Friday, February 24, 2012

Superbowl Bicycles

These were taken from the Hooters on Riverside during the Superbowl. It was chilly and a little wet, but a fair number of cyclists were still out and about. I by no means caught everyone going by, busy as I was stuffing my face with wings.

I don't know why, but this guy was wearing a Santa hat in February.

Biking Home From School

Taken near Sunset Valley Elementary, safe routes to school comes up occasionally on alternative transportation blogs. (Here is an example:

These children seem to be doing OK, although it seems like the girl is trying to figure out what that creepy woman is taking her picture for.

Spotted in My Neighborhood

This was taken on Slaughter Lane. Yes, those are thorns and someone thought the perfect place for them was where people would regularly walk by.

This was on one of the first really warm days. A mother and daughter I'm guessing, going for a bike ride on Dittmar Road. I didn't notice the basket when I took it.

A guy chilling in the bicycle lane on Slaughter.

Hippest Neighborhood

These are pictures from a subdivision near my own place. Pretty standard suburb, nicely landscaped entrance, cookie-cutter homes, streets name after pleasant plants. 

I love the advertising for it though:

Hip? If hip means exactly like every other subdivision found around Austin, then yes, this neighborhood is hip.  The fact they had to bring in Bobby Bones (a popular radio host) shows that they have had trouble selling this lifestyle. I've read that the suburbs are becoming less attractive to younger generations. Just yesterday, my best friend said she was afraid to buy a house and move out to the suburbs because she didn't want to become an old cat lady and never go out again. Her exact words.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stop Signs

Recently on Fit City Pam LeBlanc cautioned Austin-area cyclists to stop blowing through stop signs, since she has been getting calls from irate motorists about the issue. Here is the link:

Really, this is probably the most asinine debate to have between cyclists and motorists. The purpose of it isn't to make cyclists safer, or to improve relations between the two, but a way for people who don't like the fact bicycles or on the road in the first place to have a socially acceptable way to spit out their vitriol.

Let's look at the situation. A cyclist in a neighborhood comes to a stop sign. He rolls through it, being able to see clearly in both directions at least 20 feet before he actually gets to the intersection. By roll, I mean he slows down to a crawl, but doesn't put his foot down. He makes it safely through. This is the situation most cyclists find themselves not coming to a complete stop. It is silly to think there is any huge danger in treating a stop sign that way in this situation. In fact, intersections are the most dangerous place to be as a driver of any vehicle, and the faster you get through them, the less likely you are to be in an accident.

Or let's take a four way stop. One that I regularly roll through is the one in on Jones Rd next to the elementary. I never put my foot down, but come to an almost stop, look to see if another car has the right of way according to the rules, and if not I go on my way. I technically don't come to a full complete stop, as in put my foot down. (There is a debate too about what constitutes a complete stop on a bicycle.) This is better for everyone involved because I do not want to hold up the line, so to speak. If there is a car behind me, I slow them down if I take the time to put my foot. If there is a car waiting their turn, I slow them down since I've lost all of my momentum. Four way stops can be tricky even if all four vehicles have motors, so in my opinion, it is best to get through them as quickly as possible, with confidence.

The main argument for cyclists to come to a complete stop is because its the law. Balderdash I say. I believe drivers and cyclists treat stop signs the same, since I too roll through stop signs like that in a neighborhood when I'm in my car. I hardly ever stop before the crosswalk, but instead stop on it. I see others do it too. Which brings me to my larger point. People use their own judgement all the time when out on the roads, and sometimes judge the letter of the law to be unnecessary. Cyclists shouldn't be held to a higher standard than everyone else, when we as a society, have judged this behavior to be acceptable in motor vehicles.

By blowing this out of proportion we are missing the real issue. How do we make intersections safer for all users? What do we do about those cyclists who pose a real danger by not slowing down at all at intersections? I believe our energy is better used answering these questions, instead of kowtowing to motorists who have all of sudden become obsessed with the letter of the law.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Part of the Answer?

Just a couple of hours ago I asked who gains if a fury is created over rising gas prices, a phenomenon that happens each summer. Here is an article from the New York Times that may answer that question.

The party not in power is going to use whatever weapon they can to discredit their opposition, and energy prices is something every American has an interest in, car owner or not. So begins the same old song and dance.

It's That Time of Year Again

Summer is approaching and like clockwork, the Austin American-Statesman has put out its annual, "Oh shit gas prices are going to up like they do every summer, panic now!" article.

