On Paying Attention

So there I am this morning stopped at the light at Elm and Kimbrough heading east toward MSU. I’m first in line. The switch at this intersection often doesn’t trip for bicycles.

There was very little traffic. A guy in a minivan pulls behind me — and we wait.

After a bit, I decide to pull a maneuver that I will use in such situations if I deem it safe and necessary. I looked back at the motorist — difficult to see him in the glare of his windshield — pointed to the trip and then waved him forward. I swung left to take a position behind him. This is not a legal move strictly speaking, but it is one that helps keep things moving and is easily accomplished without hazard. And I only use it if there’s no other traffic about.

As I’m pulling behind him I see that he’s not pulling forward. His window is open — despite it being 37 degrees — so I said “pull forward and trip the light.”

That’s when I noticed he was texting.

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A Note On The Sociology Of Bike Lanes

Eliot Landrum, a CyclingSavvy instructor and a founding member of I Am Traffic from Dallas, posted the following story to Facebook recently:

For the “student stories” file.

Jay, a [CyclingSavvy] grad, joined me up for coffee and a social ride this morning. He told me about a trip a friend and him took last weekend to Austin… they brought their bikes and just rode pretty much every day as long as they could. He said he was shocked at how unfriendly the city was. He said he couldn’t figure out what they were doing wrong. He was in the correct lanes, staying away from door zones, using signaling… and they were getting honked at and yelled at constantly. He said he was so happy to get back to Dallas and ride anywhere he wanted without getting honked at. For those who aren’t Texans, Austin is seen as the cycling mecca and Dallas as the “most unfriendly city” for cyclists.

I told him about the retributive cycle and how bike lanes and heavy infrastructure promote “getting out of the way” of motor vehicle traffic. He said that all made a ton of sense with his experience.

I also explained that the “bike friendly” designations are heavily factored by simply how many bike lanes a city has, not whether they’re safe or useful or needed. He thought the “bike friendly” designation meant more about the attitude of a city towards bicyclists.

Tamar, another [CyclingSavvy] grad, was also there and she said she recently had a similar experience in DC. She said folks were riding in the door zone and whenever she got out of the DZ, she got honked and yelled at. She thought it was funny that when she came to Dallas and started riding for transportation, her mom fretted over the danger of riding here… when DC (where her parents live) is in reality far more dangerous.

Interesting conversation. I wish more people could see it this way.

I once wrote about bicycle lanes as a bad education, i.e. what the lines teach street users may not be the lessons they ought to learn. This story is a perfect example. Whether or not a community has a must-use law for bicycle lanes, the “taking away” of street width for bicycle lanes may lead motorists to believe that use of the bicycle lane is mandatory. It may lead motorists to ask an entirely reasonable question in the context of streets with bicycle lanes: Why is that bicyclist in front of me when they have their own space?

As the record on Carbon Trace shows, I drive my bicycle all over Springfield, Missouri with few hassles and honks from motorists. I do not remember the last honk — it’s been so many weeks ago. But I know exactly how to get honked at instantly. All one has to do is ride on any street here with a bicycle lane and ride outside the lane. A honk will soon follow. I’ve actually tested this.

Further, in nine years of riding a bicycle as full-time, basic transportation here, I have had just one instance of a motorist actually putting my life in danger on purpose. In five days of shooting video in Amsterdam last year, I caught seven such instances. Seven in five days. I believe that these motorists felt justified in part because Amsterdam provides bicycle lanes throughout the city. Get out of those lanes and, well, as the video shows…

Update: The video will be ready this October — only one year late ;-) And it will not be a “documentary” so much as another side to the Amsterdam story. I will not be making comparisons with Springfield. So, yeah, it’s going to have a high bicycle-geek factor to it.

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1-mile Solution in the News

Here’s a short Q & A published in a group of local papers about the 1-Mile Solution.

I keep thinking this kind of encouragement might actually help a few people follow the path I discovered. That path was remarkably smooth to follow.

I did not arrive in Springfield nine years ago already hip to the whole traffic-cycling thing. The flat terrain and grid street system made it easy to stick with it. And then just doing it, experiencing it, and thinking about it led me quite naturally to an understanding that one can drive a bicycle safely in traffic as traffic.

Oh, and bicycle education. Let’s not forget that. I’ve taken both the LAB course and CyclingSavvy. No one is too experienced to take these courses.

So, you see, I do want to increase participation. I’m just picky about how to do that.


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Lane Position and the Sun

Hit from behind is the rarest of car-bicycle collisions in urban areas. The general rule of thumb is: The danger is in front of you at intersections.

This picture, however, illustrates, a situation where the danger is behind, and the proper choice of lane positioning is not intuitive for many people.

Another general rule of thumb: Your shadow points to danger. I live on the west side of my major destinations now, so mornings and afternoons often look like the picture above — riding into the sun. That means the sun is in the eyes of motorists behind me.

So I should scurry to the extreme right like a good little second-class street user, right?

Dead wrong.

The proper lane position is down the middle where bicyclists will be garishly silhouetted against the light reflecting off the street.

See how dark the right side is? See how you can be lost in the building shadows?

