War on Cycling in Philly

Editor’s Note: Cycling in Philadelphia has become a full-on fight.  This stands as a reminder to cyclists in Topeka to remember to be courteous to drivers and share the road.  Drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users are all in this together. The only way we’ll move forward with better options and transportation alternatives is to build a community of transportation advocates. Better planning will lead to less accidents.

Republished  from the New York Times

DESCRIPTIONThe animosity that some cyclists and pedestrians feel for one another — well-documented in comment wildfires on this blog and elsewhere — simmers just below the surface of shared urban streets, as seemingly inevitable a part of city life as the steam rising through manhole covers. Just as inevitably, every once in a while these tensions boil over, usually in response to a coincidence of tragic accidents.


Such has been the case in New York’s sixth borough this month, where the deaths of two pedestrians in collisions with cyclists on Philadelphia streets precipitated an uproar in the local press, a crackdown on cyclists by the police and a new round of proposed legislation to fight the perceived scourge of scofflaw riders.

Seen from New York, our neighbor’s response offers a window into how a bicycle-friendly city acts when the bike-ped conflict — esoteric to the concerns of most city dwellers — is suddenly thrust into the public eye.

“In all of these cities — New York, Philadelphia, Chicago — we’re still in the early stages of fitting bicycles into our transportation system,” said Wiley Norvell, of Transportation Alternatives.

The two accidents occurred in the span of a single week in October, and left two men, Tom Archie, 78, and Andre Steed, 40, dead. In the case of Mr. Steed, the cyclist involved did not stop and has not been found. Anecdotal evidence of other collisions quickly sailed around online, as did the story of a third accident, which left an otherwise bike-friendly woman with a fractured skull.

In response, the police descended on central Philadelphia on Nov. 19 to issue tickets to bikers for riding against traffic, on the sidewalk or through red lights. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia also sent a team of “bicycle ambassadors” to encourage riders to follow the rules.

“The police, council members and bike ambassadors are working to address the chaos in the streets,” said Breen Goodwin, coordinator of the city-sponsored Bicycle Ambassadors program. But the press “is really bringing the issue to the forefront,” she said. Her program, which usually runs only from May to September, has called back several ambassadors to help respond to the growing tension.

Indeed, even in the service of moderate policy prescriptions, strong language has been the order of the day.

Death by “two-wheeled hazards,” the Philadelphia Inquirer editorialized last week, has “focused attention on an old problem: reckless cyclists who ignore traffic rules, ride on sidewalks, and zigzag among pedestrians.” The paper called for greater enforcement of existing traffic laws in the city, where police issued only 14 tickets to cyclists for moving violations last year. In New York, Mr. Norvell pointed out, the number of tickets handed out is “an order of magnitude larger” with no difference in results.

“The solution isn’t a million tickets,” he said. “The solution is ultimately a shift in behavior to more civic-minded cycling. We have a huge opportunity right now in New York city. There are tens of thousands of new bikers on the street and they’re malleable, they don’t have bad behavior ingrained.” The answer, he said, is better cyclist education.

Yet some in Philadelphia saw the accidents as an opportunity to inveigh against the idea of bicycles as a part of urban transportation.

“Can we be real? Bicycling is good recreation, good for the environment and for the waistline, but it will never be a serious mode of transportation in and around Philly,” wrote Stu Bykofsky, a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. He also criticized Mayor Michael A. Nutter’s decision this summer to have the city give equal consideration to bikes in future transportation efforts. (He added that the mayor had, somewhat against the laws of physics, “helped turn frosty relations between cars and bikes into a grease fire.”)

Perhaps predictably, fixed gear bikes have been caught in the cross fire.

A city council bill proposed this month in response to the deadly accidents contains a provision for ticketing riders up to $1,000 if their bikes do not have brakes, seemingly a direct response to the growing popularity of fixies on Philly streets. (In another version of the bill, riding a fixie would result in the bike being confiscated.)

The council has planned hearings on the matter of bicycles in Philadelphia and what action, if any, to take. But in an effort to ease the temperature of the debate, those hearings will most likely not occur before January.

“The message these city council members is sending is: We don’t want people riding bikes,” said Mark J. Ginsberg, a Portland, Ore., cycling lawyer who helped draft the state’s bike laws. In Oregon, there had been similar legal confusion over the status of fixed gear bikes — whether the act of pedaling backward constitutes a brake — and Mr. Ginsberg sought to add language to specifically address the issue in 2006. “What got shot down was the extra ‘and a fixed gear has a brake,’” he said.

