Monday, December 12, 2011

Bicycling Advocates Needed Part II - Want to help?


Chapter I:  11/2/11  began a quest to get better signs at the dangerous Southwood Lane bicycle crossing:

Chapter II:  Progress.  Lee Shoemaker, City of Eugene's Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator called back -- he's a good guy.  He referred the suggestion on to Steve Gallup of the Public Works Department.  Steve called and left a message saying that there is a months-long backlog ahead of this particular problem, but he will add it to the list.

Another bicycling blogger working on the same issue posted a great diagram of the intersection:

Want to help?    
Squeaky Wheel tee shirt from
How to: Contact Lee Shoemaker, City of Eugene Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator: (541) 682-547; or  Steve Gallup, Assistant Traffic Engineer, 541-682-4960

Friday, December 2, 2011


Rainy season has set in, leaves are piled up in the bike lanes, and I'm driving more and working on another blog:

Schrodinger's Cat Lives!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

License to Bicycle?

From: Bicycle Blunders and Smarter Solutions,

My sister and I were talking recently about the problems of mixed car/bicycle traffic.  She thought that all bicyclists should be required to take a safety course and be licensed, just like automobile drivers. Understandable.  She lives in Portland, OR, in a hilly area where it's not uncommon to come around a corner and find bicyclists blocking the road or balancing precariously on the shoulder on a dark, rainy day; not to mention the people who ride the wrong way on sidewalks or on the street. Heart stopping.

I'm not keen on licensing bicyclists.  It's hard enough getting people out of their cars, and hard to imagine enforcing such a law. Sorry officer, just wanted to run to the grocery store. Left my license at home, honest.

Here's something that does make a difference in bicycle safety:  separation.  Look at the statistics from Portland:  

"Facilities Reduce Risk"

Adding bike lanes substantially increased the numbers of cyclers and decreased the number of crashes. In Eugene, where I live, a 1995 study showed similar results.

Is adding bike lanes enough?  Should we also take steps to make sure bicyclists follow the rules of the road?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bicycling in NYC

Slide show this morning in the NYT on bicycling in New York and attendant troubles from trying to make bicycling safer and easier (link below):

Biking in New York: bike path growing pains

This, from New York bloggers Cyrus Patell and Bryan Waterman:

Would love to hear from anyone who has been biking in New York lately, especially on any of the new 250 miles of bicycle paths.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Civic Activism -- Save me from this intersection!

These small and tree-shrouded signs:

...are the only indication that bicyclists are cutting at an angle right there across a busy on-ramp.  There is a wheel-chair style cut out in the curb across the street (hidden behind the car in the photo) which funnels bicyclists onto the sidewalk/bike route.

Anybody else have close calls here?  It's on the road off Oakway, heading toward I-105, going west.

It's an especially bad crossing because 1/2 a block back, there is a no-turn-on-red stop light, so drivers wait impatiently at the intersection for the light to turn green, and then take off, pedal to the metal, just about where the signs are.

Better signage would help.  How about this?

Or this?

We live in a bicycle-friendly city, and there is someone to call about safety suggestions:  bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, Lee Shoemaker at (541) 682-5471.
I have a call into Lee and hope to hear from him soon.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Guilty Pleasure: Bike Boxes, to use or not to use?

This gives me the willies: crowded intersections, waiting for the light to turn green.  Check out the statistics:  over 50% of bike/car collisions happen at intersections.

The guy next to you is revving his engine, probably wondering if it's safe to make that legal turn-on-red with a bicyclist sitting there.  The awkward moment turns dangerous after the light changes, especially if you, the biker, want to go straight.  Who goes first?  The (slow) bicyclist or the car?  Worse: when you're in a bike lane that changes mid-intersection from the far left on one side of the street to far right on the other.  If you wait for the cars you might not make it across before the light changes.  If you go for it you might get smacked.

I'm thinking of one intersection in particular, on the corner of 7th and High in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon:

City planners created Bike Boxes to address this problem.  Here's how they work:

A box marked for bicyclists is painted on the street, giving bikers space to wait in front of the cars and a head start when the light changes.

Bike boxes have been used in Europe and Asia since the 1980's.  Cities in the US started experimenting with them around 2000. Note that in the photo of the Eugene intersection above, there is a bike box.  In fact it was one of the first in the country, installed in 1998.  Go Eugene.  It was recently spruced up, but sadly, not with the bright green of a similar box installed on the University of Oregon campus:

In fact, the bike box on 7th and High is so low-profile, I didn't notice it until two cool-looking young people pulled into it. They chatted nonchalantly with each other, while brazenly blocking the cars behind them.  This definitively answers the legal-turn-on-red question (no, not if a biker is in front of you), and the question of who goes first.

