Saturday, November 15, 2014

NaBloPoMo, 15 Nov 2014 edition - Aliquippa speech, final draft

[N.B.: See the earlier version of this speech, posted five days ago. Thanks to V.B. for several constructive comments, as well as input from a few others privately and through social media. I plan to speak the following at the memorial ride and placement of the ghost bike. I believe a copy of this will also be forwarded to the press.]

Taylor Banks was a frequent, strong, experienced cyclist riding a road he knew well, and obeying the rules. Every cyclist here today is also an experienced cyclist who obeys the rules, so just as we are shocked by his death, we are also concerned for our own safety. But mark my words, this was not an accident. This was the result of a lot of things gone wrong, both at the time he was hit, and long before.

Taylor was killed going to his mother’s house after work. In July 2013, Emily Jankart was killed on Route 51 at the Sewickley Bridge, returning home after work. Two deaths, two years, one road, one reason for travel. That is unacceptable. So why is it unsafe to use a bike to get back and forth to work on this road?

Let's be clear. Cyclists do have the right to be on the road and to use the travel lane. Many people, drivers and cyclists alike, do not know that, and a few do not accept it, but it's right there in Section 3301c1 of state traffic law. So how do we prevent drivers killing cyclists?

One, we can start by enforcing speed limits. If people speed, that's a police issue. Cite motorists, show up in court, and prosecute.

Two, this stretch of PA51 is Pennsylvania Bike Route "A". But if the 55 mph speed limit is too high to accommodate bikes safely, then that's a policy issue for PennDOT to resolve with the active participation of the cycling community.

Three, education. It would really help if everyone knew and followed the rules. Mr. Banks was following the rules.

The roads are there for public use, and that includes everyone, including Taylor and other cyclists. If cyclists are indeed supposed to be able to bike along here, then modify the road, the speed limits, the signage, make the public aware of any changes, and patrol it, so that we safely can.

"Share the road" does not mean share the lane. If there is a cyclist in the right lane, get in the left lane and pass us. When you pass a cyclist, you have to give him four feet of space. If you are on a two-lane road, Section 3301a6 says you may legally cross a double yellow line to pass a cyclist, if you can see it's safe to do so.

The crux of the matter is this: When you come up behind a cyclist, either change lanes and pass, or patiently wait, same as you would behind a tractor or backhoe, until you can pass. Getting there safely is more important than getting there quickly, regardless of your mode of travel.

Getting everyone to realize that bicycles really do have the right to use the road at all, any road, and to use the full lane, any time, is going to be hard. But we can start by obeying the speed limit and knowing what the law says.

In closing, let us remember the wise words of Mary Harris Jones, better known as "Mother Jones": "Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living."

May we all live long, prosperous lives, and ride our bikes in peace.

Monday, November 10, 2014

NaBloPoMo, 10 Nov 2014 edition - Aliquippa speech, first draft

[N.B.: On November 1, a 23-year-old cyclist, Taylor Lee Banks, was killed on PA Route 51, riding from his job in Aliquippa to his mother's home in Rochester. A Ride of Silence and placement of a ghost bike in his memory is planned for November 16. I plan to be there, prepared to stand in front of any media present, and speak the following.]

As far as we know, Taylor Banks was an experienced cyclist riding a road he knew well, and obeying the rules. Every cyclist you see here today is also an experienced cyclist who obeys the rules, so just as we are shocked by his death, we are also concerned for our own safety. But mark my words, this was not an accident. This was the result of a lot of things gone wrong, both at the time he was hit, and long before.

We have created a world in which the only acceptable method for getting from Point A to Point B is in a car. And that's wrong. Why is it unsafe to use a bike to get back and forth to work?

Let's be clear. Cyclists do have the right to be on the road. When we are on the road, we also have the right to use the travel lane. Many people do not know that, and a few do not accept it, but it's right there in Section 3301c1 of state traffic law. So how do we prevent another cyclist's death?

One, we can start by enforcing speed limits. If people speed, that's a police issue. Cite motorists, show up in court, and prosecute.

Two, this stretch of PA51 is a posted Pennsylvania Bike Route. But if the posted speed limit is too high to accommodate bikes safely, then that's a policy issue for PennDOT to resolve with the active participation of the cycling community.

