Face the Fear

“I’d like to bike, but…” says the woman in front of me, a Toronto Councilwoman, at a recent forum.

This is a phrase I hear all the time in my work creating bicycle-friendly communities. “But I’m afraid to…”

She’s in good company! More than 60% of the population is interested in cycling but afraid. (See Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 and Calgary Cycling Strategy.)

A large segment of the population, according to numerous polls and focus groups, is intereted in cycling but afraid.

“My friend’s 25-year old kid got killed last year,” she explains, adding that it was his fault because he didn’t stop at a signal.

What can I say in response? I hear you, but don’t be afraid? Fear is the cornerstone of the negaholic media, invading every corner of our lives. Telling her to not be afraid is like telling her not to breathe.

What if I told her that cities like Copenhagen, Vancouver, Portland, Montreal, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago have all found that as bicycling and walking trips rise, crash rates fall dramatically? Or that bicycle transportation is actually quite safe relative to other activities? A recent Oregon study found that if we commute by bike to work six miles (approx. 10 km) a day, we’ll experience a minor mishap once every four years. Not bad, especially when compared to other injury inducing activities, like sports, cooking (burns, sliced fingers), and encountering dangerous dogs. In other words, people living physically active lives suffer injuries, with bicycle commuting no worse an activity than anything else. And, of course, the health benefits far outweigh the risks.

“But the roads are unsafe,” says the Councilwoman.

Sure, if your main method of transportation is the car, then naturally you envision that bicycling means sharing space on the roads on which you currently drive. Doubtful that these have bike lanes. Even if they do, those bike lanes might look pretty scary if you haven’t regularly used them. This is why we are working to create networks of low-stress bikeways, either by separating cyclists from motorists on major roads, developing off-road paths, or reducing the speed differential between motorists and cyclists on shared spaces. Watch this 7-minute Streetsfilm video about Portland’s new neighborhood greenways, and feel your safety concerns dissipate like the sun beaming on the school-bound bike “train.”

Separated cycle tracks and neighborhood greenways help reduce fear by lowering stress.

But the fear, oh the fear, poured and pounded into us, so hard to overcome. When that Oregon bike commute study was released, the media seized on it as proof that cycling is dangerous, in part because the medical researchers naively used the emotion-laden word ‘trauma’ to describe all the injuries, from scraped knees to broken bones. Adding to the fun, a legislator took a nonsensical leap of logic by trying to ban the transportation of small children by bicycle. (Apparently, the fact that a leading cause of death in children is car crashes did not enter into his thinking.)

We all experience scary stuff when we drive or bike. The question is, do we share these stories with our friends and colleagues? “You cannot believe what I saw today! A motorist cut me off!” Or “I almost hit this bicyclist. No helmet! No lights!” Each of these little missives spreads the fear and anxiety. Try this instead: take a deep breath and let it go.

Somehow, we have to overcome the fear about bicycling as a dangerous activity, because that fear suppresses bike use. Yes, there will be causalities. Some will get injured, and it will be tragic and unfair. We can never bring back the lives that are lost, nor can we heal the pain of those injured. But we simply cannot let fear prevent us from taking advantage of the suite of health, environmental, livability, safety, and economic benefits available to us when we use our hearts, legs, and lungs for transportation.

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Police in Idaho: Rolling Stop Sign Law Dandy

Recently I was giving a presentation in Nampa, Idaho, to a large group of transportation professionals. In the room: a police officer. I ask about Idaho’s unique stop sign law, as they are the one state that allows people on bikes to roll through stop signs if it is safe to do so. 

“How’s it working for you?” 

His response: a shoulder shrug and “fine.” He added, “Cyclists don’t stop anyway. We’ve got more pressing issues to deal with.” Plus, he himself rides as part of his duty. 

Mia and Nampa, ID officers and officials, about to set off on a bike tour.

Later, I was riding with another officer on the way to Ronald Reagan Elementary, a school of 500 kids that I was about to entertain with the Joyride story – kids’ version – a pop quiz on bicycle safety, and a “coolest helmet” contest.   

“Officer Moores,” I ask. “Doesn’t it make it hard for you to teach kids about obeying traffic signs when “stop” doesn’t always mean stop for bicyclists?” This is a common refrain from opponents of the rolling stop sign concept. 

