Friday, May 27, 2011

Thanks to City Engineering for being responsive

Sometimes we need to thank people for doing the right thing. Public employees have gotten beat up a lot in Wisconsin over the last few months, and I'd like to be sure we thanks them when they respond to citizen input and concerns. OK, I may have a bit more pull, because I know who to email or call, due to my alder tenure, but I'm just an average, if well informed citizen.

Yesterday, I sent the email below to the Madison City Engineer, Rob Phillips along with the photo seen below.

Rob - 
Not sure who on your staff is overseeing the N Lake St project. Please forward as needed.
Please see attached photo. It is facing the northbound traffic, i.e. the direction that is allowed during the project.  
Why do bicyclists need to walk? Most bicyclists are going to be going the same speed or faster than the motorized traffic in this area, so I see no reason why they can't ride int he lane, just like everyone else. 
Perhaps this sign is courtesy of the contractor, who simply does not recognize the legal status and abilities of bicyclists. If so, could you have a word with them to have them take it down?
Now, if they want to put that sign up facing southbound - where bicyclists will certainly be wanting to make the transition from Langdon to State St - that would make more sense. However, I am hoping that there will soon be a small counterflow lane on N Lake for bicyclists. The Lakeshore Path => Langdon => State St route is a pretty major bike route without a good alternative. (See below regarding this discussion at a City-UW committee.) 
Moving on to the Langdon project that will be coming up later this summer, at the Joint West Campus Area Committee, we asked if it would be possible to keep a counterflow lane open for bicyclists during the project. I would guess that both the 800 block of Langdon and N Lake between State and Langdon get as much or more bicycle traffic than car traffic in summer. Since the State St Mall does not allow biking, and University is very far out of the way for those trying to get from State St to the Lakeshore Path - a very major bike route - I would hope this request from our meeting could be accommodated.  
Thanks for your help in these matters.
I got an email back this morning, with various City Engineering staff cc'd, agreeing that the sign could be removed. I'm headed down that way now, but I assume that it is either gone or will be soon. 

So, I just wanted to thank City Engineering for responding so quickly. I expected that they would recognize that bicyclists are both legal users of the road, so there is no reason they need to walk their bikes instead of riding them, because this is Madison, and staff are very supportive of bicycling, but taking care of the problem is what really counts.

Monday, May 23, 2011

How to pick a bike helmet, and when to replace it

Another in a long list of topics that seems to come up frequently: What kind of bike helmet should I buy? And how long to they last? 

(If you are an experienced bicyclist, you can skip this post. I'm just writing up the FAQs of bicycle education.)

Recently, Steve Meiers, City of Madison Pedestrian-Bicycle Safety Assistance, posted a link on a local email list to a report from the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. It basically says that cheap helmets work just as well as expensive helmets, as long as they both are approved by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC.) Although you can spend $150 or $200 on a bike helmet, a $30-35 helmet will protect your head just as well.

The difference tends to be color, number and size of vents, and some aesthetic options. For me, one big issue is how easy it is to adjust the straps. Making sure that your helmet fits well, and can be adjusted if the straps stretch, you tuck your hair up, or you want to wear a hat is very important. Here are some tips on fitting helmets correctly:

As an almost-daily bike commuter, I tend to spend a bit more on my helmets for one reason: I am likely going to wearing it every day and frequently for long periods of time. I want a helmet that fits me, is easy to adjust, and feels comfortable. I've owned helmets that didn't quite feel right, or were hard to adjust, and it just drove me nuts.

For what it's worth, I now own two helmets. (OK, I still have any old helmets that just got too banged up and/or gross from daily use, which I use for guests or in emergencies, but I mean new/current helmets.) One is my commuting helmet. It has fewer vents and was considerably cheaper than the other one. I finally decided to get a helmet just for long rides that had better ventilation and was a tiny bit lighter. Since I blew more than my normal helmet budget on it, I'm hoping it will last longer than the commuting helmet.

And for those who wonder, helmets don't last forever. They need to be replaced. Manufacturers will say three to five years or one crash. Helmets are meant to be single use: If you crash, replace your helmet. There may be micro cracks in the foam that will compromise its ability to protect you in the future.

Because I use my helmet almost every day, constantly being carried around or locked to the bike, clipped and unclipped, bumped, pushed, pulled, adjusted, etc., my helmet gets sort of beat up and nasty after about two years. A new helmet is an inexpensive component of my transportation system. Like so many other things about a bike, I think how much a tank of gas is for the car, and then decide that I can afford to buy a new helmet when I need one.

The three things that most degrade the foam of the helmet - the part that is actually protecting your head - are: heat, sunlight, and salt. Hmmmm.... what things is my helmet likely exposed to as I go out riding in hot weather: my sweaty, hot head in bright, hot sunlight.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Seminole Hwy vs. Badger Trail: Why not use the path?

