Head to CityScape During Your Lunch Today

Valley Metro is celebrating the start of Rideshare Month today with a celebration at CityScape. Baxter and the Phoenix Suns Gorilla will be on hand at 11:30, the new bikeshare bike will be there for you to check out, and Valley Metro’s resident bicycling expert Suzanne Day will be on hand to answer any questions you may have. It’s a great opportunity to find the best way to plan your bike commute if you have been thinking about getting on your two wheeled friend.

Language Matters

I had originally typed up a huge long post on why language matters and what kind of neurotic complex I have in correcting grammar and verbiage other people and I use. I would like to be a little more concise in this post and use it as a reference point. Below are a list of words or phrases people use to describe transportation activities. First I’ll list the word or phrase, then why we shouldn’t use it, and offer a suggestion in its place. This list will most assuredly expand as time goes on, but let’s start with a few basic suggestions. I’ve been developing this behavior for a while now and last week was tuned in to a similar research paper filed in New Zealand 2007.

Accident – In most instances people do not mean to crash their car or bike with intent to injure or kill people, or destroy property. However, history has told us that more than 30,000 people will die each year in motor vehicle collisions and (whether the police report acknowledges it or not) most are due to some sort of inattention or negligence. A couple weeks ago a news agency reported about an “accident” at 43rd Avenue and Indian School where two people died. It was later revealed the driver who caused the “accident” was drunk out of his mind. This is not an accident and should never be reported as such. Neither is it an accident when a driver is paying attention to her GPS while she runs over three people riding their bikes, it’s a failure to take the responsibility and safely operate heavy machinery. We cannot continue to casually dismiss such violent acts as the inevitable consequence of commerce and convenience. – Suggested replacements: Collision, crash, wreck, struck, collided with

“Fill in the blank by a car” – No matter how it’s phrased, whether someone “walking across the street was hit by car”, or if “the car ran a red light”, or anything else a moving car may have done, the car did not do that. The motor vehicle in question was being actively driven by someone 99.9% of the time. Removing the person and identifying the car removes responsibility; and while we’re not seeking vengeance or hatred when people make mistakes, de-humanizing the assailant creates a disconnect that allows for complacency behind the wheel. – Suggested replacements: “A woman driving a Toyota Camry struck a man crossing the street.”, “The man, driving a Toyota Camry, ran a red light resulting in the collision.”

Cyclist – Unfortunately, our society has identified a cyclist as a middle-aged man wearing lycra and being a scofflaw all over the place. What this does to our collective consciousness is it creates a subset of people who do something abnormal. We would like to see a society where all people are encouraged to utilize a bicycle as a means of transportation and it becomes completely normal in everyday life. Words like cyclist and pedestrian remove the person from the act and create subsets of people: cyclists, pedestrians, motorists, all at odds with one another. Instead, we identify that all motorists and cyclists are also pedestrians, and many cyclists and pedestrians are also motorists. – Suggested replacements: “A man riding a bike”, “the woman was cycling”, “the man was crossing the street.”

Advocate (noun; I have no issues with the verb usage of advocate) – Many of us see ourselves as advocates for cycling. It’s become part of our identity and is an important part of our lives. But many of the people who show up to city council meetings or neighborhood planning meetings and ask for bicycle infrastructure have no historical or future plans to push strongly for greater investment, they are simply acknowledging that having infrastructure dedicated to cycling would be beneficial to them and would make their streets safer. This is, again, a term that allows people to conveniently place others in groups. Groups are easier to disregard or oppose when they differ from one another. If Mary from Encanto is a concerned citizen who feels the neighborhood would be better served by improved cycling conditions, I’d much rather a councilmember hear from her than me, a nutbag cyclist advocate. How weird does it sound to call someone supporting the construction of South Mountain Freeway a motoring advocate? Crazy. – Suggested replacements: Citizen, person, man, woman, child.

Vulnerable Road User – This is a new one to me as of last week when I read the paper linked at the beginning of this post. Also falling within this realm is “alternate mode user.” Vulnerable road user gives the impression of a dangerous behavior or situation. While the risk and reward of cycling on city streets is another topic entirely (hint: the reward FAR outweighs the risk), riding a bike is seen as a dangerous behavior in and of itself (vulnerable road user) or as a secondary/abnormal mode choice (alternate mode user). This language only reinforces the idea that one cannot nor should not ride a bike for transportation. – Suggested replacements: Active mode user, non-motorized mode user

These are not hard and fast rules to use. Reporting something on Twitter might require one to use “driver hit cyclist” or something similar due to character limitations. Above all else, we need to be able to influence the people we talk to and the mainstream media so these horrific statistics don’t remain just statistics. So many people’s lives are affected by the dangerous automobile-centric landscape that has been developed over the past 50 years. By changing the way we talk about transportation, we can ease tensions between mode users and highlight responsible motor vehicle use now and in the future.

