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Posts Tagged ‘separated bike lane’

©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2013“2014-02-05:  Engaging both new and seasoned cyclists of all ages, as well as those who want to bike but may not feel comfortable, is what the city centre cycle track network is all about, according to Ryan Murray, a spokesperson with the City of Calgary.

“The cycle tracks we’re proposing, they’re really built for everyone. We’re not just looking for people who have a bike in their garage now,” he said.

“With cycle tracks, it’s a new way of thinking about transportation in Calgary and it’s an important way to think about transportation in Calgary. We want to offer that choice that doesn’t exist now . . . Cycle tracks are built for people to use who are eight to 80. It’s really transportation for all.”

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CycloTouring in California

 

For promoting cycling touring, information on closed sections of interstate and state highways needs to be easily accessible on the Internet.  Adventure Cycling maps do provide routes through the state and are useful, if you are going in the direction set out and if you have the time and energy for the defined routes.

CycloTouring in California, at this time, tends to be more for long distance cyclists who are either confident in cycling in fast moving traffic, are competent cyclists, or lean towards risk-taking. Cycling of families with children, as is frequently seen in Europe, would, most likely, be more restricted to some regions in the state that have good cycling infrastructure and multi-kilometres of bike trails. CycloTouring as a combined mobility trip with the Californian and Amtrak train systems is simple and provides opportunities for regional touring. Just take a train to a designation and start the trip from there and then take the train back. Train one way and return by cycling provides another opportunity to extend the trip in different parts of the state. With the trains providing bike space without the need for boxing bikes expands the opportunities for cyclotouring. The only exception is Amtrak’s Coastal Starlight train, which still requires boxing of bicycles. Hope this changes in the near future. How Amtrak’s bus system fits into this type of touring is uncertain to me as I have received different information when the question was asked. Also, it seems uncertain if a bike would be taken when you show up for a bus. Would suggest that bike racks on front and on the back of these buses, i.e. the Swiss method, would increase cyclotourists using these buses. (Combined mobility cyclotouring trips will be the subject of a future blog article)

Realistically, the only provincial / state entity in North America that has comparable European style cyclotouring capacity, which appeals to families and children is the Province of Quebec with its famous La Route Verté network and the province’s capacity for combined mobility with the intercity transportation providers (trains, buses).

California is a frustrating state to cycle in.  Actually, there was enough frustration during the trip where I did not want to cycle to another city and just wanted to get out of the state.  Discouraging was the number of occurrences where interstate and other highways were closed to cyclists along my desired route path.   This did not happen in other western states.

Yes, one could go way out of the desired direction to find highways to cycle on.  Many times these highway routings were not direct to the desired target city for that night.  It would have taken much longer to reach my final destination this way.

Replacing maps with GPS-based cycling computer.
Garmin Edge 800
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Trip planning for the next day, setting up the day course on my Garmin BaseCamp computer mapping software, and then downloading the information onto the Garmin 800 GPS took much longer than it did in other states.  Sometimes it took an extra hour.

The lack of readily availability of information on which section of interstate and state highways were closed to cyclists caused trip planning to be time consuming.

 

The dreaded sign on interstate and state highways. Time to get off. The highway not designed for cycling as a mode of transportation.
Redding CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

On one day, an unexpected cycling prohibited sign on a state highway forced rerouting and change of destination for the night half way through that day’s trip when uncancellable motel reservations were already made in another city 30 kilometres farther away.  This happened on a Saturday of a busy weekend, which drew many tourists to this area.  Hotels and motels were filled up.  Finally, an accommodation was found late in the day at the edge of that city.  As it turned out, it was the last room available in the motel.  A bit of luck, at least.

 

There was no advance warning signs that this would occur.  There were no cycling bypass route or signs.  The only alternative was to cycle 20 kilometres north and then another 20 kilometres west to meet up with a highway that would take me to my intended destination.  Now, the question became “Is the highway to the motel open for cycling?”  Not wanting to take that risk, the decision was to stay in the city with the prohibition sign and do a major reroute of the trip bypassing some places that I really wanted to cycle through.

A few days later I was cycling on a state highway when that highway split into two highways.  There was one of those cycling prohibited signs for the highway that I wanted to take.  Joyfully, I noticed a bike route sign leading to the other highway.  So I took it expecting that at some point I wild be directed back to the highway that I wanted to take.  After an hour of cycling I realized that would not happen.  Fortunately, a person at a service station could direct me back to the highway that I wanted to be on by using some local roads.  Confidence was now lost that I could depend on highways to be open for cycling along my intended route.

So, this is cycling in California!

 
 

Trip Planning, Finding Information on Highway Cycling

 

The Internet was a frustrating place to find the needed information.  Maps to identify open roads for cycling did not seem to exist.  There was conflicting and sometimes incorrect information on blogs.

CDOT District 2 Cycling Guide providing information on interstate and state highways open and closed to cyclists.
State of California

There was an exception and that was District 2 of the Californian Department of Transportation, a northern district. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

This district had produced a very effective and informative document for cycling there (http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist2/pdf/bikeguide.pdf).  Open and closed highways to cyclists were identified on maps.  For closed sections, alternate routings were mapped out.  Other useful information was provided.   Internet search did not reveal the existence of such a document for the other districts in California.  It certainly is needed.

