Missed Opportunities

One common qualm associated with bike/ped projects is that they’re “expensive”, especially when by themselves. As a result, many people balk at the idea that they be funded by tax dollars, especially when biking is still overwhelmingly viewed as a leisure activity akin to golf. “Why should we have to pay for Tour-de-France trainers?” is the general sentiment. Bike lanes on arterials sit empty all week then spring forth with pelotons on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

However, notwithstanding those out on the weekends, the vast majority of people are not willing to bike in the midst of traffic traveling at several multiples of their speed. (It may also be worth noting that Saturday and Sunday mornings have decidedly lower traffic counts than normal weekdays, so it’s likely that while they don’t mind a few cars, many of those people are also not willing to ride in traffic either.) Stats on this have been collected for years. Low stress environments created via traffic calming and/or separation bring out the casual rider that is “interested but concerned”. Striping a road that has a 35-55 MPH speed limit does not create a low stress environment.

Magnolia grade separation
Riders love the bike lanes on Magnolia.

As biking increases in popularity not only for recreation, but for commuting too, better provision for riders must be undertaken. Considering the costs associated with any infrastructure, it is imperative that the best bike facilities be planned and built from the very beginning right along with the regular road network. This avoids the costs of having to change things up later. Instead, space for cycling too often continues to be marginalized as a stripe on the side of the roadway. While these are nice on quiet neighborhood streets, they have no place on basically anything bigger or busier than that. People continue to vote with their wheels and ride on the sidewalk in locations like that.

New and redevelopment should take steps to ensure that the separation standards are adopted that encourage people to ride their bikes for more than just recreation. With the clock ticking for mandates laid forth by AB32 and SB375, drastic changes need to be made too the urban environment to meet them. Changing the status quo in building is a good place to start. Billions of dollars are flowing to the Inland Empire for infrastructure projects and development. Let’s make sure that they enhance the area and help it meet those goals and stop missing opportunities.

Technological Distractions

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion put on by the Urban Land Institute on transportation in the Inland Empire. It centered heavily on the changing landscape regionally that is being brought on by demographic shifts and consumer preferences. Suffice it to say that not many more single-family homes should be built for awhile.

Of course, the main focus was the changing shift in how people move themselves around. Not surprisingly, biking and walking as possible solutions to transport problems were given only passing mention. During the Q&A with the panelists, I sought to further clarify info about biking and walking and got decent feedback. Part of SCAG’s initiatives do focus on increasing the bike/walk mode share from the presently paltry levels to be slightly less paltry.

But my hackles were raised a little by the suggestion of one of the panelists that the bike industry needs to be “doing its part” to develop “smart bikes”. The argument was that since cars are getting smarter and will soon be able to communicate with each other, then bikes on the road should also expect to communicate with the cars, with an insinuation that they had no part in future transportation if they can’t “play fair”. I find that to be a glaring error and I hope planners don’t lap this up like they have John Forester’s outrageous claims.

We’ve all been anxiously awaiting the self-driving car for decades. At the current rate of development, cars will soon be able to communicate with each other and share information in real time about positions, speed, intended path, etc. to reduce collisions. Currently, newer cars are also already employing systems that can recognize a bike/ped in the path of the car and assist the driver in avoiding hitting them. The implications of this continue to be debated, but requiring bikes to also communicate with cars isn’t the solution to accommodate the unique needs of bicycle riders and certainly shouldn’t be touted as an alternative to actually building safe infrastructure (which is overwhelmingly done via separation).

Using the above video as an example, I’m not sure how the situation would’ve been much different had the bike been able to communicate with the car. The rider recognized the road hazard and swerved to avoid it. While a smart bike certainly could’ve beamed the deviation information to the car, the car should’ve already detected it anyway and applied the brakes. The video shows what is likely a low-speed environment similar to a fietsstraat (bicycle boulevard), so absolute separation isn’t expected here anyway. However, on an open road, relying on intervehicular communication and detection techonology alone cannot be allowed to replace the need for fully separate facilities.

