Friday, July 25, 2014

How Complete Streets Can Save Lives

Stamford, Connecticut. It's the only city I have ever lived in and one I've been calling home for ten years now. And a pedestrian died this week after being hit by a motor vehicle - the second death in as many months. 

That means that so far in 2014 more people in Stamford have died from being hit by a motor vehicle than have died as a result of homicide. No cyclists yet in Stamford (but I noticed on WTNH a 10 year old was hit by a truck and died while riding a bike in Suffield yesterday afternoon) but the thought of building a 'ghost bike' for someone here terrifies me. 

Were I a clever satirist I'd put together an 'SUV Buyback Program' event or something. But instead I'll just hope the writers of John Oliver's 'Last Week Tonight' run with it instead and show you where this woman was hit. 

According to News 12 and other reports, she was crossing Hoyt when an SUV turned left from Summer Street. I've driven or biked by that spot hundreds of times. I'd make the left myself back in 2012 when I had jury duty since Hoyt Street leads to the courthouse. Last summer, I biked with Michael Fedele, David Martin and William Tong as part of my effort to convince the next mayor - who turned out to be David Martin - to make the city more bike friendly. 

I addressed the whole question of whether or not the woman crossing the street was in the crosswalk or not in my Stamford Patch column and will refrain from accusingly suggesting the woman of the SUV was texting/using her phone at the time. Instead I'll press my miniatures to work like I did in the riding at night feature

But before making the model, I took my rolling tape measure to the intersection where the woman was killed. Two things saddened me immediately. First was the bouquet of flowers, and the second was that I couldn't tell which button to push in order to cross Summer Street.

I eventually got a walk signal, and I ended up measuring the center of the crosswalk and both edges - losing count over how many times I crossed all the streets. I also measured the distance between the crosswalk and the stop line. Using an HO scale ruler I was able to make a decent model of the intersection. 

The black cars near the curb are parked: the little dot on the sidewalk is a parking meter, which stands almost 77' from the edge of the crosswalk. 

Two particularly important measures: the distance between the edge of the Hoyt/Summer corner crosswalk and the stop line is 20' (it tapers off to 9' on the other side of the intersection, which is why the crosswalk is at an angle). Also, one has to walk about 20' from the edge of the curb to the first lane marker (between the red and the green car). 

No bike bloggers were harmed in the collection of this information. Pushing a rolling measure while wearing a Pollos Hermanos T-shirt appears to give motorists pause.

After taking the measurements I watched cars, cyclists and pedestrians for about an hour. I was appalled at the behaviors of some motorists - and I'll get into specifics in a moment. 

But I could easily see how so many of the things discussed by the Connecticut Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Board could be used to make this one intersection safer for everyone. 

Now a major component of Complete Streets is what's known as 'Lane Dieting' which is a buzzphrase-y way of saying it reduces the width of travel lanes. As I said, because the marker for the center lane starts almost 20' out cars in the left lane have a tremendous amount of space. More space means more speed. Sometimes I'd even hear tires squealing when cars would turn - not so much as turn but corner. 

This green Jaguar is important because it, along with a Jeep Grand Cherokee I saw later, followed another rule of motor vehicles: they expand into whatever space that will take them. As I said, the parking meter starts 77' from the crosswalk and the first lane marker starts about 20' from the curb. So, if you want to spontaneously build your private and very dangerous fourth lane as you wait impatiently for the light to change, you can. 

All of this space gives cars room to go wherever they want and to go as fast as they dare. When making the turn, the movement looks something like this.

This got me to thinking of bulb-outs, which is when sidewalks are added on to and look as though the cement is digesting a small animal. It's more attractive than it sounds. Here's one on a corner on nearby Bedford Street, very close to Lorca.

What that does is it forces cars to go a little bit further into the intersection before they turn, and a sharper turn means a slower speed. The bulb-out gives pedestrians a place to stand and be more visible when they want to cross. Even though there is a grate of some kind in the middle of the stop line on Summer Street, let's not rule out a bulb-out as we consider redesigning the intersection.

Now let's move on to another way of making a street safer: adding bike lanes. Because Summer is a one-way street I can imagine what it would look like with bike lanes on both sides or a lane on one side and a sharrow on the other. 

