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Monday, December 31, 2012

Preparing Bikes and Kids for Spring Cycling


First Published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, March 1, 2010
by Rick Price

Children five to ten should learn the rules of the road as pedestrians before they begin bicycling: teach them how to walk through parking lots, crosswalks, driveways, and sidewalks.  The rules they learn walking (“look left, look right, look left again . . ,” stop at the edge, and so on) will serve them well when they begin bicycling. 

Smaller children should not ride alone on the street (your cul-de-sac excepted, perhaps).  They don’t have the cognitive ability to judge distance and speed. Encourage them to ride behind you until they learn the concepts of keeping right, watching for hazards, and making way for those passing.  While they ride behind you they imprint on you as goslings do on their parents.  So follow the rules of the road: signal, keep to the right, use two hands, and wear a helmet.  How many parents do you see without a helmet?  They are, effectively, teaching their kids that it’s ok for adults to not wear a helmet. 

By the time children are 10 (4th grade) they are ready to ride on neighborhood streets with parked cars and light traffic.  They’ve developed their peripheral vision and have the judgement necessary to be allowed freedom to discover the world.  But now they need real instruction in bike handling, hazard avoidance and they are able to understand that bicycles are vehicles and must follow the rules of the road.

Those of us concerned about bicycle policies in the community advocate that the education of a cyclist should be focused on 4th and 5th graders where we should set a goal of training every single one of them in PE classes over a ten-week period.  If they can get pedestrian rules of the road earlier and apply them in 4th grade we’d have a much safer bicycle community.  Continue that teaching on the bike into middle school and we’d also have safer young drivers of motor vehicles.

About that bicycle.  Get out to the garage right now and check:  “A,” air in the tires; “B,” the brakes; and “C,” the crank, chain and cassette if it has more than one gear.  If the ABC Quick Check shows that the bike is ready, you’re good to go. We do this regularly in elementary school bike parking lots, though, and find that 60% of the bikes need air AND a brake adjustment.  This last one is serious.  Your child needs to learn how to ride his or her bike but he or she needs to learn how to stop it effectively.  Most brakes on kids’ bikes won’t stop the bike because they are not properly adjusted.  If the bike didn’t pass the ABC test and you can’t fix the brakes, please take it down to the bike shop today.

If you are buying a child’s first bike please go to the bike shop, not a department store, and get professional help with proper sizing.  
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Rick Price, Ph.D., LCI #2347 lives and pedals in Fort Collins where he is the Safe Cycling Coordinator for the Bike Co-op.  If your school or group would like a safe cycling presentation

Monday, July 2, 2012

Budgeting Will Allow the City of Fort Collins to Prioritize Bicycle Safety

First published in the Coloradoan July 2, 2012
By Rick Price

How can we get more people to use their bicycle for transportation in Fort Collins?  Offer more classes in safe cycling skills?  Build more bike paths?  Hire a marketing firm to advertise the health benefits of bicycling?  Continue to offer a free bicycle lending program to encourage tourists to ride bicycles?  

Gimmicks are great to increase the visibility of bicycling.  But they don't teach bicycle safety.  The City needs a solid bicycle safety education program aimed at school children, their parents (who are also drivers of motor vehicles) and college students.  The current budget development cycle presents a perfect opportunity to prioritize bicycle safety education in City bicycle policy.


Last January I conducted a survey of interested citizens in order to provide input to City Council on these priorities.  Five hundred thirty-six people responded to the survey.  87% of respondents felt that the City's bike program contributes to their personal well-being and quality of life and 84% felt that our bicycle programs and culture constitute an economic driver, enticing businesses and residents to move here. 

When asked to rank programs, including law enforcement, the bike library, and education programs for children, college students and motorists, education for children came out on top, supported by 82% of respondents.  Second was educational outreach to motorists which attracted the support of 68% of respondents.  Third was support of the bike library (67%) with summer bike to work day close behind at 64%. 

