Thursday, November 30, 2006

Square tactics

According to Savannah's Code of Ordinances, riding bicycles through the squares of the National Landmark Historic District is prohibited. The ordinance, I presume, is aimed at preventing bicycle vs. pedestrian collisions. I'm not sure if these types of encounters were actually happening. Perhaps there were simply fears that they would. At any rate, the ordinance was decried by some cyclists, who claimed riding through the squares was safer than riding the perimeter, which they said put them in danger of being smeared onto the sides of parked cars by moving ones.

At the time the ordinance was passed, I was also a critic, mainly because I thought it placed at odds two constituencies that ought to be allies. After all, pedestrians and cyclists have much more to fear from motor vehicle traffic than they do from each other. When I started my utility cycling experiment, I researched best practices and learned that the perceived safety of sidewalks is an illusion. I realized that cyclists, who ride on the sidewalks through the squares, risk being hit when they rejoin the street on the other side.

The ordinance is sporadically enforced, unlike all other bicycle-related laws, which are never enforced. Every so often, the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department will make an example out of a Savannah College of Art and Design student. If you believe letters to the editor of the Savannah Morning News, SCAD students are all perpetual square abusers.

I conducted an observation yesterday in Monterey Square. For 30 minutes I counted cyclists and wound up with a total of 12, with only two riding through the square. The two, who did ride through the square, were moving slowly. Any potential collision with a pedestrian could have easily been avoided by either party. Nonetheless, had they been ticketed, each of these cyclists would be $100 poorer.

I must point out two obvious flaws in my methodology. First, SCAD is on winter break, so my sample did not include as many students as it normally would. Second, about halfway through my observation, an interesting character sat down on the bench next to me. He launched into a monolog that began with a description of his ability to resist the charms of both New York and international supermodels, moved on to an explanation of the pagan origins of wedding rings, and concluded with a description of the type of churches that "make God puke." He also provided detailed summaries of the results returned when he Googled the words tribal, spew, spell and italic.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot to count bikes. I'll try again next year.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More about the weather

Savannah experienced an uncharacteristic episode of cold temperatures and even snow last week, although all I saw was rain. I actually enjoyed riding in the rain and (relative) cold, except for my hand parts, which needed some handsocks or gloves, as they are sometimes called. All last week I was really interested in what was happening in the atmosphere. There are instruments designed for this purpose, including thermometers, barometers, psychrometers and anemometers. Then there's the Weather Channel and the local television news. All good ways to determine the current weather conditions.

I've discovered another instrument for determining the current weather conditions. It's called a bike rack and here's how you read it: As the temperature rises to 60 degrees, the number of bicycles attached to begins to increase. When the air temperature reaches 80 degrees, the number of bikes attached to the rack begins to decrease. So, if you examine this photo of the bike rack outside my office, you can easily see that the temperature was 75 degrees.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Reporting from the danger zone

A story from the University of Florida's Independent Alligator newspaper uses that state's status as the national leader in bicyclist fatalities to frame a thorough and thoughtful examination of local bicycle safety issues. It's doubtful that the Gainesville Sun or any other general circulation newspaper would have devoted so much ink to the issue. As a student newspaper, the Alligator's readership probably includes a substantial contingent of transportational cyclists and I consider Drew Harwell's piece a fine example of a newspaper serving its audience.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Signs of life

I recently exchanged e-mail with Atlanta Larry, who is pondering a utility cycling experiment of his own. I'm a two-time former resident of Atlanta and I sometimes wonder if I would have eventually started utility cycling and/or bicycle commuting had I stayed there. My bicycle hibernated in a friend's basement for all but a couple days of the 18 months I lived there in 1999 and 2000. I suppose I found the hills and the traffic a little intimidating. I wonder how I'd make out now. On my last visit I noticed an abundance of Atlanta Bicycle Campaign "Share the Road" yard signs. I don't ever remember seeing those when I lived there.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Grocery getting

From the very beginning of Bike Year, shopping for groceries has been one of my favorite bicycle errands. Grocery bag panniers, either store bought or homemade, make the job significantly more enjoyable. Some folks prefer using a large messenger bag or backpack.

I'm still pleased about discovering a back route into Twelve Oaks Shopping Center, which sits near the confluence of two five-lane rivers of asphalt. Penetrating the exclusive domain of cars and seeing the surprise on motorists faces as I pedal through the parking lot remains satisfying. They look at me as if to say, "I wonder how he got in here."

The novelty of a bicycle appearance at the Twelve Oaks Publix store probably explains the absence of a bicycle rack. The idea of providing a bike rack probably never occurred to the store's managers. It doesn't occur to most, it seems.

To my knowledge only two grocery stores in the city of Savannah offer bicycle storage facilities. Both are located within a mile of each other, but they occupy opposite ends of the retail grocery spectrum. Brighter Day Natural Foods is a locally-owned, independent store located in a historic building on Park Avenue at the southern end of Forsyth Park. The Gwinnett Street Kroger is one of five local manifestations of the nation's largest supermarket chain. Yet both stores have seen fit to provide bicycle parking for their customers. Bike nerds will notice differences in the bicycles parked at each store.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Talking about the weather

Yesterday one of the TV weather guys urged viewers to get their shopping done early. If they waited until Tuesday and Wednesday, he warned, shoppers might have to endure rain and wind as they dashed from their cars to the supermarket.