Recently, the Wisconsin State Journal ran a letter asking why bicyclists aren't using the Badger State Trail, which in some areas runs next to Seminole Hwy, instead of the road. This seems to be a common question, "There's a path right there. How come the bicyclist isn't using it? Why are they on the road? Isn't it safer on the path?"

Here is my answer:
Many of the riders you see on Seminole Hwy are going too fast for the path. Paths are not just for bicyclists, but also walkers, joggers, kids on bikes, dog walkers, and slower recreational cyclists. So if you want to go fast, either because you are in a hurry - like so many motorists - or because you are trying to get your heart rate up, the road is the proper place to bike. In the same way motorists cannot drive 55 on many narrow roads with poor sight lines or other, slower users, bicyclists should not be going 20-25 mph on the path, even when there is no one on it.
The bicyclists on the road also may not be coming or going to a location that makes the path a logical choice. Leaving the Arboretum, you use Seminole Hwy to cross the Beltline and get to many places in Fitchburg. The path crosses in a different location. Much as a bicyclist might ask, "Why is the motorist not on Verona Rd?"
The road is only unsafe if the motorists do not wait until it is safe to pass the bicyclist. I have been riding on Seminole Hwy for 20 years, and the only problems I have are when drivers are in too much of a hurry, and cannot slow down until there is a gap to pass.
All these perceived conflicts could have been avoided if Fitchburg had added bike lanes all the way down to Whalen Rd a number of years ago. But they said, "There isn't that much traffic. Bicyclists and motorists can share the lane easily." So now we have bicyclists doing exactly what the planners suggested, and the motorists being upset by that action. 

Be Bright helps Madison cyclists see and be seen

Last night on the East Isthmus Path, bicyclists who didn't have lights after dark were stopped by Madison Police. The good news for these folks is that they weren't given a $76.20 ticket, as state law and Madison ordinance allows, but instead were given a front and rear light. Yes, they had to listen to a quick safety talk and wait around while we attached the lights to their bikes, but isn't free stuff better than a ticket?

One problem with giving out free lights (or helmets), is that these programs can discourage people from making the same purchases from local bike shops. But in this case, local bike shops are very supportive, and partnered with the project by having us hand out coupons for discounts on helmets and other bike accessories. The lights that we gave out were pretty basic, and most year round, all weather, all-day-and-night commuters choose a more powerful or rechargeable light.

Bike Walk Madison organized the volunteers, and the lights were purchased at cost from Planet Bike via a grant from the Dane County Bicycle Association. If sufficient donations are received, this program will continue. If you would like to donate to the program, you can send a check to Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, with a note that it is to support the Be Bright program. Right now, they are not set up to take on line donations for this program, so please, checks only. The address is: Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin [attn: Be Bright], PO Box 1224, Madison, WI 53701-1224.

Thanks to the volunteers who came out to help out:
Jay Ferm (Advocacy Director at Planet Bike), India Viola (co-owner of We Are All Mechanics), Amanda White (Assoc Exec Dir at Bike Fed), Craig Jackson, Alex DePillis, Mitch Nussbaum, and Liz Zelandais. Unfortunately, I didn't get the names of all the MPD officers who also helped out, but Chris Masterson - a bike commuter himself - was the organizer on that end.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sidewalk closed. Use which side?

I think this finally got fixed, but the situation depicted below has been in existence for about a week. This is the 2500 block of University Ave, just a lock from my house, which is the site of two different construction projects - one on private property and one in the city street.

I'm not sure who was responsible for the signs below, but I've seen this happen before. Both sides of the street have signs telling pedestrians to use the other side. Huh?

<= south side

              north side =>

Fortunately, I can get through a construction zone, even missing parts of the sidewalk. But I always feel bad for people with limited mobility or anyone trying to push a stroller. We need to make sure that there is always a pedestrian route through construction areas.

Sidewalks are the basis of a good transportation system, and everyone is a pedestrian. Even if you drive, take the bus, or use a bike, the beginning and end of your trip are made by foot. If we can't walk easily through our neighborhoods, we have a serious problem.

Tell the Joint Finance Committee you don't want the RTA legislation repealed!

I stole the message at the end of this post from an anti-RTA email that arrived in my mailbox. Sorry about the poor formatting, but I don't have time to clean it up. All the phone numbers and names are there, but the links don't work.
For email, the format for assembly addresses is: Rep.[last name]
Senators are: Sen[last name]

Example: or

Although the die is cast - the Republicans have the votes to repeal the RTA-enabling legislation - we don't want to make it easy for them! Speak up now, and then write a letter to the editor to support transit and RTAs.

Please call or email members of the Joint Finance Committee to tell them transit is important to you and to Wisconsin.

Here are just some reasons why we need transit, and local communities need the flexibility to form RTAs: