CyclingSavvy firsts

Despite the gloomy forecast heading into this past weekend (and the current, continuing rain), the weather cooperated on Saturday.

Matthew and I co-taught the on-bike portions of CyclingSavvy (Train Your Bike and the Road Tour) for the very first time.  In over three years as instructors, we’ve taught the on-bike portions with other local instructors, but never together.

Thanks to Harold for the picture!
Thanks to Harold for the picture!

Big Blue also participated in CyclingSavvy for the first time (since I still haven’t, ahem, gotten my butt off the fence about a certain decision).


Big Blue proved up to the task, though we knocked over a cone on the cone weave drill (were it not for the loaded bag, we would have cleared it), and Matthew demonstrated most of the more complicated drills on a “regular” bike.

My original plan was for a picnic lunch in Tower Grove Park on a beautiful fall afternoon.  Given that it wasn’t exactly a beautiful fall afternoon (pretty decent really, but chilly and damp, even though it wasn’t raining), we moved the lunch party to Sweet Art.


Six bikes would have completely blocked the sidewalk, so we created our own, impromptu on-street bike parking.  A couple of our students had never been to Sweet Art before; it was fun introducing them to a local business that we enjoy.

After lunch, we finished the day with the Tour of [a small part of] South City.


Nothing quite as satisfying or tiring as a day of on-bike teaching!  We finished at the church parking lot where we did the bike drills in the morning, and, in my head, there was a car waiting to take us the three miles from the church back to our house.  Of course, we had biked to class, and said car was, in reality, already parked at our house.  Matthew and I paused in the park for a quick snack, then tackled those last three miles.

That night, I made it to eight 0’clock, but not much later, before I passed out on the couch.

Portland bike infrastructure: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Well, it’s been a month since our Portland trip, so I guess it’s about time I got around to writing this post.  As I mentioned in this post, we spent a good bit of time on bikes while we were there, averaging about ten miles a day, all around the town.

Similar to our last visit, the Portland Citywide Bike Map was our best friend.*

Our well-loved map

The bike map was useful for telling us where to ride, and, just as importantly, where NOT to ride (i.e., we planned our routes to avoid streets with bike lanes).

The Good
The green routes in the above photo indicate bike boulevards (AKA neighborhood greenways), defined here as:

. . . residential streets with low volumes of auto traffic and low speeds where bicycle and pedestrians are given priority.

So, how do they achieve “low volumes of auto traffic” and give priority to people on bicycles?

Sharrow and “Bumps” ahead sign

These routes are marked with well-placed sharrows (above) and low, broad speed bumps (below — also, mini horses 🙂 ).

Traffic calming bumps

These speed bumps aren’t a big deal at bicycle speeds, but they do get motorists’ attention.  My friend drove down from Seattle to visit us in Portland, and while driving her car on some of these streets, she mentioned that the bumps were annoying.  I responded with, “That’s the point.” Yes, motorists can use these streets, but the frequent bumps make them less attractive, thus encouraging motorists to do most of their travel on arterial roads (the bumps also encourage travel at slower speeds — they weren’t too bad if you hit them at ≤20mph).**

Awwwwe, a baby traffic circle

Another design feature is intentionally minimizing stop signs, which are a bigger bother to pedal-powered travelers than to motorists.  Instead of four way stops at every. single. intersection (ahem, StL, I’m looking at you), most intersections along these routes used 2-way stops at the cross streets, allowing traffic on the bike boulevards to flow smoothly.  Some intersections used a “mini traffic circle” (for lack of a more official term), pictured above, in conjunction with the 2-way stops, for traffic calming.

So, the bike boulevards in general get a thumbs up.  Throughout our stay, we sought out these routes, combining them as needed with “regular” streets (i.e., streets with no bike infrastructure).

The Bad
The bike boulevards did have some design quirks.  If you look at the map pictured at the top of this post, you’ll see that you often have to do some little “jogs” to stay with the green routes.  Sometimes these were marked well, sometimes not.  If you lived in Portland and rode these routes every day, it wouldn’t be a big deal.  As visitors, it was a bit confusing and frustrating at times.

Say what?

So here we were, traveling eastbound on a two-way street, and we cross an intersection, and all the sudden, we’re moving against the flow of traffic on a one-way [westbound] street, per the paint’s instructions!  Granted, this took place on a small, residential street, and the one-way bit only lasted for a short block, but still, talk about breaking the rules of movement!  (The sign says, “Do Not Enter | Except Bicycles.”)

Same place as above, with a car approaching. This might belong in “The Ugly.”

I understand this is another technique for reducing/discouraging non-local motor vehicle traffic, but in addition to being dangerous in this location, it potentially encourages wrong-way riding on OTHER streets.

If they really want to do this, I would suggest at least eliminating parking on the right side of the street, to create more space for movement, as well as adding some sharrows to make people more alert to the anomaly.

