The Mechanic Speaks

Oxydrive motor fix

I was riding home recently when the motor started making a grinding noise.  I got it home and took the cover off and saw that a C-clip on the right-hand side had broken up into a half-dozen little pieces which were now all stuck to the motor magnets.

broken piece of c-clip stuck to magnet

broken piece of c-clip stuck to magnet

I cleaned out the broken bits, bought a box of C-clips and installed a new one.  I put the side cover back on and noticed that it didn’t sit flush against the side of the motor, there was a tiny gap.  Apparently the bearing in the side cover had been pressing against the C-clip and that was probably what caused it to fail.  Looking at the wear on the axle it’s clear that the bearing was riding a bit too far inboard, too close to the C-clip.

new c-clip installed, bearing wear visible

new c-clip installed, bearing wear visible

I emailed Oxygen about the problem and they offered to repair the motor under warranty, but it would mean shipping it back to the UK.  I looked into shipping costs and decided it wasn’t worth it.  The motor still works fine, if there was a bigger problem then I would have paid for shipping and taken their offer to repair it.  It would be great if Oxygen established a US distributor, but they were totally helpful through this whole process and I still give them high marks for customer service.

I was worried that the side cover pressing on the new C-clip would cause it to fail eventually too.  The big aluminum piece in the picture above is pressed solidly onto the axle and doesn’t move, and even if it did try to move the side bearing would hold it in place.  So I figured that the C-clip really wasn’t doing anything and decided to just remove it.  I’ve put about 150 miles on the motor without the C-clip and it’s been fine.

For reference, my kit is the 2012 version.  For 2013 Oxygen switched to a different motor, so hopefully this problem shouldn’t affect any of the newer ones.

I also managed to badly crack my LCD unit when the bike fell over while I (stupidly) had it balancing without the front wheel.  Oxygen has also switched to a new LCD unit for 2013, so I got a bit of an upgrade with my replacement unit.  The new one is better than the old one on several counts.  It adds an assist level zero, so it can still power the speedo/odo even if I don’t need e-juice.  The whole unit is a bit smaller, which is nice, and it incorporates the buttons into the same unit, which clears up some extra handlebar space.  I’ll add some pictures of it later…

—–

Original review, March 2013.

The Way Forward: Complete Streets

So far in this blog series I’ve gone over a number of problems with road infrastructure in the US.  Today I’d like to look at some of the solutions that are emerging as the way forward.  “Complete streets” is a title that encompasses a range of components including facilities for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit with the overarching theme of moving people, not just moving cars.

Lawyers Road in Fairfax County, before Road Diet (L) and after (R).

Lawyers Road in Fairfax County: before Road Diet (L), and after (R)

One method of creating complete streets is called the Road Diet.  This generally seems to be used when starting with a four-lane road with no turn lane and no shoulders.  The Road Diet typically reduces the travel lanes down to two, one in each direction, but importantly adds a center turn lane.  The remaining space left over from the fourth travel lane is turned into shoulders or bike lanes.  In the DC/NOVA area there are tons of four-lane roads like this.  Despite having been maximized for car traffic, they can be aggravating to drive on because a single left-turning car can shut down the left lane for a minute or more, waiting for a gap in oncoming traffic.  The queue of cars behind the left-turner then starts to peel off into the right lane, bogging it down as well.  The Road Diet’s added turn lane means that the travel lane is always flowing smoothly.  Cycling is dramatically improved as well, for both cyclists and drivers.  Rather than sharing a narrow right lane with cars, cyclists can pedal safely along the newly created shoulder or bike lane.  In another local road diet project pedestrian islands were added midway across a crosswalk to make crossings easier and safer for foot traffic.

The Road Diet on Lawyers Road, pictured above, was constructed in 2009, meaning that traffic planners have had time to review the results in detail.  VDOT found an 80% reduction in crashes and reduced speeding without increasing travel times.  Possibly the most encouraging result of all is VDOT’s assessment of public approval: from “mixed” before to 74% approval one year after.

An artist's rendition of a living street.

