Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

The Monday Roundup: Road-diet wealth, Bike Lobby interview & more

Posted by on December 23rd, 2013 at 9:10 am

New York City’s Columbus Avenue, before and after a
lane-narrowing project that seems to have helped
boost retail sales.
(Photos: NYCDOT.)

The bike links from around the world that caught our eyes this week:

Road diet prosperity: Removing auto travel and parking lanes regularly boosts retail sales when the space is used to create public plazas, bike lanes and pedestrian islands. “Better streets provide benefits to businesses in all types of neighborhoods, from the central business district to modest retail strips in residential areas,” the NYCDOT-funded economic report concludes.

Effective cities: My favorite bit of advice on this list of the “seven habits of highly effective cities” when it comes to building bikeways is #2: “Don’t talk about bikes.”

@BicycleLobby speaks: After reading this hilarious, anonymous interview with the (a?) person behind the @BicycleLobby Twitter feed (“There were at least 36 other Janette-Bots before we made one that was lifelike enough to fool Michael Bloomberg”), Jonathan and I are now taking bets on whether this is a side project for Bike Snob Eben Weiss. (He says yes, I say no.)

Danger in numbers: Something strange is happening in San Francisco: bike-related fatalities have been rising in proportion to biking, at least in the short term. It bucks the “safety in numbers” trend seen in Portland and elsewhere.

Myth buster: Suburbanites tend to be healthier than city slickers. Two out of three Americans both lives and works in suburbia. “The idea of the food desert is largely fiction.” MIT’s Alan Berger wants to burst your bubble with those and other statements in a big new report about urban planning and public health.

Mainstreaming biking: “To get people to cycle, you need to make them feel safe, but you also need to make other forms of transport slower and less comfortable,” opines The Economist, somewhat persuasively.

E-bike sharing: Copenhagen’s new bikesharing system is the first to include electric pedal assists. All bikes also have car2go-like computer screens that let users map their trips, buy transit tickets and (crucially) deliver messages to users of where they can drop a bike off in order to receive a credit and keep the system balanced.

Hiring tip: Want to know what someone will be like as an employee? Watch how they ride a bike, says Lucy Kellaway.

Density choices: East Portland is full of cheap, dense rental housing not because that’s where poor people want to live but because of “a deliberate choice made by city planners and elected officials nearly 20 years ago” to zone such housing there rather than in Southwest Portland, where wealthy residents organized against it.

Milwaukie path: The final leg of the Trolley Trail connecting Gladstone and the Springwater Corridor will be completed by TriMet under a deal made final last week.

Red tape spillover: The federal Department of Transportation wants to reclassify every New York bike project as “construction,” triggering a new layer of state oversight and threatening to slow installation by two years per project.

Sadness machines: “Cars were the visual elements most strongly associated with sadness” in a web game that asked people to rate how various city scenes made them feel.

Fighting PTSD: A Marine combat veteran has founded a new nonprofit dedicated to helping people treat post-traumatic stress disorder by getting on bikes.

Recklessness victims: New York City has a chilling new ad campaign against reckless driving that puts faces on its victims.

Street-safety activism: Direct action enthusiasts may get inspiration from the new website of this resurrected NYC organization.

Comp plan deadline: Got thoughts to share on a specific long-term Portland plan? Get your comments in by year’s end next Tuesday.

Bike gastronomy: A San Francisco journalist takes a quick look at biking, drinking and eating tasty food in Portland and concludes that, yes, they go together nicely.

Advocacy merger: The slightly more transportation-focused Bike Austin is about to merge with the slightly more recreation-focused Austin Cycling Association — a trick the three national advocacy groups failed to pull off last year.

Federal turnover: The departure of two top officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation, including the very bike-friendly John Porcari, has national advocates worried.

Biking CEO: A little bird (OK, it was Bikehugger’s Twitter feed) told us that the new boss at the health-focused Gates Foundation, Susan Desmond-Hellmann M.D., M.P.H., is a big mountain and road biker.