His answer: “Nope.” No amount of prodding could get him or City officials, regional leaders, and school administrators to decry the law. 

I’ve written about this issue before for Momentum Magazine. That led the Portland Tribune to publish a version of the article, which led to a cavalcade of passionate letters and emails, many agreeing but many angrily denouncing my stance. “Same rights, same responsibilities,” most argued. 

To reiterate: a bicycle is not the same as a motor vehicle. As we evolve our understanding of the bicycle as a mainstream form of transportation for the masses, not just for fit adrenaline junkies on speedy bikes, so too must we evolve our traffic control devices and laws. You see, stop signs are placed at intersections to keep two-ton vehicles from crashing into each other. One to two hundred pound riders-with-bicycles do not need to come to a complete stop to avoid serious injury. While stop signs are an efficient and effective way to delineate right-of-way for motorists, cyclists need something different. 

This means either changing the way we control intersections (e.g. using yield signs and markings instead of stop signs) or adjusting the law as they have done in Idaho.  

Allow me to make this point crystal clear: OF COURSE people on bikes should yield to pedestrians!

 No one should act like a jerk, period. The Idaho stop law allows the officers to enforce egregious behavior, whether it involves failing to yield to a pedestrian or a motorist or another cyclist.

Further, I am NOT advocating that people run through traffic signals. [The Idaho law does permit cyclists to stop then proceed on a red light if there’s an adequate gap in traffic. I’m not in favor of this.] When the light is red, stop and stay stopped until the light turns green. The damage to the collective credibility of cyclists from you running that red light is significantly worse than the individual time gain. Nor am I advocating that people on bikes should blow through stop signs. Slow, prepare to stop, and stop, or wave and smile in thanks at the motorist who waved you through. 

I am advocating for a shift in our traffic control devices and/or laws to match reasonable and legitimate behavior. 

As recounted in this article, the Idaho law’s original sponsor – Carl Bianchi – was a cyclist. He was also the Administrative Director of the Courts in Idaho, and would later serve as the first Director of Legislative Services for the Idaho State legislature. Article excerpt:  

In his professional capacity, Bianchi had been approached by magistrates with complaints that law enforcement was ticketing cyclists for failure to come to a complete, foot-down stop. Magistrates considered these technical violations to be functional and common cycling behavior, but under the law, they had no option but to fine cyclists for these violations. Bianchi and the magistrates who were bringing these concerns to him felt that these “technical violations” were unnecessarily cluttering the courts. 

In each of the two previous years, bills to modernize the state’s bicycle laws had been introduced and failed. When the legislature initiated its revision of the state’s traffic code, Bianchi saw an opportunity to attach a modernized bicycle law onto the larger revision of the traffic code; with the assistance of cyclists and judicial officials, Bianchi agreed to draft a new bicycle code. 

Bianchi’s draft brought the bicycle code into close conformity with the Uniform Vehicle Code, with new provisions allowing cyclists to take the lane, or to merge left, when appropriate. Addressing the concerns of the state’s magistrates, the draft also contained a provision that allowed cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign—the so-called “rolling stop law.” 

According to Bianchi, the law was delayed a year from its original passage in 1982, and then it took a governor’s veto in 1983 to allow it to go into effect, over efforts by driver trainers and law enforcement to repeal the law, and rural area legislators who opposed uniform bicycle codes of any kind in their communities.  Bianchi: 

“Then-Gov. John V. Evans vetoed the bill to repeal, stating, “We should be promoting wider use of bicycles because of the energy savings and physical benefits they provide.  We should also be encouraging safe operation of bicycles. The uniform laws accomplish both objectives.”  (Pretty farsighted, given today’s environment.)” 

The rolling stop law has given Idaho an improved environment for bicycle commuting and at the same time has been a safer and more reasonable alternative to traditional automobile stop laws.” 

Idaho may not be the country’s most bicycle friendly state overall, (it is ranked 30th by the League of American Bicyclists) but on this issue, they win the prize.

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The Calgary Helmet Kerfuffle

You caught me! Normally I always wear a helmet. I’ve got three sweet Nutcases so I can match my outfits.

Mia sporting her fashionable Nutcase helmet in Ithaca, NY

I was in Calgary about to go on a ride with a couple dozen leaders and advocates on a borrowed bike. I had forgotten my black and pink hibiscus-flowered helmet. I turned to Sean, the owner of the really cool urban biking store Bike Bike, but he hadn’t thought to bring one to accompany the elegant step-through frame bike.

The ride leaders and media were waiting. I wasn’t worried about my personal safety, you understand, because we were going to ride slowly on lovely off-street paths in a large group. No real danger here.

I was worried about exactly what ensued.

Hundreds came to my public presentation and dozens attended the staff training. The Mayor and most of the Council joined me for lunch. I was on the radio, tv, and in the papers and blogs. I even made the front page of the Calgary Herald. The advocates, government staff and political leaders were thrilled and enthused. The only problem: in the front page photo, there I am, black skirt, strappy sandals, brown hair flowing, smiling, helmet-free.

Mia riding carefree in Calgary.

Within minutes, dissatisfaction exploded through blogs, tweets, and emails. Here’s one received via the Calgary Herald’s website:

“No helmet, no credibility.”


Rather than focusing on all the opportunities to make Calgary more bike friendly, the issue became my uncovered head.  This is the exact reason I normally always bring my own helmet.

This terrific Momentum Magazine article by my friend Elly Blue explains the range of opinions and issues, from emergency room nurses who see horrible stuff and insist that we need to legislate helmet wearing to Copenhagen’s Mikael Colville-Anderson, who persuasively insists (check out his TEDx speech) that helmets are both stupid and bad for your health.

My own opinion: if you ride for sport or are exposed to fast-moving traffic, then wearing a helmet is generally a good idea. I know many people – including my beloved partner Glen – who credit their helmet with saving their life. But if you’re in Amsterdam or some other world-class cycling city, participating in a car-free event, or riding slowly on an off-road path or neighborhood greenway, the helmet isn’t necessary. This sentiment is well expressed by Portland Planning Commissioner and sustainable transportation advocate Chris Smith in this interesting post from Portland’s fabulous car-free Sunday Parkways event.

It’s logical to me that helmet laws suppress bicycle use and make public bike sharing systems less viable, and the focus on helmets contributes to the overall perception that bicycle riding is a far more dangerous activity than it actually is. (See this article for a more robust discussion of safety.)

On this, I am 100% certain: the focus on helmets is a distraction from what we need to do: create conditions and cultures in which bicycling is so safe, desirable, and easy that helmets are simply a non-issue.

We’re not there yet, obviously.

I’ll try not to forget my helmet again.

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Calgary in the Snow

In a city like Calgary, which I visited last week, opportunities to create world-class bicycling conditions abound. 

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail

First, they have a world-class network of off-street paths; this provides the foundation upon which they can create a connected on-road bikeway network of bike lanes, neighborhood greenways, and cycle tracks. 

Second, there’s plenty of right-of-way on an extensive roadway network to allow them to accomplish the latter, particularly in downtown, with three- or four-lane + parking one-way streets laid out in a one-way grid. Conditions are ripe to create a bikeway/walkway similar to the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, or cycle tracks like in New York or Vancouver BC or now in lovely Long Beach

One-way cycle tracks can be a smart complement to one-way downtown streets.

Third, the three critical human components are in pace. These are: political leadership (the exciting new young, funny, educated Naheed Nenshi and numerous Aldermen); advocates organized under the non-profit Civic Camp; and well-trained, well-supported, energetic and dedicated bureaucratic staff (including traffic engineers who ride bikes at least some of the time). In my experience, all three of these being in place simultaneously are necessary. 

Fourth, an excellent bike plan, in the form of the soon-to-be adopted Cycling Strategy. A sneak preview revealed a very sophisticated level of thinking, predicated on a survey that validates Portland’s typological grouping of cyclists and potential cyclists

  • 1% strong & fearless
  • 8% enthused and confident
  • 60% interested but concerned

My suggestions: on the facilities side, focus on neighborhood greenways as a strategy for reaching that large “interested but concerned” population. Use the off-street network as the foundation of the system, and introduce public bicycle sharing in the next couple of years. On the encouragement side, focus on three major components: large car-free events like ciclovias, one-on-one personal travel encouragement programs (a.k.a. Smart Trips), and Active and Safe Routes to School, with bike safety education and encouragement incorporated into primary school education. 