Mr. Ginsberg said that most states have adopted a standard definition of bike’s brakes that is technology independent, a “make it stop in distance” standard. “No where does it say what the brake should look like; it only says what it should do,” he said. In most states — though not New York — the rule is that a bike moving at 15 miles per hour must be able to stop in 15 feet, something that is “easily done” on a fixed gear by riders of all levels, Mr. Ginsberg added. (New York State law still contains the older “make it skid” language: “Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement.”)

“Fixie riders argue that the fixed gear hub functions as a brake when backwards pressure is applied to the pedals, and that they are capable of meeting the required performance standard for stopping,” said Robert Mionske, author of Bicycling and the Law. “So far, that has tended to be a losing argument in traffic courts.”

There have not been other attempts to legislate fixies off city streets, Mr. Mionske said. “In fact, Washington D.C. has gone the other route, and embraced fixies, by revising their bicycle ordinance to specify that a fixed gear hub is a brake.”

Follow Spokes on twitter, twitter.com/spokesnyt, where links to the column will appear along with other bike-related tweets.

Complete Streets gets green light

By Tim Hrenchir
Republished from

In designing future street projects, the city staff should integrate and implement “Complete Streets” concepts targeted at making roadways safe and accessible for everyone, including bicyclists and pedestrians, the Topeka City Council decided Tuesday night.

The council voted 8-1 to approve a resolution sponsored by Councilman Larry Wolgast that changed city policy by directing the staff to make that move to the extent financially feasible. The measure also made it the city’s goal to adequately finance the policy’s implementation.

The outcome of Tuesday’s vote “shows we are progressive and moving forward,” Wolgast told the council.

“The important point is that our transportation plan will be designed not for moving vehicles as quickly as possible, but by taking into consideration all who use streets,” he said.

Councilman Jack Woelfel, the sole dissenter, said he wasn’t opposed to Complete Streets concepts but didn’t fully understand them. Woelfel also said he thought the proposal left too many unanswered questions and wasn’t specific enough, particularly about finances.

Wolgast told council members how a consultant brought to Topeka as part of the Heartland Visioning process earlier this year explained how cities nationwide were working to implement Complete Streets concepts.

“The Complete Streets policy will direct city planners and engineers to consistently design with all users in mind, including drivers, public transportation riders, pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as older people, children and people with disabilities,” he said.

The council heard support for Wolgast’s proposal expressed Tuesday by six speakers, including representatives of the Community Resources Council and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce.

Another advocate, Karl Fundenberger, told the council thousands die crossing roadways nationally each year due to poor design features.

He said: “Streets are not for moving cars. They’re for moving people.”

Joseph Ledbetter, who also addressed the council on the matter, asked members to make sure that money from a half-cent sales tax that took effect Oct. 1 doesn’t help pay for Complete Streets improvements.

City manager Norton Bonaparte said that won’t happen. He noted that the council earlier this month approved capital improvement plans calling for the city to borrow $100,000 through general obligation bonds in each of the next five years to pay to incorporate Complete Streets design elements into projects the city carries out using revenue from the half-cent tax.

The council also approved a 2010 legislative agenda consisting of eight provisions that include asking for the continued operation of the Kansas Neurological Institute, which a state commission has recommended closing, and supporting “continued development of the Capitol complex and state operations in downtown Topeka.”

Three other provisions of the approved agenda were targeted at helping the Topeka Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Council members voted 8-1 to approve that agenda. Councilman John Alcala dissented, saying he thought it had been “overloaded” with too many issues.

Also, Mayor Bill Bunten cast a vote as the city’s governing body:

  • Voted 10-0 to approve Alcala’s motion to defer action on a proposed zoning change regarding property at 1236 S.W. Garfield Ave. Alcala said the deferral would give the city attorney’s office time to provide the council an opinion on the extent of participation in voting and discussion on the matter that should be permitted for Councilwoman Deborah Swank, who previously spoke about it before the Topeka Planning Commission.
  • Voted 10-0 to amend the city’s zoning code to clarify that only fences within parks may exceed the city’s 4-foot height requirement in a front yard.

