Tag: college

I support the Columbia College urban bike project

Senior Product Design students at Columbia College in Chicago studying under Carl Boyd have developed prototypes for bicycle use for several years. I first saw these students in action in December 2007 when they presented their products to some MBAC attendees.

I later wrote about one project, bike-friendly enhancements for the ‘L’ from Adair Heinz and Tune Koshy.

A different team at the same presentation showed off their specialized bag for paramedics who bike. At the bike swap meet in February 2010, the students showed off the result of their collaboration with Po Campo, a Chicago company selling handmade bags for women who ride bikes.

Students worked closely with Emily and Maria of Po Campo to design new products the company could adopt into its product line. They present these designs to attendees at the swap meet earlier this year.

Carl is trying to get some of these products into commercial production with the next group of graduates, with help from anyone and everyone through Kickstarter. The annual program for 2010 has completed. Carl writes on Kickstarter:

In the past 4 years, the Urban Bike Design Project, has always come *this* close to seeing projects launched into the real world, but the lack of starter funding kept dropping the kickstand on each one. Our students have limited pocket money, and we want these prototypes made street-ready, to put in the hands of people who need them. This time we are seeking funds for prototyping costs, and we know that the Kickstarter community cares as much about this project as we do!

I’ve twice witnessed the high-quality and thoughtful designs from the students and I pledged money. The project needs $2,000 by November 3, in order for the pledges to turn into donations.

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.


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.

Bicycling for college students

I write this article to all college students who choose to bike to class this semester (and any future semester). This post is a bit Chicago-centric, but can be applied universally.


If you haven’t yet chosen to bike to campus, don’t read this – I’ve got another article in the works for you. Essentially, I gained my advice and education from information I found in multiple documents published by the Chicago Bicycle Program. But you can read my post in less than 10 minutes. I give my friends the same spiel, and now I’ve finally published it for everyone’s benefit.

My credentials: I’ve been commuting safely and effectively to the University of Illinois at Chicago campus for four years, attending undergraduate and graduate class. I’ve been bicycling all around Chicago (I can prove it with these maps) for the same period.

I divide my advice into three sections: Safety, Getting There, and The Right Equipment. You should have a copy of the Chicago Bike Map at your side (download as PDF; tambien disponible en espanol; request one to be mailed).

Safety is a combination of skills, following the rules of the road, and being alert.

You gain safe cycling skills by practicing safe cycling at all times on all roads upon which you cycle.
You most likely learned the rules of the road in high school driver’s education.

Bicyclists must follow the same traffic regulations as motorists (including stopping at yellow and red traffic lights). Additionally, you should practice several additional behaviors (found in the Sharing The Road section of the Bike Map):

  • Never ride against traffic. Bike Snob NYC calls this “bike salmoning.” No other road user expects vehicles to travel in the wrong direction, making this one of the most risky maneuvers.
  • Don’t ride on the sidewalk. You’re disrupting pedestrian traffic and it’s illegal.
  • Know about the door zone: the 4-feet invisible space on both sides of every vehicle that represents the width of a door swinging into a bicyclist’s path. Watch for recently parked cars and cars with people inside.
  • Lastly, ride in a straight, predictable line, and not weaving between parked cars in the parking lane. Passing motorists and bicyclists can safely travel past you because they know where you’re going.

Staying alert will help you avoid collisions and prevent you from getting boxed in by CTA buses. Part of being aware is being able to hear: Don’t use headphones while bicycling (this too is illegal).

Wanna see these tips in action? Watch the CDOT/Chicago Police video on traffic enforcement for bicyclist safety.

Getting There
You can journey safely by determining the best way to get to your destination. Mark your origin (home) and destination (school) on the bike map and then follow the bike lanes, marked shared lanes, and recommended routes to the end. Practice your trip with a friend during the day.

Indoor, sheltered bike parking at the recently reopened Damen Brown Line station.

Also consider making a multi-modal trip using transit. All CTA stations in Chicago have bike parking, and most Metra stations have bike parking. A bus will carry your bike for you at any time, and you can take your bike on the L outside of rush hours.

*More information on bikeway facilities in Chicago below.

The Blue Island bike lane on my way to class from Pilsen.

Try your hardest to never let a motorist scare you off the road with their hurtful and pointless words (or honking). You have the right to bike on the street. If you get into a verbal altercation with a motorist, TAKE A BREAK. Your adrenaline and heart rate will have increased, and emotions may decide your next move. Pull over and breathe. You need to stay in control of you, your bike, and your trip. If the motorist is operating their vehicle that’s a danger to you or other street users, pull over and immediately call 911 to report reckless driving.

Additionally, college campuses often have a lot of buses (either public transit or shuttles). Let the bus driver “do their thing” and don’t try to compete for space with the bus. Wait or signal and pass safely in the adjacent lane.

The Active Transportation Alliance, the Chicago bike advocate, has a crash support hotline: 312-869-HELP (4357).

The Right Equipment
To bike somewhere safely, you need the right equipment:
LIGHTS and a LOCK. Right now, throw away your cable lock. It’s completely useless unless part of a locking scheme that includes a high-quality u-lock.

Buy the most expensive, new u-lock you can afford. You spent a lot of money on your bike, so you should spend a little money on the device that will keep your bike yours! Once you buy, learn how to use it by following these depictions.

Chicago law requires a headlight, and a rear reflector or taillight. Forget the rear reflector – it’s close to worthless. You want road users to see your presence. So get two blinkies: a white light for the front, and a red light for the rear (with a rear light, you’ll be honoring the law). These two accessories will make you visible. Bike shops shouldn’t let you leave until you buy these or prove you already own a set.

If you want be really visible, you can get cold cathode fluorescent lights for your bike. I built this setup as a fun, DIY project.

More equipment you may want:

  • Fenders. Keep your feet and pants dry.
  • Water bottle cage. Being outside and active dehydrates your body.
  • Rear rack or front basket. Shuck your backpack into a basket to keep sweat off your back and reduce back pain.

I built a pannier from a kitty litter bucket. My Nishiki Prestige parked at the UIC Richard J. Daley library.

Please comment on this blog, add me on Facebook or email me with questions.

*The bike map’s road designations are based on actual field observations completed several years ago by City and Active Transportation Alliance staff. Bike lanes, indicated by two white stripes, a bicycle symbol, and an arrow, are for the exclusive use of bicyclists. Marked shared lanes, shown with a bicycle symbol and two chevrons, tell motorists and bicyclists that this is a shared lane and motorists should expect a higher number of bicyclists than most streets. (All lanes in Chicago are shared lanes and bicyclists ALWAYS have the right to use the entire lane when the bicyclist feels they cannot safely share the lane with a motorist, or when changing lanes.)

What a new bike lane looks like (this is Clinton Street at the railroad crossing between Kinzie and Fulton).