Posts tagged ‘driving’

February 10, 2012

Mindful Driving, Mindful Biking, and “Accidents”–Part II

This post is Part II, continuing yesterday’s diatribe meditation on use of the word “accident” to describe a preventable negative interaction between a driver and a cyclist or pedestrian.

The conversations I often have after someone on a bike is hit tend to circle around the premise that riding a bike is an inherently risky choice of transportation.

1) First, a reminder of the point I made in Part I: The word “accident” often used in these incidents does NOT apply when someone is in error. 

2) If something does happen it’s not “caused” by riding your bike! 

You could be in a vehicle/vehicle collision, a vehicle/pedestrian collision, a lightning strike or an earthquake. Your choice to bike didn’t create the situation–the driver’s behavior (or yours) did.

When pedestrians get hit by a driver while in a crosswalk no one says, “You know, walking is so dangerous. People really shouldn’t do that.”

They talk about whether the walker or the driver wasn’t paying attention or was somehow at fault, but they don’t blame walking itself. (Nor do they blame driving, you might note.)

If I am riding my bike in the street, following state law and all local ordinances, if anything happens I am not at fault solely because of my choice of vehicle.

Yet that is what you hear when something happens–not, “Drivers and people on bikes should be aware of the laws concerning how to share the road” but rather, “Bikes should stay out of the way of cars.”

And so often people say “cars” instead of “drivers” in sentences like the previous one.

We’re talking about people, people–not their vehicles. It is people who make the choice about whether to behave safely, predictably, and legally. Let’s put a face on this problem and face up to it.

So do we all give in and quit riding our bikes and walking? Heck no—we need more people to get out there.

Conflicts between people riding bikes and people driving cars aren’t a new problem. The first automobile crash in the United States occurred in New York City in 1896, when a motor vehicle collided with a bicyclist.

Maybe now—116 years later—we can start to get a handle on this if we all drive, bike and walk more mindfully. Here’s to more fully aware drivers, bikers and walkers (aka “people”) on the road and fewer collisions (not “accidents”!) in 2012.

Related Reading

  • Can you honestly say that you drive, bike and walk with full mindfulness and awareness of your surroundings close to 100% of the time?
  • When you talk about something happening that involved a vehicle with an engine other than the human kind you use on your bike, do you refer to the car or the driver?
February 9, 2012

Mindful Driving, Mindful Biking, and “Accidents”–Part I

This post has its origins in my brush with fate this week, and before that in fall 2010, when two things happened within a few days of each other: Arleigh Jenkins AKA Bike Shop Girl (a blogger whose work I read) was hit by a car, then Matthew Hardie, a young rider in Spokane, was hit. He spent several months in a coma, then passed away just before Christmas 2010.

Because of Matthew the Spokesman-Review covered the “bicycle accidents” of 2010. But–possibly because no one has died recently–no such article was written as a round-up of statistics for 2011. “If it bleeds, it leads” still holds in the news business.

I have described my close encounter earlier this week with a driver who didn’t see me and pulled out in front of me. I was lucky–I had enough room and time in which to avoid the impact.

Matthew was not lucky. He was heading northbound on a steep downhill with the right-of-way on Lincoln; given the steepness of that hill he had to have been going faster than I was on my flat stretch between intersection stops the other day.

He collided with a car whose driver pulled out from a stop sign at Fourth Avenue. It was a classic failure-to-yield on the part of the driver (Matthew had the right of way). But because the initial reports said the cyclist hit the vehicle they made it sound as if it was the rider’s fault, to which the biking community reacted quite strongly.

Arleigh was also not lucky. She put out a comment on Twitter that she was still struggling to reconcile the fact that she’d put much of her passion into promoting biking and had been injured riding her bike by a driver who turned left into her when she had the right of way. She’s back in the saddle now, but it took a while, with quite a bit of off-road riding before she re-entered traffic.

It has been over a year since these incidents happened to others. My own is fresh and vivid, and made me think back to their stories.

With each of these events I get more passionate about two things.

For the first I need to thank Cindy Green, a bike-commuting former Spokane Bicycle Advisory Board member who works at the Spokane Regional Health District. She got me to pay more attention to my language and usage—ironic since I majored in English and linguistics.

1) The word “accident” often used in these incidents does NOT apply when someone is in error. The someone could be the person on the bike, too, but that wasn’t the case in these two collisions, nor was it the case in my avoided collision.

“Accident” means “no one could have done anything to prevent this from happening.” The Spokesman-Review’s characterization of four fatalities in 2010 as “bicycle accidents” is thus way, way off base.

In two of the cases cited in the Spokesman piece the drivers were drinking. Putting down a few shots or beers and getting into your 4,000-pound vehicle-turned-lethal-weapon car is not an “accident.”

It’s a stupid, stupid choice. Those deaths were 100% preventable: no drunk driver, no dead cyclist.

When a driver doesn’t see a cyclist, that potential collision is also preventable if the driver:

  • looks again,
  • is one who is aware that bikes are on the road so the “look” isn’t really just a token head turn without eyes focusing and looking for moving objects that aren’t vehicles (admit it—you’ve done that, and the driver I encountered earlier this week certainly did that),
  • drives mindfully,
  • doesn’t text,
  • isn’t reaching for a Big Gulp or fiddling with the radio station or….