Respondents in this survey were not asked to allocate funds in a hypothetical budget but they were asked a number of times to prioritize programs.  Bike safety programs for school children came out consistently at the top of the list with three quarters tagging this as “very important” and another 21% identifying it as “somewhat important.”

Two popular programs that give bicycling great visibility in Fort Collins came in near the top of this list of priorities.  They are the bike library and summer bike to work day.  But answers to additional questions made it clear that most people feel that these are programs that the City should continue to sponsor but not pay for entirely.  Only a quarter of respondents felt that the City should continue to fund the free bike library while a majority (66%) felt that the program should be self-supporting.   A similar sentiment was expressed with Bike to Work day.  32% encouraged the City to continue to sponsor this while 57% felt that local businesses or bicycle advocacy groups should assume more of a role in financing bike to work day.

Among the bicycle programs that had less support in this survey were the Bicycle Ambassador Program (only 25% of respondents supported it), the Bike Safety Town for school children and Winter Bike to Work Day, both with 43% support.  In my view the Bicycle Ambassador Program and Bike Safety Town, if properly launched and funded, could be the mainstay of an educational outreach program in the schools while winter Bike to Work day could easily be passed to the private sector.

As staff finalizes the 2013-2014 budget recommendation for City Council approval later this fall they should consider the results of the above survey.  The community is asking for more bicycle safety programs and fewer costly, headline-grabbing initiatives. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Are We Building Too Many Bike Lanes?


First published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, May 21, 2012

Sometimes I worry that we are building too many bike lanes.   We build them to encourage children, families, and novice cyclists to ride more.  But bike lanes can be misleading if they give a false sense of security to novices who need to learn when and how to get out of the bike lane safely.  They can also mislead motorists and parents into thinking that the only place for bicyclists is in the bike lane. 

Looking east on Lake Street on the Colorado State University campus.  I've seen east-bound cyclists use the left hand bike lane, riding the wrong way on this street because they were afraid to take the travel lane and felt that they should be in the bike lane.  As you can see, City and CSU authorities don't do a very good job of plowing this bike lane.  What's a cyclist to do?  What will it take to teach college educated students that they should just take the lane and avoid wrong way riding?

If we are going to become the safest bike town in the nation we’ve got to come to an understanding of where bicycles belong on our streets and the role of bike lanes in this.   Three principles govern the concept:  1) Colorado law; 2) common sense; and 3) best practices in bike safety.  Common courtesy also plays a role. 

Colorado law requires cyclists to ride in the right-hand lane if they are traveling at “less than the normal speed of traffic.”  In Fort Collins we’ve built 130 miles of bike lanes to encourage people to ride bicycles. But there are many conditions when bikes should not be in the bike lane and it is important that everyone understand those conditions. 

Cyclists should exit the bike lane if it is dangerous for them to be there because of debris, potholes, glass or the threat of opening car doors from parked cars.  Cyclists should also get out of the bike lane and merge into the travel lane to make a left turn, when overtaking a slower vehicle, and to avoid a right turn lane if they are continuing straight through an intersection.

Conflicts are often built into intersections where right turning cars must cross bike lanes.  How many motorists know that the law requires them to allow one hundred feet before turning right after passing a cyclist?  Not many, I fear. 

When there are no bike lanes cyclists can and should use the right-most regular travel lane in a position where they feel safe:  they should stay away from parked cars and occupy the entire lane if it is not wide enough to share side-by-side with motor vehicles.  Lanes less than fourteen feet wide cannot be safely shared so cyclists should position themselves in the center or the right third of that lane.

Roundabouts in south Fort Collins often have bike lanes leading into them.  In some cases the bike lane ends before the roundabout, requiring cyclists to merge with traffic, which is desirable, while other times the lanes end abruptly at the roundabout itself creating potential confusion for cyclists and motorists.   