In some places where this occurred, the offense wasn’t quite as egregious, as the street immediately reverted to two-way traffic,  and, you know, actually had enough space to operate a bicycle.

Do Not Enter | Except Bicycles

Of course, the intersection above commits the additional offense of having “bike boxes,” that special green paint that encourages queue jumping by bicyclists.  “Here, please ride up along the right side of potentially right-turning motor vehicles instead of just waiting your turn like everybody else.”

Here is another intersection feature along some of the bike boulevards: “Right Turn Only | Except Bicycles.”

Median to prevent thru motor vehicle traffic.

These medians, with cut-outs for bicycle pass-throughs, were usually found where the bike boulevards intersected with a larger street.  Again, this discourages motorists from using these routes for long distances, as they are only thru-routes if you’re on a bike.

Median cut-outs for cyclists

This is perhaps a decent idea, but, as implemented, the cut-outs are clearly designed for edge-riding cyclists.  This design becomes particularly problematic if the cyclist wishes to make a left turn at one of these intersections, as you first have to cut right, then back left to make the turn.  Not impossible, but it does require extra communication to make your intentions clear to both motorists and fellow cyclists.

The Ugly
For the most part, we used the bike route map to successfully avoid “the ugly.”  We did find ourselves on a couple of short stretches of roads with bike lanes.  These were invariably door zone bike lanes, that sandwiched you nicely between parked cars to the right and moving motor vehicles on the left.  No thanks!

However, in Oregon, you don’t really have the choice to NOT ride in these lanes, given the state-wide mandatory bike lane law.  Granted, those laws have exceptions which would basically invalidate over 90% of travel in the bike lanes, but I didn’t want to take chances with a police officer not knowing/understanding those exceptions, especially when “everyone else was doing it (i.e., riding in the bike lane like good little sheeples).”

I should note that, on this trip, we were always pulling a trailer (or riding a box bike like the Bullitt) which should be a valid excuse for not ever using a bike lane — these things are just too wide for bike lanes, period!

I don’t have any photos of Portland’s bike lanes, since we avoided them so successfully, but for a deeper look, check out Andy’s excellent series on the topic of Portland bike lanes at Carbon Trace: Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3.

Finally, this:

Bi-directional bike lane on one-way street

Where to begin?  On this street, what had been a two-direction road divided into two, separate one way chunks.  But that didn’t stop the Portland traffic engineers from installing a bi-directional bike lane.  What you see above, from left to right: a sidewalk, a north-bound bike lane, an against-traffic [south-bound] bike lane a buffer zone (the lane with the chevrons in it — UPDATE: I was incorrect in my original identification of this space; see comments for details), two north-bound travel lanes, and another sidewalk.  The presence of multiple rail tracks just south of this intersection adds to the general confusion.  There is a “Do Not Enter” sign, but we were confused as to whom that sign was addressed.

On our very first encounter with this intersection, Matthew accidentally ended up in one of the [regular] travel lanes, going the wrong direction.  I was still waiting at the stop sign, trying to figure out exactly what was going on and how best to respond, and I watched in horror as I realized his mistake — he was headed right toward a car in the same lane.  Fortunately, he was able to divert onto the sidewalk on the far side.  In the end, much as I avoid sidewalk riding, the sidewalk is also what I chose for this small stretch.

No Substitute for Quality Education
In the end, even “good” bike infrastructure, such as the bike boulevards, is no replacement for comprehensive bicycling education.  The majority of the bicyclists I saw riding on the bike boulevards in Portland were operating in either the door zone or the startle zone, despite the presence of properly placed sharrows directing them elsewhere.

At one point, while traveling along a bike boulevard, Matthew was almost the victim of a drive-out collision.  It was a two-way stop — so the motorist had a stop sign and we did not.  The motorist stopped at the stop sign, but was already on his way, with his front bumper out beyond the curb, when he saw Matthew and stopped again.  If Matthew had been practicing edge-behavior, rather than driver behavior, he quite possibly would have been hit (being away from the edge makes you more visible).

I’ll close with a couple of great quotes that I came across recently:

Merely believing and hoping that Protected Bike Lanes are safe is not good enough. We are not practicing a religion here, we are trying to keep people alive.  (source)

And, from a thread on the “Supporters of Full Lane Rights for Cyclists” FB page:

In other kinds of transportation facilities, we do not have the most inexperienced users decide out of fear which are the best designs.

*If you’re headed to Portland, you can order a bike map ahead of time here, or just visit most any bicycle shop once you arrive.
**Not sure of the full details, but a local (StL) traffic engineer told me those speed bumps (and/or the mini traffic circles, I don’t remember which) don’t work so well in places where snow plows are needed.

Bikey stuff

For my St. Louis area readers, it’s not too late to sign up for Truth & Techniques of Traffic Cycling on August 22nd at 6:3opm, details and registration here.