Of course, this year is different, as the spike is happening earlier and the cost will go up more, but all the usual tropes are there. They interviewed the owner of Alien Scooters, who says she has seen a spike in her sales when she usually experiences a slump. Last year motorcycle companies were the benefactors of higher gas prices. They spoke with AAA Texas, which blamed the higher prices on tensions with Iran, but most other Middle Eastern countries have been blamed at one point. Then, the newest in vogue reason brought in is growing global demand, especially India and China. Finally, problems with domestic oil refineries has caused the earlier rise in gas prices.

Articles like this apparently are good for companies that peddle alternative forms of transportation, but at the same time, the hand-wringing over gas prices gets old quick. This is just the start, the Statesman will no doubt analyze every three cent increase throughout the entire summer. Higher gas prices in the summer is just a part of life here, and being horrified when it happens each and every summer is ludicrous. One wonders what the impetus is for sensationalizing a routine occurrence. I doubt the bicycle lobby is so powerful that it can make staff writers all across the country report on gas prices.

I suppose I should be grateful if it gets more people on bicycles and scooters, but I still can't quite help rolling my eyes a little bit. Instead of relying on a groundhog to tell us when winter is over, perhaps we should wait until the first gas price article to know when warmer weather is coming.

Bike Zoo

I'm pretty curious to see this thing in action. Several bicycles have been modified to look like animals, becoming movable pieces of art. There are bats, monarch butterflies, and rattlesnake bikes, the latter an impressive 80 feet long. Right now, the bicycles/works of art are raising awareness of the monarch butterfly migration in West Texas, perhaps one of the few places on Earth you can ride an 80 foot bicycle without fearing for your life. The article doesn't say what the inspiration for modifying the bicycles was, but I'm guessing weed was involved. Here is the bat bicycle:

Jeremy Rosen, a creator of Austin Bike Zoo, rides his bat bike around Austin.

Pretty cool. And come to think of it, a little creepy looking.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Benefits of a Bicycle

Found this on Pinterest, and thought it nicely summed up many of the reasons people pick up a bicycle. It glosses on the environmental aspects without being preachy, and the health benefits without making it sound hard. I ride a lot because it saves me money, so that immediately jumped out at me. And it manages to capture the mental benefits as well. This is how you get people to ride!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bicycles and Minorities

There is an article today in the Austin American Statesman about minorities and cycling. Officials are concerned because the activity has not caught on with African Americans and Hispanics, two groups that could benefit greatly from the activity. Both groups suffer (disproportionately?) from obesity, diabetes, and other chronic problems associated with an inactive lifestyle. Ellis, a state Senator, believes cycling is the panacea for these problems and is pushing for increased awareness of cycling in these communities. He brought forth the example of Major Taylor, a black cyclist from the early 1900's, to show there is a history between African-Americans and the sport.

It is a great goal. Ellis is right, these two communities have a lot to gain if cycling is promoted. I question his tactics however, on several counts.

1. He frames cycling as a sport.

Examples of Major Taylor and Lance Armstrong will not attract people in the numbers we need to have an active cycling community, for the same reasons that Mikael Colville-Andersen has explained on his blog The Lycra suits and the massive amount of gear keeps most people from picking it up, there is no reason to suppose African Americans and Hispanics are any different.

If you want people to embrace cycling, you need to make it a part of everyday life. This means framing cycling as a form of transportation and fun first.

2. One is not enough

The example of Major Taylor is inspiring, but is a weak way to combat the lily-whiteness of the cycling community. Plus, I doubt many people aren't cycling because they view it as a white-only activity. Other factors, such as lack of bike lanes, fear of collision, and driver hostility are much bigger deterrents.

3. He Focuses on Exercise

Ellis also framed his discussion around health benefits of cycling. This is probably the least effective tactic, because who hasn't bought a total gym and then left it languishing in the basement? Intellectually, people may understand the benefits, but it does nothing to make the activity really attractive. It plays on feelings of shame and guilt, not feelings of freedom and fun.

If the goal is simply to get more African-Americans and Hispanics in the saddle, then Ellis needs to move away from these tired tactics. Show people going about their everyday business on their bike, move it away from the cycling as sport subculture. Make more cycling literature available in Spanish. Finally, focus on making streets safer for bicycles in the first place. When cycling is safe, more people will ride, including African Americans and Hispanics.