Communicate safety in the future…

…By building better streets that look and feel safer to people on the fence about getting on a bike every now and then. It’s not rocket science.

Streetsblog commenter, 12/17/2015

I haven’t responded to this comment on my soi-disant authoritative comeback to all safety-based arguments: How are we in the future going to communicate the safety of bicycling in a way that is not true today? It’s been sitting there for more than a year now.

The answer is obvious; those streets are there already but nobody is riding on them, for reasons that have nothing to do with the safety of riding a bicycle. Every weekday afternoon I pedal through the quiet leafy streets of northeastern Queens and only on rare occasions do I see another person riding a bicycle. Again, my observation is confirmed. People will ride bicycles when it makes sense for them to ride bicycles, but not now; at present they just find it easier to drive around and do their errands. Nothing is stopping them from bicycling; there is not a lot of traffic, there are no steep hills. They just feel more comfortable driving.

In order to change this I humbly suggest moving away from safety promotion toward promoting the enjoyment of bicycling and the fun it involves. I am sitting inside on a sunny day and I am itching to go out and ride; why don’t more people feel this way?

Comments Worth Saving: Manhattan Walkability and the Obstacle of Central Park

I left this comment a couple weeks ago on Streetsblog, discussing the possibility of developing bicycle routes across Central Park:

The park itself is the problem. Who decided it would be a good idea to separate the East and West Sides with an imitation landscape? As Dr. Bones points out, crossing the darn thing on bicycle involves long detours or inconvenient walking or both.

Even on foot, there are really only seven transverse routes: W 63 to E 60, along the north side of Hecksher PG and south of the zoo; W 67 to E 69, along the north side of Sheep Meadow and crossing south of Rumsey Playfield; 72d St; W 81 to E 79, past the Delacorte, along the south side of the Great Lawn, and out south of the Met; W 85 to E 84, along the north side of the Great Lawn, and north of the Met; 96th along the path marked for bikes, or 97th by the tennis courts and bathrooms (on opposite sides of the transverse road); and 102d via the shortcut road.

The four routes south of the reservoir are indirect and winding, usually very crowded with people on foot, and poorly marked as cross-park routes. I did use to go around the north end of the Great Lawn after dark back 10 years ago and that was never a problem, but perhaps it has gotten busier now.

The notion that the transverses could be made tolerable for bicycling is seductive, but who wants to ride in a jersey-barriered lane in a ditch? It lacks appeal as anything more than an expedient shortcut.

It seems to me that in a contest between maintaining the park according to the Olmstead-Vaux vision and using parkland to create bicycle facilities, the architects’ vision must take precedence. A three-block-wide green zone in the middle of Manhattan is of course going to impede people getting from one side to the other, no matter how much bicycle infrastructure you build. If Olmstead and Vaux wanted to make bicycling between East and West Sides easy, they wouldn’t have built the park.

Moving on to another aspect of Manhattan’s walkability versus bikeability, I came down firmly on the side of Manhattan being the epitome of walkability, with negative consequences for bikeability, in a short BikePortland comment,

As a Manhattan resident and daily bicyclist, I can attest to the truth of this statement. On my block (no crossing streets), I have day care, flower stand, restaurant, convenience store, pharmacy, fish restaurant, pizza parlor, subway entrance, newsstand, and supermarket. Everything I need, and too close to make bicycling worthwhile. The farmers’ market is about the farthest unique thing away, and that’s only a 20-minute walk.

Six Points on Hedonic Bicycling

I posted the following on Streetsblog, in the depths of a comment tree. The original post postulated the existence of a reserve army of bicyclists, waiting for safety interventions. I generally do not agree with this notion.

I like the points I made below; I think they are good and are worth having in a more accessible place.

I disagree with the fad for using the safety frame to discuss getting people in the saddle.

First, bicycling is super safe as it is, so there’s nothing to apologize for. And safety in numbers actually works, so the more people engaging in the safe activity of bicycling, the safer it is for the marginal person in the saddle.

Second, bicycling has health and life-extension benefits that people can take advantage of immediately, so not pushing back on people who complain that bicycling is dangerous is actually harmful to health, because it’s depriving people of the opportunity to live healthier lives.

Third, most people have access to some kind of bicycle, especially with bike share, so they can really start bicycling this afternoon or tomorrow.

