Saturday, October 10, 2009

you can do it!


Here is a pretty interesting article from Scientific American (discovered via Bike Pittsburgh) regarding the rather large national gender gap in bike commuting. The gist of it is that women are A) more risk-averse than men and B) still tend to do more of the practical, errand-running trips in a family and the conclusion drawn is that this large difference (which incidentally in not the case in most of Europe at all) tells us that existing bike infrastructure in most of the country is somewhat unsafe and also not conducive to practical trips.

In Chicago (and many, many other cities to be fair) I would say this is all on full display. While the city has done a pretty nice job of doing all the easy and cheap stuff, i.e. painting a bunch of lines down the sides of a lot of streets and putting up cute little junior street signs with the mileage and direction to local destinations, it's the more expensive and politically difficult things that will help to close this gap and increase cycling as a real way to get things done. Where are the "safe" places to ride a bike? The lakefront (though safety is in question for this route as it is, on most decent days, a veritable Frogger game of trying not to crash into texting fixie riders passing on the left or headphone wearing rollerbladers, legs akimbo all over the route) and the North Branch and North Shore paths. Not exactly the most practical routes for your daily needs.

Anecdotally, I see a lot of women riding down Milwaukee, etc. but it ain't the safest route in the world, and I'm a pretty reckless rider to be making that statement. It's high time for some separated bike lanes, and paint just ain't enough. In NYC where there is a nice 3 to 4 foot paint "barrier" cops and delivery vehicles are still parked all over the bike lanes along with UPS dudes rolling dollies full of stuff the wrong way down them, etc. Separate bike lanes are what will move cycling from a popular fringe activity to a real alternative to sitting in traffic fuming. One of the more promising things that I am hearing more and more about is the idea of making the street laid out this way:
sidewalk-bike lane-car parking-roadway-car parking-bike lane-sidewalk

This can mostly be done with new lines and has the added benefit of making the Chicago human right of passing recklessly on the right no longer an option. This place could use some serious traffic calming anyway and the possibility of doors opening to cars rather than bikes should definitely move things in that direction.

In the hopeful category, I'm in Clarksville, AR for a friend's wedding and right outside the Hampton Inn off the I-40 feeder road, there is a lonely little yellow "Share the Road" sign with the ubiquitous bicycle silhouette. These have been popping up in the darnedest places too. If this picture were any good at all, you'd be able to see what I'm talking about:

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