Calgarians: I understand you come from a rather spread out, auto-oriented set of land-uses and habits. You are not unique in this. You can make progress toward a more balanced transportation system in which bicycling is an integral part of daily life. 

Let’s talk weather. Over and over, people told me that it snows a lot and is very cold. “No one will bike,” was expressed repeatedly; yet in each audience, I heard from residents who already bike year-round, similar to residents of Anchorage, Minneapolis, Montreal, and Oslo. Over and over, you told me that the bikeways will be covered in snow and ice. The answer: if you want to commit to bicycling as a year-round form of transportation, then you commit to removing the snow from on-street bikeways, just as you already do on your off-street paths, just as our friends in other cold climate cities do. 

In Anchorage, the winter bike commute numbers are as high as the summer numbers a few years ago. In the early years of our work in Portland, people told me that I was wasting government dollars because people won’t bike in the rain. (If we let the rain bother us, we’re not going to leave the house.) And we’ve shown a similar trend to Anchorage, with winter numbers as high as summer numbers not long ago. 

As I said in Joyride, p. 129: 

Whatever the weather, we amazing humans somehow go about our lives. So the question becomes, given that there is no avoidance of the sky’s daily mood and not a blessed thing that we can do to control it, why do we let the weather keep us from moving our bodies by bike? Do we let the weather control our choice of transportation or do we open our faces to the sky and let the pure rainwater nourish our souls? 

Calgary: I love your spirit, momentum, and potential. The time has come. The time is now. Focus. Adopt that cycling strategy, and go like hell until you can’t go no more.

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Safe Routes to School National Partnership Needs our Help!

“Cy was a nightmare,” John tells me, as I adjust the helmet of his developmentally disabled son. Cy has a fairly complex set of issues requiring an ever-evolving regimen of drugs and medical appointments. One thing for sure: he is highly prone to emotional volatility. By fifth grade, Cy’s condition was compounded by a ballooning weight problem caused by a combination of metabolism-affecting drugs and inactivity. In this, he mirrors close to 50% of our children nationwide.  But then, an amazing thing happened: Cy won a brand spanking new mountain bike in our safe routes to school raffle and learned how to ride. Since he started biking to school, his weight dropped and moods mellowed.

“Bicycling saved us,” declares John.

This true story would never have been possible without the leadership of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and its founder Deb Hubsmith, as I describe in Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet, p. 209. The energetic, incredibly dedicated Deb was a major force behind the federal Safe Routes to School program. My own kids’ school now has a 40% bike/walk rate. As our Principal says, “fit, healthy kids learn better.”

The Safe Routes to School Partnership’s leadership has meant the world for thousands of kids who are able to live healthier, happier lives.

Despite its incredible nationwide success, the Safe Routes to School program is at risk of being dismantled.

Deb and her talented staff can’t succeed without our help. Now is the time to put our money where our values are, and make sure that the Safe Routes to School National Partnership is able to continue meeting with Congressional members and staff to ensure the future of Safe Routes to School funding. I have personally pledged $500, and my company Alta Planning + Design has pledged $2500 to the National Partnership.  

Our goal is to raise $35,000 in the month of May to fund federal advocacy at this critical time.  Over the next month, it is expected that the House and Senate will release their draft Transportation Bills. Your contribution helps position Safe Routes to School in these bills and in the future.  If you help me in pledging $10, $100, $500 or more, we can make that goal.

Will you join me?

Please click here with your pledge by May 26. I will be proud to stand with you in support of the National Partnership’s important mission and outstanding work.

Mia Birk, President

Alta Planning + Design

P.S.  To thank you for your commitment to Safe Routes to School, I am pleased to offer contributors an autographed copy of my book Joyride, which highlights the power of bicycling to transform US cities.

