CategoryEducation

Do you attend a bike friendly university?

Via TucsonVelo, I read that the League of American Bicyclists launched “Bicycle Friendly University” at Pro Walk Pro Bike, September, 2010.

Campuses are ideal laboratories to encourage and inspire the next generation to continue biking in post‐college life. “The program will demonstrate the many benefits of achieving aspirational levels of bicycle safety and infrastructure, while providing campuses with a roadmap to get there. It’s a win/win for everyone,” said Ariadne Delon Scott, bicycle program coordinator at Stanford University.

I filled out this questionnaire on behalf of the University of Illinois at Chicago, my alma mater, and its staff and students. Textual answers below.

If you think I selected the wrong answer, let me know.

ENGINEERING

  • Does your campus have a comprehensive, connected and well-maintained bicycling network? No
  • Is bike parking readily available throughout the campus? Yes. There are tons of bike racks everywhere. Some places need more and some places have too much, but the University doesn’t seem interested in redistributing them.
  • Is the college or university easily accessible by bike? Yes. There are numerous bike lanes and slow streets. Also several bus routes and one 24-hour L line (for multi-modal traveling).

EDUCATION

  • Does the college or university offer bicycling education classes for students and staff? No
  • Are there classes for campus motorists on how to share the road with cyclists? No

ENCOURAGEMENT

  • Does your college or university have an up-to-date bicycle map? No. The City of Chicago produced a UIC bicycle map in 20o5, and nothing has changed, so I guess it’s up-to-date.
  • Are there incentives offered for students and staff that commute by bike? No
  • Is there an active bicycle advocacy group at the college or university? No
  • Is there an on-campus bike center for rentals and repairs? No

ENFORCEMENT

  • Do campus safety/law enforcement officers receive training on the rights and responsibilities of all road users? Yes. I found this out during an email conversation with Commander Frank J. Cappitelli, PhD.
  • Does your campus have law enforcement or other public safety officers on bikes? Yes. Although I sometimes see them exhibiting illegal bicycling behavior like riding on the sidewalk and crossing against signals.
  • Is there a program on campus to prevent bike theft? No

EVALUATION

  • Is there an institutional plan or program to reduce bicyclist crashes? No
  • Does your college or university have a current comprehensive bicycle plan? No. This one’s debatable. Bicycling is part of the 2009 Master Plan with recommendations to mark new streets with bike lanes or shared lanes. It also proposes bike sharing and separated bike paths.
  • Does your college or university have a bicycle program manager? No

Your score: 4 points.

Score 0-7: Your college/university probably has some improvements to make before being designated as a BFU – but keep up the great work! Call us and we’ll tell you more about the strengths (and weaknesses) your scorecard reveals. Download the BFU application and let us help you start implementing an action plan.

New blogs I like

Now that I’m without a job, I’ll have more time for reading, commenting, and writing. And job finding. I just started reading these two blogs today and they’re quite exciting. Both blogs started this year.

  • MAX FAQS – MAX means Metropolitan Area Express, the name for Portland, Oregon’s regional light rail system. I’m not sure who writes it (that’s left out on the introduction post), but they’ve very knowledgeable about the operations of TriMet and light rail in general.

Two trains at the Rose Quarter Transit Center, northwest of the busy and multi-modal Steel Bridge in Portland, Oregon.

Sustainability is more than individuals installing rain barrels to water their lawn (for free). But we all should so less water goes down the drain and into costly water treatment plants.

MBAC meeting now online

In a small victory for open government (Gov 2.0), one new City of Chicago meeting has gone “live.”

Well, it was live two Wednesdays ago (if you showed up at City Hall at 3 PM on the 11th floor*), but you can watch the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council on Ustream. Thanks to Jim Limber for setting up the webcam and streaming it. I haven’t watched it yet; you can also read the meeting minutes and see one of the distributed handouts.

MBAC is where people involved in bicycle projects come together to talk about them. It includes riding and racing clubs, police, city agencies, CTA, advocacy groups, messengers, and regular citizens.

An MBAC meeting in June 2009. This was a special meeting and the only relevant photo I had for this blog post.

*I missed this MBAC; first one since working at the Chicago Department of Transportation, where I started in October 2007. I’ll be leaving at the end of this month and I’m looking for new employment. You can hire me.

Can we use location-based services to make urban planning “rise”?

Facebook launched a feature called Places that allows its users to “check in” to Places and to see where their friends are. People can also see where the most popular venue is at any given time (provided they have friends there).

SeeClickFix has mobile apps (and a website) that enables users (in participating locales) to report issues (like graffiti and potholes) in their neighborhoods.

Augmented reality apps for smartphones overlay the virtual world (of yellow pages and restaurant reviews) on the physical world depending on where you point your phone’s camera.