 

Bike Routes Parallel to Highways.

 

Sometimes by chance, parallel bike trails were come upon through Internet searches, by chance, or avoiding restricted sections of highways.   Some of these trails were well marked with direction and destination signs.  Others were not.  Sometimes these routes used local and rural roads.  Some sections would have bike lanes and paved cycleable shoulders.  Some of the roads were shared roads, usually with a low amount of motorized traffic.  For the most part, bike lanes or cycleable paved shoulders were available on these roads.

Pacific Coast Bike Trail between Santa Cruz and Monterey CA. The well signed trail travels along county roads with sections of bike lanes, paved cycleable shoulders, and trails.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Pacific Coast Bike Trail between Santa Cruz and Monterey CA. The well signed trail travels along county roads with sections of bike lanes, paved cycleable shoulders, and trails.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Bike paths next to a highway were frequently encountered as an entry to cities, while some started before city limits, up to 20 and 30 kilometres.  Some examples included Monterey with a path starting 30 kilometres before the city limit and Santa Cruz with a bike path starting at city limit.

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Santa Barbara CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Santa Maria CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Monterey CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Monterey CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable with bike trails branching off state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Leaving Fairfield CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Cycling Facilities in Urban and Rural Environment

 

As mentioned in a previous blog, the positive effects can be continuously seen while cycling in California of federal road programs which requires cycling facilities as part of the funding for new and rebuilt roads.  One continuously comes on these facilities in municipalities from the smallest to larger cities as well as on rural roads from county roads to state highways.  It is rare to cycle in any municipality that is without any bike lanes or trails.

Rural California, cycling made more pleasant with bike lanes or cycle able paved shoulders.
Half Moon Bay CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Rural California, cycling made more pleasant with bike lanes or cycle able paved shoulders.
Corning CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Cities with a Network of Cycling Facilities

 

Cycling cities. Separated bike lanes in downtown waterfront area supporting retail.
San Francisco CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

When discussion turns to cycling cities in the US, normally Portland, as a US large cycling city leader, Seattle (3.5%), and San Francisco (3.5%) as an upcoming cycling city, are mentioned.  Sometimes the City of Davis is mentioned with its 22% cycling mode share. There the discussion tends to end.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

On this trip there were other medium size cities that should be recognized for their work towards building of a cycling network and for developing a sizeable cycling mode share. Municipalities passed through that have made an effort towards providing cycling facilities include Fairfield (0.2%), Vallejo (0.2%), Monterey, Avila Beach, and Santa Maria (0.5%).

Special mention goes to the efforts put out by the following cities: Santa Cruz (cycling mode share 9%, many innovative cycling features), San Luis Obispo (7%), and Santa Barbara (6.4%).

Cycling cities. Separated bike lanes making the commute more pleasant.
Santa Cruz CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Downtown bike parking on streets. Cyclists are good customers for retailers.
Santa Cruz CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Mass bicycle parking contributing to attainability of higher education. An indicator of the attraction of cycling for transportation when the environment is supportive.
Santa Barbara CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Cyclists are good customers for retailers.
San Luis Obispo CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Cyclists are good customers for retailers.
San Luis Obispo CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Source of cycling mode share to work: League of American Cyclists, 2010 data on bicycle commute mode share (based on the US Census American Community Survey with data on 375 cities over 60,000 population).

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Bike lane by bus lane. Seville, Spain Mar. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bike lane by bus lane. Seville, Spain Mar. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 When I was cycling from the north, Cordoba to Seville, Spain, I entered into red-coloured bike lanes 11 kilometres outside of the city.  As kilometres decreased, the bike lanes became separated from the general traffic lanes as the city’s network of green cycling lanes unfolded.  120 km of separated bike lanes were spread throughout the city, with average width of  2.5 metres.
 

Traffic light intersection where pedestrians may cross. Seville, Spain Mar. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Traffic light intersection where pedestrians may cross. Seville, Spain Mar. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

These bike lanes run from the highways at the northern edge of the city into the southernly suburb of Bellavista and beyond  –as the green way for cyclist. The lanes also intersect west to east from Rio Guadalquivir to the suburb of Torreblanac with riverside paths and arching around the Centro with feeder arms radiating outward.

Lanes have a smooth, green surface, with white centre lines,  cycling and wheelchair stencil symbols abd speed reduction signs with directional arrows before pedestrian crossings.  Cyclists can just glide through the city separated from car traffic.

Dapper yet casual with his bike. Seville, Spain Mar. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker. Pedestrian crowds were plentiful during Seville's civlovia-- a car-free, mass pedestrian-cycling event.

Dapper yet casual with his bike. Seville, Spain Mar. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker. Pedestrian crowds were plentiful during Seville's ciclovia-- a car-free, mass pedestrian-cycling event.

 Faster running green images of people signal that the crossing time is coming to an end at traffic light intersections.