So, the next time at that intersection, I tried it.

It was great.

It also felt dangerous.  Talk about being separated from the herd.  I just know the guy behind me was gunning to make his right-on-red, and steaming at my impertinent backside.

But the driver did not do anything impolite or dangerous, and I'm alive to tell the tale.

So, is it smart to take advantage of a bike box?

Another bike blogger ( writes that when used correctly, bike boxes significantly reduce bike/car accidents. They work best, however, when (1) drivers and bikers are well educated about how to use them; (2) when they are brightly painted; (3) when the stop line for cars is a few feet behind the bike box; (4) when the bike box is at least 14 feet deep to improve visibility for cars and to let more bikers fit in the space; (5) when the box is paired with a lane that guides bikes straight to the lane across the street.

This bike box does not meet ANY of the above criteria.  My advice to myself and others:  proceed, as always, with caution!

Still, if we're going to help get drivers used to bike boxes, we should use them.  It is fun to roll in front of a long line of idling cars and go first. Right of way, hurray. It is, dare I say it? kind of a rush.  Right up there with eating chocolate.  Well, almost.

Sources:, ttp://,,,

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

An Urge to Write

''There lurks, perhaps, in every human heart, a desire of distinction, which inclines every man to hope, and then to believe, that nature has given himself something peculiar to himself.'' Samuel Johnson

Warning:  this is what comes of noodling along on a bicycle, rather than zipping through traffic in a car with coffee, NPR and Fresh Tracks to drown out daydreams.  Sometimes an impractical idea takes root.

One of the big ideas that occurred to me while riding my bike was that maybe I should write a novel.  Oh. No.  Everybody wants to write a novel.

A 2002 survey found that 81% of Americans believe they should write a book.  It's probably a higher percentage now.  Let's see, 81% of 350 million is about ... 285 million of us.  So nice to have company. Once after telling my husband I wanted to write a book, he took me into a used bookstore and pointed out the dusty and forgotten piles of books and said oh so gently he couldn't imagine putting all that work out for a book that would then just have to compete with all those other books.

I went ahead and wrote one anyway.  It took 6 months.  Not six months of sitting down all day seriously composing, six months of dashing things off when I felt like it, making this! happen, and then this!  It was kind of fun.  Ended up with an impressive 250 page printout that the guys at the local copy store are still probably chortling about, since they got to have a peek at it. I sent them the file using the "web-based file hosting service" Dropbox.  Sending a newly minted novel via DropBox for someone else to print made me feel like a Real Writer and technologically savvy.  Nothing could be further from the truth, but enough said there.  Anyway, wrote the story, printed it, proudly took it home and told loved ones and closest friends, I wrote a book!

Unfortunately, it is a terrible book.  Even I can't read it without falling asleep.

What makes us want to write?  Is it because of a desire to, as Samuel Johnson says, distinguish ourselves?  Validate the sense of the importance of the one and only Me?


(Image from cover of the book Incredible Me, a really good book by Kathi Appelt)

So give it up already.

Well, what about the hundreds of pages of diaries, kept since childhood, filled with stories?  Boring.  Right?  And the Lifetime Dream of wanting to write?  And the high school teacher who said you have promise?  

In the months since "finishing" the book and subsequently discovering it unreadable, my bicycle ponderings about writing books continued, sometimes like this: Don't do it!  It's your ego that wants to write a book, and your ego has gotten you into trouble more than once! You aren't very good at telling stories, why try to write them? This is going to be really embarrassing, when you, gulp, FAIL.  Your life is fine the way it is.  You don't need authorship.

At the same time, the Jiminy Cricket part of my my mind is chirping away:  You can do this!  Makes no difference who you are! ... 

... and thinking about What Went Wrong, and what might be done to right it.

Signed up for an online writing class.  Found hundreds of people like me (81% of the population?).  Got some good tips: Structure. Cause. Effect.  (Also, first rule of writing: don't blog about writing.  Oops.)

In other words, even while I'm discouraging myself, the second draft is already underway.

Who knows what profundities might occur to me during the long, wet commutes this coming winter?  Perhaps the Great American ...  Well, never mind about that.  I'll settle for 285,000,000 new friends.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Approaching the Problem of Air Travel Creatively

From "Tank Girl: The Odessey" (film)

"We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity."  
Jonah Lehrer

How can someone like me who bikes to save a gallon or two of gas, justify air travel?  Spewing CO2 into the atmosphere, burning fuel like water, contributing to vapor trails, air pollution and climate change?

Where to begin?

First with a nod to human engineering.  We can fly.  I can't get over it.  We can get something off the ground with 500 people on board, travel at 600 miles an hour for 7000 miles.  Imagine what else we might accomplish? This cries out for celebration.  Preferably with a long trip.

