Tag Archives: transit planning

Bike To Work Day 2013 – Preamble

First off, if you want to see the 15 minute version of Mikael Colville-Andersen’s conceptual focus on Transit Planing and urbanization, Click Here . I highly recommend it.

Friday May 17 is this year’s Bike to Work Day, and my plan is to participate. I ride in to my job about twice a month, and I would like to ramp that up to once a week. It is a 18 mile ride, each way, if I take the most direct route. All of it is on surface streets with no bike lane or other bike/ped facilities. Because of that I have to be up for an early morning departure, and a 40 mile day on the bike, with a work day sandwiched into the middle.

But BTWD is more like Opening Day for fishing season. Even the people who won’t be out on the water at any other time will make it out for the Big Day.

Just like in 2011, my plan is to participate in DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty’s ride from Cheshire to Hartford (about 30 miles, one way). Notice that the distances I am talking about are very different from the target audience for many bicycle advocacy campaigns: people who live within 5 miles of their workplace. In a region with normal urbanization that might be a healthy sampling. In Hartford it is the land of the 30-60 minute car commute. That is 15-30+ miles of roadway, much of it interstate highways. So those people (like me) have a double whammy of swapping a relatively fast and sedentary car commute for a long and sweaty 90 minute grind on the bike. The immediate options are along the lines of move closer to the workplace, or find a new job closer to your home.

Those options are based on minimal if any change in the current situation. You don’t need special lanes or traffic control or traffic calming… you just need to have a commute that doesn’t feel like you are training for an ironman competition. But where someone like Colville-Andersen comes in is completely about the future, and looking to the past as a codex for projecting how the future can be better than today. I have been following bicycle advocacy and its related branches for over a decade, and I have started to realize that I become most aggrivated/critical when I forget to view things through my preferred lens of futurism, and get dragged into the muddy waters of the status quo.

I have bloviated about the CT Fastrak project a few times and am regularly depressed regarding the way its mediocrity is its defining feature. Half of it, and not the useful half, includes bike/pedestrian lane. It crosses within a kilometer of a university campus (CCSU, my alma mater), but does not include a stop for university students/staff. It is considered a boondoggle driven by federal transt infrastructure funding, as opposed to solving an actual public need. And while it will meet/create a transit need, the lack of a distinct focus means that the peoject is easy picking for detractors.

My futurist mind sees a Fastrak system that links downtown New Britain to CCSU, and CCSU to downtown Hartford. That makes the city accessible to both univeristy people and New Britain people, without forcing them to deal with the cost of cars and parking. It makes the university accessible to the people of Hartford. There is a planned East Street station, over half a mile on foot from the CCSU Student Center. That sounds close, but it is a slog, and currently you would be walking on a combination of busy two-lane and off-campus housing streets. Is that the kind of decision you make when accomodating people, or accomodating cars? Maybe the university starts a shuttle service, but with the State University system taking cuts to essential services in each budget, I don’t see a lot of spare change around to run a shuttle service.

I’ll have a nice blog post with photos of BTWD 2013, but my feeling is that it will be a long time and many more BTWDs before the landscape supports alternatives to automobile commuting in any substantial way.

Bicycle Thoughts in Deep Winter – 2

One great resource for bicycle reading is Urban Velo magazine out of Pittsburgh. In the great tradition of mags like Tape-Op and Beer Advocate, it is a sharp focus mag with a strong identity and strong opinions. In this case Urban Velo has a fixed-gear focus with a strong undercurrent of Bike Friendly and Bike Awesome development. Check them out, and if you like them get a subscription and support them.

Been There, Haven’t Done That

As much as I like what I see in places where bikes have a place in every day life, it is not lost on me that for every Portland, OR story or Manhattan High Line, there is China. China was bike-dominated until as recently as 15 years ago, and has since given over to the automobile in a huge way. I believe that is an indicator that much of this urge to return to bike-friendly fantasy land could be seen as a First World thing, a luxury item where it is easy to want it when you don’t feel you need it. But the difference, as I see it is about where on the development continuum you are. China is a rapidly growing economy with a huge demand for western conveniences. In time they will want to be less dependent on fossil fuels and want a return to bicycle-scale transport. What “First Worlders” have in spades is the opportunity to become more flexible and less dependent. Bike lanes in places like the US could be like Social Yoga, bringing flexability back to a too-rigid frame.

Aggro Culture

In my small part of the world the bike world is dominated by “racer types”. They are nice folks and all. You know, some of my best friends wear spandex bibs! There is a kind of split in the bicycle world between “racer types” and pretty much everyone else. Everyone else rides for fitness or for enjoyment. Racer types ride in more of a competition mindset, and they typically ride faster (less differential between their speed and the speed of a car). Far from being the spandex mafia (though they are) the racer type is a good fit when you lack bike infrastructure. That physical and mental profile can get you comfortable with sharing roads that lack even the most basic bike facilities, like a shoulder with painted line. In areas with real bicycle infrastructure the rider is able to ride in a more relaxed fashion, in normal clothes, at a more moderate pace. The bicyclists we see in Amsterdam, or Copenhagen, or Montreal for that matter, don’t have to duke it out with inattentive drivers on their commute. The “barrier to entry” is much lower, and in the best cases the barrier is actually higher for automobiles. As opposed to some cases where there is a “chicken or egg” paradox, in transit there is no paradox. The transit follows the path of least resistance. The best infrastructure provides the least resistance. If we had throngs of square-peg dorks on Dutch Bikes clogging up secondary roads it would be obvious, but in the case of suburban New England, the bikes are the effect, not the cause.

Back to the Future

To tie back in with the previous post: In central Connecticut, I think that the pessimism over Fastrak is based on lack of experience with successful transit projects. We have a popular rail-to-trail system that recreational bicyclists love, but it does not act as a commuter route for most users. That is recreation infrastructure (linear park) but it is a bad example for a commuter solution. The target for Fastrak is getting people into Hartford for work or entertainment, and then home safely. As the Capitol of Connecticut, and one of the most commuter-intensive cities I have ever been around, there is hope that demand for a better/cheaper solution to local transportation should be a winner. The on-the-books population of Hartford is roughly 125,000, but the “daytime” work week population gain is anywhere from 70,000 and up depending on your data source. A city that bloats from 125,000 to 200,000 in the morning and then deflates by 6pm. That is a commuter rich environment, and an option poor environment.

One of the weirdest arguments is that nobody will use infrastructure. Every example seems to point in the opposite direction. We have Metro North rail system linking the shoreline from New Haven to NYC and beyond. It is positively clogged with riders, and any increase in capacity is filled in short order. We have rail-to-trail and greenway projects that are again, filled to the brim with walkers, bikers, strollers, birders, and if you want to observe the Yeti-like rollerblade, that’s where you go. The same for State Park infrastructure, rivers with fishing and swimming, and boating opportunities, and infrastructure of their own. So we can assume that if you build it, people use it. Just as in those scenarios we can facilitate that use, just as we have done by connecting hundreds of thousands of rural residents to highways and malls with vast networks of solid two-lane. Nobody is asking for infrastructure at that level, but the scale shows how resources are allocated to support a single mode of transportation.