Within 5 years, the cycling mode share in Seville has increased from insignificant to about 6% as this massive network was quickly formed.

Some of the cycling facilities replace parking or traffic lanes on the road, separated by half moons of concrete.  Other separation may be railing at handlebar height, between cycling path at sidewalk height and traffic lanes.  Some cycling facilities are parallel to pedestrian paths. 

At intersections, cycling paths take sharp turns for street crossings parallel with pedestrian crossings.  Intersection crossings are long, sometimes as long as 51 seconds.  The crossings are not efficient from cycling travel time perspective.

Bike-pedestrian bridge at night. Seville, Spain Mar. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bike-pedestrian bridge at night. Seville, Spain Mar. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

On bridges, the paths tend to be narrow, sometimes made narrower with light standards penetrating into bike lane space.  Bike lanes have flowing cycling traffic behind bus shelters.

The cycling lanes are normally not wide.  When available sidewalk width becomes insufficient for both pedestrians and cyclists, the cycling lane widths are diminished to whatever is available.

While the Seville separated bike lanes network is attractive for pleasure cycling, they are inefficient for commuting.  The carrying capacity has most likely been reached.  What will be the city’s strategy for expanding capacity as it is needed?

Pedestrianized street which allows bikes. Seville, Spain Mar. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Pedestrianized street which allows bikes. Seville, Spain Mar. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

On Sunday, families with young children were on these facilities, cycling carefree with separation form the car traffic.  A father was running beside his child on a bicycle with training wheels and  balancing the child as she takes her first few metres toward hopefully, a life of cycling.  Young adults were there in very social mood.  Spandexed and helmeted men were out with their racing bicycles.  Yes, separation with well-marked, green lanes, invite people to cycle. The visual bike greenway lane has a positive effect.  Seville is a good example.

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During the winter my cycling habits do get abit stuck in a snowbank whenever there is snow or ice.  In Toronto, my bike never saw sunlight from within the 

Bike parked in snow bank. Leavenworth, Washington 2009. Photo by J. Chong

Bike parked in snow bank. Leavenworth, Washington 2009. Photo by J. Chong

bike storage cave for the whole winter.  But then, I lived 16 kms. in the suburbs, away from downtown and separated by ravine parks and a cold lake waterfront where snow and ice stuck around for awhile.  

In Calgary, I’ve only kicked out my winter cycling abstinence by a notch:  I will cycle for grocery shopping,  if the pavement looks reasonably ice-free without me wandering out into the middle of the road to avoid an ice patch. The City does try to clear snow off its downtown riverside bike and pedestrian paths close to home.   Drier prairie air means drier snow for easier removal.

Winter Use of Bike Lanes:  Cycling Count Statistics vs. Flash Observations

Dunsmuir St. separated bike lane. Vancouver, BC Mar. 2010. Opened a few weeks after Winter Olympics ended. Photo by HJEH Becker

Dunsmuir St. separated bike lane. Vancouver, BC Mar. 2010. Opened a few weeks after Winter Olympics ended. Photo by HJEH Becker

In Vancouver, I  cycle-commuted to work  when I worked downtown on certain winter days. Otherwise, on weekends,  I ventured out for a brisk bike ride usually under 15 kms. at near freezing temperatures..  I confined my bike routes where possible, to quieter roads and bike paths (where there were just less pedestrians and joggers anyway). I preferred bike lanes. 

Snowclearing machine or perhaps, a big snowbrush for dry, prairie snow on bike-pedestrian path. Calgary, AB 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Snowclearing brush machine for removing dry, prairie snow on bike-pedestrian path. Calgary, AB 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

 So is it really true that bike lanes are severely underutilized  in bad weather when there is heavy rain, some snow or ice?  It’s a favourite rant among drivers and other observers, especially when a separated bike lane was implemented by reassigning part of the road pavement real estate. 

Yes, right:  If this  short 1-3 min. observation was from a  driver waiting at a traffic light or whipping along the road.  Some cynics proclaimed their observations during the first year in Vancouver for  separated bike lanes on:  Burrard Bridge, Dunsmuir St. and perhaps, Hornby St. 

Vancouver cycling count statistics for 2010 proved otherwise for sample separated bike lanes:

  • Burrard Bridge: Bad weather days – 300 to 400 cyclists daily. Otherwise, normal winter days range – 800 to 1,000 cyclists peaking to 3,000 daily (Winter 2009-Mar. 2010 including during the Winter Olympics with road closures starting, Nov. 2009-Mar. 2010.)
  • Dunsmuir St.: 1,000 to 1,600 cyclists daily (Oct. 2010)
  • Note: Vancouver installs bike counter equipment which generates data to support implementation of new cycling facilities. This cycling metrics program has been in place for last 2 years.

    Winter cycling on bike-pedestrian access ramp. Calgary, AB 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

    Winter cycling on bike-pedestrian access ramp by Bow River. Calgary, AB 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

     Is this cynicism really a motorist-blinkered perception?  Do they realize that residential streets and some downtown streets, are often at true traffic peak volume for approximately 1 hr. each during morning and late afternoon.  Meanwhile for the rest of the day, car traffic peeters out to occasional cars ambling calmly down the road every few minutes.

