Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bicyclists and car drivers are not (usually) separate groups

An email arrived today from a colleague in another part of the country. She was posting a questionnaire her bicycle advocacy group had sent to candidates for office. Like many groups around the country, they wanted to see the candidates' feelings and attitudes towards certain issues in the community. The answers would be sent to members and shared with the public.

By the way, this is one way for a 501(c)3 organization, which are generally thought to be prohibited from political activity, to be involved with elections. Sending a questionnaire and sharing/publishing the results is fine, as long as you send the questionnaire to all candidates and don't endorse.

However, the first sentence on this questionnaire was, "We believe great places to live provide transportation independence for those who do not drive motor vehicles."

This bothered me a bit, and below is the response email I wrote.

You start off with the the statement, "We believe great places to live provide transportation independence for those who do not drive motor vehicles."
I think this is a bit of a disservice to your/our cause, and also to those of us use bicycling and walking as everyday transportation modes. I own a car and drive. But I also bike and walk more frequently, and obviously believe strongly in the necessity of having these options for all in the community. 
It is not just those that "do not drive motor vehicles" that need these options. It is all of us! We all know why, so I won't go into that.
But we need to think about how we portray ourselves, and making a sharp dividing line between "pedestrians and bicyclist" on one side, and "drivers" on the other is not going to help both our image and our cause. We are everyone. We are you. We are your neighbors, friends, colleagues, doctors, lawyers, teachers, city officials, store owners, and the rest of the people you see every day. We are normal. 
Not driving is seen as something for the poor, the very young and very old, and people with disabilities. Or worse, people who have had their license taken away (although that seems to stop few in Wisconsin, the only state where a first OWI is a civil forfeiture, like a parking ticket, and you have to have 4 OWIs in 5 years to make it a felony.) In very large cities, obviously not driving is more normal for middle class and professional people, but there are few of these places [where you live] and most states.
We know that this is not the case, but we need to point out that everyone needs good access to non-motorized transportation, not just the non-drivers. 
I see this in news articles, community discussions, and policy documents. We talk about bicyclists as if they are not also drivers. I would venture to say that 95% of the people on this list own a car and drive. When we are told, "Bicyclists don't pay for the roads," - because people think we don't pay gas taxes - we have to point out again and again that we pay gas taxes, car registration, and licensing fees, because we are also drivers. And we are also property owners, and in Wisconsin property taxes pay almost 100% of the costs of local roads, the ones that most of us use for biking. 
We also hear, "Bicyclists don't obey the law." Of course, drivers don't obey the law either - speed limits, yielding to pedestrians, full stops before entering the crosswalk, etc. But it is much easier to say, "Most bicyclists are also drivers, They probably don't obey the law when driving either." It personalizes the violation, so it's not the vehicle that causes the law-breaking, it's the person. And it points out that bicyclists and drivers are not separate, segregated elements of the community, but simply the same people making a separate choice for that trip, like running shoes, dress shoes or loafers on your feet. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Why aren't the bike lanes plowed?

Because our Governor-elect seems to have finally managed to kill Wisconsin's opportunity for the expansion of intercity rail, at least for the next decade or so, I'm going to move back to writing about some other transportation issues, or whatever happens to pop into my mind.

Even though non-bicyclists and transplants from warmer climates find this hard to believe, many of us actually continue to bike in the winter. In my case, I'm not likely to be going out on recreational rides, but I do still use my bike to get around town.

It's not as hard as most people think, but more on that in another post.

Today I'm going to address a question that comes up every year on a local listserv: "How come the bike lanes are in such bad condition?" After all, this is Madison. The paths get plowed, often before side streets. So why, when the plows are running down the street anyway, do the bike lanes end up with snow, ice, salt piles, dirt, and combinations of the above?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Boneheaded politics means loss of rail money

Mayor Dave didn't pull any punches today when he held a press conference today in reaction to Governor-elect Scott Walker finally and definitely losing $810 million of federal investment in passenger rail service extending the Hiawatha line from Milwaukee to Madison.

The Mayor also points out that he repeatedly tried to talk to Walker, but was "met with a blank wall." Not even returning the calls from the mayor of the second largest city in the state, and the person you are likely to see frequently, since your offices are within two blocks of each other? What sort of bizarre politics is that? Is this what we can expect from our future governor: the cold shoulder and avoidance of anyone with whom he doesn't agree?

I have to agree with the harsh words of the Mayor, when he said, "the day can't come soon enough when Walker can be referred to as 'the former governor.'"