Now the paint on the ground mentally gives the driver of the red car less room to move when making the turn, and this person would also probably be driving slower as the turn was made. A bulb-out or some decorative element could be used to keep a very wide turn from being made. Dotted lines on the intersection marking the bike lane is also more information for the driver to process - which also translates to a slower speed. 

Also, more people would be encouraged to leave their cars at home and ride bicycles where they want to go. Fewer cars on the road is good for everyone - even for the motorists who are left.

So when I - be it as a person, the creator of this site, or a member of the Connecticut Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board - talk about Complete Streets, this is a lot of what it means - and the added safety is a huge part of it. 

My hope is that the anger anyone feels about the effects of a collision turns into action addressing the causes. Labeling drivers as homicidal and stirring up anger about them will get you more followers for your 'cycling culture' web site, but it won't do much more than that. Please push your city, your town and your state toward adopting and implementing Complete Streets. And as you do, drive slower - and walk and bike carefully. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Someone's Dream Job, Bikes, and Coffee in Lexington & Concord

On a recent Saturday, my wife and I took a four hour car trek to Hillsboro, New Hampshire to visit friends and have a bit of an adventure: we packed overnight bags not knowing where we'd stay - or if we'd stay somewhere - that night. We used an app called Hotel Tonight and hoped to find an inexpensive place to sleep instead of hell-for-leathering it all the way back to Stamford.

As it turned out, we found a cheap but very nice hotel in Bedford Massachusetts, which is very close to the towns of Lexington and Concord. I'm not a big student of history, but I understand there was some kind of famous battle in the area. 

After settling in to our room, my wife and I went to downtown Concord to look for people wearing period costumes and, equally important, find a place to eat. Between spotting a guy in a tri-corner hat and us eating (and enjoying the live music) at Main Street Market & Cafe, she sketched while I fixed and rode on a bike I purchased a few hours earlier. 

I'm not sure what rural New Hampshire town brought this tag sale gold to me, but I am thankful: it's a Diamondback Venture road bike with 700c wheels, a working frame pump, a seatpost bag containing three tire levers, a rusty Allyn wrench, and two new tubes. If you look closely you'll see the green 'Make Offer' tag still hangs on the handlebars (my offer was $5) and after I spent a few minutes using the aforementioned tools to get the bike to working order, I took it on a ride around Concord. 

I did not ride it as far as I wanted or as I dared: when inflated, the front tube would try to ooze out of the space between the near-rotted tire and the rim which isn't ideal. Still, just for this one night I felt like I got my $5 worth (mainly because fixing it and riding it gave me something to do while my wife sketched) so as my wife's watercolors dried I put the bike back in the car. 

The next morning, we checked out of our room and agreed we needed to get a move on to return home in time to attend an opening reception at the Rowayton Arts Center (which is hosting a Chantey Sing at 6:30 tonight, by the way). 

On the drive through Lexington, while looking for a place to have breakfast, something caught my eye and made me park my car with extreme prejudice. 

Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington. Now while I wrote rather admiringly about biking in Boston a couple of years ago I have to say I have little interest in living in that part of the country (you know…cobblestones, Massachusetts drivers, and so on) but right then and there I saw paradise in Ride Studio Cafe. If I had money and talent I'd open a similar place in Stamford: Coffee and bicycles. Two passions combined into one beautiful whole. 

Keep your eyes in the right two-thirds of the joint as you head in and you'd think you were in a nice bike shop - one that features indoor parking. 

This was taken at the communal table between the bike rack and the counter where my wife and I order coffee for me, tea for her and breakfast for us both. Were I a man of means I'd have ordered a carbon fiber frame to go, but my budget would only allow the purchase or something a little less expensive: The Culinary Cyclist by Anna Brones.

The friendly vibe of the place was well represented in the woman who sat across from my wife and I while we were waiting for our order. Her name was Denise, and when the 'what-do-you-do?' part of the chatting began it was revealed that her title is president of sales recruiting firm DANA Associates

It was from her I learned of the existence of a job that made me wish I was among the bicycle/coffee/history-loving crowd in that area: a nearby adventure travel company that does bike tours of Italy, France and other countries is searching for a Selling Team Leader. The job, which would pay $60K annually plus bonus, would involve selling these tours and the opportunity to go on them. The job is for a skilled salesperson (70% of the job is sales while the rest is managing people and maintaining a database) and a passionate cyclist who loves travel. 

