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.