Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I Get 696 MPG (take that Prius), How About you?

Reading Bike Girl's blog, I stumbled upon a calculator that does some magical mathematics. It spits out an approximate estimate of a cyclists miles per gallon equivalent from calories burned based on weight and average speed. Although cyclists are often fond of saying we get infinite MPG, that neglects the extra calories we consume for energy. The calculator over simplifies things a bit, but coming up with something exact would require so many variable as to become rather convoluted. So based on my weight and a average cruising speed of 16 mph when I'm not racing about, I get approximately 696 MPG. Pretty sweet.

I think it's useful to look at these sorts of comparisons in transportation to emphasize the advantages to converting trips to alternative means, especially shorter ones to being made by cycling and walking. Vehicles like the Toyota Prius are baby step in terms of efficiency, but marketing has many believing it's the de facto symbol of living green. It's not. The person commuting by bus every day may not even be thinking of it as an eco thing to do, but they are getting more MPG per passenger mile than a Prius driver will ever get in even the most ideal of conditions. As hybrid technology makes it's way into more and more bus fleets, that gap will only widen in favor of transit. If two commuters car pool in a car getting only 28 MPG, they are already beating a single occupant Prius driver in efficiency. Make it a party of 3 and the lone green driver is not looking so green anymore. In consumer research it was revealed 57% of Prius owners cited "Makes a statement about me", as their top reason for buying the car. Fuel Economy ranked 36% for comparison. It's not about being green, it's about looking green. We cannot let automobile companies get away with repainting them selves stewards of the planet while walking, cycling, and transit struggle for mind share and funding. The abysmal participation of car pooling today should not be considered acceptable.


And don't even get me started about the land use efficiency differences between cycling, transit and driving, which has nothing to do with fuel source. If today we magically converted all cars to full electric, and magically expanded our energy grid with all renewable power to handle the capacity (an unlikely scenario any time remotely soon), we would still be left with a laundry list of problems. The freeways and boulevards jammed with all electric cars, are still traffic jams. Much of the valuable land in our cities would still be parking lots. Tens of thousands of Americans would still die in automobile crashes every year. We cannot save the planet and improve quality of life in our cities with new engines alone. Sometimes it's the low tech solutions that make the biggest difference. If every able bodied American converted all trips 2 miles or less to cycling and walking, the impact would be many times more profound than the latest hybrid inching up a few MPG.

Venice Bicycles

Friday, March 27, 2009

Gone Racing

At The Criterium

This Sunday is the LA Circuit Race, my second official race of the season (Feel My Legs was not USAC sanctioned, but totally sanctioned with awesome). A circuit race is basically a road race on a closed loop. For the purposes of race classification a circuit race (CT) is typically shorter in length and duration than a full road race (RR), but longer than a criterium (Crit). Crits are often on courses around a mile long around a city block with many laps, while the two circuit races I've done before were a couple miles along a single road with u-turns at both ends and fewer laps. To think of an analogy, a crit is like a dog chasing it's tail hopped up on sugar and caffeine, a circuit race is a dog excitedly running for a Frisbee and returning it for a few throws, and a road race is the dog ran away so far you can't see where he went too anymore, but later find him panting and starved for food in the hills somewhere.

This particular circuit race is special to me for a couple reasons. It's right next to where I went to college, and it happens to be on one of my favorite stretches of road in Los Angeles. It's on Westchester Parkway, just North of LAX, but with no traffic into or out of the airport. It's wide, impeccably paved, low automobile traffic, with a wide bike lane and a wide shoulder to the right of that. It's built to handle a level of traffic it never sees, except for perhaps this race every year.

The LACBC, continuing it's effort to reach out to more cyclists will be offering bike valet at the event. Car parking will be limited so if any curious readers want to check out some local racing, I highly recommend cycling, transit (BBB #3) or car-pooling to the race. I'm fond of this one because it's just the right distance from my house for the ride over to be a good warm up. If anyone is interested in watching this noob ride around really fast, I'm in the mens category 5 group A race at 4:30pm.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Feel My Legs, I'm a Racer. A Ride Of Suffering, Glory, And Vegan Corndogs.

Me Up Fargo
(Me climbing Fargo, 32% grade. Photography in this post by Ingrid Peterson)

On the 14th I participated in Swarm!'s annual Feel My Legs, I'm a Racer. This is basically an insane stage race, but instead of each stage being a variety of terrains, every stage is a short distance ridiculously steep hill. All are done in a day riding casually between each of the 10 hill stages, which actually felt great as recovery to be riding normal grades for a bit between each race. When I say ridiculous, I really mean it, who the hell thought it was a good idea to pave these things. Two of these streets, Eldred St. and Fargo St., are on the list of steepest streets in the world, taking spots 3 and 4 respectively. Looking at Fargo from the bottom, it appears almost to be some kind of launch ramp into outerspace. People tend to think of San Fransisco when they think of hills, but L.A., where it is hilly, has some monsters that put anything in S.F. to shame.