Fourth, New York has many destinations that are convenient to bicycle to, so the opportunity to get in the saddle and replace auto or subway trips with bicycle trips is evident.

Fifth, bicycle facilities are unevenly distributed around the city, with more of them in rich areas like Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn, so counting on the authorities to build ‘better streets that look and feel safer’ as a bicycling promotion program will just perpetuate the idea that bicycling is for rich people who have plenty of other transportation options.

Sixth, bicycling is a joyful, creative, problem-solving activity that deserves to be actively promoted to everyone, not reserved for some “fearless” subset of the population. I personally don’t understand why so many people consider passively accepting people’s excuses for not getting in the saddle as bicycle advocacy.

Bike Theft and Fundamental Attribution Error

The potential fallacy of fundamental attribution error should warn us away from inventing motives to explain why other people use cable locks or other less-than-perfect locking techniques. Developing high-tech methods to discern GOOD bicycle securers from BAD bicycle securers doesn’t help make those securers’ motives clear, whatever those motives might be. I am certainly not a priori convinced that there is a huge demand for a more didactic approach to providing advice on how to lock up your bicycle, and I refuse to accept the observation that lots of bicyclists use cable locks as support for the argument that everyone should register their bike and lock it right.

Since I wrote this first paragraph, I actually went ahead and purchased a cable lock. It cost less than $10, and was rated “1,” the least secure rating in the marketer’s system. I was out of town for school, and so I used it once or twice when leaving the bicycle outside a store for more than 10 minutes. Most of the time I would fold up my bike and take it with me, to class (where I left it folded in the back of the classroom) and to the grocery store (where I folded it up and put it in the cart, so as to take up space and keep me from buying too much food to carry home).

I’m pretty sure this doesn’t make me a bad person. When I travel for business or school, I like to use the bicycle as effectively as I can to get around, which means bicycling right to the front door and not hunting around for a bicycle rack that could be several dozen meters away from the door. Part of my effectiveness at bicycle operation is knowing when it’s necessary to lock up, and when it’s not. Even in New York City, when I duck into the newsstand every morning, I don’t lock my bike up. I just leave it outside, IN THE GHETTO practically, for 30 seconds while I go in and get my newspaper. Of course my bicycle could be stolen. But who is out there on the corner at six a.m., looking for a bicycle to steal?

Reading about decent-hearted people who have gotten wound around the axle of bicycle security makes me sad. At the worst, I see it as another example of in-group policing, where members of a small group come up with elaborate justifications for why other people cannot join, everything from the wrong style of handlebars to the wrong kind of lock. Secondly, they ignore how locking up one’s bicycle is a time-waster on the level of visits to the ATM machine–count up all those five-minute intervals spent either crouched over a staple rack or hunched in front of a bank machine, and pretty soon an entire week of life has vanished into the breeze.

Thirdly, judging the quality of all lock-up jobs by a single standard making the assumption that everyone in the same area has the same requirements. It’s weird that the same people who extol the flexibility of the bicycle as a transportation tool are so rigid when it comes to securing that bicycle. And lastly, if bicycle advocates can call for society to resolve the issue of traffic violence in bicyclists’ favor, why can they not also suggest some way to diminish the need to carry around 20 lbs. of locks and chains?

Vision Zero and Bicycling Promotion

Dear Martha Roskowski,

I read your blog because I’m a bicycle advocate, so I’m bemused by your sudden jump onto the Vision Zero train. Unlike People For Bikes, VZ is not about creating better facilities for bicyclists, or about encouraging people to get on their bicycle, or about using bicycles to help kids get around their neighborhood, or about helping people use their bicycle for more than just recreation

Your Green Lane Project has done a great job of pointing out that people generally don’t like to walk or bike in close proximity to motor vehicles, no matter how safely they are being driven. I don’t think Vision Zero is going to change this preference. I can’t argue with the authorities spending time and money to save lives, but I humbly suggest that VZ-type safety initiatives might not be central to your organization’s mission to get more people bicycling. We have seen in New York City that Vision Zero has put bumper stickers on taxicabs that say, “Your choices matter”; it has not inspired miles of protected bike lanes.