An artist’s rendition of a living street conversion

A step beyond a complete street is a “living street“.  In this model cars are still allowed but are generally restricted to walking speed while pedestrians and cyclists are given priority.  Curbs and striping are absent and the road becomes a social space rather than just a transportation corridor.  Traffic calming measures such as chicanes or bollards are incorporated to avoid leaving a direct path for cars, encouraging low speed driving.  Living streets seem to fall somewhere between a regular street and a pedestrian plaza and are best suited for residential streets or dense shopping areas where through traffic is absent.

One of the best examples of this model is the Dutch Woonerf.  The Dutch observed up to a 40% decline in accidents on streets converted to woonerfs despite encouraging children to use the entire road space for playing.  Woonerfs are becoming increasingly popular throughout Europe, which is perhaps not surprising, but they’re also beginning to take root across the Atlantic.  Toronto will soon be building two such streets.  There are already a handful (warning: PDF) in the US and there is even consideration right here in Alexandria, VA of converting two blocks of busy Union Street into a woonerf!

a sign indicating the entrance to a woonerf

a czech sign indicating the entrance to a woonerf

The number of communities across the US with complete streets policies was nearing 500 (warning: PDF) as of last year and continues to grow.  Despite the occasional false start, complete streets and living streets represent a growing trend that improves public spaces for everyone.

Transportation Series Index
Part 1: Freedom of Movement
Part 2: Coded in Law
Part 3: The Urban/Rural Divide
Part 4: The Source of Value
Part 5: Copenhagen
Part 6: E-bikes in America
Part 7: A Two-Day Trip?
Part 8: The Way Forward: Complete Streets
Part 9: Of Race and Socioeconomics
Part 10: The Power of Attitudes

A Two-Day Trip?

So far my focus on walking and cycling for transportation has been mostly focused on short trips near a person’s home.  For the 80.7% of Americans living in urban areas (loosely defined) this is fine as it covers a potentially large portion of total trips.  But what happens when trips start to extend a bit further?

Here’s a hypothetical trip example: let’s say a person wants to go from Harrisonburg, VA to Roanoke, VA.  Google Maps estimates this trip at about 120 miles.  This is more than I can cover in one day on a loaded bicycle in hilly terrain, so let’s assume that bicycling will require a night of camping somewhere mid-trip.  We’ll revisit this example, but first, let’s talk a bit about camping.

no_camping

Pulling over in a car and grabbing a few hours of shut-eye on a road trip is an easy and common solution to a multi-day trip.  I’ve car camped more times than I can count.  This can, at times, be challenging to do in an entirely legal fashion, though.  Most Interstate highway rest stops have “No Overnight Parking” signs posted, though enforcement is generally lax.  Parking lots typically don’t allow overnight parking: I once woke with a tow notice on my windshield after stopping for the night in a shopping center parking lot.  Take away the car, though, and the task suddenly becomes much more difficult.  I’ve camped while traveling by car, motorcycle, bicycle, and hiking, and in settings from secluded rural to dense urban.  The primary advantage of using a car for overnight camping is that there is no visual cue, at a distance, differentiating it from any other parked car; so a person can car camp in the open without being bothered.  Two-wheeled or foot travelers don’t have this luxury and must seek some sort of cover (e.g. trees) to avoid being bothered by passers-by.

motorcycle camping in jefferson natl. forest

motorcycle camping in jefferson natl. forest

Ken Kifer was a cyclist, English teacher and writer who wrote a great deal about responsible, legal cycle camping.  Sadly, he was killed by a drunk driver near his home in Alabama in 2003.  Kifer’s website (link goes to mirror, original site is now defunct), despite its Web 1.0 style, is a trove of thoughtful and eloquent musings on every aspect of cycling, with particularly relevant entries on camping.  Much of his advice on picking a good campsite applies to foot travel as well.  He goes straight to the heart of the issue with this observation: “In traveling by bike, does the law require me to beg or buy a place to sleep at night? There is no such law.”  This is commonly assumed as a de facto law, however, and some may struggle to accept that stopping overnight is a part of travel and should be protected as such; as a fundamental civil right.  There is no legal requirement to pay for a hotel on a multi-day journey.  Freedom of movement is a right, and this freedom is not restricted to the radius of travel that a person can cover in one day.  Outside of urban areas (defined loosely, above), camping becomes an extension of freedom of movement.