The reasons are two-fold. First a bike cannot quite operate like a car, even if equipped with gizmos and gadgetry. Despite the advent of electronic braking and the proliferation of electric-assist or full electric bikes along with more flashy improvements, bikes must still often deviate from their paths for road hazards that a car needn’t worry about in an unpredictable fashion. On high-quality, separated cycle paths, this is hardly an issue (in part because such hazards are far fewer to begin with). A deviation there wouldn’t put them in the path of a car, just perhaps in front of another rider. Deviating on a 55 MPH arterial puts them in the path of someone driving 70.

Secondly, a bike is not going fast in the grand scheme of things. Most riders in countries with large segments of the population traveling by bike ride in the vicinity of 12 MPH. While many American bike commuters profess to travel at 20 MPH, that’s still relatively slow compared to a car. One of the advantages of autonomous and fully automatic, self-driving cars would be that they can operate more efficiently at higher speeds than allowed in the current environment due to elimination of human error. At the moment, Texas has a stretch of highway with an 85 MPH limit and many other states have 80 MPH as the top limit. (It’s officially 70 MPH here in CA, but we all know that CHP will fly past you on I-5 when you’re cruising at 90.) Autonomous cars could conceivably drive in close proximity at double that speed, but sticking a bunch of bikes in the car’s pathway, whether or not they’re communicating with the car, will still drastically reduce the speed of the cars, perhaps all the way down to bike speed.

So while “smart” bikes would certainly be interesting additions, let’s not continue to ignore the means of actually making roads safer for riders and other non-motorized users. They can’t be expected to mix with streams of fast traffic and slowing the traffic to their speed is foolish. Removing interactions as much as possible is still by far the best option available for actually encouraging bicycle use among the masses. After all, most would ride if they felt safe, while hundreds more stick to sidewalks or salmon bike lanes because it feels safer even though it’s the exact opposite. Technology is great, but a far greater ROI is available at much lower cost with some relatively simple planning.

David Mendez killed in Riverside

Well, that went downhill quickly. Not even a full week into the new year, we’ve already lost a rider. Yesterday, David Mendez was killed in Riverside. According to the report, he was heading east on Central Avenue about 3/4 mile before Victoria in the “far left lane”. Mendez, who was reportedly wearing a skid lid, was struck and subsequently died at around 3:45 PM. The driver of the car is suspected of DUI, but there is no word of an arrest being made yet.

I’m sure that Riverside PD undoubtedly would like to talk to anyone with more information about this incident. They can be reached at (951) 787-7911 or via this form.

Mendez is the unlucky first rider killed in all of SoCal, but it should come as no surprise that it occurred in the Inland Empire because the region is the worst in the state for bike/ped safety. Alas, that means that we’re already unable to match Portland’s stellar performance last year. However, I really hope we can make him the last for the year. California’s 3 Foot Law goes into effect in September, but both drivers and riders need to share the road responsibly all the time.

Welcome

Well folks, good day and welcome to the very first post here in iNLand fIEts! From these very humble beginnings, we hope to follow along as we transform the Inland Empire from the sprawl capital of the country to a more livable, workable, likable, and enjoyable urban space.

First, I’d like to explain the name. While most of us would certainly recognize the “Inland” part, I’ve added a little flair, highlighting the letters NL, which are the country code of the Netherlands. Why the Netherlands, you ask? Because they are long recognized as world leaders in building bikable cities. While they certainly haven’t gotten everything perfect, valuable lessons can still be learned from them and it’s foolish to brush them aside as not a relevant example of how things could be done here as well.

The second word follows along these same lines as well. “Fiets” is the Dutch word for bicycle and it also contains our regional code, IE, right in the center. That’s a rather interesting place to put it since quite frankly, the current reality on the ground couldn’t be further from the truth. However, I have faith that through some hard work and dedication, we can make the IE a much better place for someone who chooses (or otherwise) to get to the store via bicycle vs. getting in their car.

The transformation will not be easy. Old habits die hard. What we see on the ground in The Netherlands today is the result of over four decades of research and investment. At the same time, that means that we can (and should) skip those same four decades of trial and error, going straight to the good stuff from hence forth. Bookmark this page to keep up with the developments as they occur. And of course, leave comments on what you think. Ciao, and happy riding!

Bikes in the IE, bikes and the IE.

Lisa Schweitzer

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Riding in Riverside

Bikes in the IE, bikes and the IE.

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