Consider bicycle helmets. It’s clear that safety enhancements to the practice of bicycling are not definitively linked with getting more people on bicycles. I think that now in 2015 it would be a stretch for advocates to argue that the safety benefit from wearing bicycle helmets has encouraged people who don’t ordinarily ride a bicycle to get in the saddle. In fact, I often read arguments that advocates should not call for people on bicycles to wear helmets as this will discourage casual bicycling and make the practice of bicycling appear to require safety equipment.

It’s not hard to imagine that greater attention to traffic deaths could make people more afraid to bicycle, and more afraid to let their children bicycle.

Bicycling Away from the One True Way

Commenting on ths Adonia Lugo blog post, I indicated that there are soi-disant bicycling advocates who hold to the credo that all traffic regulations must be followed to the letter, or that bicycling must have standards to be worthy of advocacy. There are advocates who see exhilarating events like Ciclavias as mere milestones on the historical progress of our cities toward Dutch-style bicycling metropoles, and there are advocates who commit fundamental attribution error by assuming that everyone who is not riding in the preferred position, style, or wardrobe is just sadly misinformed.

Adding further,this study from People for Bikes seems to dampen the rush toward infrastructure ‘solutions’ to the problem of not enough people on bicycles. If about two-thirds of people who want to bike more feel okay with the bicycle infrastructure they have, either those people are willing to share the street with automobiles, or they just aren’t even considering the possibility. It doesn’t seem, once again, that there is a reserve army of bicyclists.

For me I realized about four years ago that advocating for bicycling meant nothing in particular, like advocating for more right turns. It was advocating for people on bicycles that meant something. But it seems like everyone in the world of advocacy treats it like a zero-sum game, where certain groups win and certain groups lose. Sometimes sticklers for following traffic rules are privileged, by having streets departments spend money on giving away helmets and safety-themed coloring books; sometime people who live in certain neighborhoods are privileged, by having bike share programs come to them; sometimes people riding in certain directions are privileged, by having cycle tracks set up on their through routes; sometimes people who don’t even ride bicycles are privileged, as when advocates ponder how to increase mode share among the ‘interested but concerned.’

Archived (and blurry) pictorial tunafish recipe, just right for a lazy person’s Sunday dinner


In the picture, from four years ago, the canonical tunafish salad recipe, already blurry with the patina of age. Don’t forget the palm oil; the stuff is so yummy with fish. The little knoblike thing on top of the pickle relish jar? It’s a shallot.

I did OK tonight, whatever shortcomings from the recipe made up for by delicious fresh bread my girlfriend baked earlier. I had no pickle relish or palm oil, so a little olive oil and some tomato-apple relish from a home-canned jar in the back of the fridge had to do. No shallot either.

Tags: sandwich recipe tuna shallots olive-oil relish palm-oil photographs

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Half-dozen close-ups of Hesco fastenings, sounds dry as old dirt, yes?

The latest in this week’s series of Hescofotos. Focus of this set is how they are
attached to each other. Jean points out that the spiral sections are
used to hook the flat lattices together. I went to check on the
nearest row of them, and what it looks like is that they come in
multi-section sets, so that you can put down eight or ten or twelve in
a row all at once. If you want fewer, you just attack them with the
wire cutters and shorten the row before putting in the bags and the


‘Tis true: you don’t see single Hescos around. They’re always in rows.

Reaching a goal

Hooray! This afternoon I reached the 1725 total miles I mentioned last week (actually 1741.87 miles; I couldn’t just stop at 1725 and hitchhike home, you understand).

I’m quite pleased with myself. Having a goal puts everything in perspective: I got my shoes into the clips and straps 68 times in the last four months (plus an uncountable number of times for pure hither-and-thither riding). That’s sixty-eight times (mostly afternoons) I ran out of excuses to go riding. Just doing it more than once is worthwhile (evidence of consistency of effort), and look at me now. This week alone I rode 168 miles (6 x 28 mi).

Speaking of which, I misjudged the wind again today, but this time as I made my first turn onto the back stretch, I realized my mistake. “Oh, that breeze I was feeling was just a crosswind from the north!” Oh well. I shouted out loud that I would beat the wind like a drum, and that’s I guess what I did, treated it like some kind of rototom set.

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Lunch is better as breakfast

Honestly, a plate of beef curry over rice, vegetables, and dal, with some fresh fruit on the side. Can you beat that for a breakfast dish? Got up at noon (!), went for a quick run (10% off ordinary predawn time, call it Daylight Savings), then caught this repast on the tail end of the chow hour.