Bike Counts are Coming

In 2011 the Tempe Bicycle Action Group began an annual bike count culminating in a report full of data collected each April from many different locations, 28 in 2012. To date, this is the only organization that has conducted regular bike volume counts in the Phoenix metro area.

If you’ve ever driven or ridden across those rubber strips lying across the road, those are pneumatic counters and they track motor vehicle volume traversing any given road each day. Almost every municipality and government agency from Avondale to ADOT use these counters to count the number of automobiles traveling on a section of roadway in a given time period. There are other methods and technologies used at intersections to determine if all traffic queued at a light makes it through each cycle, how many people are turning each direction, and the volume of traffic by hour of the day to determine peak demand. The data are used in models that produce future predictions on similar roadways and are also used for current day situations like timing lights and adding an extra left turn lane or determining if a street would benefit from right-sizing. It is extremely important information that determines the type of infrastructure to be built in new parts of town and contributes to decisions within the existing infrastructure.

It is because of the importance of these data in our forecast models that I am excited about the upcoming counts conducted by Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG). To date the models simply assume a percentage of trips will be taken by bicycle (or by foot or transit), but the effects are so negligible in new development because the Transportation Area Zones (TAZ) that are used show almost no demand for active transportation modes. It’s a vicious cycle that starts with poor infrastructure, resulting in auto-dependence, the data from which are used in the forecast model, which predicts auto-dependence in future development. With bike counts, the data may be analyzed to reflect the infrastructure preferences and resulting behavior as the surrounding environment changes.

Beginning September 30, MAG will be conducting four phases of automated bike counts in two-week increments across the Valley. For details on when and where the counts will be conducted, check out slides 13 and 14 here. The rest of the presentation shows where manual counting will take place as well as the methodology used to select the sites. The manual count schedule has not been released at this time. While these counting tubes are in place they will track 24-hour data from cyclists rolling across them. The tubes will be placed in a way that count people on bikes whether they are riding on the sidewalk or on the street.

While the first requirement stated in the site selection indicates the presence of bicycle facilities will be considered, it appears as though some sites on major arterials without a bike lane were selected. These include 19th Avenue and Northern Road (west), 19th Avenue and Glendale (west), 83rd Avenue and Thunderbird (south), and 44th Street and Thomas (north). If these locations have bike lanes or wide shoulders, I’m not aware of them because I’ve been able to successfully avoid riding on those streets. I bring this up because it is extremely important to collect data on all facility types. It may be tempting to place these counters on only high-volume areas to “prove” there is high demand for cycling infrastructure, but planners need to know first of all, what types of facilities are being used most frequently by people riding bikes. Do people prefer to ride on traffic separated pathways, are on-street bike lanes effective, and do streets designed solely for cars preclude bike use? Data from these major arterials can then be compared to similar roadways with different infrastructure to determine the role cycling infrastructure and land use play in whether people bike there or not.

In future model runs this data will be used to supplement the data we have on motor vehicle behavior. The implications are tremendous because it can show where motor vehicle traffic would be reduced with the implementation of facilities for bicycling. These models may also be used to determine which existing streets on which to focus re-design. Historically transportation models have been designed to project consistent and unlimited motor vehicle growth. New models with bike count data will have a greater ability to project appropriate facility design to improve the mode-share split to more favorably affect our air quality (which drives much of our federal funding) and will actually allow our models to produce results that may favor something other than a six-lane major arterial road through every neighborhood.

Downtown Devil Discussion Tonight

Arizona State University and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism (550 North Central Avenue, Phoenix) are hosting their monthly Downtown Devil Discussion with tonight’s topic: Cycling Through the City – The Changing Role of Bikes in Downtown.

Doors open at 7:00 with refreshments and mingling followed by a moderated panel discussion from 7:30 to 8:10, and time for audience questions thereafter. Panel members include CycleHop representative and co-founder of The Bicycle Cellar, John romero; ASU Downtown undergraduate student and bike courier at Bike Force, Aaron Tornow; Phoenix Spokes People member Lisa Parks; and Bicycle Initiative Subcommittee and Environmental Quality Commission Chair for the City of Phoenix and founder and director of Synergy Design Lab, Jeremy Stapleton.