You might think with the intimidation factor of over 30% grade climbing, that's 30 ft up for 100 ft forward, and this being an underground sort of event, that you wouldn't see much of a turn out, but there were plenty of eager souls curious of the pain that lay in wait. Some came to race up the hills, some came just to see if they could do them at all, and some came just to watch other people hurt them selves. In all I think there were probably at least 40 at the start, and maybe 25 by the finish.


At the top of Baxter, one of the steeper of the 10 hills that day, a school bus beached it self at the top like a whale, unable to handle the sudden change in grade. We also watched a motorcyclist get just short of cresting Baxter when his rear wheel started spinning out. He had to get off and push the bike while accelerating to get it that last couple feet. It made the accomplishment of doing it on a bicycle feel a little more special.

After a brutal 10 rounds of quad exploding excitement, it came down to a tie for points between Swarm! riders Jack Lindquist and Brian Davidson. Some 1 on 1 tie breaker scenarios were envisioned by some, but it was decided best to leave it as two victors.

Needless to say we were all starving for food to put in face after such a ride, and what better than a giant vegan potluck to subdue the pain. The food was all delicious, and what a sight to be so hungry and see home dipped vegan corn dogs being handed out like candy. I give huge props to all the kind folks who prepared food and treats for us very hungry cyclists. As much energy as we burned climbing those hills I'm pretty sure I broke even for calories on all the yummy, yummy foods. Mmm vegan cupcakes. Eat to ride, ride to eat or something other, how ever that saying goes.

Watching the talented individuals who made up the front of the pack on every race, I learned a valuable lesson in the need for more hill training. I consider my self a pretty fast sprinter on flat ground, and I thought I was a pretty strong climber too, but not strong enough. It was quite a different sort of racing to be all up hill the whole time. Maybe next year I can be in the running for some bragging rights, because that is all you get, no entry fees, no prizes, it's only for the glory.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Priorities

-Never realized 1996-2002 LA citywide bicycle master plan, $60 Million
-Repaving 3 Miles of the 710 Freeway, $75 Million
-Average annual costs of Los Angeles auto accidents, $10.5 billion
-Construction of a single car parking space in a multilevel garage, $7,000+
-Per bicycle parking space on a typical U-wave rack, $50+

Creating infrastructure for bicycles isn't about the money, our costs are cheap comparatively, it's about political will.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Car Free Vacation, Adventure On Two Wheels

Bike Lane, Rail Road, & Highway, A Pacific Coast Transportation Layer Cake

The latest form of cycling that I've become passionate about is touring. This is where you pack your bags, load em on to the bike and go ride, find a suitable place to camp, and keep doing this until obligations reel you back into reality. I mentioned briefly my first adventure of this sort with Meghan from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara over 3 days, with Amtrak to get to the start and the last leg home. Well recently Meghan and I set out again, this time from L.A. to San Diego in 2 days, and again Amtrak for the ride home. So far both trips have involved stopping off to a Mission, which was exciting for me because as a California native we learn about them in school, but I never actually saw any of them before.

Mixing train and bike travel is a great and economical way to get out and explore California, especially when your free time is limited and a round trip by bike is impractical. The pace of bike riding gives you a completely different perspective on travel than everything blurring by in an automobile. It's not something for the beginner cyclist, but with a little base training it's pretty easy to go far even with all the gear on the bike. With the right training and maintaining a comfortable pace you can just about ride forever..

When I get some more time I'll write some specific tips about touring and some of my experiences and perspective on it. In the mean time I'll leave you with a link to Russ Roca's touring focused blog, The Epicurean Cyclist, which inspired Meghan to start planning our first trip, and a few photos of our journeys so far below.

