Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to Build a Better City - Starting Tonight

We interrupt DIYBIKING.COM's salute to the cargo bike for a special bulletin. 

Today and tomorrow may prove pivotal to the city I live and work in. Tonight, at 7:00pm on the third floor of the downtown Ferguson Library, there is a Stamford Master Plan meeting that encompasses the downtown and railway station areas. Tomorrow, there is a mayoral debate in the same time and place. 

It's important for cyclists to go to both. This is a 'the more, the merrier' situation here, so don't assume your neighbors will cover for you. Do to these meetings what angry people wearing tri-corner hats did to healthcare town hall meetings four years ago, except with firm politeness instead of Jerry Springer guest manners and with modern helmets instead of 18th-century headgear.

Okay, so not like the angry-tri-corner-hat people. And now that I think about it we're getting pretty close to Halloween, so if you insist on a tri-corner hat I won't stop you. But a bike helmet under your arm will probably send a clearer message. 

I also highly recommend cyclists do try to sit all around the room (and be represented at the breakout sessions) instead of being clustered together. Spread the love and wisdom around.

Now a challenge isn't necessarily the resistance to bicycle infrastructure. The challenge is that too many people are indifferent about it, don't understand how it benefits them, or have unfortunately seen enough cyclists run red lights and zoom up sidewalks (I'm talking to you, white mountain bike-riding guy on the Urban Transitway last night) to dismiss cyclists as a class. So up to and after the meeting, follow the rules of the road. 

At the meeting itself, put forward some ideas so that the person who would never, in his or her wildest dreams, think about biking anywhere in the city will come to see how cycling infrastructure helps them.

Let me illustrate: please excuse the crudity of this model. I did not have time to build it to scale and to paint it. 

Yes, I found some of my HO scale cars from my youth and supplemented them with a mini buying spree at HobbyTown USA on High Ridge Road.

Now I am using these toys to illustrate the typical parking situation at Ridgeway. A great view of this video-game-waiting-to-happen is on the down escalator from Michael's and Marshalls. I've never counted, but I believe there are usually about 580,000 cars for every parking space available at any given time.

Yet, we do have a bike rack. Really. It is in the corner not far from Old Navy. All the times I have used it with my Office Bike I have never, not once, shared it with another two-wheeled pedal-powered machine. 

What if we moved that rack or otherwise created a rack in one of those spaces? Put cycling front and center? What if that made a couple of people leave their cars at home? What if we took advantage of the fact that young people today - the very people we want to attract to this city - do not like cars as much as previous generations?

(And to get a bit specific here: what if we asked all of the businesses and restaurants along Bedford Street to see which one(s) would be willing to trade a couple of the parking spaces in front of their business for permanent bike racks? A bike rack in front of a great place like Lorca will make the place easier to see and find from the road since it won't be forever blocked by cars).

Yes, we cyclists don't just wear weird clothes and use the metric system: we are givers of parking spaces. Just about every cyclist I know owns a car, and great things happen to ourselves and to others when we leave them at home. 

Let's illustrate this again, with this crude model of the Long Ridge/Cold Spring intersection (although it could be almost any major intersection in Stamford during evening rush hour).

As you can see, we have the classic intersection issue here: the 1957 Chevy Bel Air thought he could make it through the light but as it turns out there is so much traffic waiting at the next light he is 'blocking the box.'

That's naughty. And it happens many, many times a day - only with cars that are much less interesting. 

Then we have the HONK! HONK! HONK! HONK! (GESTURE) HONK! HONK! HONK! procession of vehicles swerving around the Chevy. That's on a good day. Other times, the entire procession is stuck waiting at another traffic light cycle. More honking, more anger, more noise pollution.

Nobody wins when that happens.

When I rode one mile with Michael Fedele and David Martin a couple of months ago, I said that if ten people are driving downtown today and just one of them takes a bike tomorrow, traffic will move easier for the other nine. 

Like this. 

I do remind drivers of any HO scale vehicle (or any vehicle of any size) to leave three feet of space when passing cyclists. It's the law. And it is good manners.

Finally, let's talk about the roads themselves. Another thing I told the mayoral candidates is that downtown Stamford is ground zero: it has the highest population density and the highest concentration of residences and businesses, so it is there where cycling infrastructure needs to start and where any investment will have the most bang for the buck. 

Cars do in fact expand to take up whatever space that is allowed to them, and the more narrow the lanes are, the more likely cars will not only drive slower, but the more space there will be for a bike lane.

So if the lanes are made narrower (say, dropping from twelve feet to eleven feet) it doesn't really affect the motorists but it does leave some room on either side…perhaps for bike lanes. And if there are bike lanes, some people who would otherwise take a car might instead choose the bike. 

As an aside: with a Sharpie, it is difficult to illustrate a bike stencil that doesn't look like a small cannon. My wife is the artist, not me. 

So that's just a few examples of the kind of wisdom that needs to be brought to tonight's Stamford Master Plan meeting and to tomorrow's mayoral debate (Update: Michael Fedele has already posted something online about his transportation plans, and you can see that video here. It's great that he mentioned the value of bike lanes but try to get him and the other candidates to talk about it again and with greater detail).

I hope to see you at tonight's or tomorrow's meeting (or both). Remember, the Ferguson library has a bike rack right in front. Fill it

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.


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