If you come across a noteworthy bicycle story, send it in via email, Tweet @bikeportland, or whatever else and we’ll consider adding it to next Monday’s roundup.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • q`Tzal December 23, 2013 at 10:00 am

    It almost seems like the “Danger in Numbers” article is empirical proof of the INvalidity of Vehicular Cycling(tm); it is the only isolated “case study” where the entire sample area followed the same bike facility scheme.
    The linked page lays out what happens when you cram 2 bike lanes worth of people on bicycles in to 1 bike lane. SF is still dragging its heels on bicycle facilities so extra bicycle traffic just has to share road with automotive traffic that isn’t slowing down.

    VC is fine for the brave, old and skilled but as soon as we get noobs out there it’s game over man.

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    • are December 23, 2013 at 11:50 am

      “four killed in 2013” does not sound like a figure from which you can generate statistical significance. we have had some deaths in portland as well, and some injuries . . .

      in the green boxes.

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    • El Biciclero December 23, 2013 at 1:29 pm

      I don’t see how an article about the failure of bike lanes constitutes evidence that VC is “invalid”, rather it speaks to the perceived safety of bike lanes as being strictly perceived. It also speaks to rider behavior.

      When there are “two lanes’ worth” of cars in one lane, traffic backs up, drivers don’t start driving on the sidewalk (yet). So what are these cyclists doing? Splitting lanes? Making unsafe lane changes out of the bike lane to pass the “suckers” that think they have to stay there? Attempting to pass within the bike lane and causing crashes between bikes that spill out into the “car” lane? Hugging parked cars (in the door zone) for fear of being overtaken too closely by faster cyclists? Being victimized by reckless drivers bent on “punishing” cyclists who stray out of “their” lane? The article unhelpfully omits any details of the crashes that resulted in fatalities.

      If the bike lanes that exist are too small to accommodate the number of cyclists who use the streets, then how would any kind of separated facility be any larger? In a separated facility of the same capacity, what would cyclists do to get around each other? Or would they then realize, “dang, we’re trapped!” and just queue up for blocks, looking longingly over at the drivers who could still go 30? 40? mph and have plenty of room to do it? Would they use sidewalks to attempt to either pass or stay “out of the way”? Would they just get cited for trying to go faster than 10mph?

      Or are you saying that since these bike lanes are just too small, they should widen them out? That would again seem to indicate that the problem is not that your idea of “VC” doesn’t work, but that city transportation officials are guilty of building substandard infrastructure, and it is really “sub-standard infrastructure” that is “invalid” as a solution to bike safety/access issues.

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      • q`Tzal December 23, 2013 at 3:40 pm

        First of I said “it seems”. There is a solid lack of any duplicable data in regards to bicycle safety data in the USA.
        Maybe first of all should have been that I ride by vehicular cycling’s rules and did so even before I read and purchased the book; a good read until to you get to his political rantings. Experience has taught me not to trust the safe feeling of America’s “safety” bike ways.

        I’d love to find some proof that is convincing to those who control transportation budgets that one way or the other works so that they commit to one extreme or the other.
        Separation from traffic or not: one or the other. The only thing we have seemed to prove is that our half-assed approach kills pedestrians and cyclists.

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    • gutterbunnybikes December 23, 2013 at 6:51 pm

      “VC is fine for the brave, old and skilled but as soon as we get noobs out there it’s game over man.”

      Umm – any of us that fall into those columns you mentioned were noobs at one time. Many like myself were noobs and children at the same time…the perfect storm of cycling disasters.

      Hands down it’s better on the streets anywhere they have built bike lanes than where many of us “old, brave, and skilled” developed said skills.

      If you’re on the fence, just do it. Everyones gotta start somewhere. And if you’re looking for the perfect time to bike commute or increase your bike travel…then you’ll be waiting forever.