San Luis Obispo To Santa Barbara:

Meghan On Amtrak

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

On The Road

Victory Over First Big Climb

Margo Dodd Park Panorama View

Gaviota State Beach

Meghan At Our Gaviota State Park Camp Site

The Fog



Long Beach To San Diego:


Pacific Coast Highway

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Meghan + Lens Flare

Our Camp Site

Stopping For The View

On The Path Less Traveled

Getting Ready For The Last Stretch

Bicycle Public Sculpture, We Made It To San Diego

[Flick Collection Of Bicycle Touring]

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cutting Through Party Lines, Why Cycling Shouldn't Be A Democrat Versus Republican Issue

BicycleEleBox1

Cycling as a political issue has little support by any political party save for the mostly invisible U.S. Green party, but the support we do get tends to come from Democrats, and some of the most vocal critics of cycling are hard-line Republicans (looking at you Patrick McHenry). Personally I'm more liberal, as are many of my cycling friends, except for my libertarian leaning cycling girlfriend, which makes for some fun intellectual debates and then we kiss and make up. But where ever you are coming from, there are a number of good reasons cycling should be embraced regardless of political party or ideology.

Cyclists have often been type cast in the role of granola eating tree huggers (I'm somewhat guilty of this), but the reality is people riding bikes come from all sorts of backgrounds, income levels, and have various personalities and political ideologies. Since most people view cycling as a liberal thing, I'm going to focus on why cycling should be embraced as a conservative thing too.

One of the hall marks of conservative ideology, is the concept of being fiscally conservative. Now the Republican party has drifted from that concept for quite a long time, and all of the biggest deficits of the past several decades have been under Republican presidents. But lets pretend for a moment that Republicans stand for fiscal conservatism.

Well nothing is as fiscally conservative and self reliant as riding a bike. There is little operating subsidy involved in riding a bike, unlike the billions and billions and even more billions we spend in tax payer dollars maintaining leviathan freeways with left overs going to public transit networks. Compared to motorists, we take up less space on roads, do less damage to them, and the dedicated paths we do have are comparatively cheap to maintain compared to auto sized roads. When it comes to parking, the space of a single car space is enough to fill an entire rack of bicycles. Cyclists are fueled by food and not barrels of imported oil, and our vehicle maintenance is generally a few little tweaks and some drops of lubricant. Since we spend less on transportation we have more money to spend on other sectors of the economy.

So encouraging more cycling through safer infrastructure (safety is often the most common cited reason keeping people off the bike) and better accommodations would in fact save money and reduce foreign oil dependence. Many republicans were quick to point to drilling for more oil as a solution, despite the limited supplies we have left to tap. However using less of the supply we already have is the most immediate and effective way to reach greater national self sufficiency. NYC Mayor Bloomberg, often described as an anomaly on the conventional political spectrum, but widely cited as a fiscal conservative despite liberal social policy, describes fiscal conservatism as doing more with less. The bicycle is a perfect example of doing more with less, as it burns even less energy (in calories) than even walking to get around. New York city is now embarking on long term strategies to promote cycling through infrastructure improvements, and other cities should be taking note of this.

Looking beyond just the energy use, there are other savings as well. Despite however much people are afraid of being killed by a car, statistically the life and health enhancing qualities of cycling are more likely to result in you living longer than shorter, and with less medical complications later in life. This is especially true if you remove the most hazardous road cycling behaviors like riding at night without lights, and riding against traffic, which result in most cycling fatalities. Cyclists typically also take less sick days from work. So compared to a typical automobile commuter we use less energy, less material resources, less land space, are more productive and have less medical costs.

Despite all these reasons that cycling should be equated with fiscal conservatism, sadly there are divisive Republican politicians and political personalities that seek to keep cycling a partisan issue. They sometimes even use political support for cycling among opposing candidates as an excuse to smear them, and will openly ridicule riding a bike as a product of the 19th century and claim it is no longer relevant. This in spite of the fact in America 40% of trips made are within 2 miles, a very easy cycling distance, and even 25% of trips are under a mile.

Rush Limbaugh, a talk show host with a massive conservative listener base and GOP leaders groveling to apologize when ever they cross him, what does he have to say on cycling? "Frankly, if the door opens into a bicycle rider I won't care. I think they ought to be off the streets and on the sidewalk." [Rush Limbaugh, Story #8] This comment is hardly surprising to me after reading Bicycling And The Law, which includes numerous references to radio hosts in some cases outright advocating for listeners to injure cyclists intentionally.

What ever the politicians and radio hosts say, there are a number of valid reasons cycling should not be a partisan issue. If the Republican party wants to remain relevant, or have any semblance of true fiscal conservatism, they should not be making cyclists into their enemy. And for cyclists seeking to advance our transportation mode, we need to be reaching out to everyone, liberals and conservatives alike. We have to convince everyone, even those who may strongly disagree with us, why cycling for transportation is a worthy investment.

Monday, March 9, 2009

ACTION ALERT! Expo Line Bike Path In Danger!


