV, you need to RTFM on your 4WD then. When it's in 4WD, you do not have ABS. That's only enabled in 2WD mode.

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  • are December 8, 2009 at 11:32 am

    surely there is another thread we could overwhelm with the fixie argument

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  • Michael M. December 11, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Peter (#19) ... maybe brush up on your reading skills. From the article linked above:

    "The two accidents occurred in the span of a single week in October, and left two men, Tom Archie, 78, and Andre Steed, 40, dead. In the case of Mr. Steed, the cyclist involved did not stop and has not been found. Anecdotal evidence of other collisions quickly sailed around online, as did the story of a third accident, which left an otherwise bike-friendly woman with a fractured skull."

    Ok, so technically no "little old ladies in crosswalks," but still, two pedestrians dead and another with a fractured skull. That's not something to worry about?

    The justifiable outrage and indignation that erupts around these parts whenever a motorist kills or injures a cyclist or pedestrian should be no less apparent when the perp is a cyclist. Who cares whether or not the bike was a fixie?

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