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Laugh? Cry? … Cry

Check out this recent press release from Trek re: their “Game Changer” program for bicycle advocacy. Here’s a screen shot of the picture on the press release.


Yes. What you see there is likely a door-zone bicycle lane. In other words, a lane where the bicyclist is encouraged by the paint to ride next to parked cars.

This is what I’m fighting against: The mindless spilling of paint for the single purpose of encouraging participation. Now add another purpose: To sell more bicycles.


No. Profit.

Door-zone lanes (and other faulty infrastructure) continue to be painted in this country despite all that we know about how dangerous they are. Here’s what happens when you get doored (whether in a bicycle lane or not):

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Ol’ Time Traffic Engineering v. People

Here’s the conclusion:

The 20th-century model of traffic engineering is not only outdated, but is also downright hazardous to public health and economic development. Every year, communities around the world are demonstrating that there is another way. Treating a community’s streets like a sewage system that flushes cars through quickly and efficiently has been a disastrous experiment. How many more towns and cities will be gutted before the standards that Marohn learned in engineering school are scrapped?

Now go read the article.

Much of the street-scaping being done in Springfield’s urban core appears to me to fit exactly the positive model discussed in the article. Campbell Ave. downtown is a much nicer place to walk following the work that was recently completed. My guess is this work may have a positive impact on the businesses along Campbell and encourage others to move into some of the vacant spaces in the area.

This is funny and infuriating all at the same time:

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This Fall: Walking Meetings

I’m a professor. I sit office hours — meaning I am required to have a schedule of hours in my office so students are guaranteed to find me. Here’s an idea: Walking meetings.

Two reasons:

1. I may live longer.

2. Aristotle did it (for good pedagogical reasons).

plato_aristotleHmmmmm… now, how to schedule such things and keep myself ever available. Social media perhaps? Perhaps my colleague Colby J. can help me write a Find Dr. Cline app. That would be cool :-)

Facebook and Twitter could also play a role. And simple texting.

Any ideas out there in CT land?

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Silly Season Here Again

I’ve used the term “silly season” many times on Carbon Trace to indicate short periods of time in which the likelihood of motorists and other other traffic users to make mistakes seems highest to me. I have no data to back up that, in fact, any silly season is any more problematic than any other given period. I’m merely pointing out situations that seem to me, by some “logical” calculus, to present … let’s call them challenges.

The beginning of a new school year is a silly season. I make this claim because I find it highly likely that there will be many traffic users in the system new to Springfield. Some of those will be motorists who are under new forms of stress, e.g. college students hunting parking spaces. Others will be college students on bicycles riding about as if they were kids on a cul de sac. And still others will be walking about wherever their feet may take them looking at, paying attention to, goodness only knows what.

So… 63 degrees this morning. A clear, bright morning. A sleepy downtown. An easy destination. I often choose not to wear a helmet in such situations.

Helmet on today.

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Vacation Wrap Up

And here’s the upshot you’ve all been waiting for!

1. Hiking the Great Glen Way. A fun trip through spectacular country. The path is easy to follow and easy to walk. Sadly, no sightings of Nessie.

2. “Climbing” Ben Nevis. Going up is easy. Coming down … ouch. The ol’ legs really took a pounding.

3. Sampling Scotch. I’ve developed a preference for single malts from the Isle of Islay.

In bicycling news, I’ll be discussing the beginning of the late-summer silly season later today ;-)

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Vacation Mode

I’ll be away, and mostly out of touch, until school starts on 19 August. Among the things I’ll be doing:

1. Hiking the Great Glen Way.

2. “Climbing” Ben Nevis.

3. Sampling Scotch.

Before I go, here’s something you ought to read by Kirby Beck: Bicycle Law Enforcement. Beck, among other things, is a founding member of I Am Traffic. He’s also a former police officer and a founder IPMBA. He knows what he’s talking about.

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The Rules and What That Means

I have used the term “rules of safe movement” many times in discussing bicycle infrastructure. My usual link for it is this excellent essay by Chip Seal: The Steps of the Dance. I will continue to refer to this essay. I have secured permission to reproduce it for Carbon Trace readers — something I plan for the near future. But now comes another essay — approached a bit differently — that takes these rules to a new level of understanding.

Go read Mighk Wilson’s essay China Cups and Butterflies; Options and Ethics right now.

Here’s a taste:

The rules we have are based on the limits of human perception. Our eyes are at the fronts of our heads and we don’t have x-ray vision. They are also based on years of practical experience, first on open waters where boat captains needed to avoid collisions, and then on roads and streets when cart and carriage drivers needed to do the same. It was only when the industrial revolution came that cities got large enough and traffic got thick enough that the rules needed to be formalized into laws. Eventually traffic control devices were created to help manage the movements and reduce delays. For those who think the rules of the road were created for motor vehicles, note that less than 10% of urban traffic was motorized when William Phelps Eno wrote the first formal traffic codes for New York City in 1909. Eno thought cars were a fad and would be gone in a few years. He wrote his code for horse-drawn vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians, with autos, the horse-drawn and bicycles all categorized as vehicles.

