band of bikers

Tuesday 29 October 2013

This is seriously too good to be true. Anyone in Chicago interested in forming something similar? I’m totally game.


A few pieces from work

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Hey — As I wrote in a previous blog post a (long) while back, sometimes I write for work, and here are two pieces that were posted the last month or so.

This first one is an article I wrote for the spring Active Transportation Alliance newsletter about the project I worked on with HS students last fall and winter. I had a lot of fun doing the project, actually, and would totally love to do it again (though I doubt I’ll get the chance, but who knows what could be next).

Students learn what makes a street complete

Then there’s this blog post about Bike to School Day, which happened May 9. I look forward significantly to expanding these efforts next year and engage even more students in this effort.

National Bike to School Day a success


NATO Transportation issues? Get a bike!

Friday 18 May 2012

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or don’t live in Chicago and don’t follow world events), NATO weekend is here! Thousands of people—be they dignitaries, VIPs, security, press, protestors, and tourists who didn’t do their homework—will be descending on Chicago this weekend for the big event, and many Chicago residents are scared shitless.

It will certainly not be “business as usual” for the city, but who says that’s a bad thing? Many of the people I know who work downtown have told me their offices are closed on Monday (some were even closed Friday) or that they’re choosing to work remotely so they won’t have to “deal with the hassle.” There were some pop-up protests and marches downtown during the week and may be some Saturday and Monday, but the big protest march is scheduled for Sunday afternoon, so I’m not sure exactly what “hassle” people are talking about.

Actually, I do know what they’re talking about. They’re talking about the transportation nightmares that everyone is dreaming about. People trying to get around by car on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday will certainly be challenged, especially near downtown and the south side. All Metra riders (though in particular those traveling under McCormick place) have some big issues to deal with, as Metra decided to severely restrict what you can and cannot have with you these next three days (liquids, bikes, briefcases), not only on trains passing under McCormick Place but across the whole system. And there’s also the Lakefront Trail being closed in certain areas and buses scheduled to be rerouted all or a portion of the “three-day weekend.”

As I write this blog post, I should be at a meeting, but I’m not because it was cancelled—cancelled on account of the perceived traffic problems brought about by NATO. I figured  Friday night, before any of the big closures were even scheduled to take effect, cancelling our event was overkill. The e-mail told me to treat NATO “as a major weather storm—it’s advisable for everyone to stay home.”

No thank you.

This is the kind of hysteria that happens because we live in a car-centric culture. As someone who gets around mostly by bike (and when not bike via bus, train, and foot), I don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t care about rolling closures on the expressway because of motorcades shutting down some traffic. When thoughts of NATO challenges came up in Monday e-mail, I responded to the group, suggesting people think about taking public transportation, with responses basically proclaiming, “I never thought of that!” or “What a novel idea!”

I’ve been warned to stay away from the Lakefront Trail for a few days, and CTA trains are going to be running as usual, though with possible random delays likely (though, it must be said, this is also business as usual). One bit of advice from a Chicago Tribune article was simply that “people should be extremely flexible about their travel plans.” But shouldn’t that always be the case? However, I think the problem is that car users don’t see their transportation that way, while that those of us who rely on bikes, buses, and trains for our transportation needs recognize the need to be flexible on a regular basis.

So my advice to anyone worried about the transportation issues brought about by the NATO summit: pull your bike out of the garage or jump on the bus and train and join those of us who always leave the car behind; maybe you’ll realize that it’s not so bad after all.

Why motorists should stop hating bicyclists (and maybe even join us)

Tuesday 26 July 2011

As cities across the U.S. continue to expand their bicycle networks, every new project or bike lane seems to be coupled with an outcry from those choosing four wheels instead of two. Motorists complain about their loss of space and cite bicyclists as the cause of backups and delays.

It’s not our fault.

I left Brooklyn last year before I could experience the new separated bike lanes on Prospect Park West, one of many contentious projects created by the NYC Transportation Department in the past few years.  Here in Chicago, the recent installation of the city’s first protected bike lanes created its own grumblings, with one columnist declaring such bike facilities a persecution of motorists, similar to the ire thrust upon smokers.  (I’ll let you be the one to further connect the acts of smoking and driving a car.)

However, motorists who look to cyclists as the cause of traffic jams and delays should think again.  Recent research from the University of Toronto claims that “If you build it, they will come” rings true not only for baseball fields in Iowa, but for roads and freeways, too. According to economist Matthew Turner, a co-author of the study, “If you had 1 percent more roads, you had 1 percent more driving in those cities.”  Thus, it seems not to matter how many roads there are: there will always be traffic to complain about, even if all the bike lanes went away.

The “build it/use it” idea seems to hold true for bicycles, too.  Recent counts in New York City have shown that the addition of bike lanes led to a significant increase in the number of cyclists on those roadways.  People need to get around, and they will do so in the manner they feel is most efficient.

Drivers may complain about streets being repurposed to accommodate bicycles, but I ask, “What about me?”  As a tax-paying citizen, part of my money is used for the upkeep of city streets, whether I use them or not.  Like a quarter of Chicagoans and half of New York City households, I don’t own a car, so the only way I can get my money’s worth is to ride my bike on the city streets.  Car drivers are often unhappy when I take the lane, cycling along at 15 MPH (something I have every legal right to do, by the way), so bike lanes would seem to be a win-win for us all.

To be sure, there are times when a vehicle is necessary—moving apartments or transporting the lumber necessary to build a rooftop garden, for example—but car-sharing groups, such as ZipCar or the Chicago non-profit I-GO, provide inexpensive ways to make that possible.  For most of us living in most cities, travel by personal vehicle should be the anomaly, with biking, walking, and public transit the norm, not the other way around.

With more than two-thirds of American adults either overweight or obese, it’s obvious the added exercise a ride on a bicycle provides would be greatly beneficial.  The 30 minutes of daily physical activity recommended for adults can easily be obtained on one’s commute to and from work, freeing up time and money that might otherwise be spent at the gym.  Personally, if it weren’t for my time on a bike, I’d get no exercise at all.

Determining travel time on a bicycle is extremely predictable, and travel time is regularly faster than public transportation and for many trips within a city often on-pace with that of motor vehicles.  The number of times I’ve had to deal with a flat tire pale in comparison to the gridlock and unexpected delays many drivers put up with on a regular basis.

There are even some less obvious advantages.  At a birthday party a few months ago, the host received a call that some friends had hoped to attend, but after circling the neighborhood for 30 minutes, looking for parking, they had given up and gone home.  I, having traveled by bike, had no such problems.

Instead of an affront to the “rights” vehicle drivers may claim regarding a city’s asphalt, the expansion of bicycle infrastructure should instead be viewed as providing individuals greater personal freedom to make healthy, inexpensive, and convenient transportation choices and as promoting vibrant, liveable cities across the U.S.

And really, a bike lane beats a traffic jam any day.