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Humbled by TED

Humbled by TED

It’s official: thanks to TED, I’ve joined the ranks of talking-to-themselves-in-public persons – some of whom are engaged with voices in their heads, others to real live humans via Bluetooth. As I write this, I’m on an airplane to Toronto (where I will speak at a Complete Streets Forum). For an hour, I’ve been telling it to the clouds. A few minutes ago, I had to reassure the flight attendant that I was just crazy, not violating their cell phone policy.

Speeches are a huge part of my life. I’ve done a thousand or more in my career. I must be reasonably good at it, because I keep getting asked to do more.

But nothing before has been like the TEDx talk I’m doing this Saturday in Portland. An 18 minute live, memorized speech before not just an audience of 600 but webcast simultaneously and then posted on the internet. And maybe, just maybe, if folks really like it, I’ll get invited to one of the big TED conferences and get to share our story of hope and joy to a broader audience.  

TED stands for Technology, Environment, and Design, a 25 year old non-profit whose mission is promoting “ideas worth sharing.” The format is powerful and simple: short speeches focused around a theme; in this case, crossroads. I’m humbled to have been invited alongside an illustrious and diverse panel of leaders. Check out their website if you want to be inspired! 

What am I speaking about? What else? The power of bicycle transportation to empower people and transform communities.

I have rehearsed before dozens of colleagues, friends and family. Each offered valuable suggestions but my friend Sacha Reich, Director of the Jewish Theatre Collaborative, took me to a whole new level of insight on how to emote in just the right spots, step into character, flow the narrative, connect with the audience. Now I know why her plays are so beautiful. J

Just as when I was writing/editing Joyride, I have raked over the coals every word, phrase, and story, tightening, tweaking, strengthening. Each time I think I’m done, I toss and turn all night, my brain puzzling over something deep within, and I wake knowing that I have to change the order or clarify a sentence or tighten the language a little more. (The time limit is very strict, and the live performance usually takes longer than rehearsals.)  And now, I wander through my life, mumbling to myself as I chop veggies, do dishes, fold laundry, and bike to work.

We’re down to the wire now… do or die… wish me luck as I pedal onto the TED stage on Saturday afternoon, 4:00 PST. Enjoy the ride!

To watch TEDx Portland live, click here: http://www.tedxportland.com/

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Behind the Scenes in the Creation of the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide

A few weeks ago at the National Bike Summit, NYCDOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan officially launched the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. It was a great moment, a culmination of close to 20 years of work, a celebration of a great leap forward in the right direction, and a joyous solution to a long standing problem. I wanted to stay there, in that glorious moment, basking in the joy, forever.

Why the excitement? It’s just a bikeway guide, right?


To understand the history, we have to backtrack to the early 1990s, when I was the Portland Bicycle Coordinator. I had investigated 18 European cities and come back buzzing with all I had seen: bike signals, wayfinding signs, protected bike lanes (aka cycle tracks), contra-flow bike lanes, shared lane markings, colored bikeways, and advance bike boxes. But none of these were “allowed” per the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and AASHTO Guide to Bikeway Facilities, the national documents that govern signs, markings, and geometric design.

If you want to do something not in the MUTCD, you’re supposed to get permission to design, fund, and carry out your own study.

Quickly, we realized that we were trying to build a bikeway network with a half empty toolkit, like trying to build a backyard fence with a hammer and handsaw but lacked a skillsaw, drill, Philips screwdriver, and complete set of bits and ratchet. In other words, we needed the right precision tools for the job at hand.

As I become a consultant in 1999, I observed that across the U.S., communities seemed to fall into one of two camps. We had those who saw the MUTCD and AASHTO Guide as overriding authorities. In other words, if the treatment’s not specifically approved and explained, it’s off limits. At this camp – let’s call it Camp StayintheBox - you are told that you risk a higher level of liability if you use a non-MUTCD treatment. Whether this is true in reality is doubtful, particularly if you base the design on best practices, carefully document your decisions, and monitor the results. For sure, the use of federal funds is tied to close compliance with the MUTCD and AASHTO Guide and thus a limited set of choices in bikeway design. 

And we had those who moved forward despite the lack of guidance and potential risks. Let’s call them Camp DoItAnyway. At first, Portland was relatively alone at this camp. Then Portland was joined by cities like Cambridge, Mass., San Francisco, and Davis, California.