Panelists will discuss the potential impact of bike share in Phoenix, perceived [and real] dangers of riding a bike for transportation, and bicycling’s role in the transportation network in Phoenix and as it relates to Downtown. I’m sure they’ll discuss more topics and plenty will come up during the Q&A session but all I found advertising this event was the Facebook invite I linked to above. So I encourage you to show up and bring any questions about what the future of bicycling looks like in Phoenix because these are some of the people who are already embracing cycling as a legitimate mode of transportation in Phoenix, as well as working diligently to improve cycling conditions throughout the city and Valley for all people on bikes.

Phoenix Capital Improvement Program

Much is made, and rightfully so, about transportation departments relative lack of funding for facilities to improve cycling and walking. It’s a bit of a tricky balancing act to look at funding and apply broad-brush assumptions to any budget. Drainage and re-surfacing projects positively impact cycling by maintaining a safe and smooth riding surface. Included in the construction of [most] new streets anymore are standard AASHTO bike lanes and sidewalks.

At the same time it’s important to pay attention to how those facilities are integrated. A re-surfacing project that only paves fog line to fog line creates a dangerous ledge that people riding bikes can crash on. A bike lane along a 45 MPH arterial designed for 60 MPH is better than nothing, but still keeps interested but concerned people off their bikes and reinforces sprawled out land use. Even as money is spent on a new road, some of that money is [usually] spent for the additional right-of-way required to install a bike lane and the construction materials for sidewalks. I don’t put a huge emphasis on monetary budgets because culture change and best practices are a more sustainable change, but money spent cannot be nor should it be neglected.

It’s a reflection of culture change when instead of transportation departments saying they don’t have enough room or money to add bike lanes to a $20 million, six-lane arterial widening project [generic, stereotypical example], the street is re-designed to allow people to safely navigate by bike before proceeding with the project. It’s a reflection of culture change when money budgeted for a road with projected volume of 35,000 in 15 years but no demand today is re-allocated to design and construct safe cycling and walking facilities on important existing roadways such as Thomas and McDowell. Money’s not an end-all, be-all, but it is a useful tool we can use to improve bicycle options on key arterial corridors.

Now that I’ve wasted all that time setting the stage, the Phoenix Street Transportation and Drainage Capital Improvements Plan for 2014-2018 was provided to me via the Phoenix.gov website (actually, the Phoenix Streets Twitter handle sent me the 2013-2017, so I’m editing this post on the fly), and I’ve got notes! The total 5-year program cost of $565,039,198 UPDATE WITH 14-18 FIGURE: $581,931,335 which is divided into general categories such as ADA compliance ($718,813 or 0.1% of the total budget), Street Modernization ($13,719,168 or 2.4%), and Major Street, Bridge, Pedestrian and Bikeway Construction ($336,970,613 or 57.91% of the total program). It’s difficult to get a good feel for what is included in these budget categories because everything is an improvement or modernization or rehabilitation. Traffic Calming Improvements likely mean adding traffic-calming infrastructure, but if there is a low LOS because of an existing traffic calming measure, removing this would also be considered an improvement in engineer-speak. The Highway Enahcement for Safety Project at 32nd Street and McDowell (ST89320023) is $2.5 million of $10 million 5-year program budget for traffic calming, but without any design plans we can’t tell how the project improves traffic.

It’s a little lot misleading to entitle a $337 million category with “pedestrian and bikeway” in the name. Within that category is a $29.2 million budget for on and off ramps for Black Canyon Boulevard to SR-51 and $59.8 million to construct a section of Rio Salado Parkway. Every project in that category to improve bicycle or walking facilities totals $13,268,335, or 3.9% of the Major Street, Bridge, Pedestrian, and Bikeway Construction total. Unfortunately, and this is something Phoenix is getting pretty good at, a good chunk of it is being spent on a project that does more to appease calls for active transportation equity than make meaningful change. In year five of the program, $6.1 million is designated to build a pedestrian bridge across 7th Street between the Science Center and the Children’s Museum. It is a grand example of what appears to be the mentality among many of our municipalities that people are simply an obstruction to be eliminated instead of making meaningful change and actually making our streets safer on which to drive or ride a bike, cross, or walk along.

I think the people making these budgets mean well to put something like this together, but it’s ultimately a failed attempt to appease a group of people pleading for safety and human-scale improvements rather than having any interest in making any meaningful change to the status quo.