Is there something (an app, a concept, a teaching) that we can develop that uses these apps or the same technology to raise awareness of “urban planning” in all of our cities’ citizens? Such a scheme would attempt to educate and involve more people into the city’s social, cultural and built environments, the urban fabric (buzzword alert!), as well as the history of their surroundings.

Possible scenarios

1. While riding the train through a neighborhood, the new location-based service that encompasses everything about urban planning might aggregate information relevant to the location and activity. Perhaps the application would display to the user information about the history of this particular elevated train’s construction on this branch as well as pull up information on upcoming schedule changes. Lastly, the transit operator may ask the user to take a survey about this particular trip, looking for information on how the user accessed the station (via bike, walking, car, or bus?).

2. My friend Brandon Souba created a proof-of-concept app called Handshake that tells you about nearby app users with similar interests. But this hardly raises civic or urban awareness. Maybe non-profit organizations who need volunteers could create profiles in Handshake and when you’re near a staff member or the headquarters, your phone alerts you to a possible volunteer opportunity.

3. What are your ideas?

Witness appeal

In London and Greater London (but not the City of London), when the Metropolitan Police want the public’s help in their investigations of incidents and crimes, including traffic collisions, they erect “Witness Appeal Signs” near the scene.

“We are appealing for witnesses.” Singapore also uses these signs.

It seems in 2009, though, the Metropolitan Police banned the use of the signs except for traffic collisions. Some research indicated that the public perceived that, due to the presence of the signs, crime in the neighborhood was increasing. The Daily Mail article quoted one officer to say:

“They were placed where the crimes actually happened, so were very much targeted at people who might have seen something. Now that source of information has been cut off…”

The signs are placed and designed in such a way to be seen by people walking, biking, and driving near the scene of the incident.

How effective is this small sign posted on a pole compared to a bright Witness Appeal Sign in London?

I suggest that American police departments, Chicago’s included, look into installing similar signs for the most severe traffic collisions, starting with a bilingual “witness appeal sign” for the hit & run crash in Pilsen that killed Martha Gonzalez.

Volunteering is up

For 8 weeks within December, January and February, I was without employment.

I was temporarily laid off. So I volunteered. As did millions of other people. A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released on January 26, 2010, puts the overall number of volunteers in September 2009 at 63.4 million people. So far in 2010, I’ve put in 27 hours at a social services organization. Last year, I volunteered 9 hours at two organizations*. My goal last year was to do 20 hours by Labor Day. That didn’t happen so I guess I’m finishing that goal now.

A volunteer at Sunday Parkways (now called Open Streets) in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Eric Rogers.

Who is the most likely person to volunteer: A white, married woman with a college degree, without children under 18. The number one volunteer category: religious organizations, leading the second category, educational and youth services, by 8 percentage points.

Have you volunteered recently? Do you prefer that your volunteer work benefit you in some way? For example, do you want your time spent volunteering to teach you a new skill, or are you satisfied with just helping out?

Fast Company shows this information on an infographic.

By the way, as this photo makes evident, I am back at work!

*Two of these hours were spent talking to people at Millennium Park about the Burnham Pavilion designed by Ben van Berkel. The people were annoying – a lady asking me why she might want go to Grant Park prompted by “resignation.”

Helmets, hygiene, hair… help?

I subscribe to a Google News feed for “bike parking” where I find many articles about grander issues but they get caught in the search. When people talk about increasing or improving bicycling, they almost always talk about parking (it’s a necessity). A recent article talked little about bike parking; The short blurb about a hygiene “problem” of helmet hair piqued my attention.

A bicyclist on her first commute by bicycle wears a helmet in San Jose, California.

Helmets

As DOTS pushes biking, gender gap persists” (by Lauren Redding in the Diamondback, student newspaper from University of Maryland). DOTS is the University’s Department of Transportation Services, which has a goal of 9% of students getting to campus by bike and recently conducted a count that found only 20% of biking students are female. The article cites DOTS as saying that safety and hygiene are the major barriers that keep the frequency of women bikers low. Somehow, hygiene is related to helmet hair.

Helmet hair is not as important as building safe bicycling routes to the school, educating students on how to ride safely and locking their bikes correctly. The article in no way describes the University’s Transportation Services group as “helmet pushers,” but this comment bothers me: “For women especially — when you put on a helmet, you mess up your hair.”

Let’s stop building bike lanes and deal with this, stat! Okay, for real: There is a gender gap, but dealing with helmet hair will never match the effects of making cycling safe (or normal) on increasing the number of women who bike.