    That’s a short amount of daily optimal road use by cars for alot of wide, long pavement real estate.

    In fact, in engineering circles, there is a common design principle for roads designed to accommodate peak car traffic volumes for approximately 1 hr. each day. (Several decades ago, peak car volume was 15 min. or so. It must have been shortly just after the car speedsters were still celebrating after the horse and buggy disappeared.  Or perhaps when cities and towns were smaller.) 

    Downtown Calgary 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

    Downtown Calgary 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

     Bike Commuting Away from Peak Rush Hours
    Based on my daily cycling patterns during off-peak hours on business days over several months, most definitely there were streets simply safer and quieter to cycle.  My cycling schedule was oriented around  cycling during lighter car traffic periods after 9:00 am or before 7:00 am.  I avoided impatient car commuters and the congestion of parents dropping off their children at school.  In Vancouver, I had been living downtown for several years.

    One job required a long,  multi-modal commute of cycling, transit rail, bus and then a walk to work site.  I wrote about this commute in an earlier blog article.   But my bike ride was stress-free, since I started early morning at 5:30 am and later, homeward from the transit bike locker after 6:30 pm.  At both ends of the day, I dealt with little car traffic even though the bike commute did include some major road intersections.  The route did include a blend of bike lanes, multi-purpose bike-pedestrian paths and quiet residential streets. Major commercial streets only covered less than 5 kms. of a 13 km. one-way bike route.

    Hornby St. separated bike lane. Vancouver, BC Dec. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker. Bike lane opened after considerable debate and public consultation with business owners and general public.

    Hornby St. separated bike lane. Vancouver, BC Dec. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker. Bike lane opened after considerable debate and public consultation with business owners and general public.

     Just like car drivers testing out new roads and bridges, it takes several years for cyclists to change their riding routes to integrate sections of recently built bike lanes. So don’t be surprised that winter and rainy season cycling traffic is lower but growing. After all, with Vancouver’s winters far more balmier than most other Canadian cities, there is good reason that bike lane use will increase.

    After all, go to the website, Copenhagenize, where during the winter months there are many photos of Copenhageners cycling through snow and rain. The city makes it a priority to clear their separated bike lanes over cars, because their daily cycling volumes are high. 

    Within the last few weeks, snow-removal of bike paths and lanes was a hot Internet topic on a North American listserve for the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals. Perhaps this reflects an increased appetite for winter cycling.

    Further Reading:
    City of Vancouver.  Bike Vancouver for updated cycling statistics on key bike lanes and routes. Including Burrard Bridge, Dunsmuir and Hornby separated bike lanes.

    Chong, Jean.  Biking to Work in More Challenging or Isolated Work Areas.  May 22, 2010.

    Copenhagenize web site.

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Wheelchair User in Two-Way Separated Bike Lane. Berri St., Montreal QC 2005. Photo by HJEH Becker

Wheelchair user in two-way separated bike lane with cyclists. Berri St., Montreal QC 2005. Photo by HJEH Becker

For years, cyclists have been demanding their own space on roads.  After all, pedestrians have had their space, physically separated from car and truck traffic by curbs and vertical elevation from road surfaces.  So, why should cyclists not have their space?  Safety and inducement for more people to cycle and not drive, is the call of the marginalized cyclists.

So life in North America is slowly changing.  Slowly, bike lanes are making their way into city landscape.  Just like neighbourhood streets in Vancouver which were traffic calmed to attract cyclists,  now other road users have come to bike lanes.  While Vancouver’s cycle streets attracted car drivers, bike lanes are attracting three and four-wheeled vehicles as well.  In this case, it is the wheelchair users along with in-line skaters, skateboarders, and the occasional binners with their shopping cart.

Wheelchair user in bike lane. Pacific Blvd., Vancouver BC 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Wheelchair user in bike lane. Pacific Blvd., Vancouver BC 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Some countries in Europe even allow smelly, gas-driven mopeds and motorcycle.  Even four-wheeled electric cars are allowed on cycling facilities in the Netherlands.  Hope that North America never goes that far.  Fast speeding electric mopeds and e-bikes with their pedals removed, are drawing cyclists’ irritation.

So, what is it about?  Is it not about placing same speed movements together for everyone’s comfort and safety?  First there is the speed of pedestrians, joggers and runners.  Then there is the speed of cyclists, wheelchair users, in-line skaters and skateboarders all moving in the same speed range.  Then there is the speed of cars within urban streets, mopeds and moped-like e-bikes, some with their speed-either bypassed or removed.

Meanwhile, there is nothing like an elderly person driving his wheelchair at a speed passing a cyclist churning up a steep hill.