I went in to this document expecting to see $50,000 of bike funding buried in this budget somewhere and came away pleasantly surprised that almost 3.9% of the new construction budget is slated to be spent improving walking and cycling facilities and another 1.6% of the total program is spent on traffic calming. Unfortunately, this is not enough. The amount of harm being done with the money spent to widen, straighten, and otherwise increase traffic volume and speed does much to negate every dollar spent on actual street improvements. Whether too much or not enough money is spent directly improving bicycling and walking infrastructure need not be the focal point of our voices.

3.9% of the budget isn’t enough because there is so much to catch up on, but we can make significant headway by changing the way we build our streets. If we can leverage the money currently spent on roads in general to slow the streets, integrate bike lanes and on-street parking, reduce the amount of right-of-way dedicated to moving vehicles, and other traffic calming methods we can essentially turn the budget for biking and walking from 3.9% of the budget to a much, much higher percentage while simultaneously improving conditions for people in cars. We need to focus on updating our engineering and design standards to promote active transport modes in every project, and instantly the budget for cycling and walking shoots to the moon.

2012 ACS Data is Out

One of the things data nerds look forward to each year is the release of Census data. While a full census takes place once a decade, the American Community Survey is collecting data every year and using that data to extrapolate the entire population’s demographics. It may seem a little sketch to collect 1,000 surveys (they collect more than that) and project those to reflect the whole community, but the way they use the statistics available to them, and by collecting a big enough sample size to minimize the margin of error, they’re very good at what they do and their estimates reflect reality quite nicely.

The part about this we’re interested here is the commuting data. While people who commute by bike do not make up the number of people who ride a bike regularly, they are a subset and it is the most consistently accurate and available data we have to gauge bicycling activity. I’ve produced a Venn Diagram to illustrate how bike commuters make up a subset of people who bike:
Bike Venn Diagram

Bicycling as a commute option in Phoenix is still tragically low. In 2006 0.62% of commuters did so by bicycle. In 2011 that number rose to 0.76%, but dropped slightly with the new 2012 data to 0.73%. Carpool rates have been dropping, going from 15.5% in 2006 to 11.4% in 2012, which has correlated with an increase of people who drove to work alone from 72.7% to 75.9%.

This isn’t great news, but it’s a good baseline to watch. Many good things are happening right now including the construction of residential units in the urban core, housing prices are rising enough where people stuck paying an underwater mortgage can move to a more bike-friendly area, and Phoenix is beginning to embrace walking and cycling as viable modes of transportation in their infrastructure planning and spending. Good things are happening in the city that will encourage active transportation, and I’m excited to watch these numbers go up every year.

Park-a-Divvy: Tempe Looking for Feedback on Bike Share Station Locations

Or whatever Phoenix’s new bike share will be called. Tempe has begun the planning process for the new multi-jurisdictional bike share to identify station locations within its city limits. Here is a map of the proposed locations.

City staff is asking for feedback on the station locations, so please take a moment to provide feedback on where you think bike share stations should be placed in Tempe.

The primary flaw I see in the existing proposed locations is the lack of availability at destinations away from transit. For example, there are proposed stations at Center Parkway/Washington, Priest/Washington, Smith Martin/Apache, 101/Apache, and McClintock/Apache LRT stations but none at destinations near those stations. The one saving grace in these station locations is the Cycle Hop bicycles have full GPS and the bikes may be locked at any location. They do not need to be returned to a bike station. I have not heard of the frequency in which the bikes will be corralled and returned to their station, but that would make for a lousy experience to take bike share to the zoo and be stranded there.

As you might expect, proposed stations are concentrated heavily around light rail and ASU. The lone exception (unless you count Rural and Rio Salado) is the station at Southern and Rural. If this station were to become reality, I would be very interested in seeing the participation there. Tempe is adamant about providing top tier transit opportunities to the public library, history museum, and senior center located at this intersection, as evidenced by the initial streetcar route along Mill and Southern, but access to the location remains inhospitable to anyone outside a motor vehicle. My gut tells me that until these two streets are re-engineered, there’s no reason for a person with alternate options to bike or walk there.

With the existing infrastructure and flexibility of being able to take the bikes anywhere, I am overall in support of the proposed station locations. However, I do see some room for improvement. The Rural and Southern as well as Rural and Rio Salado stations right now don’t make much sense to me. I would move those two stations to Kiwanis Park as a recreational amenity and ASU commuters from south Tempe, as well as the intersection of College and Curry to engage the large student population in that high-density part of town.