After I began an obsession with Dutch bikes and bicycling “culture” (a culture of safety and high numbers riding bikes), I learned more about helmets and the reasons people use them. My position about wearing and promoting helmets has changed somewhat, but my behavior, so far, hasn’t. Rarely does a Dutch person wear a helmet. From the research:

In the Netherlands, a survey of pediatricians found that 94% never wear helmet, but that 82% agree that helmet use should be advised for children (source). Overall, “less than 1% of adult cyclists wear helmets, and even among children, only 3–5% wear helmets” (source: “Making Cycling Irresistible” [PDF], the best article describing bicycling in the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark, comparing it to countries with low bicycling rates, United States, United Kingdom, and Australia).

I bought this new helmet in Summer 2009, to be more comfortable and to look better. Like I said, my position has changed, but my behavior hasn’t. I think everyone should make their own decision about helmets; helmets are only useful to prevent head injuries once a collision or crash has occurred. It’s more important to build facilities and educate people to reduce the likelihood of a collision or crash.

My Dutch fixation continued to the end of the last semester – I presented and wrote a paper for my Sustainable Development Techniques class about what makes bicycling in the Netherlands safe and easy, and how the United States can learn. Dutch bicycling presentation for class (PDF) and the Dutch bicycling presentation for class (DOC).

The bike helmet-American relationship is amusing. I can’t explain it as eloquently as Mikael Kolville-Anderson in Copenhagen: he mentions it a hundred times (search of Copenhagenize for the term “helmet”). The latest news, although not about America, but relatable: Israel is getting ready to repeal part of the all-ages helmet law, which is seen as discouraging bicycling in the country.

Street safety is also a user issue

Street safety is based in part on the right infrastructure design, but also user behavior.

Keep off the tracks. Sometimes a train seems to appear out of nowhere (this seems to be especially true for motorists). I hope Operation Lifesaver is still being taught in schools. I remember someone coming to my school to talk about train safety.

I think trains to many Americans are still a new concept. To best understand what I mean, read the newspaper articles in the two months following any new light rail opening in the United States. There’s a collision every week. Unlike Europe, we ripped out all of our streetcars, light rail, and trams, and we’re still in the beginning stages of returning to rail.

Bicycling and buses: Their large size and unwieldy maneuvering can make it harder to predict movements. Don’t play leapfrog and wait for the bus operator to make the first move (video) – the second move is now yours and safer.

Recognize stop bars, crosswalks, signals. The stop bar isn’t at the bicyclist’s position for a very good reason.

The magic of the RFID card: Applications in transit

The Chicago Transit Authority should convert the U-Pass program from using magnetic stripe fare media to an RFID, or proximity, card.

Several times on weekdays on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, a crowd of up to thirty students waits for the 8/Halsted bus after a class period ends. A very high percentage of the students will use a U-Pass to pay for the bus fare. All U-Pass users have to dip their cards. According to the Transportation Research Board’s Transit Capacity and Service Manual, each passenger with a dip card will take 4.2 seconds to pay their fare whilst users paying with contactless cards will take 3.0 seconds each to pay their fares.

Converting the U-Pass student fare program to use the same contactless fare collection as the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus will improve the Chicago Transit Authority’s quality of service on all bus routes, especially those routes used heavily by program participants.

Contactless fare collection technology (also known as Radio Frequency Identification, RFID, or proximity cards) gives customers additional options to pay and manage their transit fares. It keeps prepaid fares secure against theft and loss. The customer can easily switch payment methods – between a credit/debit card online and debit card/cash at vending locations – and fare types – pay-per-use or 30-day unlimited use. What is most important is how contactless fare collection speeds boarding onto buses and passing through turnstiles at rail stations. This aspect of the technology most discernibly improves the CTA’s quality of service. Taking into consideration all these benefits, contactless cards provide the greatest passenger convenience for fare payment.

Quality of service is the customer’s perception or assessment of performance. The first percept would be the increased boarding speed at key bus stops. The improvements, visible to the boarding passengers and which positively affect the route, cascade from there: increased boarding speed reduces dwell time, which can help keep buses operating on their posted schedule and shrink the rate of bus bunching. The performance gains are measurable – there would be a half-minute decrease in dwell time at UIC bus stops, amongst other gains.

Contactless fare cards are more durable than the U-Pass, which is surprisingly less durable than the CTA’s paper Transit Cards. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the U-Pass card material is more prone to cracking and tearing than the Transit Card material. Currently, UIC students who require a replacement card must pay a $35 fee – an exorbitant amount that does little to deter the anger or frustration of those students who use their cards daily.