Not convinced?  How about this:  long distance travel is good for you. Getting out of the groove, subjecting yourself to odd hours, a new language and finding your way around strange places -- unlocks creativity. A recent study asked two groups of students to list as many kinds of transportation as they could. They were told that this was for a project developed by American students who were either (a) in Greece or (b) in Indiana. When they believed they were helping students in Indiana, the participants listed things like cars and buses. When they believed they were participating in a study that came from Greece, they came up with a more imaginative list:  trams, Segway, space travel.

In another project, researchers found that people who had lived abroad were able to negotiate and solve puzzles more creatively than people who had not lived abroad.

When we're at home, our brains block out all but what we really need.  This tends to limit thinking to concrete terms (hungry, MacDonalds, eat).  When we are out of our element, we think more abstractly, and that allows us to make different, broader connections (MacDonald's, trans fats, big American bottoms).  

From "SuperSize Me" 

I wonder why this might be?  Perhaps pre-humans wandering around looking for fresh meat and places to hide from mastodons had an evolutionary advantage over more sedentary species.

Whatever the reason, we are going to need a lot of creativity to deal with a *!#?-load of self-inflicted world problems, caused by things like ....  air travel.

Sources:  "Lessons from a Faraway land: The effect of spatial distance on creative cognition," Jia, Hirt, Karpen,; "INSEAD Research Shows Going Abroad Linked to Creativity," Wm. Maddox, et al,; "An Easy Way to Increase Creativity," Shapira & Liberman,

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Is flying worth it, environmentally speaking?

The previous post celebrates bicycling as the most fuel efficient way to travel, and compares mileage on a bicycle to other forms of locomotion.  Missing from that list, however, is travel by airplane. The post before that relates a first-hand view of bicycling in Germany. Preaching bicycling to save fuel, and then waxing poetic about a (plane) trip to Germany?   Sounds hypocritical.   

It is.  But.  Here's my case, in two (maybe three) posts, for air travel. 

First, the bad news.

Jet Mileage:  The numbers depend on the size and make, passenger load, wind direction, cruising altitude, etc., but here's a rough estimate. According to British Airways, a 747-400 plane that cruises at 575 mph with 75%  of the seats full carries one passenger about 52.2 miles for every gallon of fuel burned.  That's better mileage than a Prius, and much better than the average American car.  Of course, you generally travel many, many more miles in a plane.  

The case is worse for, say, delegates who recently used private jets to fly to a climate change conference. A Gulfstream G550 business jet burns about 16 miles per gallon of fuel per passenger if loaded with 16 passengers.  An Eclipse Aviation 500 with 4 passengers:  22 mpg.  Better mileage than many American SUV's.  Not saying much considering the total fuel spent.   

Of course, the problem is not just fuel, but also carbon emissions.  A typical 350 passenger jet burns 45 or 50 gallons of fuel per minute, and a 3500 mile flight requires about 13,000 gallons of fuel, which will produce 191 tons of CO2, over 1,000 pounds per person.  

Then there are jet vapor trails, which cause cloud formations; and jets spew other greenhouse gases into the stratosphere.  The fuel itself produces more CO2 per unit than fuels made for cars.

So, for those who can afford it in this economic climate, but worry about environmental implications, there is a strong case to chill out on the vacations to Europe.  

Why do I feel OK about air travel anyway?   This opens a Pandora's box.  Look for future entries on Educating Ourselves About the World; and How Flying and Bicycling Change Time ...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Energy Efficiency

What's the most efficient form of transportation?

A 140 lb. person walking 3 miles per hour uses about 80 food calories per hour.

The same sized bicyclist, traveling at a brisk 16 miles per hour uses 43 calories per hour.

Compare this to automobiles.

Walking:  360 mpg

Bicycling: 732 mpg

Missing from this picture:  airline travel.   Since the last entry was about a visit to Germany, this deserves a post of it's own ...  to be continued ...

The math:  One food calorie contains 4.184 kiloJules of energy (a kJ equals 1,000 (10-to-the-3rd-power) Joules).  One gallon of gasoline contains 114,000 British Thermal Units (BTUs), or 120 MegaJoules (MJs) of energy (a MJ equals 1,000,000 (10-to-the-6th) Joules).  Sources:;;

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Germany Bikes

In our town, traffic and transportation are pretty big issues. Compared to say, L.A., we don't have much congestion, but it is a problem. Some friends avoid visiting me because to get from their side of town to mine, they have to drive through one of the traffic headache areas. City battles rage between advocates for investing in better mass transit, and advocates of better roads and bridges.

There is a pretty good system of bicycle paths, with about 120 miles of on and off-street marked paths and 5 pedestrian bridges. Still, it's hard to avoid the unpleasantness of bicycling on busy streets. You can take bikes on buses, but it involves loading your bike on an awkward rack on the front of the bus.