As you may be aware, the MTA is building a new rail line along the old Exposition rail right of way, to connect first Downtown L.A. to Culver City, and then finally to Santa Monica in phase II. One of the promised features of this light rail line would be that it would have an adjacent bike path much like the bus rapid transit (BRT) Orange Line in the Valley. This would create a dedicated bikeway stretching all the way from the Coast to Downtown, and will make the "last mile" problem a little easier for those mixing bike and public transit. There is a problem though. The environmental review for Phase II is missing the bikeway portion. The Expo Construction Authority wants the cities to pay for the rest of the study, which may not happen, or may delay the bikeway. If construction were allowed to start without the bikeway included it may at worst never happen, and if it does, it will cost significantly more than if it were done simultaneously with rail construction.

This is unacceptable, and time is unfortunately running out to do something about it. The LACBC has sent out the action alert below with details about who you should contact about this issue and examples of points to bring up. I know we all get crazy busy sometimes, my self doubly included, but when you get a chance I urge you to follow up on this. Especially coming out of the LA Bike Summit, it is clear that if we are going to get things done in this city we need to become the squeaky wheel. So lets get squeaking!




Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition

EXPO LIGHT RAIL ACTION ALERT!
TAKE ACTION TODAY!
BACKGROUND:

A new light rail line, called the Expo Line, will eventually extend from downtown to Santa Monica. The project is divided into two phases. Phase I is under construction and will end at Robertson & Venice in Culver City. Phase II will extend the line from there to Santa Monica. Phase II is still in planning phase and a draft environmental impact report was released last week.

One of items that have been promised for the Expo Line is a bikeway adjacent to the train line. This would create a continuous bikeway from Santa Monica to downtown if it were built!

Recently, the Expo Construction Authority (Expo) decided NOT to include the bikeway in the environmental review for Expo Phase 2, to avoid the burden of doing a federal environmental impact statement. Thus, there is no central authority coordinating engineering and construction of the bikeway.

Now, there are serious uncertainties about how, when or if an Expo Bikeway will ever be built!
As cyclists, we need to demand that the bike path be built simultaneously with the rail line!

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
TAKE ACTION NOW!

1) Comment on DEIR! Comments are due March 13th!


2) E-mail key decisionmakers! See contact info below

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

KEY POINTS TO MAKE:
· The bikeway must be built simultaneously with the Expo Line. If it is not included in the environmental review, we need a commitment and a plan from Expo on engineering and construction will happen.
· If the Expo Bikeway is not built at the same time as the rail line, costs will increase dramatically and construction difficulties will arise if Expo does not provide space for the bike path.
· The goal of the Expo Line is to reduce auto use. The bikeway is a critical component for achieving this. It can deliver transit users to stations without car trips and provides a much-needed crosstown commuter bikeway.
· Expo will be starting preliminary engineering soon. The bikeway must be included in this.
· The Expo Bikeway is a wonderful opportunity to expand our network of safe bike routes for a growing community of cyclists.

Send comments via e-mail to ALL people below:

Jan Perry
Jan.Perry@lacity.org
Expo Board Chair and LA City Council Member, 9th District


Herb Wesson,Jr.
councilmember.wesson@lacity.org
Expo Board Vice-Chair and LA City Council Member, 10th District


Pam O'Connor
pam.oconnor@smgov.net
Expo and Metro Board Member, Santa Monica City Council Member

Zev Yaroslavsky
zev@bos.lacounty.gov
Expo and Metro Board Member, LA County Supervisor, Third District

Scott Malsin
scott.malsin@culvercity.org
Expo Board Member, Mayor, Culver City

Bernard Parks
councilmember.parks@lacity.org
Expo Board Member, LA City Council Member, 8th district

Mark Ridley-Thomas
seconddistrict@bos.lacounty.gov
Expo Board Member, L.A. County Supervisor, Second District

Reporting Back From The LA Bike Summit

Biketopia, Urban Design Model

The LA Bike Summit was highly informative thanks to great speakers and workshop hosts, but I think one of the most important things was connecting all the dots between LA bike activists. The turn out was big and I got to meet face to face a lot of the people who's blogs I read, and who read my blog as well. I think this was just the sort of jolt L.A. bike activism needed to really start brainstorming and making connections. It was also great to hear first hand some of the hurdles and accomplishments of other cities like New York, Portland (so jealous), and sprawling Mexico city, which faces even greater transportation problems than Los Angeles.