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 A Canadian major, national retail store representative once stated to Council that:

  •  Cyclists spent less than drivers on the average per trip to their stores
  • Cyclists come more often to their stores than drivers
Cyclists at Cambie & 7th Ave. large retail store. Retailer provides an air pump just by the bike rack. Oct. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Cyclists at Cambie St. & 7th Ave. large retail store. Retailer provides an air pump just by the bike rack. Oct. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

  This means for retailers:

  •   more opportunities for impulse purchases
  • a retailer’s dream
Bike lanes on both sides of road by this corner at a major national retail store outlet. Vancouver BC Oct. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bike lanes on both sides of road by this busy corner at a major national retail store outlet. Vancouver BC Oct. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

So why are retailers complaining when bike lanes are going into their streets? 

  • Why are their stores not drawing in cycling customers? 
  • Is it because of:
    • No bike lanes, separated bike lanes, or bike paths leading to their retail stores?
    • No bike parking in front of their stores or in their stores?
    • Or is it the product lines that these retailers are selling?

Maybe these retailers should do a scouting trip to Cambie and 7th Ave with its bike lane and watch the action on a Saturday as a continuous stream of cyclists come and go, doing their shopping.

If one follows the line of the retailers that bike lanes will reduce the sales revenue of their stores, then the question may come up of where do cyclists go 

Cambie near 7th Ave. Vancouver BC Oct. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Cambie St. near 7th Ave. Vancouver BC Oct. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

to spend their money.  The concept that cyclists are thriftier and hoard their money will most likely not play well in the world of reality.  So, where do these cyclists go and why not to the stores of the merchants who fear bike lanes on their doorstep?  After all, cyclists are not a homogenous group of people.  They are young and old.  They are single, in couple relationships, and with children of all ages.  They are of all income levels.  They are of a broad spectrum of taste.  They buy a broad spectrum of goods.  So, what is lacking with these retailers’ stores?

Related Articles:
Becker, HJEH.  Bike Helmets on Customers Expose Unnoticed Business For Retailers.  Jan. 11, 2010. 

Chong, Jean.  Cycling is for Foodies and All: Getting the Retail Connection Right. Jun. 2, 2010.

Becker, HJEH.  European Retailers Prosper from People Streets, Downtown Vancouver Retailers Trudge Along with 1960’s Retailing  Models.   Sept. 12, 2010.

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Copenhagen cycling chic. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Copenhagen cycling chic mixing with pedestrians and cafe vibe. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

 No one prepared me for this:  I would lose my cycling identity in Copenhagen, that badge of irritating marginality to drivers.  It was akin to dropping my self-consciousness of growing up Asian-Canadian, a visible minority in small German-based  Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario during the 1960-1970’s.  When I moved to Toronto and now, Vancouver, I merged anonymously with masses of other Asian faces.  In Copenhagen, a cyclist was swallowed up in a forest of fellow spinners.

Copenhagen's emblem.

Copenhagen's emblem. Photo by J. Chong

No Longer a Cycling Rebel
On bike in Copenhagen, you really aren’t noticed as an exception nor a rebel. Over 36% of people in Copenhagen, cycle to work or school for transportation. Overall, 60% of Copenhageners use their bike daily (2009). At home, 3.8% of Vancouverites cycle for transportation (2008) which is better than most Canadian cities.

I thanked myself for bringing my lycra black skort, a skirt-short combo. I wore the skort more often than expected, in other European cycling-dominant cities before we reached Copenhagen during our trip:  Freiburg and Karlsruhe in Germany as well as in Strasbourg, France.  I wanted to blend in seamlessly with many other cyclists whirring along in streaming cotton jackets, slacks, skirts and walking shorts.

Typical Copenhagen commuter cycling traffic. June 2010.  Photo by HJEH Becker

Typical Copenhagen commuter cycling traffic. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Contrary to many European female cyclists,  and contrary to a growing trend in some North American cities for cycling in streetwear, I still wore my cycling jerseys, sans team logos, and other cycling apparel for comfort. 

Ironically for the first ten years after I returned to cycling mid-life, I wore T-shirts while cycling everywhere.  A garment that dismayed lycra –clad cyclists who avoided the drag of any loose apparel flapping in the wind. But I had memory of smelly polyester tops as a 1970’s teenager. I also did not want to be mistaken for a cycling fitness poseur,  for doing anything remotely athletic.  Odd since I was becoming more fit from cycling than ever before in my life.

A North American cycling alien in Copenhagen, with helmet and high visibility jacket. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

A North American cycling alien in Copenhagen, with helmet and high visibility jacket. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

But now, I wanted to protect my carefully chosen business wardrobe from cycling stains and early tear.  I had spent precious dollars and shopping hours  tracking down clothing to fit. 

Still A Tad Alien-Cyclist
Nevertheless, I still appeared as a North American hyper-cyclist with a helmet poking out  among Copenhagen cycling masses.  I wore my helmet because  I learned my lesson after falling off my bike on black ice twice during winter. I also learned my lesson when I worked for three years at a rehabilitation hospital for spinal cord injured adults in Toronto. A few kilometers away, there was an acute care hospital with a trauma unit. They treated head injuries.    

Cycling couple-- nonchalant and unaffected in Copenhagen. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Cycling couple holding hands. Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker. Common in cycling-intensive European cities.

