Sunday, January 31, 2010

Week Stats

Calculate your carbon footprint here.

Week 43 Stats

Miles Biked: 65.59
Gallons Saved: 4.09
CO2 Not Emitted: 25.74 Ibs

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I Don't Usually Reference Hitler, But... Random Bicycle Crap Fridays

Hitler has finally weighed in on the "bicycles as traffic debate." Of course I don't mean the real Hitler, but the fairly random "Hitler rants about..." clips floating around the internet. There are some pretty funny ones, with topics ranging from Brett Farve, Healthcare Reform, Obama, Xbox Live, and WoW. But now someone has finally given Hitler an opinion on bycling.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Riding a Bicycle on a Roadway" Now Illegal (in Texas)

For days I have been enthralled by the slowly unraveling story of fellow cyclist and carfree blogger ChipSeal who has been arrested - more than once - for driving his bike on a public roadway (in Texas) in the last week. Each day he reveals more details or more of his inner thoughts on the utter stupidity of the situation.

I won't cover the whole story, since ChipSeal does it so well with very well timed wit, for the real thing go to his blog, or visit Commute Orlando for a great commentary largely inspired by ChipSeal's ordeal and the ordeals of other cyclist's in similar situations.

Essentially he is being harassed by law enforcement at the behest of whinny motorists for obstructing their right to go fast without any impediments to their forward progress. In his last post ChipSeal prods bicycle advocates to give a shit and show it by doing something other than lobbying for laws and infrastructure and get down to something that will be real and solid in protecting/enforcing cyclist rights in Texas.

I might be a long way from Texas... but it sounds like small town Texas could be infused with some of the enthusiasm for theme rides that the cyclists of Portland are infected with. Seems to me that a "Solidarity Ride" needs to be organized to bring cyclists from all over Texas (or the nation) to ride through these small towns that are trying to restrict cyclist's rights, or harassing the few cyclists present on the road, as a show of solidarity and numbers.

But what do I know about Texas from my perch in the snowy mountains of Montana.

And I was going to do a short post on the little parking ticket I received on campus yesterday... though I still managed to slip it in there.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Winter Clean Up

Spring is fast approaching, or it could even be here already considering the warm weather we have been having here in Missoula, and with the coming of spring it means that my year of car-free existence is coming to an end. Come April my year will be over, but that doesn't mean that I will suddenly end my commitment to alternative transportation and turn into a car-crazed American.

And just because my car-free year is coming to an end doesn't mean that this blog's purpose will suddenly vanish. As many readers might have noticed, much of the content I have been writing isn't actually about my car-free experience, but rather about alternative transportation and urban design issues. This will not change.

And with that said... it is time to perform a little clean up and catch up with my car-free stats for the last two months.

Week 35

Miles Biked: 57.62
Gallons Saved: 3.60
CO2 Not Emitted: 22.62 Ibs

Week 36

Miles Biked: 8. 21
Gallons Saved: .513
CO2 Not Emitted: 3.223 Ibs

Month 9

Miles Biked: 123.14
Gallons Saved: 7.69
CO2 Not Emitted: 193.33 Ibs

Week 37

Miles Biked: 12.69
Gallons Saved: .793
CO2 Not Emitted: 4.98 Ibs

Week 38

Miles Biked: 9.23
Gallons Saved: .577
CO2 Not Emitted: 3.63 Ibs

Week 39

Miles Biked: 0.00
Gallons Saved: 0.00
CO2 Not Emitted: 0.00

Week 40

Miles Biked: 27.42
Gallons Saved: 1.72
CO2 Not Emitted: 10.76 Ibs

Month 10

Miles Biked: 49.34
Gallons Saved: 3.08
CO2 Not Emitted: 19.37 Ibs

Week 41

Miles Biked: 53.84
Gallons Saved: 3.37
CO2 Not Emitted: 21.13 Ibs

Week 42

Miles Biked: 62.76
Gallons Saved: 5.23
CO2 Not Emitted: 24.63 Ibs

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Interesting Repercusion from Missoula's New Title 20 Zoning

Missoula's new Title 20 zoning ordinance hasn't been been in place for very long, but already it is starting to stir up some controversy and play havoc on some people's building plans.

You see, the updated ordinance prohibits garages that extend past the front of a house's facade, such as the one in the photo below. This move essentially limits the type of housing that has been prevalent in America's suburbs since the 1970's. The reason for the new ordinance is an attempt to shape the aesthetics of new construction to fit with Missoula's more historic neighborhoods where a garage is usually in the back facing a alley or non-existent.

Essentially the uproar has come from a builder that was planning a small development. His argument is that the ordinance raises the cost of construction because it is so difficult to find stock architectural plans where the garage doesn't dominate the front of a home that he will be forced to pay an architect to design homes that fit in with the newly updated ordinance and could even force several future projects to fail because of additional costs.

This news came from the city council listserve that our Councilman Bob Jaffe maintains. From the sound of it, no one at that level of local gov't knew of this ordinance and there is already talk of revising the language to make it less restrictive.

Part of the idea behind the zoning update was to make the language simplified and easier to understand, but at the same time to make it easier for more traditional, mixed use and compact development to take place to fit in with the Missoula community's vision of growth and Downtown Master Plan. A component of this vision is our recent passage of a complete streets ordinance.

In my opinion, a house dominated in the front by a garage doesn't add anything to the character of a neighborhood or to the streetscape. And complete streets is about more than just how the roadway is configured, but should also consider the buildings along the street and how they come to make an "outdoor room" and how those buildings interact with the public space (road) out front. A large garage in the front of a house sends a poor signal, both aesthetically and architecturally, while confining the since of public space more so and limiting the interactivity of elements along the streetscape.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Winter Riding Update

Temperatures have risen to a balmy 40 F the last two days. It actually been a fairly warm week in general with temps hovering just above freezing most days. And to give you an idea of just how bad the ice was the last couple of weeks... there is still ice in places on the road after a week of melting. Now that temperatures are back up I'm no longer the lone cyclists out there and even with rain today there are a number of people out on their bikes.

I really felt unsafe in many situations over the course of the worst road conditions here in Montana. My usual routes along neighborhood side streets were often completely un-ridable from the thick coating of undulating ice. Which forced me onto many main streets where the roads were clear but the traffic was heavy. I never had a close call, but it was still very unsettling to to be forced onto busy roads that had become constricted because of plowed snow piling up on the roadway. Just from a personal perspective, the perception that an auto is safer in such conditions really does make them much more utilitarian than a bike.

As for the score so far this winter... Ice - 2, Me - 0. And yes, to all those family reading this... I had a helmet on both times I took a spill on the ice.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Walkscore: Something seems a little off

What do I do with my free time? Play around with Missoula's Walk Score of course... and find that it is broken.

For those who have never been to the Walk Score website, the purpose is to calculate the friendliness of different neighborhoods based on the proximity of amenities such as services, restaurants, etc. According to the Walk Score website, the algorithm used assigns the maximum number of points for amenities that are within a 1/4 mile of the location entered. While this is a good measure of walkability, I would argue that factors such as street design, traffic volume, speed limits, and neighborhood character would make the model Walk Score uses much more accurate and relevant.

To illustrate my point you can see below the streetscape of Phillips, the street on which I live. My address received a 69, meaning that only 27% of locations had higher walkscores than my house.

Now contrast my neighborhood's Walk Score with the one received by the location seen below. I randomly typed in an address along Brooks, a four lane arterial with speeds ranging from 35-45 with lots of traffic, congestion, business activity, and almost no cyclists or pedestrians.

This section of Brooks received a Walk Score of 83, 14 points higher or about 20% more "walkable" than where I live. I think its pretty intuitive just from the pictures of the two different locations which one would be more friendly to active transportation... and its not the one Walk Score recommends.

There is a lot more to getting people walking than just how close they live to given amenities or their job. Paramount is safety, or at least the perception of safety along design aesthetics. I would venture to guess most people would rather walk down a tree lined, quiet street with on street parking acting as a buffer, than a busy, loud arterial surrounded by parking lots and neon lights.

I think Walk Score might be broken.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Coeur d Alene: Safety Fail, No Saftey in Numbers for Bike/Peds

Over the weekend I was hit by a car, and it provides me with a good opportunity to talk about safety in numbers that cyclists and pedestrians create and how streetscapes and development patterns contribute to safety.

Let me setup what happened. I took the Greyhound from Missoula to Coeur d' Alene (CDA) Saturday morning to visit my folks. There is no physical transfer station in CDA, rather the bus drops you off at a gas station that sits at the corner of a large intersection (Ramesy and Appleway) where two four-lane arterials meet (total of 22 lanes at the intersection).

Anyway, the bus dropped me off at a different location than the Greyhound website gave for the (nonexistent) station. My father was coming to pick me up, but since he doesn't have a cell phone there was no way to get a hold of him, so I decided to walk north along the western side of Ramsey to find a good place to wave him down as he came to pick me up.

Two blocks later I was crossing the intersection below, which is an old picture as the intersection now has a four-way light, within the cross walk while a car was waiting for an opening to turn right-on-red. I walked out in front of his car, attempting to make eye contact because I could sense he was ready to hit the gas to make an opening, but he was looking the other direction. Needless to say he hit the gas and ran right into me. Luckily he immediately stopped and I wasn't hurt other than a small bruise on my leg.

This incident got me thinking how ridiculous the incident was. Living in Missoula, I have walked hundreds, perhaps even a thousand miles around town over the course of seven years. In that time I have never been hit by a car... I don't even remember having a close call. But here I am, back in the town I grew up in, and five minutes after stepping off the bus I am hit be a car.

The whole time I lived in CDA, I never once got around by walking or biking, rather the only real way to get around is by car. Seven years of walking in Missoula = no problem, five minutes of walking in CDA = getting hit by a car. Missoula and CDA are also fairly close in terms of population size.

Why is this? Because of not only the streetscape that dominates in CDA (suburban arterials with speeds above 35 mph) but also the development pattern that essentially forced those types of roadways to be built.

You can see these patterns at play in the photo of CDA below. I have highlighted all the four lane arterials (red corresponding to suburban arterial design and yellow representing four lane roads with an urban character). CDA is a maze of suburban subdivisions that are only connected to the wider community through the use of a lot of arterials. Only a small portion of CDA (which also includes the towns of Dalton Gardens, Hayden, and Hayden Lake) actually has a street network laid out in a grid. This pattern results in a very spread out population with very low densities (Dalton Gardens is zoned at 1 house/acre).

Because people have to drive everywhere and there are almost no pedestrians or cyclists, the motorists don't look out for these types of people. Those whom do walk or bike are mostly a working-poor underclass -except for the roadies - that most suburbanites don't spend any time thinking of between trips to Starbucks, work, and dropping the kids off at soccer practice.

Now contrast this with Missoula (a photo with the same types of streets highlighted can be seen below). The bulk of Missoula is based on a grid system and subdivisions with a suburban character only exist at the fringes of the town. Not only that, but the most of the four lane roads that Missoula does have exist within areas that are urban in character (higher densities, tree lined streets, sidewalks, smaller lot setbacks, and slower speeds). The four lane suburban arterials are located again mostly at the edges of Missoula and so cyclists and pedestrians can largely avoid these roads by choosing quieter streets.

Also consider the the geographic distance these two photos show. The photo of Missoula covers most of the town and most of the town's population. The photo is 3.5 miles x 3.5 miles while the photo of CDA shows an area 7.5 miles x 7.5 miles that leaves out a considerable amount of development to the north. Missoula's compact nature encourages alternative transportation simply through its shorter distances.

The higher densities, shorter distances, and more welcoming streetscape encourages people to walk and bike. In much of the central part of Missoula you can't go more than a couple of blocks without seeing another pedestrian or cyclist. Just the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists using Missoula streets makes motorists more aware of them and creates a situation where motorists must constantly be on the lookout. This creates a Safety in Numbers phenomenon whereby the more cyclists and pedestrians out on the roads, the less absolute fatalities and crash cars have with cyclists and pedestrians.

Describing what had happened, even my very conservative father understood the relationship between development patterns, streets, and mode of travel. In his opinion, and I have to agree with him, CDA is a town that will never see a lot of people walking, biking, or using transit simply because the towns infrastructure makes those options economically difficult and even dangerous.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Random Bicycle Crap Fridays: Sub-Zero Edition

I need one of these to get some traction on the three-inches of ice we have on some of our Missoula roads.

Completed my first sub-zero bicycle commute this morning with the temperature reading -8 when I left the house with windchill making it more like -15 or -20. I was actually never really cold along my three miles... but it sure was the most miserable bicycle commute I've experienced. Can't wait to do it again.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Thwarted by Ice

The last two days Missoula has seen some Hellish weather. Yesterday started out nicely enough with a light snow falling on my morning commute. The little bit of ice on the roadways forced me to go a bit slower than normal. By the time I made it to the campus however, the temperature had increased enough to turn the light snow into a wet mess of sleet in the air and slush on the road.

It then proceeded to snow and rain alternatively all day and by the time my day was over the roads were covered in a thick layer of slush and lots of puddles filling the low spots in the road. Without any fenders on my mountain bike my three mile commute felt almost like I was swimming through some very brackish water.

As soon as I was warmed up I made sure to put on a rear fender. Unfortunately it was a futile gesture to try and keep me comfortable since the weather conspired to keep me off of my bike today. Over night all the rain and wetness had frozen solid into a sheet of ice up to several inches thick in places. This included covering all of my bikes in a shinny layer of ice.

The brakes were completely frozen and useless... the cables, calipers, and triggers were all useless. Ice covered the seats of both my road and fixie, while even the wheels and hubs on my fixie were covered in a layer of ice. Rather than spend 20 minutes trying to unfreeze all the components and then worrying about putting too much stress on the metal being so cold.

So thanks to Ashley for being gracious enough to provide me with a ride this morning.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Second Thoughts on the Copenhagen Wheel

The last week of the Copenhagen Climate Conference saw a lot of buzz for something completely unrelated to climate change. While world leaders tried and failed to put together a sensible plan on climate change (who am I kidding, there is nothing sensible about anything related to politics) an announcement out of MIT's SENSEable City Lab basically stole the show for many in the bicycle community. The Copenhagen Wheel combines hybrid technology (think Prius), connectivity through the use of a smart phone, and the best, most reliable, and technologically simple form of transportation to yet exist... the bicycle.

This really is a great idea, for more information watch the video here, but after my initial WOW reaction to reading about this invention, I started to think about how I would find the Copenhagen Wheel practical to use in my everyday journey by bike and I came instead came away with two concerns.

First, the Wheel main means of generating energy to be stored is when a rider uses the coaster brake. This goes against the basic operation of a bicycle where a person attempts to conserve as much forward momentum as possible and braking makes up a very small portion of a person's time on a bike. In the attempt to conserve forward momentum cyclists blow through stop signs and even red lights (I'll admit to doing exactly that when there is no traffic to worry about).

It's highly doubtful that people would significantly change their behavior just to get a little charge. Unlike with a hybrid vehicle, whereby people changing their driving behavior to fit the dynamics of a hybrid and thus driving becomes more efficient, changing behavior to fit the mechanics of the Copenhagen Wheel would seem to make a ride less efficient.

However, Christine Outram, a research associate at the SENSEable City Lab informed me that the Copenhagen Wheel does take these facts into account having an additional "exercise" mode that can be switched on. In this mode, excess energy from pedaling is used to charge the batteries. Of course, this mode is meant for those who like to ride at a fast clip and so may not be of much utility to those cyclists whom prefer to take a leisurely ride.

The second concern is the distraction of operating everything through a smart phone. A large debate surfaced this summer surrounding the safety implications of texting and driving, and I see no difference here just because the bicycle is a few thousand pounds less. Texting or talking on a cell phone while biking is extremely distracting and dangerous, I can attest to this by witnessing plenty of people attempting such feats and thereby swerving all over the place, losing their balance, and generally becoming unaware of their surroundings.

While the Copenhagen Wheel smart phone interface is integrated into the handlebars of a bicycle, this system still requires that a ride look down and take one hand off the handlebars to operate; creating a distraction and making the bicyclist take their eyes off the road. Its not hard to imagine someone fiddling with their smart phone and wondering into a busy intersection.
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