Question And Answer Session With Keynote Speakers
(Eleanor Blue Of BikePortland.org with other Keynote speakers during Q&A)

The Bike Summit was a lot to take in. It felt like a temporary bike school with everyone rushing around to different classes, all of them about developing bike culture and infrastructure. Choosing between the different topics and workshops was often difficult with so many relevant subjects and great speakers. I attended work shops on Women and Bikes (hosted by CICLE), Advocacy in Action (LACBC), and In Pursuit Of The North American Carfree Family (BikePortland).

The Crowd

I took a lot of notes, and in the weeks ahead I'll be referencing some of the things discussed in future blog posts. We can no longer accept the status quo, it should not take 3 1/2 years to put some paint on the ground. We have to work toward a collective push for real city planning and development. Planning that takes into account pedestrians, cyclists and transit users at every step of the way, and not as an after thought. Viva La Velorution!

Chinese Theatre
(Photo by Alex Thompson)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Today's Observations From The Street, Electric Assist Bikes & Joggers

Bike Lane Icon

In the past I have encountered the occasional gas powered mo-ped with what I refer to as transportation identity crisis. This is when a mo-ped rides the line between open vehicle lane and bike lane, not quite sure where they belong and haphazardly weaving into the bike lane when ever a car spooks them. Well today was my first time seeing a true blue electric assist bicycle, riding proper and straight as an arrow in the bike lane. I was riding down Broadway when a gentlemen passed me, this was odd to me because first of all rarely does someone pass me, even when I am not trying to go fast, and second of all this man did not look like he was in cycling shape.

Then I heard the barely audible hum of the electric motor that gave his pedaling a boost. Naturally being the competitive sort that I am I did the immature thing of on the following block kicking my cadence up a notch and passing him, not wanting to be beat by the hybrid man machine interface. Though obviously this was not a race, I still like to win. So anyways.. these bikes are still kind of pricey, but if they can help the average person ride at the pace of a more competitive cyclist, then this might be one key to getting more people out of their cars. I hear the little electric motors suffer on extremely steep climbs, but most people commute along routes of rolling hills and flats. Anyone have any personal experience with these electric motor assist bikes?

Then on my evening commute I came inches from slamming into joggers running two abreast against traffic in the bike lane. I try to be accommodating to the idea of all sorts of street users, but I seriously worry about slamming into a jogger by accident one of these days. In the day time on a wide bike lane like San Vicente, this doesn't bother me too much, I see them from far back and have room to go around. However at night on a dark portion of Santa Monica's narrow Broadway this is just asking for trouble.

I was riding fast, and the joggers were wearing non reflective clothing. I saw them at the last second and swerved left being careful to not go too far over as I was flanked by car traffic. On the sidewalk, foot traffic has the right away always, and if a cyclist chooses to ride there, they are obligated to go around the pedestrians and alert them when passing. However on the street, and especially in the bike lane, it's my right of way, and I don't think I should be obligated to swerve into automobile traffic to dodge people running at me. If you have any close call stories like this, feel free to leave them in comments. Perhaps this is an offshoot of the exercise folks being kicked out of traffic medians in Santa Monica, so now they are flocking to bike lanes.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Los Angeles Bike Summit

Bike Parking

This weekend is the Los Angeles Bike Summit, to gather together activists and cyclists of all stripes to discuss the future of improving conditions for our growing movement of cyclists and continuing to grow our numbers.
"In Southern California, the growth and interest in bike riding and bike advocacy has increased to the point that the movement could significantly benefit from the formation of a common agenda. Bike organizations, including policy and grass roots groups, need to present a stronger, more unified front and a shared vision by combining communication, outreach, research and educational resources. This partnership will help to not only strengthen the presence of biking as an alternative to driving and a source of physical activity, but will help to create a more livable and sustainable region.

The Los Angeles Bike Summit is the next step to facilitate this discussion and collaboration of bike organizations, support groups, and advocates. "
So if you're looking to get more involved, or nerd out at the prospect of listening to lectures on things such as bicycle boulevards and sharrows, this Saturday is your chance. I hear some of our enlightened neighbors from the North in Portland are coming down to talk bike. Considering Portland has drastically improved conditions for cyclists and increased bike traffic to some of the highest in the Nation, I'm sure there is a lot we can learn from them.

We're picking up some momentum in L.A. and catching the attention of city council members, lets keep it up and push harder then ever for a cycling friendly city. I think it's rather twisted that Los Angeles. with probably some of the most ideal weather for cycling on the planet, lags behind cold damp places like Portland, Chicago, and New York. We need to demand better.



For complete details and schedule for the workshops check out the site.
Saturday March 7, 2009 from 9am to 4pm
Los Angeles Trade Tech College map/directions