Since my sales experience is limited to typo-laden eBay listings - though deciding how many exclamation points should come after the words 'NO RESERVE' is an unsung skill - I did not push the conversation with Denise toward my LinkedIn profile. What I did do is realize that this job cannot go unfilled for too long, for leaving a sales chair vacant at whatever company this is means someone might miss the chance to hear about and take a life changing cycling adventure. And as you all know from my recent trip to India, I am a big believer in life changing cycling adventures. 

So if you are a passionate cyclist and a skilled salesperson who wants to come up on the winning side of a career coin toss, I recommend you contact Denise directly at dbg (at) If you are just a passionate cyclist, you should instead visit Lexington - a place I will return to one day. If you are a passionate traveler, pack an overnight bag, hit the road, stop at tag sales, talk to strangers and don't avoid communal tables - especially at Ride Studio Cafe. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Eight Things Every Republican Must Do in Cleveland

Note: This post was published at quarter to ten in the morning on July 11, 2014. A few hours later, LeBron James decided to return to the Cavaliers. Coincidence? I think not. Please pass the word to The King that his ban from DIYBIKING.COM will be lifted if he Tweets a picture of himself biking in Ohio City. Thank you. 

I don't remember where I was or what I was doing when the Republican National Committee announced it was holding their 2016 convention in Cleveland, but I do remember thinking: Awesome. Well played, Reince Preibus.

I do wonder, however, how many GOP delegates furrowed their brow at the news and thought: Cleveland?

Republican readers: I know Cleveland last voted for a Republican president in the cretaceous period, but don't let that stop you from enjoying the town. You don't even need to wait for the convention to start, for I encourage you to visit anytime, start scoping out hotel rooms and restaurants, and look for things to do while you're there. 

As it happens, I have some ideas that'll help you. This list doesn't automatically assume you are going to bike in Cleveland, but believe me when I tell you that you should. This list also assumes you have visited Positively Cleveland and you have a map of the city. 

So here I present eight things for you to do in Cleveland - either during the convention or anytime up to and beyond: 

8) Volunteer at the Ohio City Bike Co-Op 

I volunteered for this place last summer and had a great time doing it. Here's why you should too: part of the GOP platform has always had an anti-handout theme. The Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op allows kids and adults to volunteer their time and earn a bicycle by fixing bikes and attending education classes. It doesn't get much more anti-handout than that. 

Right now the Co-Op is piloting a new Earn a Bike program for younger kids (ages 8 and nine) and for the next few Sundays, they need some extra volunteers: if you're in Cleveland on July 13, 20 or 27th and free between 1:30 and 4:00pm, sign up to help!

7) Know East 4th Street

East 4th street is a narrow, mostly car-free area in Cleveland that features plenty of outdoor seating and places you can lock your bike up. Before a long day of speeches, get your caffeinated beverage of choice at Erie Island Coffee, and for lunch or dinner visit The Greenhouse Tavern. You'll thank me later. 

6) Buy food at West Side Market

Before you serve red meat to delegates on the floor of the convention hall, shouldn't you buy some for yourself first? The historic West Side Market is a short bike ride across the river. Great coffee, breads, jerky, desserts - you name it.  

Oh, and if you want to make a statement about government pork that's ready for television, you just might be able to find something to use as a prop - just make sure you have a bike trailer big enough to transport it safely.  

5) Use The Bike Rack

My hope is that delegates and other members of the GOP stay in or close to downtown so they don't need to use cars often, but if you want to stay far from the city center but worry about not looking professional when you arrive, check out The Bike Rack. For a fee you can lock your bike up and take a shower before you start your day. If it is especially hot during the convention, whomever you end up sitting next to on the convention floor will appreciate it. 

4) Ride in the Cleveland Metroparks

At some point during the 2016 convention you wish for a little quiet time, go someplace with friends or family, skedaddle while former Speaker of the House John Boehner gives his speech - and so on. There's no better diversion than riding on the trails of the Cleveland Metroparks system. You can also visit the Cleveland Zoo or just have fun. 

