Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Superior Slow Cyclist - Lou Reed

This week the news for cycling was mostly positive.

New York's love affair with Citibikes appears to be more than a Hollywood marriage.  It's the Roosevelts - sturdy and permanent.  The success of New York's bike share program is far exceeding the most optimistic expectations.  This bodes well for other programs and may signal a cultural shift. visualizedpartner=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+fastcoexist%2Ffeed+%28Co.Exist%29#7

In areas where there is a lot of bike riding and reasonable bicycle infrastructure retailers have seen a 49% increase in sales.  This despite cries that a crisis that would ensue if bikes diminished existing parking.  We have seen this kind of hysteria before in our history.  Fluoridated water was supposed to end the human race.  We are still here.  Y2K was supposed to crash every computer in the world.  I'm pretty much using one right now.  And no one is ever embarrassed after the folly of these invented crises is exposed.  But in this case I would like to see previously anti-bike retailers falling to their knees like a rack of generals suddenly visited by a North Korean dictator.

In Washington, Greg Billings posted on Twitter that zebras, those berms that are designed to thwart scoff-law u-turners, are coming to the 1200 block of 12th Street, NW.  This is obviously excellent news since that block is a magnet for especially annoying taxis driven by people who act like they chew khat on the job.  I think some of them just make u-turns all day and never take exhausted men dragging litigation bags to the airport.  The zebras are also important because they will clearly frame the glamorous riders who are showing all drivers how much more wonderful it is to drive than to sit in stand-still traffic.  (I regret I was not faster with my cell phone when a guy riding a Shinola and wearing a classic Harris Tweed blew by me at the light this week.  There is not a man in America whose knuckles don't drag that would not have wanted to look like this guy.  We should take up a pot and pay him just to ride back in forth in front of cranky SUV drivers.)
So it is always odd when a bike lane project gets delayed despite the positive impact bike lanes are having.  In this case, one of Washington's oldest churches wants no bike lanes so its congregants (not DC residents for the most part) can park on the street where the bike lanes would be.  On Sunday morning.  And for the glutinous Wednesday night dinner.  Hmmm.  Now that I write it out, it does seem ludicrous.  Yet the church is interfering with the M Street cycle track.

On the west coast, the City of Santa Monica is thinking about adding bike lanes to one of its major thoroughfares so that students at a local high school can safely ride their bikes.  Santa Monica is a city of contradictions.  Its mayor was once Tom Hayden, one of Jane Fonda's ex-husbands, from her anti-war period.  Kind of like Picasso's blue or pink period.  Santa Monica had rent control.  It features a number of vegetarian restaurants, and politically-left-of-center-themed retail stores.  Yet, surprisingly, Santa Monica is a car town.  Shocking in LA County, the locus of the film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," about how the oil companies bought up and killed the streetcars, then built the freeways so to get people addicted to oil.  (So Kavaugh, Santa Monica bike activist, enough about how much better your bike lanes will be than Washington's.  Let's get them in first before we have that competition.)

Despite all of this good news, the week had a major loss.  One of my favorite cyclists and musicians, Lou Reed, died.  On my perfect playlist there will always be "Sweet Jane."  I don't smoke, but if I had a lighter I would hold it up for Lou as a musician, a cyclist, and a person who held to his artistic principles.

If I see you in the bike lanes, let's be smug.
Elisa P.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

No Bike Bell? Go to Jail? DC's New Bike Law.

The Bicycle Safety Amendment passed in Washington, D.C. on October 17, 2013.
Cars now have to think about cyclists while they are driving.  

If a driver fails to yield to a cyclist, he or she could get three points on their license, along with a $250 fine.  Also, if a driver collides with a cyclist, then six points can be added to the driver's license, and the driver can be ordered to pay $500 fine.  Other sub textual consequences include, but are not limited to: eternal damnation, the permanent contamination of the driver's karma, a sentence of days in a pillory, hours on the rack, minutes in the Iron Maiden (no, not the band), public shaming, and, of course, the permanent wrath of the cycling community - which tends to be a rather hale bunch capable of physical intimidation.  The law does not state these latter penalties, but we all know that they will be part of justice dispensed.

The law no longer requires cyclists to have a bell on their bike.  Instead, if you don't have a bell, you have to have a loud voice, objectively speaking, or an air pistol, or one of those blow horns they use to signal the start of a water polo game.  I deduce this because here's what the law says now:
"[A cyclist must] be capable of making a warning noise either with a bell or mechanical device, or with his or her voice, audible for a distance of at least one hundred feet."  If you have strep throat, or a tinny little vox, I think you might want to consider a "mechanical device."  Maybe one of those horns that clowns carry at the circus or a pair cymbals would do.  But I would not rely on a Mister T bobble head, or a pair of castinettes.  That's just my opinion.