In the meantime, the process to evolve the official documents crawled along at a snail’s pace. The AASHTO Guide to Bikeway Facilities, for example, was last published in 1999. I played a small part in the update process a number of years ago, but it’s still not done. (I’m not privy to the reasons why.) By the time the shared lane markings made it into the MUTCD, for example, more than 100 cities were using them.

And as time passed, the ranks of Camp DoItAnyway swelled, joined by New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis, Berkeley, and many others buoyed by the positive results in creating more bicycle friendly streets, reducing crashes, and increasing bicycle use.

As we reached 2008, Portland began using bike boxes, an intersection safety treatment to prevent bicycle/car collisions, especially those between drivers turning right and bicyclists going straight. Boldly and clearly, the bike box states: vulnerable road users takes priority. I describe the ensuing drama in Chapter 34 of Joyride; let’s just say that the net result was a long-simmering clarity that it was time for a new approach to urban bikeway design guidance.

Portland City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield and I, with support from Mayor Sam Adams and his Transportation Director Catherine Ciarlo, started calling up our colleagues in other cities. To a one, they said, “Heck yes! We’d love to help!” Within months, we had forged the Cities for Cycling project, a coalition promoting best international practices in urban cycling. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) graciously agreed to host the project, and leaders from all the major national advocacy organizations joined us, without hesitation.

As Rob says, “It’s better to pull on a rope then push it.”

We had a vision: a robust, dynamic guide, regularly updated, forged by bikeway practitioners, based on the world’s best experience and research, and richly detailed with the type of nuanced guidance needed for our complex urban situations. It would be web-based with 3-D renderings, photo examples, linked reference material, and a forum for professionals to discuss their experiences and questions. It would cover all the treatments missing from or incompletely explained in the MUTCD and AASHTO Guide, and therefore be a solid complement. Ultimately, we are aiming for it to be on the same level of professional and legal weight as the AASHTO Guide.

The initial round of 21 treatments are all in use today in American cities. The overseeing group of practitioners and advisors worked together to reach consensus on the designs after analyzing examples from around the world and in US cities.

A print guide is under development as well, and additional treatments will be added over time.

It took us less than a year to launch the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, and already, it has had an enormous impact. Cities are using it as a reference document. A number of states are considering language to “bless” it, while FHWA offered an official opinion that most of the treatments are already allowed (albeit in bits and pieces) under the MUTCD.

Thanks to NACTO; all our supporters and funders; the bold, innovative bikeway designers and leaders of Portland, NY, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, DC, and Minneapolis; the hard-working Guide team; and everyone nationwide who is working to create active communities where bicycling and walking are safe, healthy, normal, and fun daily activities.

Help us take the next steps:

- Use the NACTO Urban Design Guide in your daily transportation design work.

- Ask your City or State DOT to adopt the NACTO Guide as a companion to the MUTCD and AASHTO Guide.

- Include the NACTO Urban Bikeway  Design Guide as part of your ‘Complete Streets’ toolkit. We are pleased to be a member of the Complete Streets Coalition, pushing to adopt language and approaches to ensure that all our streets are designed for bicyclists and pedestrians.

- Ask your City to join NACTO as an affiliate member.

Thank you!

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The Value of the Right Ride: Priceless

Join us in Portland for the Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation’s 2011 professional development series. Why?

Our IBPI classes will open your eyes and fill you with joy.

  • Experience. There is NOTHING as effective as the right people going on a bike tour of places like Boulder, Portland, Berkeley, or Minneapolis. Our IBPI classes will open your eyes and fill you with joy.

Bike boulevards create safe, attractive routes for bicyclists of all skill levels.

  • Understand “neighborhood greenways.” It is hard to understand bike boulevards, aka neighborhood greenways, without experiencing them. This is because they do not involve bike lanes and there are so few examples nationwide. People often misunderstand, thinking that the changes on the street are too radical or scary. Our May 20th bike boulevard course will clear up these misconceptions and make it much easier for you to explain to colleagues and stakeholders.

    Portland City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield is an IBPI instructor.