3) Ride to the house where they filmed 'A Christmas Story'

2) Know Your Bike Shops 

Fridrich's Bicycles, Joy Machines and Blazing Saddles. Study them. Know how to get to each one by memory. If you want to buy a bike, it's a three-way tie on where you should go to get one. As far as repairs go each seems very capable. Best of all, these are small businesses - and they'll inspire you.

1) Take your impressions of Cleveland's bike infrastructure home to your cities and towns. 

If there's one thing I learned when I took the Republican and Democratic candidates for Stamford mayor out for a bike ride last summer, it is that safe cycling and smart cycling infrastructure transcends politics. Neither party owns the issue but both are smart to push it. Riding a bike doesn't lump you in with the Prius-driving, Save The Planet lot. It doesn't mean you don't have a car. It's not a political statement of any kind, it's just a smart and fun way to get around. The more elected officials of any kind can do to make cycling easier, the better. It involves tax dollars, to be sure, but it is well worth it and a little can go a very long way. 

So pack your bike and head to Cleveland, or buy one when you arrive. Encourage your fellow delegates to do the same, and as a gesture of goodwill I recommend hiring local Cleveland artists to build some bike racks for the front of the convention hall.  Remember: Democrats haven't picked their host city yet, and now that you've landed on Cleveland I imagine they'll want to one-up you and show they are more bike friendly than you are. Don't let them win! Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Little Green Men of Shippan Point

Tomorrow (July 5th) is my dad's birthday (Dad: if you're reading this in the morning before I have a chance to call: happy birthday!).

But it is also the Kid's Parade in Shippan Point - a neighborhood in Stamford I've been calling home for the past nine years. The meeting place is at the northern intersection of Ocean Drive West and Stamford Avenue at 11:00am. Kids are encouraged to decorate bikes, wagons, scooters and strollers, and they'll be able to ride in the streets having fun. 

I can't go to that event, so instead I rode around Shippan Point this morning. It was nice as I got to check out houses I haven't seen before, see Governor Dannel Malloy's old home on Ocean Drive East (beautiful but certainly not anything I'd make an attack ad out of), wonder if my wife and I would ever trade up to one of the bigger houses one day, and say hello to the joggers and dog walkers. 

And I noticed something several times and in several places. 

The Little Green Men. 

You've noticed them too.  Sometimes they are accompanied by signs that say 'drive like your kids lived here', and sometimes not. Sometimes they bear the word 'slow.' They sometimes hold flags. Some of them are yellow or even some other color.

There's one right near my house that appears and disappears often. Sometimes I get creeped out by the fact I've never seen it in motion. 

I've grown to hate the Little Green Men. It's not so much the design. If I was trying to come up with an artificial figure to encourage people to drive slower, I might have landed on something similar. I hate them because something has to bear their message. People don't just naturally drive slow. The way some people drive on Shippan Avenue (or any street, for that matter) you'd think their vehicle was tinkered with by Dennis Hopper's character on 'Speed.'

Cars traveling fast encourage the purchase of Little Green Men. Fast cars also discourage people from getting on a bike and using one for their everyday life. This puts more cars on the roads and leads to more Little Green Men and even fewer cyclists. 

It's one of those vicious cycle-type deals. 

I try to tell people there are ways to get people to drive slower that don't involve Little Green Men - or would at least curb their deployment. Complete Streets initiatives, which include making lanes narrower - from 12 feet wide to 11 feet wide - make people drive a little slower. Bike lanes would help a lot too, since they'd encourage people to ride and make the car travel lanes narrower. But right now, there are no bike lanes, shared road markings, or even a share-the-road sign anywhere in Shippan Point. 

Tomorrow, kids of all ages are going to be riding and rolling in the Kids Parade. I've been to one here before and also in Southport. The kids will be smiling and laughing. Parents are going to be happy too. They''ll ride and walk down the road and will be safe, and a fun time will be had by all. 

All I can think to ask is: don't you want yourself and your kids to feel that way all the time? 

I hope the adults who ride and walk in the parade empower themselves and their kids to ride more when their isn't a parade involved. I also hope that when the adults get back in their cars, they ease up on the gas pedal and use the car less - and start demanding bike infrastructure for the city to make it easier to do both of those things. Buying Little Green Men is only one step to make a neighborhood safer. Let's aim for a world where we don't need them. Happy Independence Day. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.