Kifer expands his discussion on wild camping: “For a motorist, to travel an extra five miles one way to the campground is no big deal, but to a cyclist the ten-mile round trip to the campground is likely to be 20% of the day’s travel.”  For a person traveling by foot, the difference is even more extreme: designated campsites may be spaced apart by more than a full day’s walk.  Going back to our Harrisonburg – Roanoke example, the map shows only a couple roads leading off into the nearby parklands.  These roads will all be steep uphill climbs leading out of the Shenandoah Valley.  The obvious conclusion is that our hypothetical traveler would camp along the roadway rather than going far out of the way to find a designated campsite.  Kifer goes into great depth on the intricacies of camping on/near public vs. private property, distance to camp from roadways, etc, so I won’t rehash those topics.  If you’re interested, give the camping article a read, it’s well worth it.

cycle touring in rural florida, plenty of camping options here

cycle touring on a rural dirt road, plenty of camping options here

Now I’d like to return to the main focus of this blog series, which is attitudes towards transportation options.  Americans have a somewhat unique disdain of activities like camping (non-recreational camping, at least) and hitchhiking.  Many European countries, despite having better public transit systems than the US, see much greater rates of camping and hitchhiking.  Perhaps relatedly, many of these same European countries also encourage students to take a gap year between high school and university.   Many young people devote this period of time to travel, often on a tight budget, and may be more inclined to embrace hitchhiking and camping and thereby develop a positive attitude towards the practices.  Whatever the reasons for Americans’ coldness toward these notions (Puritanical work ethic? bootstraps?), this is definitely a culturally embedded attitude that manifests in people’s transportation choices.

How many of you reading this have camped out in your car on a road trip?  Do you think there is anything wrong with car camping?  Should travelers using other (non-car) means have the same ability to freely stay overnight along their trips?

Transportation Series Index
Part 1: Freedom of Movement
Part 2: Coded in Law
Part 3: The Urban/Rural Divide
Part 4: The Source of Value
Part 5: Copenhagen
Part 6: E-bikes in America
Part 7: A Two-Day Trip?
Part 8: The Way Forward: Complete Streets
Part 9: Of Race and Socioeconomics
Part 10: The Power of Attitudes

E-bikes in America

E-bikes are a good proxy for examining cultural attitudes towards transportation.  They’re available practically everywhere in the world, but have only significantly caught on in a few select markets.  China is the biggest e-bike market in the world by a wide margin, followed by Europe, and with India and the US just starting to develop real sales.

I started thinking about e-bikes in the US after reading this article looking at slow growth in the UK.  This line caught my attention: “The electric bike is largely suited to the over 50s rider with creaky knees and anyone who requires that little extra bit of push up a hill, whether it be down to disability, or simply bought as the first stepping stone in a regime to get in shape.”  I think the industry analysis has been largely the same in the US, and I think it’s completely wrong!  The reason the US e-bike market has been so slow to take off is that most of the e-bikes for sale here have been the sort of junk bikes aimed at this geriatric market.  Old folks are only one demand component; there is an entire, underserved segment that wants sleek, lightweight e-bikes because they make wonderful commuters!

The super-sleek specialized turbo

The market has changed significantly in just the past year.  Cannondale and Specialized, two of the biggest American bicycle makers, have both had e-bike models in their lineups for at least a year.  Specialized initially only offered the Turbo e-bike for sale in Europe, which says a lot about their assessment of the US market at that time.  The Turbo made it to US showrooms only a couple months agoCannondale’s E-Series bikes remain unavailable.

e-bike for rent in arlington, va

e-bike for rent in arlington, va

E-bike sightings seem to be much more common now, too.  It seems like almost every time I venture out in Arlington lately I can spot an e-bike locked to a rack on the sidewalk somewhere.