  • Access. The depth of professional experience in Portland is truly stunning, from engineers to consultants to government officials to academics to advocates. We all work together to present and explain issues from different angles. Once you meet the team, you’ll have access to the some of the nation’s best expertise built up over a 20-year timeframe.
  • Funding. Many of our participants use their experience to apply for grants and other forms of funding. As John Rivera of Culver City explained, “The IBPI course gave me the language I needed to be successful.” He won a $250,000 grant for a bike/pedestrian plan after attending one of our courses.
  • Gain valuable skills. The field of bicycle and pedestrian planning has rapidly evolved in the last 20 years and continues to do so. We bring you up to speed on the cutting edge in research and practice, offering valuable skills for your professional life. “I was able to launch a consulting career thanks to the IBPI weeklong bike-pedestrian intensive class,” Anthony Pratt, Billings MT.
  • Fun!  Learn with a smile as you walk and bike, visit with professionals, and understand the problems and solutions in a safe, comfortable, active environment.

Main courses page: http://www.ibpi.usp.pdx.edu/courses.php

May 19, 2011: Trail Design – http://www.ibpi.usp.pdx.edu/traildesign2011.php
May 20, 2011: Bike Boulevard Design – http://www.ibpi.usp.pdx.edu/bikeboulevard2011.php
August 15-19, 2011: Comprehensive Bicycle and Pedestrian Design and Planning http://www.ibpi.usp.pdx.edu/media/IBPISummer2011.pdf
October 13-14, 2011: Engineering Principles for Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation: Intersections, Crossings, Signals -http://www.ibpi.usp.pdx.edu/media/IBPI-Intersection-Design-2011.pdf

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Communities in Flux: Lessons from Tucson, AZ; Bloomington, IN; and Billings, MT

I’ve been travelling far and wide, spreading the Joyride gospel of hope and pedaling fun wherever I go. Hosted by lovely people in communities that have made progress but have a long way to go. Three of these communities are Tucson, AZ; Bloomington, IN; and Billings, MT.

In Billings, Montana. From left to right: Former Mayor Chuck Tooley, me, Mayor Tom Hanel, and former Mayor Ron Tussing.

All three communities are designated bicycle friendly communities by the League of American Bicyclists (gold, bronze, and bronze, respectively). The University of Arizona is designated silver. This means that they’ve all taken steps in the right direction. Tucson – actually most of Pima County – has put bike lanes on many of their major roads. Billings has developed a gorgeous trail on the rocky rim surrounding the flat inner city. And Bloomington just opened a lovely trail right in the heart of downtown.

A class of adorable school kids giggling their way across this lovely bridge on the B-Line Trail, Bloomington, IN.

All have bike plans, engaged staff, supportive politicians, and some level of community engagement. Also, all are reasonably flat and have a university.

Tucson is interesting in that it has bike lanes on most major roads; the other two do not. But Tucson’s ridership has stagnated for the past decade. To me, this suggests that a different strategy is needed, one that appeals to the “interested but concerned” cyclist who is uncomfortable cycling on major roads, even with bike lanes.

Research has found that many people would like to bike, but are concerned about safety. Photo Credit: Portland Bureau of Transportation

In all three, I could see a tremendous opportunity for bike boulevards (aka neighborhood greenways) to help reach this group. The absolute best way to understand these is to come out to Portland to an upcoming training workshop hosted by the Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation. Second best is to check out this 7-minute StreetsFilm video for an inspiring overview on why neighborhood greenways are a great way to get more people out riding, especially those with kids.

The off-road Urban Trail Loop being developed around Tucson and the expansion of the trails in Billings and Bloomington: all good. One caution: I observed that the B-Line trail (as in many cities) favors motor vehicles over cyclists and pedestrians at crossings, even at one low volume driveway. Trails should take priority whenever possible. Develop a future trail usage demand projection based on comparable trails throughout the nation. (Alta can help you with this.) And never stop the trail for a private driveway. Be confident that motorists will adapt!

In all three, I also recommend Safe Routes to School bike/ped training be integrated into every elementary school as mandatory curriculum, and each should add a focus on parent-led encouragement activities to get more kids to walk/ride to school regularly. We have to start creating the next generation of cyclists, as we are far more likely to cycle as adults if we bike to school as kids.