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  • Nick Skaggs December 23, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Lucy Kellaway’s article about our cycling showing our potential as employees reminds me of Cathy Hastie’s article on “arrogant cyclists.”

    Some of Lucy’s points are great, namely those about people that run red lights, or don’t use lights at nighttime. These things are illegal, BUT–

    The rest of the article has the same judgey tone as Cathy’s article. Who is Lucy to deem the rider trackstanding at a light as a show-off? She thinks that the man who rolls up his pant leg is ‘resourceful.’ That’s really subjective, I’m sure plenty of people easily call him ‘cheap.’

    “The person on the carbon racer just wants to impress?”
    “The not terribly fit man in Lycra is all talk, no trousers?”



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    • q`Tzal December 23, 2013 at 11:16 am

      Perhaps it tells us more about potential middle managers being shallow, petty and vain individuals who only care about appearances and how they can make your accomplishments benefit them.
      I’m sure there is a Dilbert strip that will illustrate this perfectly.

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      • dr2chase December 24, 2013 at 4:32 pm

        So the goofball thing is, I did once go out bike riding with my manager, and I had so much more experience riding in traffic that at every intersection, I’d go when I saw an opportunity, look back, and realize that everyone else was still sitting there waiting to cross. Oops. Not sure what that says about either of us.

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    • JV December 23, 2013 at 11:27 am

      Yup, more tired tropes creating artificial cycling distinctions based on sweeping generalizations and projected internal biases. Both these articles share a strange puritanism about cycling, like it carries a very serious moral responsibility, and should not merely be a fun way to get around a city.

      Though the Kellaway article has a point – before getting hired to a company, it would actually be very helpful to accompany the manager on a group ride. You would learn a lot about leadership style by seeing how they set pace, choose routes, and manage the pack.

      All that said, I will continue with my arrogant trackstanding; small physical challenges are a good way to focus and start the day.

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    • Nick December 23, 2013 at 11:50 am

      Totally. Vapid article. Disappointing as she is an otherwise good writer whose work appears in the Financial Times.

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    • spare_wheel December 23, 2013 at 1:09 pm

      on a bike you are close to death and so become a more intense version of your true self.”

      our own worse enemies.

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    • wsbob December 23, 2013 at 3:39 pm

      “…trackstanding at a light as a show-off?…” Nick Skaggs

      People that track stand are o.k., if they actually can track stand and be somewhat still as they hold it…rather than doing a miserable job of it, wobbling around like a bobble head doll in traffic amongst motor vehicles, unnecessarily adding to hazards other road users have to watch out for.

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      • dr2chase December 24, 2013 at 4:29 pm

        wsbob, the hazards are all trackstanding very nicely on their four wheels.

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        • wsbob December 25, 2013 at 1:56 am

          2chase…if only the wobbling hazards on two wheels would take notice, and not try do track stands in traffic until they were able to do so as free from wobbling as those on four wheels do.

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      • Pete December 24, 2013 at 11:30 pm

        People that wobble while track-standing are simply the people who can not yet hold still doing so.

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  • John Lascurettes December 23, 2013 at 10:27 am

    From the first link in the “Myth Buster” piece:

    In July 2011, they were doing construction on Highway 405, which is the busiest highway in the United States, and they shut the highway down for the weekend. Air quality improved by 85 percent in 24 hours.

    Holy cow! Seriously damning evidence of needing to drop the single-occupancy car habit.

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    • q`Tzal December 23, 2013 at 4:00 pm

      When I have a route that takes me in to LA the 405 always looks like the quickest route: it’s an interstate highway and is fairly direct.
      Sad thing is that if it is between the hours of 5:30am and 9:30pm on a weekday the entire 70+mile long stretch averages out to about 10-15 mph. The 405 creates a windward smog generation curtain; they couldn’t likely have done a better job if that was their intended purpose.

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  • gl. December 23, 2013 at 11:37 am

    excellent news about the trolley trail!