If you’re into planning ahead, check out the fall schedule, with full workshops, including the on-bike sessions, offered in both September and October.

Be Informed
Check out the plans to make a simple, straightforward road (Manchester Rd. in StL City) that currently works for all users into something messy and complicated for all: “A Tragedy of Good Intentions.”

While the plans mentioned above are not for separated cycle paths, this post, from Off The Beaten Path, addresses what I felt when I read about the proposed plans: “Did you guys ask any people who regularly cycle on that stretch of road for their opinion when considering changes?”

Not-so-hot biking
The weather we’ve had for the last month or so tempts me to forgive St. Louis for the brutal summers of the past two years.

Sure, some days, the temperatures still climb into the mid- to upper-80s, which count as hot in my book, but we’ve had a number of days with highs in the low-80s and even some with upper-70s.

Today’s high is a glorious 76°F, which is lower than the usual overnight lows at this time of year.  Amazing!

The hot weather plants in the garden may not be thrilled with this cooler weather, but I’ll take it over the heat any day, though it’s probably not helping drive traffic to my “biking in the heat” post.

While I am NOT complaining, the cooler temps have actually made for a couple of chilly rides, including the World Naked Bike Ride (turns out that temps in the mid- to low-70s are not ideal for biking while wearing [almost] no clothes) and a ride home from the Muny last week.

Even with the cooler temps, I complete my bike errands in the morning to avoid peak sun times.  This morning found me riding to complete paperwork for my new [very] part-time job, which will officially start in a couple of weeks.

Resuming longtail conversations
Our longtail discussion/decision was relegated to the back burner due to summer travel, health issues, and general life uncertainty and craziness.  Not sure where it will end, but we’re revisiting the topic, and not a moment too soon given Sir’s height, which threatens to overwhelm the IBert any day now.

Weekend by bike

I spent Friday night and Saturday co-teaching CyclingSavvy.  Given the wet forecast, Saturday’s on-bike sessions seemed touch-and-go for awhile, but in the end we had a [mostly] dry, if chilly, day.

By chilly, I mean I was wearing three layers on bottom and four on top and fighting not to shiver constantly (in retrospect, they were rather light layers).

Having learned from our test ride how exhausting biking to the class location, riding the route, and then biking home could be, I planned a multimodal trip, hopping on Metro (with my bike on the bus’s rack) to start the day, shaving three miles off my total.

Despite a bit of ambivalence about heading out on a chilly damp Saturday (I was already planning a day of hibernating and baking if we canceled class), once we got going, I couldn’t have been happier.  We had a great class, and both the parking lot session and the road tour went very well.

Demonstrating the danger of a door zone bike lane
Demonstrating the danger of a door zone bike lane

I planned to use the same bike-bus strategy on my way home, and I arrived at the bus stop, at what I thought was almost exactly the time the bus would arrive, so looking forward to loading my bike on the bus and sitting down for ten minutes.

As I biked the last couple of blocks to the bus stop, I realized I was warm for the first time all day.  As in, too warm.  After I arrived at the bus stop and ascertained that the bus’s arrival was not imminent, I set out to remove some layers.

Unfortunately, my sexy striptease as I removed my rain pants to reveal my cycling tights was hampered by the fact that I had not first removed my ankle bands.  Striptease fail.

For better or worse, I soon realized that I’d looked at the time incorrectly, and I’d be waiting awhile for that comfy bus seat.  As much as I was ready to collapse, the idea of actually being underway and [maybe] getting home sooner than I would if I waited for the bus won.

I hopped back on the bike for the final three miles.  I arrived feeling mentally invigorated, but physically exhausted, like my [then] upcoming birthday that ends in a zero was 9-0 or perhaps even 1-0-0.

My do-nothing plans for Sunday were somewhat foiled due to a lack of milk and sugar.  After hearing Matthew debate making the less-than-a-mile-away grocery run by car, I sucked it up, put on my rain gear, and biked to the store.

Fortunately, the rest of the day was lower key, and did, indeed, involve baking, and eating the delicious results — zucchini bread and chocolate heaven cake with dreamsicle butter cream frosting.

Truth and Techniques of Traffic Cycling

In the “better late than never” category, just a quick note for all St. Louis readers that I am co-leading Truth and Techniques of Traffic Cycling, the classroom portion of the CyclingSavvy class series, this Saturday, February 16th.

The course (a $30 value) is FREE thanks to a grant from Great Rivers Greenway, and we have a few more seats to fill.  Registration is required; click here to register now.

If you can’t make it this Saturday, mark you calendar now for the class on Saturday, March 9th.

Whether you’re an expert cyclist who would like to feel a bit more confidant riding in traffic or a newbie just testing out your wheels, CyclingSavvy has something for you.  Don’t miss these great opportunities to expand your bicycling horizons!