Saturday, September 9, 2017

My 2,000 Character Response to WaPo Article on Bicycle Commuting

The Washington Post has an article, "Cycling to work means better health and a longer life. Here’s how to get started." that I made a comment on (that will be lost in the sea of comments, which is probably just fine). I have reproduced it here. You only get 2,000 characters for a comment!

Bike to Work Day, 2011
Line of bicycle commuters on Mt Vernon trail several years ago on "bike to work" day

"Cycling to work means better health and a longer life. Here’s how to get started." The first part of this title is surprising since typical headlines for stories like this include the word "may" - as in, it MAY mean better health and a longer life - or it may not. I guess that the author (and editor) felt OK with leaving that out is encouraging.

I'm not sure that the approach provided that much useful "here's how to start" guidance but as a selection of somewhat inspiring stories with some selected suggestions it is fine.

About the e-bike commuter, it says, "And she gets to work without sweating, traveling nearly as fast as a car." Since we are talking about pedal assist bike, and since this is Washington DC, this seems unlikely on hot days. Simply standing around outside is enough to start sweating in much of July-August, and although the self-generated breeze from riding does carry away some perspiration, you can't get away from some sweating. And the "traveling nearly as fast as car" suggests a high rate of speed but it is really more the slow-and-steady-wins-the-raise over automobiles that kill a lot of time in traffic jams. Those e-bike commuters I see who want a high rate of speed, which is certainly possible with some of them (over 25 mph on some pedal assist bikes) often create hazards for themselves and others, particularly when on multiuse trails that were intended for around 15 mph max.

The article doesn't include the suggestion that seems most useful to me - anyone thinking about this is likely to have seen a neighbor who is a bike commuter - the thing to do is to ask that person their advice. A lot of getting started is overcoming certain seeming obstacles specific to a location that a neighbor can likely help with. And this ties in with a pleasing aspect of bicycle commuting, which is that most of us eagerly help each other. It's a community you get as part of being a bike commuter.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Bikes Vs Cars (Documentary Movie)



Video from Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling

Recently the Washington Post woke up to an issue that had been percolating for a while - a controversy over where to put a multi-use trail that will run parallel to an widened version of an existing interstate highway (I-66) in northern Virginia that is a key commuting route for workers seeing to get into Washington DC (and other points). The problem (or challenge) is that widening the highway (and having a trail with it) will push further into the backyards of many homeowners along the route. These homeowners and their neighbors would prefer to have the cyclists and pedestrians who use the trail on the highway side of the large sound barrier wall that is now an established element of such highways. If the trail is on the neighborhood side of the wall, the trail users will be in what is now someone's backyard (in effect). Not surprisingly most users of such a trail would prefer to be on the side of the wall away from the road traffic, for pretty obvious reasons. Most of the trail users (other than those who own these homes, it seems from the Washington Post) are not concerned with riding in what was recently someone's back yard if the alternative is riding in a concrete and asphalt valley with a bunch of cars, trucks, and buses. Particularly since one can guess that even after the highway is widened the traffic will be going slow or at a standstill, generating lovely exhaust for cyclists and pedestrians to consume in large quantity along with large amounts of waste heat during the warm months of the year.

To me, that such a discussion is proceeding with so little consideration for the views of the trail users says a lot about the relative power and interests of motorists versus pedestrians and cyclists in this country.

OK, enough of that, now a bit about the documentary movie "Bikes vs Cars" that I just watched on Netflix.


Trailer on YouTube for the documentary "Bikes vs Cars" that also invites you to pay to view the whole thing

The New York Times had a reasonably positive short review.

A review on the CityLab site suggests that the movie is "waging the wrong war."

The movie was made in Sweden and was not intended specifically for an American audience. (Some parts of it are sub-titled). The narrative moves shifts between Sao Paulo, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Copenhagen, with a different focus in each location. In Sao Paulo, the emphasis is on a particular activist who zips through the streets on her single-speed bike but eventually attends meetings with mayor - her character (if you will) is the most developed. On the other hand, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford is presented as the buffoonish voice of the most extreme enemy of cycling (which is pretty easy to do given things he has said on camera). A certain amount of factual information is presented, but unlike many discussions of the advantages of cycling, the move doesn't devolve into a sea of facts that are difficult for most people to assess. The main fact-based point is simple - the number of cars is apparently going to jump from one billion at the time the movie is made to twice that in 2020 and in cities such as Sao Paulo and Los Angeles in particular (but also many others not mentioned specifically) the utility of owning a car that is unable to get you anywhere in continuous traffic jams by itself suggests there is a problem.

I think the CityLab reviewer missed a certain point. The movie title, "Bikes vs Cars," is meant ironically. The "vs" relationship is not bikes vs cars but rather a conflict between a vision that allows a vast worldwide growing middle class to have and use automobiles even as the resources to support that are limited and a vision that for something more sustainable and realistic. This alternative reality is where Copenhagen fits into the story, although I thought the main weakness of the movie was that relatively little was shown and said about the successes of cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

This is not a documentary intended to provide a viewer the best possible facts supporting views one way or the other (and certainly not all possible facts for all possible views). It is an attempt to stir a particular emotional reaction - outrage. That's OK, in fact that can be a good thing.

Movie web site: http://www.bikes-vs-cars.com/thefilm.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Hikers with Bikes (1920 News Item)

If I am writing about cycling history I usually write about 1890s, but I came upon this photograph of two young women with bicycles and was intrigued.

Beverly Bayard & Lorline Davis [with bikes] - news photo, 1920
These two young women walked across America but were photographed by a news service in NYC with bicycles

Sometimes it is possible to find articles in Chronicling America that are about the same persons who appear in online collections of digitized news service photos. In this case, the photograph had the names of the two young women and these names seemed a sufficiently unusual combination that it would be easy to find any articles if they existed. And in fact I found several, including this news service article from the Idaho Republican for October 1, 1920. It has a photograph, but a different one (without bikes).
NEW YORK.—The Misses Beverly Bayard and Lorline Davis, of Los Angeles, are in New York after a walk across the continent which took them four and a half months.......Miss Bayard is an illustrator and Miss Davis a newspaper writer. "The story you are taking will be the last one printed in our scrapbook," Miss Bayard said. "We're going to put the dear old record away in moth balls, hunt up a garret in Greenwich village and go to work. "It has been a wonderful adventure and a wonderful experience. I want to say if there are any girls in New York who are tired of the big city, and who want to renew their souls, let them get some stout shoes, some trousers, khaki shirts, knapsacks and start on a hike."
It seems that they walked, not bicycled, across America. Why the Bain News Service photography did this photograph of them with bicycles in a mystery. They seem to be something like rental bikes - they don't look suitable as equipped for distance riding. So while I found more information about these two, I did not find the story I would have guessed I would find. Sometimes that happens.