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  • Chris I December 23, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Would it be crazy to theorize that San Francisco hasn’t seen safety improvements because they haven’t improved their infrastructure? They had a ban on bike infrastructure improvements until just recently.

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  • GlowBoy December 23, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Maybe the reason Portland experienced our “safety in numbers” phenomenon was not simply because cycling increased fourfold.

    Maybe it was because cycling increased fourfold in tandem with improvements to make our infrastructure safer and easier for cyclists to use.

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    • spare_wheel December 23, 2013 at 1:11 pm

      please cite the infrastructure “improvements” that have led to increased safety.

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      • Chris I December 23, 2013 at 2:32 pm

        Neighborhood Greenways. Or, let me guess, you think that Neighborhood Greenways have made cycling more dangerous?

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        • GlowBoy December 23, 2013 at 3:03 pm

          Neighborhood greenways, bike lanes, improved connections at bad intersections, wider pathways on several of our local bridges … pretty much everything PBOT has done since the mid 90s to improve facilities for bikes. We still have a long way to go, but we’ve also come a long way.

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      • Panda December 26, 2013 at 9:14 am

        Burnside-couch couplet

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        • are December 30, 2013 at 12:35 pm

          in particular the intersection of couch with grand

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  • chris December 23, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    “Mainstreaming biking: ‘To get people to cycle, you need to make them feel safe, but you also need to make other forms of transport slower and less comfortable,’ opines The Economist, somewhat persuasively.”

    I agree with this. Denmark has a 180 percent registration tax on the purchase of new automobiles, meaning the government essentially coerces the population into cycling. Too many people driving cars causes some pretty serious externalities, so there is an argument to be made in favor of this, but let’s not pretend that Copenhagen’s high cycling rate is due to positive incentives alone.

    I’d add that a 180 percent registration tax on new cars would be a suicidal career move for any politician in the U.S., and is thus something we won’t likely see.

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    • wsbob December 24, 2013 at 12:25 am

      It’s not making people that bike feel safe, but giving them good reason to feel safe while biking places from their home and back that serve basic day to day needs.

      Here in the metro area, when the opportunity potentially exists, new communities that could support this kind of biking aren’t planned or built. It does not matter how wonderfully safe a given bike lane helps someone feel when riding, if the bike lane isn’t located where it’s more practical and enjoyable to use with a bike than the road is with a motor vehicle.

      Sure…if neither sufficient public support or suitable community design for biking exists, it’s going to be ‘no go’ for politicians to try propose dramatic motor vehicle registration increase ideas, whose underlying objective is partly to help bikes be a more viable means of basic travel.

      If sufficient public interest in such an idea existed, within the present metro area urban growth boundary, Oregon could design and build a new community, less dependent upon motor vehicle travel than any other community in the state…or maybe the entire Northwest.

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  • Pete December 25, 2013 at 12:02 am

    The first thing the “East Portland density” piece brought to mind was an analysis I’d heard about ‘east side versus west side property values’ a while ago: most US cities were developed around (mills built on) rivers during the industrial era, and the prevailing NW winds in the US would drive smog from the factories towards the east side, resulting in wealthier populations living in west side neighborhoods. Maybe in Portland the wealthy live on the hilly west side neighborhoods due to nicer views, but a few facts remain:

    1) cities always look to denser housing to address growth and tax base.
    2) planning commissions are frequently staffed by those with a vested interest in development.
    3) citizens rarely become involved in the planning process until it reaches a stage that affects them negatively (i.e. post-development).

    From what I know of Portland, the west side was developed earlier with larger land lots and the east side has had more undeveloped land available and smaller lot sizes for the developed lots. Therefore, I’m not terribly shocked that there were planners that profited from the housing density and that things turned out this way.

    (The article gives the perspective of someone living on land her parents bought two decades ago bordering on large undeveloped lots… were the lots developed while she lived there, and if so, what was her input during the planning process?).

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