Three, the roads themselves are designed to kill, by inviting people to drive too fast to accommodate any users other than cars and large-engined motorcycles. Why do we do that? We shouldn't need speed traps to force people to obey the law, the roads should be designed to enforce themselves with an appropriate speed.

The roads are there for public use, and that use is supposed to include everyone, including cyclists. If cyclists are indeed supposed to be able to bike along here, then modify the road, the speed limits, the signage, and make the public aware of that fact, so that we safely can.

Taxpayers might object to any money being spent for special accommodations for cyclists. Fine, we do not need special accommodations. We do, however, require normal accommodations, which means you have to accept what the law already says in Section 3301c1, that we will be on the road, and we will be in the traffic lane, and that since it's a four-lane road, we will be in the center of that right lane. It should be possible for 18-wheelers and cyclists to share the same road.

Share the road does not mean share the lane. If there is a cyclist in the right lane, get in the left lane and pass us. When you pass a cyclist, you have to give him four feet of space. Why? Because, if for no other reason, the gust of wind accompanying your moving car or truck is enough to push a cyclist off course, into a curb or off the road altogether. If you are on a two-lane road, Section 3301a6 lets you legally cross a double yellow to pass a cyclist, if you can see it's otherwise safe to do so. So when you come up behind a cyclist, either change lanes and pass, or patiently get in line, same as you would behind a tractor or backhoe, until you can. We will control that lane until we decide it is safe to let you pass, and then and only then we will pull to the right, as Section 3301c1 allows.

Getting everyone to realize that bicycles really do have the right to use the road at all, any road, and to use the full lane, is going to be hard. But we can start by obeying the speed limit and knowing what the law says.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

NaBloPoMo, 09 Nov 2014 edition - Surveys

I was completing one of those on-line surveys yesterday. While the topic is irrelevant, one question is not: "How many vehicles are in your household?" OK, how am I supposed to answer that? There is one car in the driveway, true; I suspect "1" is the answer they were looking for.

But it isn't accurate. In our house, three entirely different modes of transport, that are not cars, provide at least half of the family's travel needs -- bicycles, a motorcycle, and public transit -- and two of those are technically household vehicles. Even if I lump all the bikes as one, that would bump that answer to "3".

I want to contact the survey company, A.C. Nielsen, and ask them why they would even ask that question, and point out that our non-car travel fleet results in a lot of money being spent on goods and services related to them. Further, our non-car travel methods results in a skew of where we shop. Getting in the car to drive to the mall is so 1980s. We don't do that, even with the car.

But the vehicles are the focus of my complaint. I want to ask them, why aren't you asking about the non-car vehicles? I know that you are asking about vehicles for reasons other than demographics. I know you make your money by selling information about people's travel habits to potential advertisers. So, ask! There is money in us non-car-drivers, and our numbers are growing.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

NaBloPoMo, 08 November 2014 edition - Knotweed and pumpkins

In 2013, I cleared a few square yards of an established stand of Japanese knotweed, an invasive plant which grows eight feet in height and totally overwhelms its environment. I did not try to do too good a job of clearing it, just yanking out as much root as would come with a strong pull. It was a "proof of concept" experiment, intended to see how solidly the area would grow back in 2014.

The experiment was successful. Certainly there was grow-back, as I knew there would be, but it was much less dense. It took less than an hour to re-pull the area I put five or six hours into clearing in 2013. A few yards away, I began a second experimental clearing, this time trying very hard to yank out every bit of root and rhizome, to be evaluated in 2015.

What else I learned in 2014 is that pumpkins can be used as a replacement cover crop. I'm not sure about this, but am willing to try it out. Theoretically it should have some beneficial effect, as pumpkins spread sideways and cover the ground well, where they get established. The problem I see is that knotweed starts coming up in April, long before pumpkins get started, and by July are taller than a human adult.

To that end, I am gathering as many pumpkins as I can, now that Hallowe'en is over. My intent is to outdo the knotweed in those couple of experimental clearings. If I get enough of a supply, I might just toss a pumpkin or two into an uncleared stand, just to see what happens. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Right now, though, it's pumpkin gathering time. I know I can carry a 10-pounder to my clearing. I will see how easily I can carry anything larger. My clearing isn't too far away to walk to, but it is rather secluded. But I will get them there, one way or another, and keep my eye on developments next year.