It is not all bad to lose a lot of North American frenetic cycling identity. When you shed it, you may drop hyper-focused  athleticism  that can look fit, but intimidating to emulate by the easy-going couch surfers. 

While in Prague, I saw our own North American cyclist as near-alien creature, reflected back on us by watching the odd Prague cyclist zipping here and there on bike. The cyclists in downtown Prague were rare and nearly inconsequential.  When we were in Prague a few days before Copenhagen, we noticed the paucity of cyclists. With a local cycling mode share of optimistically up to only 2%, Prague is like many North American cities: lacking extensive cycling infrastructure and much lower cycling rates for transportation.

Copenhagen side street for cycling, walking, bike parking and sitting streetside.

Copenhagen side street for cycling, walking, bike parking and sitting streetside. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Such a contrast to even Freiburg, Germany a city 25% smaller than Prague, with also a cobblestoned core like Prague.  By contrast, Freiburg was thronging with cyclists in streetwear.

Cycling during the first two hours or so in Copenhagen, was liberating and fun with many cyclists around.  However the elation of cycling in a flowing crowd, became muted. I had to focus.   Even though cycling in Copenhagen is on flat terrain in separated bike lanes, I had to adjust my riding style. I had to merge with many 

Ready to cycle after shopping. Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Ready to cycle after shopping. Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

 more cyclists nearby, passing either on my left or right — the latter, I have always found irritating.   Very few Copenhageners used their bike bells. They didn’t bother to say anything as a warning, if they wanted to pass you on a crowded or narrow path. 

Perhaps with many cyclists, a ringing bike bell or more might confuse not just one, but several other cyclists around me: who was ringing that bell?

Letting Go of North American Cycling Exclusivity
To become a cycling city, means many North American regular cyclists must adopt a far more inclusive mindset  to embrace wobbly, slower cyclists, cyclists 

Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

who chat side by side in separated bike lanes and cyclists who are not model Copenhagen chic nor fitness oriented. Inclusion also meant a group of eight casually attired teenage girls chatting happily away with one another while they cycled slowly along.

One by one, each cycling girl peeled off from the cycling gaggle, on her bike with a wave and onward to her destination. I marvelled at this  ordinary Copenhagen social cycling activity. Not often does one see in many North American cities,   groups of casually dressed teenage girls  cycling  in the city for transportation and to socialize.  

It was striking  there was a critical mass of women cycling all the time in Copenhagen. Over 55% of cyclists there, were female. There were short time spurts, when I saw more women  cycling than men. Many of the cycling women I saw were cycling solo, strangers to one another and focused on getting to their destinations.

 Copenhagen by Bike Special Museum Exhibit
I wandered over to Copenhagen’s city museum to browse its special exhibit on its historic love affair with the bike, ‘Copenhagen by Bike”.  The exhibit was 

Temporary historic exhibit, 'Copenhagen by Bike' on its cycling history. Copenhagen City Museum Jun 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Temporary historic exhibit, 'Copenhagen by Bike' on its cycling history. Copenhagen City Museum, Denmark Jun 2010. Photo by J. Chong

timed deliberately to coincide with the flood of 1,000 international attendees for the Velo-city Global 2010 Conference on cycling infrastructure planning, programming and trends. Earlier this past spring, was the UN Summit on Climate Change which brought thousands of marchers into this city.

Historic celebration of a Copenhagen road and streetcar bridge --with cyclists.  Copenhagen City Museum June 2010. Photo by J.Chong

Historic celebration of a Copenhagen road and streetcar bridge --with cyclists. Copenhagen City Museum June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

When I arrived, I was advised by museum staff to start from the cycling exhibit and go ‘backwards’ in time to view the historic artifacts from bicycles to medieval. 

Bikes of various vintages were crammed  in the main chandeliered exhibit room, from floor to ceiling.  Next to  children’s bikes, there were adult tricycles with rear-end, hard case  storage case, military bike and bikes used in circuses and entertainment performances.  Wedged here and there, were photos, original paintings and other artifacts. Even during the World War II, the Danish royal family cycled abit as a solidarity gesture.  To me, the museum 

Cycling within a wheel (?). Copenhagen City Museum June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Cycling within a wheel (?). Copenhagen City Museum June 2010. Photo by J. Chong. Surely, for circus performances.

exhibit was cleverly executed in tight space.  Different bike shapes overlapped one another and became hanging visual abstracts of bike lines and swirls. It was like a carefully designed bike garden that offered different views at every turn, every few steps ahead.

Outside the museum, a postman mounted his postal transport bike with his full mail panniers and basket after his delivery at the museum. Like several German cities we visited, Copenhagen postal workers also cycled around and delivered mail from door to door on yellow mail bikes. Such a sensible way to avoid back and shoulder pain for those heavy loads.

Going for a bike ride. Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Going for a bike ride. Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

  What prevented me from losing my cycling identity in Copenhagen, was wearing  my bike helmet and my narrow mountain bike shoes for more pedal power leverage. Not that Copenhagen had hills like Vancouver.  It pains my feet just to pump flat pedals with thin  beach flip flops.  Nor do I wish to cycle and scuff up  dress shoes. Not in Copenhagen or even later back, in Vancouver. 