We could do a lot better.

This hit home during a visit to Dresden, Germany. On our first train ride, a commuter from the airport to the city, we waited before boarding while several people wheeled their bikes off the train. "That's the bike car," our son explained, and steered us to the next car.

German trains and trams are clean, comfortable, affordable and on time, and you can wheel bicycles right inside them. The platforms line up with the floors of the cars so even "old guys" (our son's description of us) can manage easily.

Everywhere you go, people are comfortably and casually pedaling their bikes around. We were driven in an auto once during the visit, when our son's boss gave us a ride home from a restaurant. I asked him if Dresden, with a population of about 500,000 (population of our town 157,000), has trouble with traffic during rush hour. He chuckled. No, he said, they don't. The transportation system works pretty well.

The biking/tram/train/bus system extends throughout the country. You can bicycle on quiet and beautiful paved paths all the way to Prague, then take the train back.

We in the United States, in my town, could do this, too.

We should.

(View of a castle from the bike path at the end of the Dresden-Prague bike path.)

Many thanks to the photographers. Here are links to your blogs, in order of appearance:,,,

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Crossing the river for fish

(Above, Oakmont Park)

Good news for bikers and walkers in my neighborhood! (We sorely need good news.)

You can now walk safely from Oakway Street to Newman's Grotto for excellent fresh fish (also fish and chips) without taking your life in your hands.

Two years ago getting from our house to Newman's on foot meant a long slog or taking your chances across a river of nonstop traffic. I made a stab a citizen activism by calling the city and requesting a stop light, and called Newman's about agitating for the same.
My efforts petered out after that, but someone was on the same page. See above, just finished. Now it is possible to meander through Oakmont Park, down a quiet street rich with gardens and kids, safely cross Coburg road and ten minutes later, your takeout is ready.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Following the herd

Watching a video of a lion chasing a gazelle, it struck me: no wonder it's hard to ride a bicycle when everyone else is driving. I want to be in the middle of the pack. This want is separate from physical discomforts like being too cold, hot or wet. It is a base-level craving to simply fit in. Perhaps it's genetically coded. Who wants to be the most vulnerable thing on the block? A weakling to be culled? I want to follow the crowd.

Survival is not the issue of course, at least not usually. There are no lions hunting down bicyclists. With a reasonable amount of attention, care and safety equipment, most commutes end safely. So why do I fidget uncomfortably at crosswalks? Over-apologize for showing up at a nice lunch with helmet and messy hair? Drive at the least little excuse, even when the weather is beautiful and there is plenty of time? A young friend who is living in China put it well, noting that she enjoys being car-free in Beijing, loves walking and is used to taking extra time to get places, but that's partly because everyone else is doing the same thing. When she visits home in California she goes back to driving even though walking is easy, comfortable and practical, and even though she is one of the most intelligent and environmentally sensitive people I know. "We do what everyone else does," she said. "It's as if we can't help it."

This made us both laugh a little guiltily because, the thing is, we can help it. We are not gazelles. We don't have to follow the crowd. This is one of the cool things about humans.

No disputing though. It ain't easy.  The herd instinct is  strong. How many compromises does spawned? How deeply ingrained is the willingness to go along with the flow, even when it doesn't make sense? What does it take to change directions?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Close Call

It is summer and the weather is fine, the breeze cool and the sun warm. It's a perfect time to start bicycling.

There is a change in the bicycling population since last summer. Gasoline has been over $3.85 a gallon for months, and this might be having an impact. A few more cyclists are out during rush hour. The cycling outfits look more planned, the panniers a little more worn, as if they get used regularly. It isn't like biking is even close to the norm, but bikes are a tiny bit more of a presence. I feel almost jaunty in my yellow reflective windbreaker, flying past the cars that are lined up for the lights. Then ...

It's 5:30 on a busy road and there are many of us waiting for the light to change, dozens of internal combusters, one bicyclist and one pedestrian. When the light turns green the intersection is blocked by cars that didn't make it through. Everyone impatiently inches forward. When the intersection clears, the pedestrian and I ease into the crosswalk, just as a large pickup roars it's engine and heads for us, turning right. Ahhh!

Phew, he sees us, and brakes in time. Safe again.

The driver avoids my eyes when I grin in a friendly, no-harm-done kind of way. I wonder if he saw us from the beginning and was just being obnoxious. My heart thuds, my hands shake.

Bicyclists who ride by choice rather than necessity take a big risk. And for what? I try not to think about it. It's not so hot for walkers, either. A May 2011 news story reported that the Eugene/Springfield, Oregon area where I live has the worst record for pedestrian fatalities in the state.