Friday, November 7, 2014

NaBloPoMo, 07 November edition - The Ninja Pedestrian

It was still dark as I walked Perrymont to catch the bus this morning. I've walked it thousands of times before, and this trip was no different, except for walking instead of biking. I know the shoulder of the road well, I know what cars do at every spot, I know where to anticipate wildlife making an appearance, I know every barking dog and motion-sensor light. There isn't much to surprise me.

Except this morning, I saw a shape appear out of the gloom, walking toward me. In those first hundredths of a second, my mind tried to make any sense out of the signals my eyes were sending it, and not succeeding. It probably did take a full second to realize the shape was human, and another to size up what was happening.

In short, nothing. It was just a pedestrian, walking westward as I was walking eastward, on my side of the road. Tall, male, maybe 40s. The problem was, he was dressed about as darkly as one could imagine, and was walking on the wrong side. Contrast this with me, who not only was wearing a light colored jacket, but also had on a flashing amber light which reflected off the road signs 200 meters ahead of me.

Cyclists and non-cyclists alike gripe about "ninja" bike riders, all in black, neither lights nor reflectors, not following the rules. Same applies to pedestrians. If I couldn't see him, moving 3 mph, how would a motorist moving 35 mph? Of course if he was hit, the driver would be faulted, but pedestrians (and cyclists) being stupid do not help matters any. Heck, even a white baseball cap would have helped.

Walking Perrymont is no picnic. Being on the wrong side is actually necessary in a couple of places because it's safer to be, no matter the weather, or lighting or road conditions. But not there. I follow the rules when it makes sense to, and act safely when the rules make it less safe.

But safety starts with making it possible for anyone else not to hit you, thus highlighting the first component in my mantra of "Be Visible, Be Predictable, Be Responsible."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Bike lights and batteries

I figure I have $100 tied up in bike lights and batteries. Actually, that's an underestimate, as I've spent a good bit more over the years in failed attempts to get a set of lights that get the job done and do not self-destruct.

A long while back, I stopped buying alkaline batteries. I hate alkalines. They are little time bombs, only instead of going bang, they start leaking, and in so doing, corroding every contact and switch, every bit of circuitry, every thread of anything threaded. Here's a photo of one of the house's clocks -- still working, despite all the leakage. You just never know if your light has been destroyed until you take it apart and find it such.

I started getting serious about being lit properly after a late evening trip home. It was only a couple of miles, but I had no light, and someone very nearly left-crossed me. Of course I was at fault, but at the time I neither knew the rules nor had the money to buy any light, let alone a good one. But so began the quest to put and keep a functional light on my bike, front and rear.

Long ago, I lost count of the failed attempts. I will, however, try to inventory what I do have now, and what it cost me. If you have a C-note, this would be a good place to spend it to get one bike lit properly.
* Pack of four rechargeable AA cells, plus recharging unit  ($20)
* Pack of four rechargeable AAA cells, plus recharging unit ($20)
* Planet Bike Superflash taillight ($35)
* Planet Bike Beamer 3 headlight ($25)
That's $100, roughly. One charger goes to work, the second stays home. Two of the AAs go in the light, the other two go in your toolbag. Two of the AAAs go in the taillight, the other two in the bag.

About once a week, depending on how much night riding you do, switch out the pairs in use for the others, and put the depleted ones on the charger.

*

In actuality, I employ far more than the above. I have two headlights, and three taillights. One of those taillight sets is clipped to my helmet. One of the headlights is an older but very bright model which requires a heavy battery pack, and must be plugged in every couple of days. They make newer, brighter, much lighter light systems; buy them if you can afford to.

Do not skimp on lights, though. If you cannot afford the $100 up front, plan to spend $15 to $25/month until you do have all the pieces you need.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

NaBloPoMo, 02 November edition: Suburban road diets, en masse

http://ktla.com/2014/11/01/3-girls-killed-in-hit-run-while-trick-or-treating-in-santa-ana-were-thrown-100-feet-2-sought/

About those three girls killed in California last night. The speed limit on that residential street is 45, though it drops to 25 right at that corner. 45? Are you fucking kidding me? FORTY-FIVE is the speed limit in a residential area? If it's posted 45, then what's the ambient speed? 55? What constitutes "speeding", then? 60? 80?