Ditto for the person on the bike who is:

  • looking down to adjust the fitting on a shoe,
  • sneaking up (illegally) on the right side of a car into the driver’s blind spot to duck past a long line of stopped cars,
  • riding on the sidewalk and then popping out into the street unexpectedly and unpredictably,
  • assuming that driver sees him/her (since I’m more vulnerable on my bike than you are in your car I tend to figure it’s in my best interests to own more than 50 percent of the prevention planning),
  • blowing a stop sign because he’s too cool to unclip and put his foot down….

Let’s all ban the word “accident” from our vocabulary except when it truly applies. It’s a collision or a crash or an impact when a driver hits you or you hit a driver or someone hits a pedestrian or a pedestrian steps out in front of someone using wheels–but it’s no accident.

2) The second item speaks to the fear I hear from people who thinking riding a bike is inherently unsafe. I’ll post that as Part II.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • Do you think about the language used to describe [euphemism alert!] “negative interactions” between people on bikes and people using other forms of transportation?
February 8, 2012

It Pays to Pay Attention

Back in the saddle again after almost a week in New York City, where people on bikes share streets with New York cabbies and millions of people, and what happens? Tuesday morning I have possibly my closest call ever with a moving vehicle, reinforcing yet again the importance of mindfulness for safe riding.

The scenario: I am riding northbound on Sherman between Fifth and Third, in a stretch that has two vehicle travel lanes and no bike lane.

I need to move into the lefthand lane because I want to be in the turn-only lane to head west on Second, which is a newly paved street (and a bike route). I always make this lane change in this block because the block between Third and Second is really short. There isn’t much time or room in that stretch so I am making a safer move by executing my lane change here–usually.

I do what I always do for a lane change. I look back to make sure the lane is clear, signal the lane change with an outflung left arm, and move into the left lane.

At the same time I am keeping an eye on a big white SUV a few yards ahead that is waiting to pull out of the Primesource Credit Union parking lot on the left side of the street and into the street on which I am riding.

This is the mindfulness part: Always be scanning your environment. Always.

My Sweet Hubs, who spent years in the Marine Corps (active duty and reserves), calls this “situational awareness.” You need mindfulness/awareness when you ride the way you need tires and brakes: essential equipment for arriving at your destination.

I see the gray-haired driver turn her head in my direction. I can tell from the way she does it that this is one of those fake scans. She turns her head but I will bet you anything her eyeballs don’t fully register what is coming downhill toward her. She doesn’t keep her face pointed uphill long enough to see for real.

I know for darn sure she doesn’t see me because she pulls out directly into my path.

I see this coming and am hitting the brakes, turning in the same direction she is heading because that’s how you avoid a collision.

But she isn’t turning into the closest lane to her—the legal turn—the lane I was occupying when she initiated this game of chicken.

Instead she is turning into the second, farther lane, the haven I’m seeking as I maneuver to avoid hitting her. (Oh, the irony—if we collide it will be me hitting her because she pulled out into my path. Who is at fault here?)

She ends up in the righthand lane. I am behind her, my heart going 60,000 miles per hour. I ride up behind and knock a couple of times on her rear quarter-panel, wanting her to see the cyclist who is now behind her. At least I’m not under her.

She makes the right turn onto Third, driving slowly and looking back to see if I’m following, now that I finally have her attention.

I debate rapidly in this moment. Should I turn behind her and wave her into a parking lot, talk with her, tell her how close she came to injuring or killing me through her sloppy and inattentive driving?

Perhaps wrongly, I decide against this. I proceed on my way, and so does the driver of a late-model white SUV, Idaho plates 7B 533. She’s from Bonner County—that’s what the 7B on her plate signifies. That’s an incredibly low license plate number so she’s had it for many years. (I used to live in Idaho; low numbers are a point of pride because they signify you’re not a newcomer.)

At this moment I am strongly reminded of the near-miss I had as a pedestrian a few years ago in the middle of the campus where I work. That driver, too, was gray-haired and not looking.

I am reminded of my father, whose driver’s license was the subject of years of effort before we could get him off the road and end the danger to others that he represented when he kept driving long after his hearing went and after any belief he’d had in the need to follow instructions on traffic signs (like, say, “stop”) had evaporated.

I am reminded of the bicycle/vehicle collisions in our area–some of which have resulted in fatalities and ghost bikes planted as memorials–and collisions around the country that I read about on biking blogs.

I am reminded—yet again—that mindfulness is the most important cycling skill I have.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • Do you have a near-miss story?
  • Who wasn’t paying attention?
December 20, 2011

We Get to Complete our Streets!

Kudos to the Spokane City Council for the 5-2* vote last night to enact the Complete Streets ordinance. A round of applause and a bouquet of locally grown flowers for Kitty Klitzke of Futurewise, who rallied the troops, circulated the petitions, and kept reminding us when to write, sign petitions, and go testify. More flowers for everyone involved in the Safe and Complete Streets Education Coalition that worked to educate the citizens on why complete streets are the streets we need for everyone. And eternal gratitude to Councilman Jon Snyder, who led the effort that resulted in last night’s ordinance.

I had the honor of testifying at the Council meeting along with around 40 others who showed up in support.** I’ll share (an approximate version of) my remarks here to capture my little contribution to a piece of Spokane history.

I’m a resident of the City of Spokane. I drive. I walk. I ride the bus. I buy goods that are shipped here by rail, air, and truck. And I ride a bike.

I want to tell a story of my own transformation. In 2001, I moved back to Spokane and bought a house on a bus line, which was a deliberate choice.

In 2005, I bought another house. This one was on a bus line and within biking distance of my workplace.

What happened in between was that in 2003 the City of Spokane put a bike lane in front of my house and I started riding to work. Visible bike infrastructure is an important signal, particularly to women, that biking is safe and it is possible.

I only rode once in a while to begin with. And now, when 2011 wraps up, I will have driven my car alone to work a grand total of 16 days the entire year. Every other day of the year I biked or rode the bus.

Home-buying decisions like these are why in 2008, the National Association of Realtors revised their policy statement on transportation to say that transportation planning should include all modes.

And in 2009, CEOs for Cities released a report showing that homes with a higher Walk Score are worth more.

By adopting a Complete Streets policy you can simultaneously increase the value of the single largest asset I will ever own and yield more government revenue in tough times.

That’s the real estate rationale for Complete Streets. It also contributes to workforce mobility and safety, with safer interactions for all users, not just those of us on bikes or on foot.

Richard Florida, who is famous for his studies of the Creative Class, analyzed cities with higher rates of bike commuting and compared them to cities with lower rates. The cities with higher rates of bike commuting were more affluent, better educated, had more knowledge-economy jobs, were fitter, and were happier.

When you add this infrastructure you tell people it’s possible to choose a different way of getting around. Even if they only ride their bikes to a coffee shop on Saturday with a friend, that means less wear and tear on the streets. I’m pretty sure I pay for a lot more street value than I actually use.

Let me close with another story, this one about my dad. Someone testified earlier about not being able to bike or walk because his knees were too bad so he doesn’t think Complete Streets are for him.

When my dad was 92 we finally got the car keys away from him. I can tell you that he should have lost them at around 87. But without his car he had no vision of any other way to get around. The only form of transportation he could imagine was the single-occupancy vehicle, so when that was gone he lost his independence.

I hope that when I’m old and I shouldn’t be driving that I will be able to retain my independence much longer because I know how to ride transit, and I hope you have made bus stops more accessible by completing sidewalks and providing curb cuts.

Complete Streets don’t force anyone to change their mode of transportation who doesn’t want. But they invite us to consider different ways of getting around through design. Complete Streets are a good policy choice for all of us.

* Voting yes: Steve Corker, Richard Rush, Joe Shogan, Jon Snyder, Amber Waldref. Voting no: Bob Apple, Nancy McLaughlin

** Totally extraneous winter biking style note: I wore a knee-length wool skirt, boots, SmartWool tights and extra pair of thick wool socks, blazer, merino turtleneck, and ThermaSilk base layer under that. I got a compliment on the outfit and, “Are you riding home in that?!” per usual. I rode home from the meeting in 25-degree weather with a ski jacket, lobster-claw gloves, scarf, and face mask. By the time I got home (around 3 miles uphill) I was so warm I couldn’t stand it. Still riding!

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • A “complete street” is one that accommodates the various modes safely and provides for their needs. This doesn’t mean a bike lane on every street–individual design accommodations vary. Do you get to ride on any complete streets on your way to work?
November 3, 2011

Thanks, Mr. Pickup Driver. I Mean That.

It’s too easy to complain about the bad drivers (or bad bikers). I want to start a movement in which we acknowledge and thank the good drivers. So here goes—short and sweet—

Tuesday afternoon (sunny, but chilly!) I was riding northbound on Howard in the bike lane, approaching Indiana, at around 4:30 on my way to an organizing meeting for next May’s Spokane Bike Month (yes, already!). The bike lane continues north of Indiana, but drivers often want to head east or west at this point so I’m always on the lookout.

A blue and silver pick-up truck with one of those silver utility boxes in the back, Washington plates, had passed me in the blocks leading to the signal at Indiana. As we all approached the signal the light turned green.

The driver ahead of the pickup proceeded through the intersection. The pickup driver had his right-turn signal going and pulled forward to the intersection; I was close behind. He waited—waited!—to see whether I planned to proceed straight north through the signal or turn right, as he was doing.

I signaled my intention to turn right. He turned. I turned. We were all safe, happy, and heading toward our destinations. No right-hook collision, as might have been the case had I been heading straight while he planned to turn, if neither of us had been paying attention to the way we shared the space at the intersection.

So simple, really. We just need to look out for one another a bit.

Thank you, Mr. Pickup Driver. Keep up the good work.

Related Reading





October 21, 2011

Car, Bike, Bus: 3 Transportation Perspectives

A Spokane Transit bus and a woman on a bike next to it.I’ve already written about the shift in perspective I’ve experienced that makes me view driving as a nest of factors that cost me time, money and frustration. I thought I’d break down my bike ride into a few more comparisons that come to mind once in a while on my morning or evening pedal. Your mileage may vary.

Red Lights

In a car: Damn it! I almost caught that yellow light. I would have been able to arrive at work a full 120 seconds earlier if I hadn’t gotten stuck at this stupid light.

On a bike: Oh, good, a chance to catch my breath.

In a bus: Light? What light? I’m in the middle of a really exciting part of this book.

What It Means to Go Fast

In a car: Am I pushing the speed limit so much I’m going to get caught? Those tickets are expensive.

On a bike: I feel so strong! I’m flying along at almost 25 miles an hours and doing it all myself. This is exhilarating! And I’m not even going downhill. Well, not much.

On a bus: Speed? What speed? I’m in the middle of a really exciting part of this book.



In a car: Smells? What smells? All I get is the exhaust from that oil-burning smoke bomb in front of me. He needs to get that looked at.

On a bike: The lilacs are in bloom! And the coffee roaster must be doing her thing today—I can smell the beans when I pass that block. Last night’s rain sure made everything smell fresh and clean.

On a bus: Smells? What smells? I’m in the middle of a really exciting part of this book. Although that girl next to me really needs to learn the meaning of the word “subtle” when it comes to perfume.

Snow on the Ground

In a car: Dang it! First I had to shovel the driveway just to get out. Then I had to shovel off the car and scrape the windshield. Now I’m not sure I can stop at the bottom of this hill.

On a bike: So glad I switched to the bus—I don’t think that driver’s going to be able to stop at the bottom of this hill.

On a bus: Snow? What snow? I’m in the middle of a really exciting part of this book. I’m just glad (or, I just wish) my neighbors shoveled their walks for the trek to the bus stop. But look–that car isn’t going to be able to stop at the bottom of that hill.

Speed Limits

In a car: You know, if they made the speed limit here 35 instead of 30 I bet I could get to work faster. I could still stop in time if one of those pedestrians wanted to cross the street–it’s not as if I’m going to kill someone or anything like that.

On a bike: I love it when I can keep up with the speed limit. Especially when those cars that jack-rabbit through downtown have to stop at all the lights because they speed, and I can just catch up at each red light.

On a bus: Speed limit? What speed limit? I’m about to finish this really exciting book. Then I’m going to check my email on my phone and delete the spam before I get to work. Oh, but there was that driver who zoomed by on my way to the bus stop–just glad I had time to jump back to the curb. I wish he knew that at 35mph, he’s twice as likely to kill someone as he is at 30.


In a car: Shoot, there’s nothing close to my building. I’m going to have to look for a spot and that’s going to make me late to my meeting. Wonder if I have change for the meter?

On a bike: I’ll just park in the rack (or hitch to that sign) and be inside in a jif.

On a bus: Parking? What parking? Not my problem. I think I’ll stop by the library in this little gap between buses and get another book to read. Twenty minutes is just right for me to squeeze in one errand before heading home and I’ll have a nice walk to boot.


In a car: Happiness? What does commuting have to do with happiness? This is the worst part of my day (and there’s research to support this).

On a bike: I love riding my bike!

On a bus: Happiness is a good book and time to read it.

Inspired by Jonah Lehrer’s post and comments on commuting and happinessMatthew Yglesias’s post on congestion pricing, and the smell of roasting coffee on my ride to work.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • How would you compare the experience of riding your biking to driving, taking transit, or walking? (I left that off as a separate category because I don’t use it myself for full-on transportation; it’s part of my transit trips.)
September 17, 2011

I Shouldn’t Assume

Graphic displaying words "Assume Nothing".One day when brilliant and talented Second Daughter was a little girl, she said something that started with the words, “I assume.”

Brilliant and talented Eldest Daughter and I said, practically in unison, “You know what you make when you assume, right?”

She looked at us with her sweet, innocent child’s eyes and said, “An assumption?”

We fell over laughing but you know what? She was right. Because sometimes when I assume I’m really only making an ass of myself, not you too.

I caught myself assuming something about driver stereotypes twice in the past couple of days. At the same time that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how we might instill more courtesy, safety, and kindness in our interactions on the road, I’ve been saying some rude and unkind things inside my head about drivers who don’t demonstrate these qualities.

And sometimes I’ve leaped ahead to assume that a driver is going to behave in a particular way based on externals. I’ve worked very hard over the years to be aware of and overcome unconscious biases and privileges in interpersonal relationships with people from all kinds of backgrounds and life experiences. Drivers deserve no less, so it’s confession time.

Interaction #1: Riding home up Sherman just south of the four-way stop at 5th Avenue, past Rockwood Clinic. An old Ford pick-up truck was parked against the curb, inside the bike lane. The motor rumbled loudly, with that hiccupy old-truck sound that I associate with beaten-up farm vehicles and pick-ups with gun racks. (Before you jump to conclusions, I spent my first years of life in Lewiston, Idaho, surrounded by wheat rotated with alfalfa–not ours, but I got crop-dusted just the same–and we had a gun rack in our pick-up.)

I looked up the hill at the truck and thought, “Oh, great. This is one of those who isn’t paying any attention to the fact that there’s a bike lane next to him. He’s going to pull out right in front of me and it’s hard enough to climb this bit after the stop sign without having to hit the brakes.”

Guess what? He waited until after I passed him, then signaled and pulled out to climb past me up the hill. If you see an old Ford with a paint job that’s black on the bottom half, white on the top half, he seems like a pretty good guy.

Interaction #2: Riding southbound through downtown after hours, when the offices are closed and the bars and restaurants are busy, I approached the stoplight at Riverside in the bike lane on Howard. That’s a touchy spot because the driver may want to turn right, so I’m always on the lookout for a right-hook incident. I tend to stay back behind drivers and glance repeatedly at their turn signals.

I could hear the sound system approaching me from a block back—one of those “Boom! Boom! Boom!” systems that doesn’t convey any music at all, just the steel-shaking, bone-thumping bass line that we all have to listen to against our will.

A dark maroon light pick-up passed me, shaking the ground with the music system, and I thought again, “Oh, great. Watch this one.”

As I approached the red light a car sat in first position in the vehicle lane with right-turn signal going, Mr. Bone-Thumping Bass Line and his female companion in second position with right-turn signal going, and me on my bike in third position in the bike lane.

Light turned green. Car #1 went. Car #2 didn’t go. I looked up and the driver was waving at me to go ahead and ride past him. As I did so I saw a rolled-down window on the passenger side and called out, “Thank you!”

The woman passenger replied, “You’re welcome!” Wow, she actually said “You’re welcome” instead of the more standard “You bet” response I hear (and deliver) most of the time in response to a thank-you.

What do you make when you assume? An assumption.


Posts in our 30 Days of Biking Blogging Inspiration & How-to Series for Sept. 2011 30 Days of Biking

  1. 30 Days of Bike Commuting: You Can Do It!
  2. Why We Ride/Resolve to Ride–A Blogspedition
  3. Preparing to Commute by Bike: Get the Worry out of the Way
  4. Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition
  5. How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
  6. Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff
  7. On a Roll with Wilma Flanagan
  8. 30 Days of Biking: Week One Report
  9. Ride with your Community: SpokeFest Rocks!
  10. There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route
  11. Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
  12. More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
  13. Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
  14. Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
  15. 30 Days of Biking: Week Two Report
  16. On a Roll with Katherine Widing
  17. I Shouldn’t Assume
  18. Falling Down on Your Bike. It Happens. To Grown-Ups.
  19. Pretty Handy, Gloves. The Blogspedition Assumes You’ll Get ‘Em.
  20. What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.
  21. How to Get a Dropped Bike Chain Back On, Grease-Free
  22. 30 Days of Biking: Week Three!
  23. It’s All in the Attitude
  24. Things I Now Do on My Bike Without Having to Think About It
  25. Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
  26. More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
  27. Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
  28. Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style
  29. Dear Reader, I Chicked Him
  30. 30 Days of Biking: Final Report!

Your Turn

  • Do you catch yourself making assumptions about drivers based on the type of vehicle they drive?
  • How about assumptions about other people on bikes based on the type of bike or their clothing?
September 13, 2011

Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist

Years ago a friend of mine taught me about wormholes: those semi-secret byways that locals know that cut miles out of a route or let you skip traffic lights or pesky left turns on busy streets.

Seems to me a wormhole for cyclists does all those things, keeps you out of the heaviest traffic (I’m experienced at riding in traffic but you never get to relax and we all know some streets are more hostile than others), and also does what it can to make climbs easier, which is no small feat in a city with Spokane’s topography.

A while back I needed to climb from downtown to a location around 9th and Cedar, then head east across the hill from there. This route serves as a good example of different ways of thinking about how to get from Point A to Point B to expand on the thoughts in There and Back Again Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2, and More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3.

I used to live on Cedar, so I know that coming from downtown if you can take that steep climb up old brick pavers on Jefferson from a dead stop at 4th Ave. under the freeway, turn right/west and climb another block, then turn left at Adams and climb a bit more, you’re on the shallowest hill climb on that end of the South Hill and it gets easier. (The bike lane up Maple to Cedar would be okay if I were coming from the west, although it’s not in great shape, the overall climb is steeper, and the traffic is a lot heavier.)

On Adams you’re still climbing, mind you, but you don’t have to look at a vertical hill right in front of your face the way you would on Lincoln, say, or Bernard if you were farther east—those streets that make a heart monitor shoot off the charts (or a cyclist get off the bike and walk up the sidewalk, pushing the bike. No false pride for me!).

Choosing your hill—that’s cycling in Spokane.

Going east from 9th and Cedar the first time, though, I rode like a driver. I went uphill to 14th, which is a minor arterial and thus carries the through traffic for which side streets have to stop, and headed east. After hitting the light at Lincoln, I got to do another one of those steep climbs from a dead stop to continue east on 14th to Grand, where I turned south up the hill by Manito Park.

Thinking like a driver: Use major or minor arterials for fastest movement, don't worry about having to stop because you don't have to do the work yourself to get started again, and don't think for a second about the steepness of the climbs.

I climbed some more up Grand to 18th, then cut east. This put me cheek by jowl with a pretty steady flow of traffic (some of it speeding) on Grand. It wasn’t particularly pleasant and those steep climbs meant hard work. If you look at the map, though, you see a nice set of straight lines–very driver-like in that it ignores topography and traffic.

The second time, I rode like a cyclist. I remembered that Adams is—wait for it—the shallowest hill climb on that end of the South Hill. So I used that knowledge.

I rode up Adams to 18th, then headed east. While it climbed pretty steadily the whole way, it was gentle and the streets were quiet. You have to make a jig-jog at Lincoln south half a block to continue east around the edge of Cannon Hill Park. Then you can cut through Manito Park and admire the duck pond and the brilliance of the Olmsted Brothers, who designed Spokane’s park system and the boulevards around them.

If I were in a car, I couldn’t use 18th all the way—I’d have to turn left at the park to 17th and then double back—but on a bike I had the advantage and the prettier route. I’m aware that uncontrolled intersections add a variable I wouldn’t have on those main through streets with the stop signs and I stayed alert but it was still a lot more enjoyable. Incidentally, something pretty close to this is the route Google Maps shows if you choose the Bicycling option. (Strangely, though, they send pedestrians over to Monroe and route them along the busiest streets.)

Thinking like a bicyclist: Avoid streets where really heavy traffic makes it unpleasant, take a route through a park, find a way that means you won't have to stop at the bottom of a steep climb and lose all your momentum, and choose the shallowest climbs possible.

Another great thing about Spokane’s topography awaited me at the corner of 18th and Upper Terrace. From there to get to my destination I had two choices: left and downhill to Rockwood, and then a climb back up, or right and downhill to Rockwood and downhill to my destination. (These are choices I’m intimately familiar with, as Rockwood Bakery is on 18th just east of Grand and I take these routes regularly….) How cool is it that I had two very different options for the same destination with two different levels of effort so I could choose based on my energy level?

Think like a cyclist when you ride your bike, not like a driver, and you’ll find that choosing good routes becomes second nature.

Got any wormholes to share?


Posts in our 30 Days of Biking Blogging Inspiration & How-to Series for Sept. 2011 30 Days of Biking

  1. 30 Days of Bike Commuting: You Can Do It!
  2. Why We Ride/Resolve to Ride–A Blogspedition
  3. Preparing to Commute by Bike: Get the Worry out of the Way
  4. Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition
  5. How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
  6. Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff
  7. On a Roll with Wilma Flanagan
  8. 30 Days of Biking: Week One Report
  9. Ride with your Community: SpokeFest Rocks!
  10. There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route
  11. Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
  12. More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
  13. Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
  14. Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
  15. 30 Days of Biking: Week Two Report
  16. On a Roll with Katherine Widing
  17. I Shouldn’t Assume
  18. Falling Down on Your Bike. It Happens. To Grown-Ups.
  19. Pretty Handy, Gloves. The Blogspedition Assumes You’ll Get ‘Em.
  20. What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.
  21. How to Get a Dropped Bike Chain Back On, Grease-Free
  22. 30 Days of Biking: Week Three!
  23. It’s All in the Attitude
  24. Things I Now Do on My Bike Without Having to Think About It
  25. Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
  26. More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
  27. Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
  28. Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style
  29. Dear Reader, I Chicked Him
  30. 30 Days of Biking: Final Report!

Your Turn

  • Do you think like a driver when you ride a bike, or do you find you think differently about route selection?
  • How about your behavior toward others on the road–has bike commuting changed that?
August 20, 2011

Hassle Factor: Biking vs. Driving

I’m pretty much a 100% bike commuter till it’s too slippery-scary in winter, then I switch to Spokane Transit. I didn’t get here overnight—the transition took place over a couple of years or so.
Dressed for the commute: Periwinkle blue dress, bike, Po Campo bags.

Dressed for the zero-hassle commute: Periwinkle blue dress, heels, bike, Po Campo bags.

I regularly talk to people who sound incredulous that I manage all the “hassles” of bike commuting. In biking as in life, hassles are what you make them.

When I drove most of the time and commuted occasionally, the change back and forth between systems of organizing and carrying things created hassles. Being 100% bike eliminates barriers to biking and raises barriers to driving. I’m not anti-driving–I just don’t like hassles.

Sidebar first: If you have small kids and you’re hauling them from school to Scouts to ballet, my sympathies and you can skip the rest of the post or we can talk bike carts and serious workouts.

I’ll put in one plug for raising free-range kids with less complicated schedules, suggest that you bike to school with them a few times so they know the way and get them a bus pass when they’re older, and leave you to your duties as Mom or Dad Taxi Driver.

My daughters (20 and 17 as of this writing) no longer need my assistance to get to school—and I put them on the city bus a long time ago for all those trips you “have” to drive them for, such as trips to the mall to hang out with friends.

Bike Day
  • Fill panniers with my stuff (laptop, lunch, phone, etc.; some rain gear if the forecast is ominous).
  • Bike to work, usually in regular work clothes and shoes (2.5 miles/approximately 9 minutes, mostly downhill with some traffic sprints).
  • Lock bike to rack, remove panniers, go into office.
  • If it’s cold or wet: Remove outerwear.

Total elapsed time: 12-15 minutes. Slightly longer if I take the bike into our indoor sheltered bike parking due to weather conditions, because I have to get through the locked door and put the bike on a wall rack; add five minutes if I do a full clothing change but that gets more and more rare all the time as I figure out how to shop; “forgetfulness time” (“I forgot I need that file!”) applies no matter what form of transportation I choose.

Car Day
  • Fill panniers with my stuff. Because I now have beautiful Po Campo bags I no longer have to do as much switching as I did back when I had the Black Uglies so this step got faster unless I’m making a fashion choice to use a different purse, in which case I’ll have to spend time deciding.
  • Remember that I need a parking pass for the day. If I don’t have one on hand, I’ll have to factor in time to go to the campus parking office to purchase one. Add 5 minutes to hunt for the pass, another 10 if I didn’t find one.
  • Drive to work. This may include extra wait time because I don’t have a dedicated lane that lets me bypass left-turning vehicles. On my bike I can keep going past the lefties because my route has a bike lane for about half its length.
  • Park somewhere in the lot, which involves circling to find a spot. If the lot is full I will have a longer walk.
  • Walk to building (guaranteed to be a longer walk than bike rack, since that’s right next to the building entrance).
  • Remove outerwear if it’s cold (might include a footwear change).

Total elapsed time: 20 minutes, plus up to another 15 to address the parking permit question. I no longer purchase a year-round parking pass because I don’t need one. This saves me $288.06 per year at current prices. Cha-ching.

Bike Day: Additional effort to go to meetings in downtown core
  • Hang pannier on bike with my stuff for meeting.
  • If I wear pants, use binder clip or rubber band to contain right pant leg so it won’t catch in the chain.
  • Put on helmet.
  • Ride to meeting 1/2 mile away (my pedals are clip-in one side, regular on the other, so I don’t have to change shoes).
  • Lock bike to rack or sign pole in front of destination; drop helmet into my Donkey Boxx.
  • Remove pannier (purse), although I often use my Po Campo Loop Pannier as a messenger bag and just sling it over my back for a five-minute ride.
  • Arrive at meeting.

Total elapsed time: Approximately seven minutes.

Car Day: Additional effort to go to meetings in downtown core
  • Remember where I parked my car in the lot.
  • Walk to car.
  • Drive to meeting 1/2 mile away.
  • Circle until I find a parking spot—and Spokane has lots of one-way streets in the downtown core, so a circle can be up to eight blocks.
  • Realize I don’t usually carry parking meter change because I don’t need it on my bike.
  • Sprint into meeting destination, beg change from others in the meeting, sprint back to car.
  • Plug meter.
  • Walk at brisk pace back to meeting, avoiding sprint because I now need to cool down. Yes, it’s possible to get sweatier using a car than using a bike and one of the reasons I bike is because I’m lazy.

Total elapsed time: Completely variable depending on location of parking spot and availability of spare change (which I admittedly do try to carry in the car, but I use it so seldom there’s no guarantee). ALWAYS, always longer than 7 minutes.

Additional variable cost: $15 parking ticket donation to street maintenance fund.

Hassles? I’ll take my bike, thank you very much.

Caffeine molecule with caption, "You say caffeine, I say elixir of life."

I didn’t even mention that the price of a gallon of gas currently comes in at about the price of a 16-oz. latte with flavoring. I’d rather be fueled by caffeine than by fossil fuel, and I like my “calories per mile” equation.

Oh, and my transit alternative? My employer subsidizes the pass because that’s cheaper than paving more parking lots; there’s a stop on the street that goes past my building; and the central transit plaza is in the heart of downtown, right across the street from one of my main destinations for meetings. Seven minutes start to finish—same as the bike and no parking ticket.

Latte, anyone?

This post inspired by Design Impact blog post in which someone else did a similar comparison.
July 19, 2011

How Bikes Can Save the World

In September 2010 I participated in the first-ever Ignite Spokane (“Enlighten us–but make it quick”), which had the theme “Ideas that Will Save the World.” For those not familiar with the format, you have 5 minutes and can show 20 slides that must advance automatically. No losing your place!

And yes, I biked to the event in the dress and heels I’m wearing in the video.

So you’re expecting the talk with the data and the graphs and the guilt and you want that? See me afterwards.

I’m going to take a different direction on this inspired by Portland blogger Dana Putnam.

Why I Bike: I Am Cheap

First of all, show of hands—how many of you know what gas costs?

I have no idea. I bike because I am cheap. I don’t pay for parking, I don’t worry about insurance. My daughter who’s here tonight had a blow-out on her tire the other day at a stoplight. One hundred and ten bucks. Except those things have four of them and you have to replace them all. I don’t like that part.

How many people would like a raise of over $7,000 a year? Okay, don’t talk to your boss, that’s how much it costs you to run your car. That’s according to AAA and that’s when gas cost about $2.30 a gallon.

I understand it’s more now? I’m not sure, of course.  [Added info: Found a different AAA source with more current data and the cost of operating a vehicle is actually over $9,500 a year.]

Why I Bike:  I Am Lazy

I also bike because I am lazy. How many of you had to walk to the parking lot to get your car and then drive here, find a parking spot, walk to the building…. Do you hear all that walking?

Barb wearing a red suit and black patent leather high heels with her bike in the offices of the Spokane Regional Transportation Council.

Indoor bike parking: The ultimate in bike-enabled laziness.

I pretty much bike point to point. I am so lazy that sometimes I actually take my bike inside. This redefines indoor parking, I believe. My ride to work is also mostly downhill so I coast.

It’s a little counterintuitive but you can bike if you’re lazy.

Why I Bike:  I Am Impatient

There are many reasons—my mom might call these character flaws, I think—to bike.

I bike because I’m impatient. I always hated waiting at stoplights. There really isn’t time to finish reading the article before the light changes for one thing; you can’t do your nails. But when I’m on my bike and I get to the stoplight it’s really just a chance to catch my breath.

So I’ve got a new attitude about stoplights: They’re a good thing. I bet you don’t share that.

Another thing for you—even if you’re never going to get out of your car, if all of us on our bikes and all the people on the bus do get back in our cars, look what we do to the street. We’re in front of you now at the stoplight. So if you’re impatient you want us to keep riding (or riding the bus).

Car, Bus, or Bicycle? Poster from a German campaign comparing how much street space each form of transportation requires to move the same number of people.

How much space would it require if everyone riding a bike got back into their cars? Believe me, you don't want us to do that.

I also hate one-ways because there’s no point to going like this and like this and like this [gesturing to draw three sides of the block].

I get off my bike and I walk a block, get back in the lane and keep going. I am continuing to move towards my destination while you’re stuck at the light. So if you’re impatient biking is great for you.

Why I Bike:  I Am a Control Freak

I’m also a little bit of a control freak although I thought of titling this “mechanically inept.” And for the men in the room you don’t have to fess up. But when I take my car to the shop and they tell me a lot of things I don’t understand and I have to pay them a lot of money—remember, I’m cheap and I’m impatient—I don’t like that part.

But I can actually fix my own flat on the bike. The technology has not changed that much since the Wright Brothers. I get to feel like I’m in control at this point. It’s a great feeling.

These are other reasons to ride. I’m not saying this is about you, it’s about me—

Additional Reasons to Ride a Bike: Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem—or, flip side, big ego—

When I’m pedaling and I feel the wind and I’m making the wind myself because I’m going so fast? Awesome. I’m not going that fast—it’s like 17 miles an hour and you’re going to pass me—but I feel great about it.

Additional Reasons to Ride a Bike:  Desperate (but Successful!) Attempt to Appear Cool/Hip/Trend-Setting

If you think about what’s cool right now it is not you in your SUV on the way to Costco to pick up a gallon of ranch dressing and five pounds of Tater Tots. You’re not going to be on the tourism brochure cover or the magazine cover.

You know what picture is going to be on the tourism brochure cover, don’t you? This is a total set-up. You know what it takes to be cool.

Cute woman riding a bike with a basket.The only thing missing from this shot is the farmers’ market vegetables. So, you can be hip and cool and urban just by getting on a bike. Who knew it was so simple? I thought it cost a lot more, actually, and shopping at better stores as well.

Additional Reasons to Ride a Bike: Excuse to Shop

There are other sorts of character issues. This is an excuse to shop for men as well as women. If you like buying something and then bragging to your friends about how yours is better than theirs biking is totally for you. There’s more than one rider here tonight so I know you know what I’m talking about. Technical fabrics, special food—it’s basically sugar in a pouch but it’s still special food.

Additional Reasons to Ride a Bike: Huge Rush that Comes from Saving the World

You knew I was going to do a little bit of this piece. If you like knowing what’s good for other people and telling them about it, biking is totally your thing.

When people are talking about the problems of the world—it’s air pollution, it’s peak oil, it’s urban sprawl, it’s diabetes and obesity—if you ride a bike you’re not responsible for any of that! How cool is that?

Morbidly obese man trying to fasten seatbelt.

You can have this.*

Cool young guy wearing jeans, sunglasses, denim jacket on a bicycle.

Or you can have this. He totally brings us back to the cool urban trend-setting piece.

We do have a lot of problems in the world. I do think that biking is the only thing that solves a lot of these problems all at once. You do get to be healthier and save money and all of that. But also, it’s so simple a child can do it and it’s fun.

Little girl on a bicycle wearing a helmet.Remember when you learned to ride a bike and you had that sense of freedom and “I don’t have to wait for Mom or Dad to get in the car”–which was the limitation in your life at that point—you could ride your bike.

If you have any of these character flaws you don’t have to admit it out loud. Or maybe it’s psychological issues and therapy costs a lot. You could take a little bit of that money and you could ride a bike.

This post originally appeared on my personal blog, BiketoWork Barb.

*With lots of apologies to people who really struggle with their weight, that image still vividly demonstrates the challenges we face as a society with the growing epidemic of obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes, fostered and enabled by a society designed to move people using car power, not people power. If that person got out of that car and walked or biked just a few blocks every day, it would make a difference.

(On the video when I mention skipping it’s a reference to the talk earlier that evening by Patty Sanders about the virtues of skipping to make the world a better place. I wanted this to read as a stand-alone essay.)

Your Turn

  • What are your reasons for riding a bike?
  • What’s your favorite on my list of reasons?
  • Can bikes really save the world?
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