Despite all the benefits of e-bikes (low carbon footprint, cheap transportation) there is still strong opposition to them in the US.  New York City recently revamped a long-standing e-bike ban to specifically target food delivery services.  The press release from the City Council had this to say: “…e-bikes are unlicensed, unsafe and unwelcome in our city.  Electric bicycles are not bikes… they are deceptively fast because of their sudden acceleration, and that is why they are illegal.”  Umm, someone should tell the New York City Council about cars and their ‘sudden acceleration’.

Perhaps surprisingly, e-bike opposition also comes from other cyclists.  I have repeatedly heard the opinion voiced, usually by sports cyclists, that e-bikes are ‘cheating’.  Cheating at what exactly?  Cheating at commuting?  Are cars cheating?  It seems like a ridiculous notion and yet it seems to surface anytime the topic of e-bikes is brought up.

This leads to the main point of this discussion, which is the pervasive attitude in the US that bikes are sporting goods rather than vehicles for personal transportation.  Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize sums this attitude up well: “The problem in the U.S. is all about perception… Many commuters see cycling as a form of exercise, not convenient transportAmericans often perceive cyclists as extreme athletes.”  Here, Copenhagen serves as a perfect example of a more transportation-oriented approach to cycling.  The picture on the left is an electric trike used by the Danish postal service.  This, of course, has nothing to do with the mailman getting exercise and everything to do with efficient delivery of mail.

utilitarian bikes in copenhagen

utilitarian bikes in copenhagen

I snapped the picture on the right at the Copenhagen Zoo.  These cargo bikes are used by zoo personnel for carrying equipment around the zoo grounds.  Again, this is an application entirely unconcerned with exercise or fitness and is instead a simple and efficient solution to a specific transportation requirement.  Both of these would be absolutely revolutionary here in the US.  Why is that?  Because of entrenched attitudes that bicycles are toys.

There are, thankfully, signs of a slow but building shift in this sort of attitude.  It was only in 2009 that Specialized relaunched their Globe brand of commuting bikes, indicating an increasing demand for practical bikes.  Bikeshare has swept the nation since 2010.  E-bikes are feebly catching on.  Bikelanes and cycle tracks have sprung up in cities across the country almost entirely within the last 8-10 years.  Washington, DC had only 3 miles of bike lanes (warning: pdf) in 2000, and is now constructing a third segregated cycle track.  There is reason for optimism; attitudes seem to be shifting.  The challenge is to keep this ship turning along its present trajectory.

Transportation Series Index
Part 1: Freedom of Movement
Part 2: Coded in Law
Part 3: The Urban/Rural Divide
Part 4: The Source of Value
Part 5: Copenhagen
Part 6: E-bikes in America
Part 7: A Two-Day Trip?
Part 8: The Way Forward: Complete Streets
Part 9: Of Race and Socioeconomics
Part 10: The Power of Attitudes

Copenhagen

In last week’s post I mentioned BikeSnob’s visit to Amsterdam and London, and the differences he observed regarding transportation in those countries compared to the US.  I’d like to add a few of my own observations from a recent trip that I made to Copenhagen.

bike parking at central station

bike parking at central station

Copenhagen is the home of Copenhagenize and the Copenhagen Cycle Chic fashion blog, and the city is renowned equally with Amsterdam as a cycling paradise.  The picture above is one section of bicycle parking at Copenhagen’s Central Station.  Large areas of bicycle parking are available all over the city, at transit stations, naturally, but also just distributed around the city.

My visit was over the Christmas holiday, and the cold, damp weather proved not to be a hindrance to the local cyclists.  After the first snow I was amazed to see that the bike lanes were plowed immediately, just like the car lanes.  This is always a problem with bike lanes and trails in the US.  Many of the roads that I ride are covered in broken glass and debris, it’s difficult to get street sweeping of road shoulders, much less snow removal.  When roads are plowed the snow is often just piled up on the shoulder, making biking extremely dangerous.  After the derecho storm of last summer there were tree limbs and storm debris piled up on the road edges along parts of my regular biking route for over six months.  Seeing the bike lane maintenance in Copenhagen really brought this into sharp relief.

bike lane outside of parallel parking

bike lane (shaded blue) outside of parallel parking

Possibly the most important difference, though, is with the layout of the bike lanes themselves.  The picture above shows a Copenhagen bike lane (shaded blue) outside of the parallel parking spaces and physically separated by a curb.  The sidewalk on the far left of the picture is separated from the bike lane by yet another short curb.  The standard template in the US is to add bike lanes in between traffic lanes and parallel parked cars.  This leads to loads of problems (video at link is from Feb, that bill was defeated) with drivers opening their doors into cyclists.  My guess is that this template is used because it allows for adding a bike lane by simply painting a stripe.  Putting bike lanes outside the parking area would take more work, and therefore, more money.

There are several important benefits of the Copenhagen-style bike lanes: it means bicycles don’t have to interact with buses, taxis, and cars attempting to park.  Frequently when I bike on a road with a bus route I find myself doing an odd and unpleasant dance with city buses.  I pass the bus on the left when it stops to load or unload passengers, and then it passes me, and then I pass it again at the next stop, etc etc.  Far worse are taxis.  The driver sees a fare on the sidewalk and instantly pulls to the curb, right across the bike lane, without so much as a glance at their mirrors.  I’ve had more of these close calls than I care to count.  And cars pulling out of parallel spaces are particularly dangerous because I can’t tell if they’re trying to pull out or just attempting to realign in the parking space.  Of course they rarely use blinkers.  *All* of these problems are avoided by putting the bike lanes outside the parallel parking spaces rather than inside.  It’s such a seemingly obvious adjustment, and highlights how Copenhagen’s traffic planners really integrate cycling into the transportation infrastructure.  It’s a sharp contrast to the cycling infrastructure in the US that literally is an afterthought and totally feels like it.

ghfgh

Strøget from street level (left) and from above (right)

Walking in Copenhagen was similarly pleasant and surprising.  The Strøget is a pedestrian-only shopping district in the heart of the city that was closed off to cars in 1962 and has been a tremendous business success ever since.  The only pedestrian mall that I’m really familiar with in the US is the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, VA (Wikipedia informs me there are a great many others).  I love Charlottesville’s mall, but it’s tiny compared to the Strøget and doesn’t attract the same sort of high-end businesses.  Imagine closing off M St through Georgetown to car traffic (oh, to dream), that’s what the Strøget is like.

Copenhagen’s public transportation is excellent, too.  Trains provide links to nearby cities.  Streetcars have a special car with bike racks.  Buses are amazingly quiet.  On some buses the whole length of the passenger side between the front and middle doors is free of seats, leaving space for folks with luggage, grocery carts, or the large pram strollers popular with Danes.  For anywhere I wanted to go in Copenhagen I had multiple options for how to get there.

Any talk of expanding multi-modal transportation in the US seems to spark off “war on cars” diatribes.  But even in fully multi-modal Copenhagen, cars still exist everywhere in the city, and can even cross the Strøget on the numerous cross-streets through it.  Integrating pedestrians and cyclists into the transportation infrastructure doesn’t mean shutting cars out, in fact it makes driving better!  Every person walking, cycling, or riding a bus or train is reducing road congestion and making it more pleasant for drivers.  The DC metro area is ranked #1 for hours wasted sitting in congested traffic, and this is a region where cars are and always have been the nearly-exclusive transportation planning focus.  Car-only transportation models simply fail in dense metro areas.  Arlington County is a fantastic success story of deliberate planning incorporating multi-modal transit options to manage road congestion.  Yet outside of Arlington the Silver Line rail expansion has met continual resistance and the Purple Line remains a pipe dream.  The challenge is to bring about a change in the attitudes that cause people to ignore all of this and cling to their steering wheels.

Transportation Series Index
Part 1: Freedom of Movement
Part 2: Coded in Law
Part 3: The Urban/Rural Divide
Part 4: The Source of Value
Part 5: Copenhagen
Part 6: E-bikes in America
Part 7: A Two-Day Trip?
Part 8: The Way Forward: Complete Streets
Part 9: Of Race and Socioeconomics
Part 10: The Power of Attitudes

The Source of Value

I’d like to start off with a scenario that I have seen play out countless times in every town or city that I have lived in.  The perfect setting, if you’d like to try to see this for yourself, is a large-ish retail parking lot in a suburban area, but odds are you can find this happening anywhere.  Our protagonist has parked their car and is casually walking towards a store.  There are cars moving through the lane along the storefront and our pedestrian scurries across as quickly as possible despite being in an extra-large, clearly painted crosswalk.  It often seems absurd watching a middle-aged, out of shape adult in flip-flops doing an odd scurry/trot movement across this final stretch of pavement.

A SUPER-WIDE CROSSWALK

THAT’S NOT A CROSSWALK, THIS IS A CROSSWALK

It’s clearly a greater effort for the pedestrian to trot across the lane than for the driver to move their right foot a few inches to the brake pedal, so this exercise isn’t about minimizing inconvenience.  It doesn’t save an appreciable amount of time, either, maybe one full second?  But it does suggest something about attitudes: the pedestrian’s scurry is basically a display of deference, like a visual apology for being an unintentional interloper in someone else’s space.  Of course the reality is that they’re both just people going about the perfectly ordinary activity of going shopping.  They’re on an equal footing.  Watch the same two folks inside the store and neither will trot away from the cereal aisle so that the other can grab tomorrow’s breakfast without hindrance.  The point of this story is to look at how we assign value.  Are human beings the exclusive source of value, or do we elevate cars to an equal (or greater) position?

Valuing human beings above machines is one of the themes of BikeSnobNYC‘s latest book: Bike Snob Abroad.  The book covers a bit of autobiographical ground, from the author’s childhood bike-riding adventures in New York City to the birth of his first child.  It is the experience of cycling in NYC with his young son onboard in a child-seat (he calls biking with a child the “final frontier” of cycling) that leads to a family trip to Amsterdam, to see if a cycling paradise really exists.

A DUTCH BAKFIETS (CARGO BIKE) LIKE THE ONE BIKESNOB RODE IN AMSTERDAM

Chapter 8 is titled: “It’s Real, And It’s Spectacular”, although the point of this section is actually that in Amsterdam cycling is completely ordinary and mundane.  It is this casual acceptance that feels so spectacular to an American cyclist accustomed to the constant threat of violent death while cycling.  In a side-trip to London he did a radio interview, of which he writes: “I contemplated just how strange it was that I was on the radio… for the simple reason that I write about riding bikes.  It felt especially odd considering I had just come from Amsterdam, where the act of cycling was so completely ordinary.”  In the US, riding a bike for transportation is often seen as a de facto counter cultural statement.    BikeSnob describes an encounter with a driver in NYC stopping to ask him how he could possibly feel safe biking with his child while surrounded by “maniac” drivers.  This feeling of “outsiderness” is another recurring theme in the book.

Leaving London, BikeSnob observes, “I’d watch with amazement as vehicles of all kinds would come to a halt for pedestrians in zebra crossings, even in the throes of rush hour, and it was an indication to me that London still has not completely surrendered the notion that an unprotected and self-propelled human should take priority.”  My own experience corroborates his observations: only minutes before sitting down to write this blog I was nearly run down in a crosswalk, with the WALK signal, by a speeding minivan making a left turn.  There was a woman pushing a stroller in front of me (seriously, I’m not exaggerating the details) and the driver cut between us without ever slowing down.  And I currently live in the most pedestrian-friendly city I’ve ever lived in.  Returning home to NYC, BikeSnob concludes, “It was like our lives were a form of currency, and we were returning to a place where that currency had a far lower value.”

So how do we encourage more human-centric values here in America?  Petitioning for more humane laws of the road is a good start, but can prove to be a constant, slow battle with frequent setbacks.  Urban America may well be entering the early stages of a new era of multi-modal transportation; it is worth noting that cities like New York and Washington, DC had virtually no cycle infrastructure at all less than ten years ago.  Large-scale bikeshare is a very recent development, too, and growing rapidly.  But these changes are not yet firmly rooted, we still need to nurture this concept in order for it to grow.

Transportation Series Index
Part 1: Freedom of Movement
Part 2: Coded in Law
Part 3: The Urban/Rural Divide
Part 4: The Source of Value
Part 5: Copenhagen
Part 6: E-bikes in America
Part 7: A Two-Day Trip?
Part 8: The Way Forward: Complete Streets
Part 9: Of Race and Socioeconomics
Part 10: The Power of Attitudes

The Urban/Rural Divide

Now it’s time to approach the main topic of this blog series: attitudes!  This will, by nature, be a bit less of a scientific analysis than previous posts on policy and infrastructure, but I’ll try to keep anecdotes short and relevant.

In Part II, I mentioned the urban/rural divide, and I’d like to take a closer look at that idea now.  Anyone who has traveled around the US can attest that rural areas are most easily navigated by car.  There are several obvious reasons for this, including long distances between destinations and low travel density, which make buses or other transit systems less efficient and attractive.  These physical factors lead to a very high level of dependence on private automobiles.  The question I want to answer, though, is: is there a real difference in attitudes towards alternative (non-car) modes of transportation between rural and urban residents?  Answering this question may be a tall order, so let’s start small with a few examples.

Going back to the issue of the 2013 Virginia General Assembly, I decided to take a closer look at one of the three bike bills that failed to pass: SB 736, the “dooring” bill.  This bill died in committee on a tie vote.  The vote was highly partisan, but more interesting is what we see in the following maps showing the size of the district of each voting member of the transportation committee.  Each district is made to encompass approximately the same number of people (warning: pdf), so a smaller district on the map means it is more densely populated (urban), and a larger district means that the population is more spread out (rural).  The map on the left shows the yay votes, and at right is the nay votes. I used the mapping tool available here to generate these images.

Left: Yea votes, Right: Nay votes

Left: Yea votes, Right: Nay votes (click for larger image)

What immediately jumps out from this comparison is that the committee members who supported the dooring bill represent more urban districts and those who opposed it represent more rural districts.  Whether this accurately reflects the attitudes of constituents or merely the politicians that ostensibly represent them is, of course, a separate question.

The problem that arises is that an urban area with a greater mix of transportation modes may span several jurisdictions of cities, counties, and states.  In the DC metro area there are different traffic laws in Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Maryland.  Even within just the Virginia portion the metro area spans three counties and three cities.  If the city of Alexandria passed a no-dooring ordinance, how would residents of Fairfax County who occasionally drive in Alexandria know about it?  This is one reason why transportation-related bills naturally go to the state level; regulatory consistency promotes awareness and, by extension, adherence.  At the state level, however, rural residents and their representatives may not appreciate the need for these added regulations and vote them down.  Rural perceptions of cyclists often focus on leisure or sport riders, and are less likely to view bikes as a real form of transportation.  How relevant could a dooring bill be to a small town that doesn’t even use parallel parking?

On the other hand, maybe the urban/rural divide is too simplistic.  More subtle factors are definitely at play: rural areas have been losing young people to cities for years and the rate continues to increase.  Young people are known to be much less enamored of cars than older generations, so part of the difference in attitudes could simply be a reflection of broader generational changes.  At any rate, the urban/rural divide represents an important feature affecting transportation choices and will be worth revisiting in future posts.

Transportation Series Index
Part 1: Freedom of Movement
Part 2: Coded in Law
Part 3: The Urban/Rural Divide
Part 4: The Source of Value
Part 5: Copenhagen
Part 6: E-bikes in America
Part 7: A Two-Day Trip?
Part 8: The Way Forward: Complete Streets
Part 9: Of Race and Socioeconomics
Part 10: The Power of Attitudes

About me:

Civil Engineering student in Arlington, VA. Interested in watershed management and biking.

Recommended Blogs:

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Blue Virginia

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