Tim Hrenchir can be reached at (785) 295-1184 or tim.hrenchir@cjonline.com.

Colorado adopts Bicycle, Pedestrian Policy

CDOT just adopted what is basically Complete Streets policy.  How relevant, considering they’re our neighbor, and that a Complete Streets Resolution is set for tomorrow night’s City Council agenda. If Complete Streets are important to you in Topeka, please call the city clerk’s office 368-3940 by 5 p.m. Tuesday, November 24 to sign up to speak for item 7B. Then, ride your bike to the city council meeting, and carry your helmet in with you.

Republished from BikeDenver.org

(Courtesy Alliance for Biking and Walking) – October 30, 2009

After more than two years of meetings and drafting language, Bicycle Colorado announced that the Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) Transportation Commission has adopted a groundbreaking statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Policy.

According to Bicycle Colorado, “The new policy directs that, ‘…the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians shall be included in the planning, design, and operation of transportation facilities, as a matter of routine…’

Division of Transportation Development Director Jennifer Finch stated, ‘This is a change in philosophy for the Department [of Transportation].’

The policy was moved by Commissioner George Krawzoff and seconded by Commissioner Steve Parker, leading to unanimous votes of support from all 11 commissioners.

Praise for CDOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Betsy Jacobson’s diligent work on the policy was heard from Bicycle Colorado, Ms. Finch, and the Commissioners. Bicycle Colorado’s Executive Director Dan Grunig said, ‘We have passed positive bicycle legislation and overturned bike bans, but passing this policy may be the biggest step we’ve taken towards bicyclists being treated as legitimate road users.’


Bicycle Colorado worked with CDOT for a number of years encouraging a formal bicycle and pedestrian policy. The Commission instructed CDOT staff in 2007 to begin evaluating its bicycle and pedestrian policies and practices. They convened a series of stakeholder meetings to determine areas to be addressed in policy and procedures. The resulting policy is a product of the input of all the stakeholders representing other state departments, local governments, and user groups. CDOT staff did a thorough job, gathering input from all their internal departments and divisions throughout the process.


Adoption of this policy is a big step but there is still work to do. Implementation is the key to the policy’s success. Executive Director Russ George and the Executive Management Team will issue a Procedural Directive in the next couple of months detailing implementation plans.

The Directive will guide CDOT departments on how to incorporate bicyclist and pedestrian needs into road design, maintenance, transportation planning, education, etc. It will also detail the circumstances when projects may opt out of the policy and how that decision will be made available to the public. Bicycle Colorado will continue to participate in the process to ensure positive results for bicyclists.

Read the story on the Alliance for Biking and Walking website here.

Read the policy here

How Do We Fund Complete Streets?

One of the biggest stumbling blocks we run across in Topeka (and everywhere else) when trying to convince council members and other decision makers to embrace more bike-friendly roadways is the dreaded money question.  ”That’s all well and good, but how do we pay for it?”

Even in Portland, Oregon, a city where one cannot swing a dead cat without hitting a cyclist (or three), the same concerns dominate the discussion.  However, there are some great resources to consider, and to bring to the attention of lawmakers when having this conversation.  The following is a post which originally appeared on portlandtransport.com directing advocates for cyclist friendly streets towards some excellent strategies to bring to the table when it comes time to address the money question:

As the “Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030″ moves toward City Council adoption, the question that moves front and center is “how do we pay for it?”

The estimated price tag runs into hundreds of millions of dollars over 20 years – but is still small in comparison to our other transportation investments. In a discussion on Bike Portland, editor Jonathan Maus lamented that

“… this is about a game of politics and money and so far it looks like bike people are simply being outplayed… which is too bad because we all agree bikes are the best investment and they have the most beneficial impact on our city.”

I do agree that bikes have the greatest potential to reshape our transportation landscape at the lowest cost – and have vocally said so as the plan moved through the Planning Commission, even to the point of saying that I would give priority to bicycle funding over Streetcar funding (but I also believe that they will very seldom be in direct competition).

So if we need to play a better game, what are the lessons we can take from Streetcar and other transportation initiatives that have been successful in attracting funding?

Here are some thoughts gleaned from what I’ve observed over the last decade advocating for a variety of transportation projects:

Federalize the Effort

Roads and Transit have dedicated federal funding from the Highway Trust Fund (gas taxes are the primary source of these funds, but Congress is now getting into the habit of supplementing this with general revenues as gas tax buying power declines).