This didn't strike me as an odd comment until I really thought about it. Except for people who work outside, inclement weather is a phenomenon most Savannahians experience only in brief installments. It's something that happens between the house and the car, the car and the office, the office and the car, the car and the store, the store and the car, and the car and the house, again.

One nice thing about bicycle commuting: I feel more connected to the weather and the seasons. However, I might have a different opinion about that connection later today.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Bikes on the Hill

An Associated Press story suggests that the Democrats' success in the midterm elections could be a good thing for cyclists. At least three bicycle friendly representatives will be rising to leadership positions in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the surface transportation subcommittee.

The League of American Bicyclists called the results a "Great Election for Bike Caucus." This was my first time hearing of the Congressional Bike Caucus, which aims "to encourage Congressional leadership to complement the efforts of the millions of cyclists working for safer roads, more bikeways, convenient bike parking and increased recognition of the importance of cycling to our communities." I'm pleased to learn the congressman representing Georgia's 12th District is a member of the Bike Caucus.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Some words on the Streets

I followed Aaron Naparstek from over to his current operation Streetsblog. While Streetsblog is primarily concerned with New York City transportation issues, it also presents a big picture view that's valuable to folks who live elsewhere. Or, as another streetsblog reader put it in this post:
I wanted you to know that Streetsblog, despite its New York City focus, has an impact beyond. I have a much broader set of analytical tools to bring to bear to my small problem and the larger bike and pedestrian issues that I am beginning to become involved with.

Streetsblog's regular "Today's Headlines" feature aggregates news stories from across the country. I've even suggested one that Aaron picked up. Those who don't live in New York should still consider spending some time on the Streets.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The bane of motorists

To all bicyclists using major arteries as most Americans are going to, or leaving work,
-- Michael, Penfield, NY.

I usually assume that motorists pull out in front of cyclists or pass them too closely because they don't see them. Michael provides a timely reminder that some people endanger cyclists because they do see them. I discovered his "Bicyclists: The Bane of Motorists" because he included a link to Bike Year, describing it as good place to check out "lots of bike-crybabies."

Maybe Michael's not as troubled by bicycles as he claims to be. Perhaps he's demonstrating his crankiness in hopes of scoring a sidekick gig on a small market classic rock station's morning zoo crew. But let's pretend he's for real. His chief complaints, as far as I can tell, are:

1. He doesn't like it when cyclists ignore traffic regulations.
2. He disapproves of their fashion choices.
3. He hates sharing the road with slower vehicles.

I can dig what Michael's saying on the first point. Although I would include not just cyclists, but all vehicle operators who ignore traffic regulations. As for the second point, I'm occasionally amused by the costumes some folks don before going for a ride, but their clothes don't anger me as they do Michael. On the third point, he excuses the slow pace of tractors and construction equipment, noting that "they are almost always used for work, not transportation," but he can't stomach the idea of following a bicycle until it is safe to pass.

He thinks bikes aren't fast enough for public roads. I think cars are too fast for public roads. And so it's here that Michael and I can find no common ground. Or can we?

I have a solution that will work for both of us. Instead of the "bike-free" roads or "bike's only" lanes Michael proposes, a more practical solution is strict enforcement of 25 mph speed limits for all vehicles. That way, the gap between bicycle and car speed virtually disappears.

Michael might be happier traveling at a less frantic pace. He wouldn't be forced to "lock down on" his brakes after "rounding a difficult curve." There's not much call for brake lock downing at 25 mph. He will also find the difficult curves easier to negotiate at lower speeds. On the other hand, what about those times Michael wants to go faster? Well, unless he's using his Honda Accord as some sort of freelance ambulance, there's simply no justification for speeding. After all, cars are almost always used for transportation, not work.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Three months later

I'm still riding my bike. Just not the same bike. But more on that later.

The big transportation news here in Savannah is the Georgia Department of Transportation's plan to widen Abercorn Street Extension on Savannah's south side. The possibility of more lanes has been reported by local television news operations with barely concealed glee. An editorial in today's Savannah Morning News introduced its position on widening Abercorn and other commuter routes with this:

"Rush-hour drivers have probably considered just leaving their vehicle on Ga. Highway 21 and walking to work."

Of course, this is another example of a perfectly acceptable method of transport likened to some sort of deviant behavior. To be fair, it would be unreasonable for a person with 50 mile round trip commute to try walking to work. But is it any more reasonable for motorists to expect quick and easy passage twice a day through 25 miles of sprawl, amidst thousands of other single occupant motor vehicles?

But adding more lanes will solve the problem, won't it? It seems unreasonable to think so. Like the man says, "Trying to cure traffic congestion by adding more capacity is like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt."