Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Safety First, unless it costs to much - Helmets

When it comes to bicycling it never ceases to amaze me how many bicyclists won’t take even the simplest and affordable precautions to help reduce their own risk of injury. Or the reasons they will come up with so they can talk themselves out of some of the most common sense means to protect themselves from injury.

I’ve ridden a bicycle prior to helmets being any everyday part of bicyclists lives. The first helmet I owned was a Bell Biker, this was the first commercially produced helmet for the everyday rider in 1975 and I bought one a few years after they came out. These were not the most attractive of helmets; it looked like you were wearing a white mushroom cap.

Now helmets come in a wide range of colors, styles, and prices. And yet the excuses for not wearing one continue to prevail. Here are some of the most common ones I have heard and my responses towards them.

Helmets are to hot to wear – Maybe back in the day of the Bell Biker, now helmets come so well ventilated there is no difference between riding without one. Besides what’s a little sweat compared to a brain injury

Do not provide any real protection – Really?? If you really want to find out ask an emergency room doctor or nurse. Broken bones will heal, brain injuries take very little to happen and you won't even realize how badly you are hurt. Lets remember Natasha Richardson died while skiing on a beginners slope when she bumped her head. Broken bones may need only a few weeks to heal followed by a few months of physical therapy. Brain injures can require hundreds of thousands in medical bills, years physical therapy, and can remain permanent. Ask yourself this do you have one million dollars and friends and family who are willing to devote years of support while you are in therapy helping you do the simplest of tasks, like eating with a fork or tying your shoes.

I can’t afford one – With companies like Wal-Mart selling helmets you can easily afford to buy one.  Still can't afford one, bring your own coffee instead of going to Starbucks or bring your own lunch for a week. The money saved will easily allow you to purchase a helmet.

I am not going to get hit by a car – In all my years of bicycling getting hit by a car has been the least of my worries. There are plenty of other significant factors that can contribute towards an accident whether you are riding on a street or trail. Including: Debris, potholes, trolley tracks, pedestrians, dogs on leashes, children, and other cyclists.

If you drive a car and wear seat belts wearing a helmet while bicycling won't kill you.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Take me out to the Ball Game

In 2008 Citizens Bank Park and the Philadelphia Phillies instituted their Red goes Green program, which significantly increased its recycling and using alternate energy sources. One of the items that the the Phillies did seem to drop the ball on was making riding a bicycle to the ballpark and having reasonable parking for cyclists. I realize that this is a very minor element given the size and scope of the project. But sometimes the devil is in the details especially when compared to other professional sports teams and the efforts they have made towards a complete package.

Lets start with bicycle parking, currently Citizens Bank Park has a mere 36 spaces, approximately 2 bike racks, for cyclists. On the other hand The Washington Nationals at Nationals Park has 250 bike racks and on game days expands the amount of bike parking by offering free valet bike parking in one of their parking garages.

Another aspect where Philadelphia professional sports teams fail to move the ball down the field is the use of bicycling and public relations. The Houston Astros, the Minnesota Twins, and the Denver Broncos all have organized bicycle rides to one of their games. Fans who participate in these rides have access to discounted tickets, gift bags, raffle prizes. The Denver Broncos offers exclusive use of the Bronco's Barn for cyclists who participate in the ride. Where they can watch the game on big screens, buy food, and all without having to purchase a ticket for the game.

So what would I do?
We've all seen what happens when any professional sports team wins a Superbowl or World Series, a massive parade is held to recognize the players accomplishments. Instead of waiting for this to happen why not create a parade? Imagine several hundred cyclists departing from City Hall following Broad St. to Citizen's Bank Park or Lincoln Financial Field to watch the Phillies or the Eagles play. All of the participants would be encouraged to wearing team colors creating a river of green or red. Only time will tell if the either the Eagles or Phillies management has the vision to create such an event.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Where is Philadelphia's Bike Culture?

One of the things that I find so frustrating about the greater Philadelphia area is a lack of bike culture. Something beyond the century rides that populate the calendar and rides with an ineffective political messages like Critical Mass and the Word Wide Naked Bike Ride. The one thing that Philadelphia lacks is events that can be described as a party on wheels.

For example Los Angeles has the Midnight Ridazz, a loosely affiliated group of cyclists who have created social rides that are described as a party on wheels. In New York City Times Up has a diverse collection of rides that explore New York City like moonlight rides through Central Park. Car free happy hours are becoming more commonplace and yet none of this happens in Philadelphia.

We have a city full of college students and business professionals that these types of rides and events would attract. But there is a lack of vision and leadership, no one seems to be willing to step up and take some initiative on a consistent basis.

Occasionally there are glimmers of hope, flashes of creativity that show the possibilities when people make an effort. Like the Bilenky Cyclocross, a cyclocross race that occurs in December in a local junkyard with a course designed by Bilenky Cycle Works. What started out as a slightly silly, slightly serious race has begun to attract racers from beyond Philadelphia. In three years the Philadelphia Tweed Ride has grown over 125 riders and how many rides have you heard of that include a rest stop to play croquet. Most recently the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia transformed the top level of parking garage into an outdoor movie night that drew a crowd of over 130 people and one dog.

There is potential and there are possibilities. It will take inspiration and motivation to create rides like the Midnight Ridazz and other events.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Activism is more than clicking “Like” on Facebook

In 2009 opinion writer Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a series of columns about bicyclists and bicycle lanes. You would have thought that bicyclists were the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse and bicycle lanes were the road they traveled. One response was the creation of the Philadelphia Bicycle Insurrection on Facebook which garnered over 1600 people who followed the page. It can now be reported that page and the website have been shut down.

This was frustrating and tragic, 1600 people, including bicycle shop owners, advocacy groups, and cycling clubs made up this group and there was real potential. A group of bicyclists who could work outside of the system with the potential to engage the public in a manner not seen in Philadelphia. Unfortunately nothing came of it.

While the creator of the site may have had the best of intentions he made the same mistake that most advocates make, failure to follow through and failure to use your resources effectively, especially when it comes to volunteers. Anyone can create a page on Facebook and anyone can click “Like”, but what lacks is having inspired leadership who comes to the table with ideas, follows through with them, and follows through with the ideas of others.

This was a lost opportunity that may not be seen again for a long time.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Call to Arms – After Action Report

Councilman Bill Greenlee has agreed to table his bill requiring a vote from the Philadelphia City Council on the installation of bicycle lanes, for the moment. While consistency and transparency was the battle cry of Council members Green, Greenlee, and DiCicco when it came to installing new bicycle lanes. Obfuscation and opacity was the process used in the attempt to move this bill forward.

The Time Line
This bill was presented Thursday May 26, on the verge of the Memorial Day weekend in the hopes that no one would notice it. When the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia did, the bill was moved to a fast track vote for June 2, announced on May 31, again trying to take advantage of the Memorial Day weekend. When that didn't work the bill was moved from being last on the agenda to the middle of the agenda, during the committee meeting.

The Response
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia should be commended for making effective use of e-mail ad social media to get the word out that created over 400 e-mails to Streets Committee members. As well as Twitter to update and alert anyone planning on attending the meeting on June 2.

The Committee
During the actual meeting Council Members Green, Greenlee, and DiCicco were dismissive and contemptuous of anyone who came to speak, including the representative from the mayors office. 60 of the people who came to speak were not considered part of the general public and were instead referred to as members of the BCGP. DiCicco claimed he only got negative comments about the bike lanes and Green said bike lanes have nothing to do with traffic or public safety.

What would I do?
Its only a matter of time before Councilman Frank DiCicco finds another patsy. This is his second attempt to dismantle bicycling infrastructure and try to pass punitive bills against cyclists and I'm sure it won't be his last. I still believe that in the future any response should include a Courteous Mass protest ride past the home of a bills sponsor and includes a stop at a nearby post office for everyone to mail letters to the council members involved. Along with a media alert to ensure that their actions can't be hidden from the public.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Save the Date - Breaking Away

On Wednesday, June 8 the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia will have an open air screening of the 1979 classic film Breaking Away, complete with coal fired pizza and ice cream. This film follows cycling obsessed Dave Stoller (Dennis Christopher)a recent high school gradate and his three friends Mike (Dennis Quaid), Cyril (Daniel Stern), and Mooch (Jackie Earle Haley) as they try to figure out the next phase of their lives as adults. This New York Times review accurately sums up Breaking Away without any spoilers. Breaking Away won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and in 2006 the American Film Institute placed Breaking Away as the eighth most inspirational movie in 100 years.

One of the frustrations I have with Philadelphia is a lack of a bicycle culture, unless you are into riding with a club and centuries. I hope that this becomes a monthly summer time event and that the BCGP will consider some additional films. Such as RAD starring Nichole Kidman, BMX Bandits, American Flyers, and the classic love story between and man and his bicycle, Pee Wee's Big Adventure.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Reading Viaduct – The next Highline?

In 2011 New York City will complete work on the Highline a 1.45 mile long section of abandoned railroad track that has been converted into a pedestrian walkway. This project has created a lot of new growth in a community bringing tourists and local residents to walk along it, as well as new businesses and residences.

In 2003 a group of Philadelphia residents undertook the daunting task to transform the Reading Viaduct into a similar green space. You my be familiar with this section of abandoned section of railroad track if you commute into Philadelphia via SEPTA commuter trains you've seen this location, its a raised section of track that runs through a blighted area. The Reading Viaduct project would help revitalize a community that needs green space, create infrastructure, and bring new development with the same effect as the Highline did. However unlike the Highline it would allow for a wide range of users including bicyclist, instead of pedestrians only.

Hopefully the city of Philadelphia will get behind this project to make it a part of our community.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

When is a bike lane not a bike lane – Part II

The answer remains the same, when its in Philadelphia.

If you read my Call to Arms post, you are aware that the Philadelphia City Council is attempting to pass a bill that would require City Council approval for any new bicycle lanes to be installed. Something that is not required for bus stops or new lanes for cars. Now the City Council is fast tracking the bill for a vote on Wednesday, June 2 with hearings at 2pm. Giving the public only that time to provide input.

This is the sort of underhanded brand of politics that gives Philadelphia a bad name. There are far greater problems in Philadelphia than this and the deliberate attempt the City Council to prevent discussion makes it even worse. All this will do is create piecemeal development of infrastructure subject to the whim's of politicians. If City Council members want to score some points to get reelected they should focus on real issues like the schools, crime, or the trash that gets dumped in vacant lots and parks.

I hope everyone will make an effort attend the hearing and speak out against this bill. For more information about the hearing please visit this site. If this bill goes through the ride I hope someone will organize the ride I proposed.