This is a critical factor, because elected leaders will quite rationally invest local dollars where they will leverage new money into the community. If $40 of local funds will bring in $60 of “New Starts” federal money for Light Rail, guess how hard leaders will work to find that $40.

Where is the advocacy for a Federal bike funding program? None existed for Streetcar, so we helped create a national Community Streetcar Coalition (former Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad chairs it) with over 60 cities looking at streetcar investments advocating for federal involvement. This resulted in the creation of the “Small Starts” program from which Portland just received $75M for the Streetcar Loop project – the first Federal Transit Administration Streetcar grant.

For cycling, we won’t need to invent a national advocacy organization – the League of American Cyclists has existed for more than a century. Portland advocates need to get busy with the League to plot a congressional strategy for a dedicated funding program for bicycle infrastructure. Then let’s get our projects in at the front of the line.

[BTW – why is there no one from the USA’s premiere cycling city on the board of the League?]

There’s an interesting immediate opportunity emerging here. Transit projects have previously been allowed to use Federal funds for bike and pedestrian improvements that help get folks to the transit line, but those improvements had to be relatively close to the transit line. Now, under the auspices of the joint urban livability effort between HUD and the US DOT, the definition is being expanded. According to a proposal in the Federal Register (PDF, 59K), FTA is seeking comment on extending the ‘catchment area’ distances to one half mile for pedestrian improvements and 3 miles for bicycle improvements.

How much of Portland’s proposed bicycle network is within 3 miles of proposed high capacity transit corridors? A lot. Portland advocates should:

  1. Immediately comment favorably on the FTA proposal. (I have)
  2. Get out their compasses and figure out the 3-mile envelope around the Milwaukie LRT and Lake Oswego Streetcar corridors (the next two projects that will seek FTA funding). Let’s try to get all the improvements in those areas matched 60/40. Yes, you’ll have to convince TriMet and others to expand the project definitions and help assemble more local match, but as I said before, local leaders are all about bringing home more Federal dollars.

Regionalize the Effort

The history of transportation funding in this region suggests that Portland-specific efforts are always met with a degree of skepticism at JPACT. Projects that reach all parts of the region do better.

It’s not a random occurrence that the most recent Light Rail project, and the next one, both touch Clackamas County – it’s “their turn”. It’s also not coincidental that the next Streetcar line in the pipeline will go to Lake Oswego.

Portland advocates need to work with the rest of the regional and get cycling projects moving all over the region. Metro’s Intertwine effort is an ideal framework for this.

This will also help with the Federal effort. JPACT travels back to DC and speaks with one voice to the Congressional delegation, and that voice better talk about bikes if we want to be successful in creating a significant Federal funding program.

Localize the Effort

Every successful rail transit project has a local stakeholder committee, including prominent representation from businesses along the alignment. We are beginning to see this kind of advocacy around major trail projects (Sullivan’s Gulch, North Portland Greenway) but we need to deepen this and get it going for more projects – probably in ways that are less about linear corridors and more about local networks. Can we get a stakeholder group formed for strengthening the bike network in a whole neighborhood or sector of a the City?

And we MUST make the connection between good cycling environments and property values. Local Improvement Districts (where property owners levy a fee on themselves to pay for a portion of the project) are the cornerstones of Streetcar project funding. We need to get an economist hired to do a serious study correlating bike traffic volumes with property values NOW.

What Else?

Watch the evolving landscape. Some kind of carbon cap-and-trade system is in our future. Let’s position bike projects as effective investments for offsets. Transit leaders are already thinking about this.

Lottery Funds. TriMet has successfully lobbied to use bonding capacity from the State Lottery to fund first the West Side extension and now the Milwaukie line. The Governor and Legislature have also allocated $100M of Lottery bonding capacity to non-road transportation (”Connect Oregon”) in each of the last two sessions. Can we convince the Legislature to use some Lottery bonding for bike projects?

Think about how we sell this to the public. I made the comment during the Planning Commission work session that my family pays (happily) about $250/year for the library levy. That helps fund about a $50M annual budget (for the whole county). We need about $25M (for Portland) annually to build out the bicycle plan. If citizens will vote to fund the library, how do we convince them to vote to fund cycling at a comparable level?

So what are we waiting for?