Rolling Along: Friendly is as friendly does

I’ve never considered Lawrence or Kansas to be particularly bicycle-unfriendly, in part because, with the exception of the time I saw a hot, grumpy, tired and possibly bonking cyclist taking out his frustrations on a balky derailleur with a tire lever (oh, wait, that was me), I’ve never really witnessed anyone show any emotion at all toward a bike.

So I’ve always been somewhat amused that the League of American Bicyclists (not to be confused with the Extraordinary Gentlemen) honors Bicycle Friendly communities, businesses and universities. According to the League, “The Bicycle Friendly America program provides incentives, hands-on assistance, and award recognition for communities, universities and businesses that actively support bicycling, and ranks states annually based on their level of bike-friendliness.”

The funny part, of course, is that any community, university or business would be friendly toward a bicycle, which would so not appreciate the gesture, when it could make nice with, say, a bicyclist instead.

Whatevs.

Anyway, Kansas isn’t particularly kinds to its bikes. The state ranks 34th nationally, with just three Bicycle Friendly Communities (BFCs), three Bicycle Friendly Businesses (BFBs) and zippo Bicycle Friendly Universities (BFUs). BFD.

The communities, you’ll be glad to know, are Shawnee, Manhattan and … Lawrence. All three barely make the list at the “bronze” level.

One of the BFBs is Lawrence’s Anderson Rentals, Inc.

So, yay for us.

All of which, of course, means exactly bupkus when it comes to pedaling the not-so-mean streets.

That said, I just returned from a week in the cycling Nirvana of Seattle (see what I did there? Nirvana? Seattle?).

Nice rack.

Nice rack. by Andrew Hartsock

Washington ranks No. 1 in the country, according to the League, in bicycle-friendliness, and Seattle is a “gold” BFC. Only three cities — Boulder, Colo.; Davis, Calif.; and Portland, Ore. — get the more-precious “platinum” designation.

And after a week in the glorious Pacific Northwest, where the temperature never rose above 62, I can see why Seattle is so highly regarded by the League.

Everywhere I looked there was infrastructure in place to facilitate cycling: multi-use trails, sharrows, signage, bike lanes and bike racks galore.

Protection from the elements.

Protection from the elements. by Andrew Hartsock

So that's the inside parking.

So that's the inside parking. by Andrew Hartsock

I’m sure the weather contributes to it, too. Did I mention it never rose above 62? That makes for a much more pleasant ride than the triple-digit swelter with which I was greeted upon my return. I literally stuck to my saddle during my first ride back. Unsee that, if you can.

I noticed one thing in particular. I was only there a week, but in all that time I never once heard a honk directed at a cyclist (or a cycle). It’s not that Seattlers (Seattlans? Seattlinos?) don’t honk. I’d say they’re just as horn-y as any other city dweller, and I heard plenty of horns, but none that I could tell were directed at a cyclist.

It’s not that the cyclists are any better at it. I saw cyclists blow through stop lights and turn without signals and take whole lanes and strangle cute baby koalas and all the other things that so infuriate noncyclists, but maybe the whole hippy-dippy Pacific Northwest vibe just makes it easier to turn the other cheek.

Or maybe it’s the coffee.

You can’t swing a half-caf dry cappuccino without hitting a Starbucks (how, I wondered time and again, can a city the size of Seattle support sometimes three Starbucks PER SQUARE BLOCK?). Intuitively, I’d figure the more caffeinated the driver, the more likely he’d take exception to, well, anybody. But the whole Seattle vibe is mellow, man, not jittery.

It’s a mystery, but any city that likes its bikes and its coffee as much as Seattle is OK by me.

The fuel that powers Seattle.

The fuel that powers Seattle. by Andrew Hartsock

Tagged: bike commuting, bike, bicycle, bicycle commuting

Comments

Marilyn Hull 2 years, 4 months ago

Andrew:

What are the top three things you think Lawrence should do to become more bicyclist friendly in reality? No magic wands are available, so your suggestions have to be realistic given economic realities.

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Craig Weinaug 2 years, 4 months ago

Marlyn: I just noticed that your question was directed at Andrew, but here three relatively low cost suggestions. If I am not limited to three ideas, I could give you more:

1) City ordinances require a cyclist who is riding on the sidewalk to dismount at every intersection and walk across the intersection. No one does it. Which means that any car hitting a cyclisit riding in a crosswalk is not at fault in the car hits any cyclist who is riding in the crosswalk. Change the ordinance.

2) Get rid of speed bumps that are constructed halfway across bike lanes. The edge of the speed bump can knock a cyclist down, and the bike lane channels the cyclist to the precise spot on the speed bump that can knock a cycist down. Speed bumps are a good idea and bike lanes are a good idea. However the two devices do not work well together.

3) Islands that are placed in the middle of roads such as Louisiana to slow traffic down, and bike lanes, do not work well together. Cars speed up to beat the cyclist past the islands, and the driver of the car inevitably underestimate the speed of the cyclist in the bike lane. I have almost been run over by cars trying to beat me past the island on several occasions. I predict that it is only a matter of time before there is a serrious bike-car accident at one of these islands.

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Marilyn Hull 2 years, 4 months ago

Thanks, Craig. Do you know if the Bicycle Advisory Committee is working on any of these?

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blturner 2 years, 3 months ago

Completely agree with number 3. My standard practice with those islands was to move into the middle of the lane before entering the island, preventing cars behind me from being able to try and beat me through. I had multiple experiences with drivers trying to beat me to the island and nearly squeezing me off the road.

A suggestion for improving cycling-friendliness would be organizing Bike Trains to School:

"in which an adult chaperone rides a predetermined route, picking up children along the way—are a way to make it easier, and safer, for kids to bike to school." - http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/how-to-build-a-bike-train

Not only does it educate children about cycling and get them exercise, but it also raises awareness throughout the community.

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Andrew Hartsock 2 years, 3 months ago

Marilyn: Sorry I didn't reply earlier. I just now saw that you commented; I promise I wasn't ignoring you. You ask a good question, which will require me to think about it a little bit (I think like I ride -- slowly). Rather than just reply, I'll make a blog entry about it, sometime in the next couple of weeks. Thanks for your interest, comment and patience.

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Marilyn Hull 2 years, 3 months ago

I will look forward to your answer.

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Leslie Swearingen 2 years, 4 months ago

Excellent blog, I love your writing style. Do you think that a lot of people in Lawrence really hate anyone who does not drive? Just think of the comments on here about the bus, both the T and the KU, riding a bicycle and walking.
Pedestrians take their lives in their hands every time they cross a street. I wonder how Lawrence ranks on creative interpatation of the driving rules?

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tvc 2 years, 3 months ago

Craig, what if they are on a designated bike path, are they still required to walk at intersections?

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Craig Weinaug 2 years, 3 months ago

I think that the answer is still yes. (and I violate that law about 150 times every day).

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blturner 2 years, 3 months ago

I'm nearing a year living in Seattle, having moved from Lawrence where my only mode of transportation was my bicycle. The cycling infrastructure in Seattle is a breath of fresh air, but ask any Seattlite, and they'll say the city needs to do even more to make the city safer for cyclists. It's this attitude, that there's always something that can be done better, that makes the difference.

As for what influences drivers' interactions with cyclists, I'd say a big part of it has to do with the fact that there are just a lot of cyclists here, so if you're driving a car, you have to expect you'll be interacting with cyclists. Nearly all of the major streets accommodate cyclists and cars. Another point is that it is easier, and in most cases faster to get somewhere in the city by bike. Not to mention parking!

Nice shot inside Vivacé, btw. ;)

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