But I could gladly live  in Vancouver one day with:  daily streams of nonchalant cyclists in every age group, patient drivers that do not sit on the car horn at a red light,  shops that sell kiddie bikes with real bike racks and more healthier residents.

Interesting Reading:
Becker, HJEH. “Cycling in Prague”. Jun. 26, 2010. In Third Wave Cycling Blog.

City of Vancouver. Engineering Services. 2008 Annual Bicycle Plan Update. Administrative Report. Supports Item No.1. Presented to Standing Committee on Transportation and Traffic, Jul. 22, 2008. See pgs. 3-4 for update to 2006 Statistics Canada data on city’s cycling mode share.

Ekerson, Clarence. “Cycling Copenhagen, Through North American Eyes.” Includes video by Streetsfilm.  In Streetsblog, Jul. 15, 2010. 

Torslov, Niels. Bicycle City Copenhagen. Presented at National Cycling Congress, Berlin May 9, 2009. Published by: City of Copenhagen, The Technical and Environmental Administration. Copenhagen aims to reach 50% cycling mode share by 2015.

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This past June, I volunteered at 2 bike commuter stations during Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition’s Bike to Work Week and its first ever Bike to School Week. I was stationed at Arbutus and West 7th St., and by the Stanley Park Seawall bike path by English Bay.  I also whipped over to a third bike commuter 

Teen with younger sister on their way to school with parent. Bike to Work commuter station near city hall. Vancovuer BC May 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Teen with younger sister on their way to school with parent. Bike to Work commuter station near city hall before heading off to school. Vancovuer BC May 2010. Photo by J. Chong

station near City Hall, to hang out with fellow commuters and have a free coffee.  During Bike to Work Week, VACC had a record-breaking  total of 50 bike commuter stations  across Metro Vancouver.

Though the VACC bike commuter stations were more oriented for adults with their information tables, the occasional cycling parent or adult dropped by with a child in bike seat, on a tandem bike or accompanied their cycling child, for a free drink, energy bar or fresh fruit.  Contrary to any disbelieving parent, there are some children, though probably rare, who do cycle in the rain.  At 2 out of the 3 commuter stations where I was, it rained intermittedly for several hours in the morning.

Dropping by for an energy bar during warm rainy morning. Bike to Work Week and Bike to School Week. June 2010 Vancover, BC. Photo by J. Chong

Dropping by for an energy bar during warm rainy morning. Bike to Work Week and Bike to School Week. June 2010 Vancover, BC. Photo by J. Chong

Nevertheless, these die-hard cycling parents had their kid in tow, warmly dressed and protected from too much rain.   Some children were outfitted in rubber boots and rain gear.  Only one teenager, a cycling young woman came with her younger sister and mother. But kudos to her.  It’s rare to see teenagers cycling on their own for transportation.  

Now that school is back on track this month, it would be a miracle if a lot more older children even rode a few blocks to  their school. However many areas in Metro Vancouver lack cycling infrastructure safe enough for young children.  But 

Bike pumping for young cycling efficiency. Bike to Work Week and Bike to School Week. Near English Bay, Vancouver BC June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Bike pumping for young cycling efficiency. Bike to Work Week and Bike to School Week. Near English Bay, Vancouver BC June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

more to the point:  are most drivers still conscientious and alert compared to decades ago?  Maybe.  At least awhile ago, we didn’t have dangerous driver distractions of cell phone use or texting. It doesn’t help either when there are many cars crowded near the school intersections to drop off children.

 After all,  some of us can remember bike racks jammed with bikes outside our school. I did for my senior public school, grades 7-8 for children ages 13-15.  The school was located along a 4-lane major commercial-retail street that was also coincidentally part of major local transit bus lines in an Ontario city, population of 40,000 at that time.  At least the school backed into a residential neighbourhood for access to quieter streets. There was a university campus less than 1 km. away.

Family outing by English Bay, Vancouver BC. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Family outing by English Bay, Vancouver BC. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

No, parents didn’t allow me to bike to school because of safety concerns. But we walked to school daily. If the weather was particularily bad, I took the transit bus alone. The bus stop was only a 10-min. walk from home. There were other pedestrians and regular flow of car traffic.  School was less than 3 kms. away. 

Focus on safe cycling facilities for children  cannot be under-estimated. We want to make the experience for budding cyclists enjoyable, safe and help them cycle frequently, for health and fun. 

For sale: kiddie bikes with bike rack for panniers. Freiburg, German. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

New kiddie bikes with bike racks for panniers. Freiburg, Germany. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Most parents also want to instill safe cycling habits in their children. Danish children at the age of 6, are required to learn safe cycling skills at school.

After all, for many adult cyclists who return to cycling at mid-life, the memory of childhood cycling fun can be that  trigger to change adult lifestyle habits for transportation and health.  With sufficient evidence of obesity and other related health problems, by building in cycling skills into the school curriculum and providing a good selection of  built-in safe cycling routes for children, it will sow lifelong benefits.