The article says the speed limit there is 35, but a quick look on StreetView shows a 45 sign just a block away, followed immediately by a sign for the school zone. The girls were killed crossing the street in front of the school (which had closed for the day).
StreetView link: https://www.google.com/maps/@33.7733097,-117.8523303,3a,75y,90h,90t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sKAc3XqZK7V-Pu4FoVxuuOw!2e0

In the news story, one estimate is that the car was going 70 mph (twice the incorrectly stated 35). Double 45 would be 90. How fast do you need to be going to throw a human body 100 feet, as happened here? Whatever the number, how does anyone justify traveling even close to the posted limit in a residential area, adjacent to a school? Some of this is stupidity by design. Four, five lanes across? Those sidewalks are amazingly narrow, with no separation between them and the street, and beyond that, have utility poles and stabilizing wires sharing that space. Seriously. Knock out an entire lane of street in both directions, and drop the speed limit to TWENTY-FIVE for that main drag. Thirty, tops.


I've driven all over suburbia, growing up in metro Buffalo, living in Pittsburgh 30 years, and being sent all over to Sunnyvale CA, Beaumont TX, Orlando and Daytona Beach FL, Tucson AZ, and many other places. They're all much the same. Suburban main drags are posted way too high, ambient speeds are much faster, and the cops don't even care until you're 15 over. Always and always, the traffic engineers, from bottom to top, talk about "improved traffic flow". That's code talk for Push-As-Many-Cars-Through-Here-As-Possible-As-Fast-As-We-Can. Which, sorry, is just plain fucking wrong. SAFETY is more important than speed.


Why do we build roads this way? Why is it public policy that we do so? Lives and the living of it does appear to matter, at least sometimes, but we're not consistent about it. We've gone out of our minds about one person dying of ebola, but we routinely kill five people a day in vehicle collisions in every city in the country, and outside immediate family, nobody gives a flying fuck. They're forgotten by the next rush hour's newscast.


It's not just design, but practice. I see this in my own neighborhood. Perrymont is posted 35, and I can't count the number of times the county has repaired or replaced the guardrail by the dogleg turn at the bottom of the hill. Downhill on a 7% grade, with a dogleg turn at the bottom, hourly, people floor it coming down off of Perry Highway. They must be on the high side of 50 as they pass the end of my street, only 150 feet from that dogleg curve. Never mind that speed kills, what seems to matter is that speed thrills.


I used to think Babcock Boulevard, on my routine trip to work, was pretty chill, but I get the most grief on that half mile stretch, just outside Millvale from Rita's Ices to the Shop & Save. It's posted 35, but outbound it's just gone up from 25 so people see that 35 like it says 85, and inbound, it opens up into a flat, level stretch just after a tight S-curve, so people see it and think "dragstrip"!


In the 1980s, when some significant noise started being made about repealing the national 55 mph speed limit, I started noting the statistics for traffic deaths during holiday weekends, which always spike. Almost without exception each fatality occurred on a local road where the speed limit was 45 or less. Every holiday, every year, for years and years. Most fatal wrecks happen on local roads, and always have.


So there's speeding, and insanely high posted speed limits. Not the same thing, two almost separate arguments, but unarguably interconnected. The very idea of driving the speed limit, anywhere, is so foreign. Speed limits are usually set by the rate of travel that 85% of people would go, absent a sign. So, by default, speeding sets the speed limit.


I propose the exact opposite. Decide what the proper speed should be for each road segment, without any regard to demand, set the speed limit to that, and change the number, width and shape of the lanes so that people would go that speed, absent a sign.


In Santa Ana, Fairhaven should be one lane each way, with provision for a center turn lane. Eliminate that outside lane, extend the sidewalk a couple of feet, maybe even with a grass separator. No parking. Possibly recover some of that space for a bike lane, much as I don't care for them. I'm sure everyone there will howl about losing a driving lane, and having the speed limit lowered by almost half. But really, too bad so sad. And same goes for nearly every other suburban four/five-lane street in the country, particularly ones that scream through the center of a residential area.


Our roads are death traps, by design. Design them differently (by changing the design specs), get people to drive a reasonable speed without having to police it (by making them less amenable to speeding), and make it possible not to have to drive in the first place (by making them safer to walk or bike). We can care. We can change. We just have to decide to do it, and hold state departments of transportation to that.