And right after the decision became final, Talgo made a definitive announcement of its own: They are leaving Milwaukee. Nice going, Walker. Not only did you lose the jobs building the rail line, but you have now turned away a business that would have manufactured trains in Milwaukee and shipped them all over the US. Manufacturing jobs in a depressed city, aren't those exactly the types of jobs we should be trying to attract?

One restaurateur has also decided that his plan to revamp and reopen his current eatery is not a good idea, now that there will be no train passengers coming and going across the street. This same decision will be repeated in other parts of Madison, around an abandoned grocery store in Watertown, and in any community that might have been along the line to the Twin Cities.

Good-bye to construction jobs, redevelopment in downtown areas, manufacturing in a depressed neighborhood in Milwaukee, and better rail lines for freight and the businesses it serves. All so communities in other states can reap those benefits. Wisconsin taxpayers aren't getting a refund on the money they have sent to Washington, DC, they are just sending the money elsewhere. And Wisconsin taxpayers will still have to pay to upgrade freight infrastructure and signaling that is mandated by the federal government. We could have paid for all this while also building the passenger service, but now it is all gone.

I am just sick to my stomach about this. Right after the election, I felt the same way, and then felt for awhile that maybe we had a chance to still make the situation right. Maybe, just maybe Walker would come to his senses and realize that he couldn't afford to throw away thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe billions, of additional dollars circulating in the state economy. Has he never heard of the multiplier effect?

When you are stuck in the snow on the way to Milwaukee, Chicago, or the Twin Cities, think about how the trains can get through all sorts of weather will virtually no delays. When you are creeping your way through rush hour traffic, or on your way to the Brewers on I-94, or want to get to downtown Chicago, but end up driving slower than I can bicycle, thank Scott Walker for ruining any chance to getting to those destinations more quickly and efficiently. When people who can't drive or shouldn't drive have no way to come to Madison to visit, imagine what it would be like to have the elderly, people with disabilities, or people who like to drink in our bars to have another transportation option.

The rail haters say, "What about the buses? Can't we just use those?" Sure, if you don't mind the buses moving the same speed as the rest of the traffic. See, trains get their own right of way, so they can bypass all the traffic. And buses hold maybe 50-60 people, while trains can carry hundreds. That means that to carry the same capacity, you would have to put 60-70 buses on the road and that also means 60-70 drivers for those buses, and that's expensive. Buses are just not a solution for a corridor where passengers want fast, reliable, and high capacity service.

I'm not going to write more, because what more is there to say? Maybe I'll be inspired tomorrow.  I don't suppose I'll wake up tomorrow and find out this was all a bad dream, right? No, I thought not.

Friday, December 3, 2010

What ever happened to the Red Bikes program?

After I wrote a post about bike sharing, someone mentioned the famous Red Bikes in Madison. Once or twice a year, someone asks me, or posts a question on the Bikies list, about the Red Bikes that Madison has/had. So here is the story:

The original Red Bikes program was indeed a bike sharing program - you could borrow a bike for a short time - a few minutes up to an hour or so - then use another Red Bike when you next needed one. The idea was that Red Bikes were put out by Budget Bicycles in the spring, and people could use them if they needed to get somewhere. You weren't supposed to lock them up, but just leave them somewhere unlocked, so someone else could use the bike.

As opposed to bike sharing programs that are being run formally around the country/world (see previous post), you couldn't rely on a Red Bike being available when you needed it. They were few and far between, and people who didn't understand the program, or were looking to cause trouble, would either "steal" the bikes (although I'm not sure how you "steal" something that is free), or would trash the bikes, strip them, or ride/throw them into the lake.

Roger Charley, the owner of Budget Bicycles, and a great supporter of bicycling in general, transportation bicycling in particular, and also a wonderful patron of advocacy efforts, decided that the program just wasn't really working. So it was changed to what exists now.

The current Red Bikes program is more like a cheap/free, long-term bike rental. You go to Budget, put down a deposit, get a basic bike and a lock, and use the bike as long as you need it -days to months. This is great for people visiting Madison for a few weeks or th summer. The program is also popular with new arrivals, especially grad students or international students, that may not have the money to buy a bike right away, but want basic transportation.

When you return the bike, you get your deposit back. You are responsible for keeping the bike safe/locked up, and you can bring the bike in for basic repairs like fixing a flat or having the brakes adjusted. (Please check with Budget for the details, I haven't checked all the fine print recently.)

So there is no Red Bikes as "pick one up for an hour to run an errand" anymore, which is the niche of a bike sharing program. However, the Red Bikes are a very useful, and very generous program run by Budget that fills a different sort of niche.

Hope that helps explain the past and current program.