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They cannot wait.  The cyclists just cannot wait until the barriers are completed.  After the workers leave for the day, the cyclists take over the partially completed separated bike lanes under construction on Dunsmuir St.

Dunsmuir St. separated bike lane under construction. Downtown Vancouver BC. May 28, 2010. Photo by J. Becker

Dunsmuir St. separated bike lane under construction. Downtown Vancouver BC. May 28, 2010. Photo by J. Becker. City council approved construction of extension for Dunsmuir separated bike lane into downtown. To be completed by June 15, 2010.

Curb separation between the general traffic lanes and cars and the two-way bike lanes have been built.  The planters are still to come.  In one block, bike racks still need to be installed within the barrier space. The bus stops still need to be poured.  Construction signage and pylons still line the road. 

One late afternoon as rush hour traffic forms, cyclists take over the construction site.  Signs are disobeyed with enthusiasm as cyclists pounce on the new bike lanes.   Still cycling traffic is in the same direction as car movement.  Contra-flow cycling on Dunsmuir has not taken hold, save for a few cyclists including myself.  Traffic signals have not been installed for these cyclists.

Yet there is enthusiasm among the cyclists with a sense of a free spirit.  The neighbouring car traffic is less onerous.  What is truly amazing is the appeal of these separated lanes to cyclists whereby they abandoned parallel streets to cycle through a construction area.

Cyclist already using downtown Dunsmuir separated bike lane. May 29, 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Cyclist already using downtown Dunsmuir separated bike lane still under construction. May 29, 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker. Separated barrier still needs to have landscaping installed as planned by June 15.

 What is even more amazing is the speed that these lanes are being built.  Other bike lane projects were approved months or maybe a year ago and still wait for the construction scheduler somewhere in City of Vancouver land to give the nod for crews to start the work.  However, for Dunsmuir, there is a rush.  There is a desire to have the lanes in place before the summer cycling traffic grows.  Have the lanes open in mid-June, right in Bike Month in Vancouver.  Then monitor the cycling traffic grow into the fall.  What a way to see the draw of separated bike lanes to bring cyclists to Dunsmuir St.  Just a few days ago, city staff reported that the usual 100 cyclists on Dunsmuir Viaduct have multiplied by 10 fold after separation was installed , giving cyclists their own space removed from car and pedestrian traffic.  What growth will separated bike lanes bring to the downtown core?

Going back to the amazing speed that these lanes have evolved from the black asphalt:  just awhile ago on May 20th, Council gave their approval to these lanes.  That night, staff already was busy sweeping the asphalt so that the new configurations could be painted on the road surface.  Construction drawings were completed.  Then  just 9 days later, already on several blocks downtown, 

New Signage for 2-Directional Separated Bike Lane on Dunsmuir St. Downtown Vancouver BC. May 29, 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker.

New Signage for 2-Directional Separated Bike Lane on Dunsmuir St. Downtown Vancouver BC. May 29, 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker. Signage for right-hand turning cars not best message. Needs to indicate turning cars must stop for cyclists flowing through in bike lane.

the car traffic lanes emerged from construction mayhem to operating normally in the post construction road configuration.  Now for construction, what is left, can now happen within the confines of the bike lanes.  Is this not a construction miracle?  Nine days into construction, car lanes are back to normal operation.  Is this the way of future for building bike lanes?  One could only dream of it or go to Dunsmuir and experience the dream being played out.

What is this all about?  Maybe the Vancouver Sun article May 28th,  provides some insight.  Population is expected to grow strongly within the next few decades.  Will the city grow to “a busy metropolis that’s a pressure cooker of humanity, traffic jams and subways that pack commuters in like sardines?”  “Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is pushing to replace car lanes with bicycle lanes — a policy that will accelerate.”  Maybe separated bike lanes will induce people to forsake their cars for their trips to work and to shopping.  Maybe separated bike lanes are a relieve valve for that pressure cooker.  Let’s come back in 6, 12 months and look at the evidence.

Background
In June  2009, Vancouver’s City Council approved the concept of separated bike lanes within Vancouver. On February 4, 2010,  Council approved separated bike lanes on the Dunsmuir Viaduct.  As well, Council approved separated bike lanes from the Burrard Bridge and the Viaduct into downtown core. On May 6th, Council at the CS&B Committee meeting, endorsed staff’s report recommending that staff report back on trials for separated bike lanes outside of the Downtown core, including an arterial street and on part of a local street bikeway.

Further Reading:
Cernetig, Miro. Growing metropolis needs unified vision. In Vancouver Sun, May 28, 2010.
City of Vancouver. Engineering Services.  Separated Bike Lanes in Downtown. Administrative Report to Standing Committee on City Services and Budgets. Supports Item No. 2.  February 4, 2010.

City of Vancouver. Engineering Services.  Cycling in Vancouver:  Looking Forward 2010/2011. Administrative Report to Standing Committee on City Services and Budgets. Supports Item No. 5.  May 6, 2010.

Cole, Yolanda. Bike-lane work on downtown Vancouver’s Dunsmuir Street could snarl traffic. In The Province, May 28, 2010.

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