Thursday, May 26, 2011

Taking the lane keeps things safe on the ride.

Lisa* and I were biking downtown to the movies the other night. I was riding behind her where she likely would say I belong. There are a couple places on this particular ride where the vehicular travel lane becomes a turn lane requiring a merge into the straight ahead travel lane. (At this point those somewhat familiar with Columbia bicycling and driving might imagine eastbound Broadway approaching southbound Seventh Street.)

As we crossed the street before the turn lane Lisa took the lane. Not the turn lane but the travel lane to the right of the turn lane. I was impressed with her defensive pedaling. For non-bicyclists "taking the lane" refers to a decision a bicyclist makes that he or she needs to be positioned more or less in the center of a lane versus staying on the right edge of the lane. In a wikipedia entry on this topic John Franklin is cited as calling this the primary riding position (versus a secondary riding position where the bicyclist sticks to the meter or so nearest the curb.)

The main factor for me in whether or not to take the lane is whether I feel that there is safe clearance for both me and the inevitable passing cars. If there is room for all I will stay in the secondary rising position. If I feel I will get squeezed when car drivers pass due to a narrow lane, I will take the lane. Drivers may see this as a bicyclist being obstructionist or obstinate. I am not sure. All I know is I want to get to the movies safely and not become a road accident.

Right turn lanes complicate this situation for the bicyclist since passing cars have built up speed and here I go moving out into their travel lane. Car drivers at stoplights are generally rarin' to take off when they get the green light. With me in the primary riding position and upon the light turning green drivers who have stacked up behind me on my bike must wait until enough lane width exists for them to safely pass.

To avoid irritating drivers I always tend to ride up the right turn lane at this location, watching in my bike mirror for approaching cars who may wish to turn right. Moving left when I see the car approaching the turn location seemed to be the safer option vs. being in the straight-ahead travel lane. Did I mention all this is happening while headed up a fair incline on eastbound Broadway in downtown Columbia, Missouri? (Pictures forthcoming.)

*Thanks to Lisa for showing me confidence to be consistent in my pedaling. And for going with me to see a funny movie on a schoolnight.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Livable Streets Profile: Gina Overshiner and the Smithton Bike Brigade

Gina Overshiner's bicycle
Getting the kids to school can send a message, build your team and burn calories. All in one swoop. (Or is it one swoosh?)

Columbia, Missouri's Gina Overshiner is a hands-on mom. And a mom who bikes. When her two kids Max and Anna Rose started attending different local schools Gina opted not to get a mini-van with room for the whole soccer team. Instead, she did what any mid-western mom with a passion for active transportation did: she started a bike brigade.

Every school day, Gina rides with Max to Columbia's Smithton Middle School. On the way to school, Gina and Max stop at Again Street Park. There they pick up any other neighborhood kid who wants to ride. The kids and their parents like the safety that riding as a group offers (Ask a generally solitary rider about the power of riding with one, ten or a hundred other bicyclists. It changes things.) After navigating west-central Columbia's mix of local roads and a state highway, a regional commercial hub and the ubiquitous hills, Gina and her Smithton Bike Brigade arrive at school.

"The Smithton Bike Brigade offers an opportunity for social engagement around bike activities," says Gina. "I am always thinking about new ways to get more kids involved. Besides being a social activity with a workout attached the Brigade fosters community and encourages social activism among these students."

Bike/Ped Day at the Capitol, 2011
Recently, the students heard about Zambikes, a not-for-profit that provides bicycle ambulances to villages in Zambia. With a population of about 12 million in an area the size of Texas, Zambia lies in Sub-Saharan Africa. Motor vehicles are scarce in rural Zambia and a bicycle is one way to easily connect Zambians who needs medical attention with providers who are often separated by large distances. With their interest in supporting bicycling in Zambia, the students (with some help from Gina) created a fundraiser. They operated a Bike Spa at Columbia's 2011 Earth Day Festival. Riders paid $10 for the students to clean their rides’ chains and apply needed lube, check the brakes and tire pressure. The bike spa profits went to Zambikes to buy a bike ambulance.

Columbia, Missouri's Smithton Bike Brigade
Gina notes "These kids understand and appreciate the need to get political about bicycling. We took them to Jefferson City this Spring to talk to legislators on Bike/Ped Day at the Capitol. The elected officials were impressed when a bunch of sixth-graders shared information with them about bike safety." Also politically active on the local level, the bike brigade continues to work with the City of Columbia staff to improve bike and pedestrian facilities at a major intersection near Smithton Middle School. As Education Coordinator for the PedNet Coalition, Gina sees all this as part of her job. "The bike brigade is an experiment," she adds. "I am trying to find our what the kids respond to."

And after Gina gets done riding Max and his fellow members of the Bike Brigade to Smithton, Gina turns around and rides home, picks up AnnaRose on her bike and accompanies her to school in the other direction.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Comments wanted on St. Louis Bike Plan

If you are a St. Louis area bicyclist or know someone who is check out the St. Louis Bike Plan. Comments on the plan can be shared online as well as at a series of open houses scheduled for across the region over the next week or so. -tre

Monday, May 2, 2011

What folks are wearing out on those Livable Streets.

There are a lot of factors that go into making a decision. Whether it is where to eat dinner, who to take to the prom or when to invest. Recent research from University of Missouri researchers indicate that advocates for physical activity may find the greatest success when they reinforce good behaviors that leads to exercise instead of trying to give people still more information about why they need to exercise. In the case of physical activity, more information may not be better. Some support at the right time and place may make all the difference.

Once you have made the decision to walk or bicycle to some of your destinations, clothes make the (wo)man. If you are trying active transportation for the first time consider investing in clothing that will keep you dry and warm.

Here goes with the list of that key clothing that - if you keep it close by - may keep you walking and bicycling longer into the year and into your life:

Rain gear: Sometime in your future as a walker or bike commuter it is going to rain. Or snow. Or sleet. And you will be glad that you got a set of waterproof pants and jacket. Go for water-proof not merely water-resistant duds. I always keep a change of clothes at work for that day when my rain gear fails me either due to a wardrobe malfunction or a hurricane arriving. We rarely think about staying dry until we get wet. As an everyday (or occasional) active commuter you will quickly strive to remain a Dry American. Having and wearing water-proof rain gear makes all the difference between dry & happy and wet & sad (Aside: While it is gear for your bike and not your body, consider getting a set of fenders for your ride. Keeping that annoying splash on the street and off your trousers or skirt will make you feel and look better when you cruise into work.)

Ankle biters: These sound painful but are not. Ankle biters are a piece of metal or a velcro strip that cinches around your ankle that rides on the chain side of the bicycle. You only have to trash a pair of pants once by getting them caught in your bike chain before you go looking for an ankle biter. No bike shop near you? No worries. A burly rubber band works fine, too.

Shoes: As a walker, you deserve good footwear. Solid support coupled with waterproof or wicking fibers will keep your pups dry and warm in all kinds of weather. A change of shoes upon arrival lets you slip into something more comfortable in which to have your day. And TODAY is YOUR day, right?

Helmet: There is no reason to go helmet-less on a bike. Even hipsters with good hair can crash and sustain head injuries. A few years ago a friend shared with me the helmet wearers' mantra: May you always wear it and never need it. Too true. (For walkers, a wide brimmed hat will keep the sun off your face. No need to get blinded while stepping off the sidewalk. For walkers and bicyclists long commutes deserve sunscreen. Skin cancers are everywhere these days. Don't go courting melanoma. Lather up before heading out.)

There. Is your wardrobe completely prepared for any kind of weather? Let me know what key accountrements for the well-dressed active commuter I may have missed.

See you in the Streets,