A secondary benefit in convenience for the student, the participating colleges, and the CTA, is that producing the U-Pass as a contactless farecard could be permanent: students would keep the same fare media through their entire tenure at the school. Each and every semester, the schools and CTA would spend less labor hours for temporary U-Pass farecard printing and distribution. Alternatively, the U-Pass program could be applied to the existing Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus system, similar to how London Oyster cardholders can add 7-day, monthly and annual passes, giving transit passengers more options than 30-day unlimited use or pay-per-use. During the semester and the U-Pass activity period, no fare would be deducted from the student’s contactless farecard. When the semester is over or the U-Pass activity period is complete, the contactless farecard would automatically switch to the user-defined fare choice and payment plan.

Converting existing fare programs to work like the CTA’s Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus would be a prudent and appropriate step for the CTA to take to improve the quality of service for U-Pass eligible students and the bus system alike.

Bike friendly neighborhoods, in Chicago and beyond

Local professional bike commuter and amateur racer Brian Morrissey has written a series of guides to Chicago neighborhoods with a particular bicycle friendliness.

Think of these great neighborhoods to visit on your bicycle (they have bike facilities, bike shops, and they’re especially easy to get to) and spend some time there eating good food. I consulted Brian on one of the neighborhoods, where I lived for two years. I’ve written about Pilsen on my blog several times (and here). Even without all the wonderful burritos and the friendliest bike shop, I’d still call it my favorite Chicago neighborhood.

Here’s the list of Brian’s guides to Chicago’s bike friendly neighborhoods:

What neighborhood should he write about next?

What makes a neighborhood bike friendly? Let’s find out!

First, we’ll ask the League of American Bicyclists. The LAB uses a rating system akin to LEED certification of green buildings. And cities want to achieve bike friendly status just as much as developers want to achieve “green” status. Bicycle friendly communities must be able to demonstrate achievement in the five “E” categories.

  • Engineering – Infrastructure, facilities, bikeways, bikeway network, and accommodation of cyclists on roads.
  • Education – Programs to teach bicyclists, motorists; availability of information and guides.
  • Encouragement – How the community promotes bicyclist; BMX track, velodrome, Bike to Work Week, wayfinding signs.
  • Enforcement – Connecting law enforcement, safety, and bicycling.
  • Evaluation & Planning – Data collection, program evaluation, bike plan, and how to improve.

Next we visit Bicycling magazine to learn how they consider the Best Cities for Cycling (full list). The editors’ criteria is not as transparent as LAB, but I’ll take a crack at decoding their articles.

  • Visibility – Bicycling wrote this about Portland, Oregon: Just hang out in a coffee shop and look out the window: Bikes and riders of all stripes are everywhere.
  • Facilities – Chicago made the list, “Still The Best:” Richard Daley…has ushered in a bicycle renaissance, with a growing network of bike lanes, a bike station with valet bike parking, showers and indoor bike racks.
  • Ambition – Bicycling commended Seattle for having the goal to “unseat Portland as the best U.S. city for cycling.” Their bike plan calls for expanding the bikeway network to 450 miles.
  • Culture – In San Francisco, a lawsuit brought bikeway construction to a halt, but Bicycling says “[t]he local bike culture has stood strong, and the number of cyclists increased by 15 percent last year alone.”
  • Education – Because of Boulder’s Safe Routes to School Program, at least “one school reports that 75 percent of its students now bike or walk to school.”

Finally, on our journey to find out what makes a community or neighborhood “bike friendly,” we come to me. I’ll tell you it’s a combination of the built environment (infrastructure) and its wider connections (bikeway network), as well as the residents who bike and don’t bike (like motorists).

  • Infrastructure – A city must build on-street and off-street bikeways that increase the perception of safety. (I was unable to find any conclusive studies that attribute the presence of bikeways to lower fatality and injury rates, but I didn’t find anything that reported the contrary is true, so that’s good.) Secondly, when you arrive to your destination, you should find secure bike parking.
  • Network – When you built on-street and off-street bikeways, you must ensure they connect to each other. It’s discouraging to come to the end of a bike lane when it doesn’t reach your destination or another segment of the bikeway network. A good network leads to important and popular destinations, like major work centers and schools. Bicycling is more prevalent in areas with colleges and universities, see Baltes report (PDF). Almost as important as creating a network is publishing information about your network – where does it go and what should I expect to see or find on my route? A paper bike map showing the locations of local bike shops, parks, and schools goes a long way to assuage nervous bicyclists.
  • People – Lick your finger and put it up to the air to test the attitudes of those around you and how they feel about bicyclists sharing the streets with pedestrians and motorists. Residents supporting or hampering positive change to make bicycling a common activity or transportation and improve the safety of bicyclists is the most important way to determine how “friendly” a community is to bicycles and their riders.

If you’re familiar with those neighborhoods in Brian’s guides, try to apply the criteria sets from League of American Bicyclists, Bicycling magazine, and myself and do your own analysis of the bike friendliness in those neighborhoods.

What do you think makes a community bicycle friendly?

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