Sunday, August 26, 2012

Women on Bikes

Women on bikes.
I've been thinking about women and bicycling lately. Studies and statistics show that there are far fewer women who bike than men. Safety is seen as the culprit, robbing women of an otherwise healthy, fun activity. There are some studies that point out that when women feel safe enough to ride, that usually means that kids, the elderly and less-skilled bicyclists also find it safer to ride. So why aren't we building the bikeways that appeal to female riders?

I think it boils down to a lack of space and money. If there was more money (or if existing amounts were allocated differently), then we could design and build better bikeways and purchase the amount of land necessary to construct these facilities. If there was more space, then cramming bikes onto roadways wouldn't be part of the conversation.

Separated bikeways seem to appeal to women - and to children and the elderly. In the US, these are starting to be called separated bike lanes or cycle tracks. These are separated from car traffic using physical barriers instead of painted stripe on an existing roadway. They are different from paths because of the way they are interwoven into the urban landscape - typically alongside a road and/or sidewalk. 

Placing bikes and cars in close proximity to each other isn't all bad. When cars travel at low speeds, accidents are less likely to occur and to be severe or fatal. Neighborhood streets can be good areas for bikes and cars to interact and co-exist. Tipping points tend to be when traffic speeds are above 35 mph, there's a medium- to high-volume traffic and the types of automobiles are larger than your average mid-range SUV or truck. How many women as compared to men have you seen ride in bike lanes on roads such as this across the Upstate of South Carolina?

In the Upstate, many communities lack the money and space to install these kinds of facilities. Cycle tracks cost more to install. It's relatively inexpensive to redistribute space on a roadway if the painted lines just need to be adjusted to accommodate bikes. It's a whole other budget ball-game when extra asphalt and cement are needed to make way for a bikeway.

The idea of space for bikeways is complicated. Roads are owned and maintained by governments - local, county and state. The space a road can be on typically extends beyond the area that's paved to an area called a "right of way" or ROW. A government has the right to build or extend a road on the ROW. However, ROW are up against private property like homes and businesses. In many urban and suburban areas, the ROW is narrow and may have insufficient space for building a separated bike lane. The government would need to engage the private property owner to buy and build on their land, but that typically doesn't happen. And if it does, it's a long, involved process.

There are some pretty big odds to overcome in building bikeways that appeal to a wider audience. For now, I think building support for bikeways is an important step. Rome wasn't built in a day. And our national transportation system wasn't either. Road design is changing over time to accommodate different demands. I think it's healthy to recognize that building a bikeway network takes time and is part of an iterative process.

It's important to recognize where we are now and where we want to go. If building a bikeway network to support more cyclist is important, consider this:  Would you feel comfortable if your mom said she frequently rides on particular stretch of road? Maybe that's a good question to keep in mind as we work to build better bikeways in the Upstate.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bike Rack Characteristics & Photos

Bike parking, one of the most basic, most important parts of biking. Need to catch your breath, get a drink, run a quick errand, check a text or use the loo? Having bike parking nearby will make the task that much easier.

There are so many different kinds of bike racks! I feel like there's almost one out there for every kind of personality. However, there are 3 characteristics that go into having a good bike rack. 
Inverted "U" rack in a group.

1.  Racks should support a bike in two areas. Remember those old school comb racks in the elementary school yard? Maybe you can still see them at your children's school. Bikes parked in these kind of racks are commonly seen twisted or fallen over. Racks should support a bike at one point on the frame and at another point like on the wheel. Two points of rack contact equals ideal bike parking.

2.  Racks should be bolted into the ground. Bike thieves are much less likely to take off with your bike if the rack is bolted into the ground. If the rack can be lifted, then there's a chance that someone with some not-so-hard-to-find tools might make off with your ride.

3.  Racks should be in well-lit, visible areas.Visibility is good for promoting a feeling of safety and it helps to deter theft. Folks prefer moving around in well-lit areas, and putting a bike rack near lighting is like parking your car in a lighted parking lot. It just feels safer.

I've gathered a sampling of bike rack photos. It's interesting to consider these different designs. Most of the racks in the photographs have the 3 listed features of good bike parking. See the photos below for racks that range from run of the mill to to the outrageous. 

Bike Racks. Palo Alta, CA
Covered bike parking. These lift up to fit bikes underneath.
Great for sheltering from the weather.

Covered bike rack. Palo Alta, CA.

Bike racks at Google, CA. (Note the colors.)

Bike Rack. Los Angles, CA. The hitching post
rack can be retrofitted to parking meters.

Bike Racks. Palo Alta, CA.
Note the lights and public location.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Upstate News Update

This summer, Clemson University was busy! They completed their master bike plan, a process that had started last summer. In June it was adopted and became an official guiding document of the University. About a month later, the first bike lane since the mid 1990's was installed. Signs and pavement markings will be placed by the end of the summer.

There's new bike shop in Clemson that also opened this summer:  Run Bicycle Swim. Near the Hwy 93 on ramp to Hwy 123, this retail shop is a (partial) answer to the area's bike shop shortage since Clemson Cyclery closed in March. Though this is a great place to get your gear and a bike, you'll still have to travel to Anderson or Greenville to get professional help on bike maintenance.

The State's advocacy organization got a new executive director. Amy Johnson hails from Georgia, and is excited to bring her previous experience from BikeAthens to lead the peach state. Starting in August, stay tuned to the PCC blog to she what she, Cait and other members of the PCC will do to close out the second half of 2012.

The City of Easley has continued to implement various components, as headed by the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee. One of those things has been working with the City of Pickens to get a portion of the old "Doodle Line" converted to a rail trail. The development of this partnership and path has been reported in the news over the summer. Many think that it could be like another Swamp Rabbit Trail, bringing economic investment into a few other small upstate communities. However, not everyone in the area supports the project.

If there have been other bike-related events that happened recently, please post them below.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bicycle Safety 101: The Bike Tune Up

When was the last time you had your bike in for a tune up? When I was younger, my dad would spiffy up our bikes at the start of every summer, but that's about all the love a bike would get. Not until I started really riding a few years ago did I learn the importance of a bi-annual bike tune up.

If you ride your bike hard, whether it's due to commuting or recreation, a lot of miles get put on a bike. Miles on a bike equals wear and tear. The chain gets worn and dirty. Brakes wear down over time. The grease on the components wears off. Rust will also appear. 

You may have noticed that your bike doesn't ride as fast or as clean as it did when you first got it. A bike is a machine. Cars are another machine. And machines need to stay lubricated to work correctly. It's recommended that cars get an oil-change every 3,000 - 5,000 miles to keep the components running smoothly. Periodic bike maintenance is also important to keep a bike functioning well and to prolong it's life. A well-working bike is a safe bike. And a safe bike is the best kind to ride.

There are a few things that can be done between tune-ups to keep bikes in better working order - keep the chain lubed and clean, dry immediately after any rain, maintain tire pressure. Learning some DYI maintenance and repair techniques will be handy. Your local bike shop may even offer you a few tips and techniques if you ask. But there's nothing that beats a professional cleaning. Consider scheduling a bike tune up at your local repair shop soon!