In addition, all three communities should invest in individualized marketing programs like Portland’s Smart Trips program. This is because it’s not just the bikeways that get more people out riding, it’s the attitude. We’ve got to invite people to embrace cycling as a mainstream form of transportation, celebrate every success, and include marketing and outreach as part of our work. Public works departments often shy away from education and outreach, thinking that it’s “social engineering.” But, as I talked about in the Joyride section “Plant Seeds and a Garden Will Grow,” once you build it, people will come. But if we build it, and then encourage people to use it, in ways that are meaningful to their lives, they will come in flocks, droves, maybe even stampedes. The most successful cities embrace this role as critical to success, and they do it constantly and thoroughly as part and parcel of the way they do business. Individualized marketing programs are about the one-on-one work that is needed to open people’s eyes, allow them to feel safe and comfortable on a bike, learn the best routes, overcome the myriad of objections, and simply enjoy it. Let’s not forget that most Americans are only familiar with bicycling as an activity of recreation or sport. It is a big leap, even for those who identify as cyclists by virtue of their use of the bicycle for club rides or races, to shift their thinking, clothing, routes, and speed to that of the bicycle as transportation. Individualized marketing programs are highly effective.

Another key to success is to focus on women – create conditions (off-street paths, neighborhood greenways, and protected/separated bikeways on major roads) where women will feel comfortable.

The more women are comfortable riding for daily transportation, the healthier our communities.

And offer women-specific repair classes and rides that focus on fun and delight rather than fear of being hit. Use these rides to show the most comfortable and attractive routes, rather than the  major road routes that may be fastest but can be terrifying.

One of the absolute best ways to do this is to hold Ciclovias, whereby the streets are open to cyclists and pedestrians while car-free. These events are simply amazing, eye-opening, game-changing, and delightful. Again, the best way to understand is to experience first-hand, second best to watch a StreetsFilm video. The second annual Tucson Ciclovia promises to be fabulous.

Many cities are holding mind-blowing, car-free events like this Sunday Parkways event in Portland, attended by some 10,000 residents. Once these 20,000 eyes are open by having experienced our public space put to the highest and best use, they never close.

As I said in an earlier article, there’s no one magic recipe or order to developing your bikeway network and encouragement programs, as long as you’re heading in the right direction. All three of these communities, indeed, are doing just that. All are right on the cusp of a major upward trajectory in terms of bike use. I hope to be back soon to see what’s next.

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The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide is LIVE!

The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide provides cities with state-of-the-practice solutions that help create complete streets that are safe and enjoyable for bicyclists.

A coalition of transportation commissioners from major American cities launched a new design manual for bicycle-friendly streets today, announcing its release in Washington, D.C. at the League of American Bicyclists 2011 Bicycle Summit.

The new “Urban Bikeway Design Guide” is a publication of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), an association that shares transportation practices and experience among its members and represents cities in national transportation issues.

NACTO undertook the project because many of its members found existing design manuals inadequate for their efforts to promote bicycle transportation.

To create the Guide, officials from NACTO cities and a team of top planners and designers launched NACTO’s Cities for Cycling project and conducted an extensive survey of expert knowledge, from existing design guidelines from countries and cities around the world to innovative projects in the U.S.

“NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide gives American planners and designers the tools they need to make cycling accessible to more people,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, New York City Transportation Commissioner and President of NACTO.” These

Example of an annotated plan for a Bike Box.

 guidelines represent the state of the art and should be adopted as the new standards around the country.”

The focus of the guide is street facilities, including cycle tracks or protected bike lanes, which provide more separation

 between cyclists and motor vehicle traffic. Guide users can view detailed plan drawings, three-dimension renderings of the

 designs, and pictures of actual projects from around the country. The NACTO Guide can be adopted by individual cities, counties, or states as either a stand-alone document or as a supplement to other roadway guidance documents.

NACTO is an association of 15 major U.S. cities formed to exchange transportation ideas, insights, and practices and cooperatively approach national transportation issues.

Development of the Guide was supported by the SRAM Cycling Fund and the Bikes Belong Foundation. The Urban Bikeway Design Guide is an interactive document that can be found online at

 www.c4cguide.org and www.citiesforcycling.org.

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