The essential fairness of the rules of the road is based on the idea that all people are equal, no matter their mode.

Again, the rules are these (one way among a few they may be expressed):

  1. First come, first served
  2. Travel to the right
  3. Pass on the left

Pretty simple.

As Mighk notes above, these rules are based on much human experience that is necessarily grounded in the kind of critter we are, i.e. how we are built to perceive the world and interact with it.

The beauty of these rules is that they are easily understood and followed because they fit so nicely with who and what we are.

What it means: Violating the rules mucks up the system and leads to, among other things, collisions with other users of the traffic system.

Now imagine the kind of Twilight Zone that’s created when traffic controls are used that require (legally or socially) traffic users to violate the rules of safe movement.

This is what it looks like – you collide with a car because you’re not where the motorist expects you to be. You are where the transportation planners told you to be. Why would they tell you to be there?

I’m still trying to figure that out.

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Carbon Trace Update

I’m making a few changes to Carbon Trace over the next week. You can get a few clues by checking out some of the stuff in the sidebar. Mostly, I am dropping the local angle. There’s not much left I want to talk about regarding Springfield. It is what it is.

This change will also apply to the film I’m producing that was to be entitled I’d Rather Ride In Springfield. That sentiment is very much still the case. I will, however, allow the years of praise and bragging I’ve published on Carbon Trace about Springfield’s bicycle friendliness to stand as my statement in that regard. The film will, instead, simply deal with my experiences and observations of bicycling in Amsterdam. This change will significantly quicken the production schedule :-)

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Midnight Train to Wilmington

There’s been so much happening since our move downtown that I’ve had very little time to post much here. Actually, what’s happening has more to do with settling into a new routine than it does being busy — although I am busy with some school-related tasks.

I’m leaving today for Wilmington, Delaware to visit my family. My daughter and I are taking the train. I’ll probably post some things about it and other transportation issues as they arise in the context of our trip. Otherwise, I’m on vacation and reserve the right to post nothing at all :-)

I will, however, be using some of my travel time to finish my film comparing bicycling in Springfield, Missouri to bicycling in Amsterdam (a comparison that is problematic at best, but I’m doing it anyway). Yes, the long-suffering project is coming to a close. The midnight ride between Chicago and the coast will allow me the quiet time to focus and edit.

Just in case you forget what I’m talking about, here’s the official trailer:

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Keeping An Eye On Engineering

One of the unfortunate things about the bicycle lanes (and mandatory use law) in Portland, Oregon is that many of the lanes there were painted right up to the intersections. That creates a deadly right-hook danger. Thankfully, the city traffic engineers in Springfield know better. Bicycle lanes here end well before intersections, and sharrows indicate to everyone that bicyclists will use the travel lane.

bikeboxPortland went looking for answers to its deadly intersections and came up with the idea of the bike box – a band-aid for a bad situation, one that causes its own unique problems (re-visit the first link above).

What should be done when the bicycle infrastructure that gets built causes problems or, in the case of some lanes painted here, is out of compliance with recognized standards and, therefore, is likely to cause problems? More band-aids?

How about this?

Rip. It. Up.

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Where Can (Should) You Ride?

Here’s what Missouri law states (307.190):

Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, except when making a left turn, when avoiding hazardous conditions, when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle, or when on a one-way street. Bicyclists may ride abreast when not impeding other vehicles.

Most states have similar laws known as Far to the Right (FTR) laws. The wording is quite often different state to state. For example, some states require bicyclists to ride as far right as “practicable” — whateverthehell that means. Although the word “safe” in Missouri law isn’t much better. What’s safe? Who gets to decide?

I drive my bicycle with the understanding that I am the one who gets to define “safe” because I am the one responsible for my own safety. What I think is safe is taking the lane, i.e. generally defaulting to a center to center-right position well in command of the lane and within the sight-line of other vehicle drivers in most traffic situations. (Nuance and detail will have to wait for the comments section.)

Is this a good law? Does it encourage safe bicycling?

No and no. Bob Shanteau has published an excellent history of the concept of traffic lanes and the role of FTR laws at I Am Traffic. It is well worth your time to learn how bicyclists came to be pushed to the edge of the road and what the consequences are. For example, riding far to the right increases your chances of these types of crashes:

  • Right hooks
  • Left crosses
  • Driveway and intersection pull-outs
  • Sideswipes and rear ends during overtaking maneuvers
  • Door zone crashes
  • Road edge hazards

This pushing to the edge has become so normal in our culture that far too many bicycle advocates actually believe edge riding is safe and preferred.

I have the opportunity to talk with lots of bicyclists. And I hear all kinds of tales about how awful it is to ride a bicycle in Springfield and how nasty and stupid motorists are here.


Whenever I hear these stories I ask about driving habits. And it is always the same: The people who have bad experiences on Springfield streets and with Springfield motorists are edge riders. I never hear the same stories from people who know how/when/where to take the lane. I rarely experience anything other than a safe and cooperative environment on the streets of Springfield.

As I have said a gazillion times: If riding a bicycle for basic transportation were dangerous or difficult, I wouldn’t be doing it.

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