Boyonabike!

Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the month “July, 2014”

Bikes and Sustainability

Turns out, the UN likes bikes.  Well, not explicitly, but pretty darn close.

The most recent report from the UN’s Working Group on Sustainable Development (WGSD) affirms 17 ambitious and interrelated goals for sustainable development it hopes will be attained by 2030 (that’s just 16 years away).  The WGSD urges governments to address these goals together, what they call “holistic and integrated approaches that will guide humanity to live in harmony with nature and will lead to efforts to restore the health and integrity of the earth’s ecosystem.”  The report lists a wide variety of goals for sustainable and equitable development that are laudable and avoid isolating environmental and social issues in separate silos:

1. End poverty everywhere

2. End hunger, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

3. Attain healthy lives for all

4. Provide quality education and life-long learning opportunities for all

5. Attain gender equality, empower women and girls everywhere

6. Ensure availability and sustainable use of water and sanitation for all

7. Ensure sustainable energy for all

8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

9. Promote sustainable infrastructure and industrialization and foster innovation

10. Reduce inequality within and between countries

11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable

12. Promote sustainable consumption and production patterns

13. Tackle climate change and its impacts

14. Conserve and promote sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources

15. Protect and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, halt desertification, land degradation and biodiversity loss

16. Achieve peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all, and effective and capable institutions

17. Strengthen the means of implementation and the global partnership for sustainable development

Category 11, “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, and sustainable,” is particularly relevant to bicycle transportation, calling on societies to prioritize “access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport for all, and expand public transport.”

Take a look at each of these categories.  Which form of transportation is safe?  Bicycles, or the one that kills approximately 35,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands more around the world every year?  How about goal no. 3 “attain healthy lives for all”?  What’s more likely to achieve that, sitting in traffic for hours a day or riding a bicycle to get to work and school?  Affordable and accessible?  Bikes win hands down.  Sustainable?  As we’ve discussed before, there’s no such thing as a “green” car, notwithstanding the auto industry’s attempts to paint itself green to make first world consumers feel better.  And goal no. 13 “tackle climate change and its impacts.”  Think cars for the world’s 7.5 billion people are going to bring us closer to addressing climate change?

The group calls on societies to “reduce urban sprawl” and “ensure universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible public spaces, particularly for women and children and people with disabilities.”  Designing cities primarily around automobile access runs contrary to this goal.  Cars are synonymous with sprawl, even if they’re electric, and they are the major hogs of space in cities, destroying safe public space in the name of parking lots, freeways, highways, and other urban “dead zones” suitable for nothing but the car.  Cars create danger for pedestrians, especially the young, old, and persons with disabilities.  In fact, if you wanted to create an extremely inequitable and unsustainable form of transportation, you’d invent the automobile and design your cities around it.

I realize these sustainable development goals are a long way from being met, but when you think about the larger issues human society faces, the UN has the right idea, and though it doesn’t explicitly endorse bikes, the handwriting is on the wall:  we can keep driving, or we can get on the simple bicycle and live sustainably.

Buffered Bike Lanes!

NYE Bike Lane

You know you’re a bike geek when the appearance of new buffered bike lanes on a local street makes your day.  In this case, Pasadena DOT has at long last upgraded the bike lanes on New York Drive between Altadena Drive and Sierra Madre Blvd to buffered bike lanes.

The addition of a painted 2-foot buffer zone between the bike lane and the traffic lane is especially important on this stretch of NY Drive insofar as cars travel at about 50 mph.  That’s right, 50.  On the downhill stretches of the road, motorists are sometimes going even faster.

The first time I rode the old bike lanes on NY Drive (about 4 years ago) was the last.  There’s nothing like the terrifying feeling of a car or truck passing within a couple of feet of you doing 50 mph or more.  It’s enough to make all but the most hard core cyclist say “fugettaboudit.”  Today, on the other hand, I rode in the buffered lane and felt much more comfortable.  The 2 additional feet of space between you and speeding automobile traffic may not seem like much, but, believe me, it makes a huge difference.  Now I feel more comfortable taking this route to visit friends and family in the Eaton Canyon area of Altadena and it cuts a good 8-10 minutes off of the longer route I used to take to avoid what had been an awful stretch of road to ride on.

The weak link: cars parked on the shoulder require bikes to enter travel lane where cars approach 50 mph.

The weak link: cars parked on the shoulder require bikes to enter travel lane where cars approach 50 mph.

While the buffered lanes are a major improvement, the route is still not completely safe.  Unfortunately, the bike lane abruptly ends and DOT left the shoulder of the roadway open to parked cars for the 4/10ths of a mile between N. Altadena Drive and Eaton Canyon Drive (in front of swanky Gerrish Swim Club).  During the summer months and on weekends there are often long lines of parked cars along the entire stretch, forcing bicycles into a traffic lane where cars are moving at upwards of 50 mph.  Moreover, on the westbound side, the road pitches uphill steeply, meaning bikes traveling this portion will be going slow, unless being ridden by a Tour de France-level athlete.  So with the sudden loss of a bike lanes and parked cars, you go from tolerable comfort and safety level to super high-stress, unsafe roadway.

As such, I give the stretch with the buffered lanes a B+ (because of the high traffic speeds, some plastic bollards along the outer edge of the buffer would earn an A- and a curb-protected bike lane would earn an A), and I give the stretch between Eaton Cyn Drive and Altadena Drive as currently designed an F.  Because of the prioritization of curbside parking for cars, I still wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending this stretch of the route for kids, newbies, or less confident riders, and thus it fails the “8-80” test (i.e., is it safe for cyclists from 8 to 80?).  If we want to get more people out of their cars, a bike route is only as good as its weakest link, and I fear this design flaw will not make the route more popular with people who don’t already ride.

Uphill section much improved by buffered lanes.

Uphill section on eastbound side of New York Drive is much improved by buffered lanes.

Overall, however, I have to say that the buffered lanes are huge improvement over the non-buffered lanes that existed before.  On the eastbound side, as I rode the uphill stretch going much more slowly, the buffered lane made a big difference.

What a change 2 feet make.  We still have a long way to go, but we’re making progress.  Here’s hoping Pasadena DOT fixes the weak link on this road and continues to add more buffered bike lanes to more streets.

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