I have a bike bell that sounds like a door bell.  People aren't sure whether to get out of my way or let me in so I can borrow a cup of sugar.  But it gets attention and amuses.  I think I would like to get a bell that sounds like Foghorn Leghorn, or perhaps LBJ when he was angry.  Or maybe a woman making a blood-curdling scream like those loops that play in fun houses at the beach.  I am open to suggestions.  Obviously whatever I use will have to be loud since 100 feet is about 95 feet longer than me.

The statute also removes a section of the law forbidding cyclists from making a noise within the established quiet zones of the city.  Title 18 Section 1204.7.  I am not sure where there are quiet zones in Washington, D.C., except in the political middle, which is kind of like an outer space vortex, devoid of voters, legislators and oxygen.  But I think the law meant an actual bit of geography not and existential space.  I will investigate this and report back.

Importantly, the law now allows bicyclists to start into the intersection as soon as the pedestrian light shows the little man walking.  This may provoke high-strung drivers to want to hit cyclists and to disregard the consequences of the points on their licenses.  That is because drivers are angry, and SUV drivers are angrier (except those who have three children or more and have been given a waiver by God to drive such monstrosities for a limited number of years).  Yet we cannot enact legislation based on how the most anti-social among us will react.  Right?  Lest we should say "let's not punish murder because it might cause a murderer to get angry."  Or perhaps that analogy is a bit over the top.  The point of this provision was to allow bikes to go ahead of cars so that they can be seen more easily.  That is a noble legislative goal.

And the mayor can now force people whose projects block the bike lanes to get permits.  This sounds like a good idea if there is enforcement.  I have had to swing out and around the same Dempsey Dumpster now for six months on Capital Hill.  This has forced me into the way of cars stopped in stand-still traffic.  The drivers are visibly upset to be sitting there, and more upset to me whrrrrr by just inches from their side mirrors.  But there are people who won't block the bike lanes if they have to wait in line at the permit office.  So I am in favor of this.

It was good to see this amendment since I needed a little boost this week.  I was disappointed at not being able to attend Railvolution in Seattle, and filled with jealously to see the merriment being played out on social media.  It was sort of like missing your senior prom, and instead having to watch it in Vine snip-its on Twitter.  The new law reminded me that there are places where cycling rules, like Groningen and Copenhagen.  And maybe in the fullness of time Washington, D.C.

So if I see you in the bike lanes, pull the string on your tiger bell, crash your cymbals together, and let out a celebratory noise that can be heard 100 feet away, and let's be very, insufferably smug.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bike Lane Decisions Delayed in Homage to Congress

Mark Twain famously wrote, "Never put off until tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow."

Are we becoming a culture that allows our leaders to avoid making decisions by simply postponing them?  There are things I wish I could postpone and still keep my job and standing in my family.  These things include dental work, cleaning the house, paying my taxes, and taking the dog out when it's raining after I have blow-dried my hair.

Apparently Congress failed to see the irony and wit of Mark Twain as we learned tonight.  But, as Americans, we expect bad behavior on the part of Congress. We do not expect it of the Area Neighborhood Advisory Commissions charged with deciding whether streets should have bike lanes.  Yet, that is exactly what ANC 3D did when it postponed a decision about whether or not to allow bike lanes to be added to New Mexico Avenue.  New Mexico Avenue is a major diagonal thoroughfare in Washington, DC that links downtown with the campus of American University.

Did something like this 3D punt also happen on Capital Hill?  Not under the gleaming dome of the Capitol, but in some sort of poorly attended neighborhood meeting?  How else can you explain the fact that the bike lanes near Union Station suddenly end on Massachusetts Avenue at the exact spot where hundreds of taxis engage in a wild ballet of lane changes?

Now this is not as bad as what happened in India, where the City of Kolkata has banned bikes altogether.
Isn't that like banning mirth, giggles, or kittens?  Or telling people they cannot get to work by any other means than driving.  The depravity, the venality, the foolishness of it all.

While Congress and ANC 3D avoided making decisions in a timely manner this week, the bike movement kept calm and carried on.
New York debated adding bike lanes to Amsterdam Avenue.
In Iowa, the press covered problems associated with bike lanes in Cedar Rapids.
In Phoenix they have added green lanes for bikes.
Memphis considered crowd-sourcing the last bit of cost for bike lanes.
And Tampa Bay decided to dedicate bike lanes after a cyclist was killed on a causeway.
So while Congress and ANC 3D find themselves on the wrong side of history, ordinary Americans rode forward to a more sustainable future.  Perhaps the Mayor of Kolkata, along with certain elements in Congress, and the members of ANC 3D, will find themselves in search of a new job as progress continues to . . . well, progress.

If I see you in the bike lanes tomorrow, because you have been told to go back to work after a ridiculous two week furlough, let's be smug, but let's never forget this madness.
Elisa P.