Instead of more bike lanes we need an intensive education program to educate all road users of the rights of cyclists and best practices for everyone.  The City should take the lead in this.  Maybe when we conduct a national search for a new bike coordinator we can look for someone to help us move in this direction.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Clear Up Confusion on Bicycling in Old Town Fort Collins


By Rick Price
First published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan May 14, 2012

Last week a passenger in a car on College Avenue shouted at me to get off the street.  When the car stopped at a red light at College and Laporte Avenue I pulled up beside it and asked the occupants if they had spoken to me.  The young male passenger said, “yeah, get the [expletive] out of the road or at least keep to the right.”  
Photo compliments of Preston Tyree.
 I explained that College Avenue was too narrow to share and that diagonally parked cars constituted a hazard for bicyclists so I needed to stay at least six feet away from them, hence in the middle of the lane.  I also mentioned that his shouting at me constituted harassment and that I was going to report the license number of the car to the Colorado State Patrol.  The driver pleaded with me not to “put this on his license.”  I explained that since he was the driver he was responsible for the behavior of his passengers.  In reality you can shout anything you want at a bicyclist in Colorado as long as you don’t throw anything.  But I made my point.

There is still plenty of confusion about where we can ride our bicycles in Old Town Fort Collins.  Maybe it is time the City and the Downtown Business Association took steps to clear this up, especially for those who work in Old Town and who are in a position to help educate others.

When I mention the dismount zone to cyclists on the sidewalk in Old Town I’ve often had reasonable people ask me if I want them to “ride on College Avenue?”  When I say “yes,” they are incredulous and explain to me that it is illegal to ride on College.  We need to bust this myth once and for all:  it is illegal to ride on College Avenue only between Harmony Road and Laurel Street.  North of Laurel it is perfectly legal to ride on College and between Magnolia and Maple Streets it is actually safe since the speed limit is 25 miles per hour and College is, for all practical purposes, a parking lot.  You are safer pedaling College Avenue here than you are bicycling across the parking lot at Foothills Fashion Mall.  Admittedly you need to practice basic principles of vehicular cycling but you can learn these at www.BikeEd.org.

The City could help this situation in two ways: 1) publish a single panel flyer to explain where and how to bicycle in Old Town; 2) pass an ordinance, similar to ordinances in Los Angeles and Independence, Missouri, where it is illegal to harass “any person riding a bicycle, walking, running, or operating a wheelchair” by shouting or otherwise directing “loud or unusual sounds toward such person.”

Yes, it would be difficult to enforce such an ordinance.  But the publicity alone would go far to make Old Town a safer place to ride a bicycle.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Why You Should Wear a Helmet

I use this video to get the attention of Middle School students and to point out that you never know when a crash might come out of nowhere.  It grabs their attention and I ask how many are afraid of such a hazard coming out of the blue.  Of course, few fear this.  But then I tell of the friend at Colorado State University who hit a deer while coming down Rist Canyon one day.  He broke a leg but his head was fine.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bicycle Advisory Committee Seeks Two Members


The City has announced that they will fill two vacant "at large" citizen's positions on the Bicycle Advisory Committee. This committee advises Council on bicycle policies and issues through the Transportation Board.   I have been on this committee since the beginning and chaired it for two years.  I'll be quitting at the end of May since I'll be away for several months.

My view on this committee and your possible involvement is:   gather peace of mind and patience and go for it if you are inclined.  I've been quite frustrated with the unwillingness of staff to actually allow this committee to function as a citizen's advisory group.  Staff exercises very strict control over the agenda and manipulates most of the work of the committee.  Am I frustrated?  Yup.  But maybe you can be more effective. . . . 

City Seeking Residents to Fill Vacancies on Bicycle Advisory Committee

The City of Fort Collins seeks interested residents to fill two vacancies on the Bicycle Advisory Committee, which reports to the Transportation Board. Fort Collins’ excellence as a community is due in large part to citizen participation in government and community affairs. Residents can serve as volunteers on the committee which reviews bicycle plans for capital improvements and provides recommendations to the Transportation Board regarding bicycle policies, and prioritizes bicycle plan recommendations.

If you are interested in serving on the Bicycle Advisory Committee, we encourage you to fill out an application which can be found at fcgov.com/bicycling. Applications are due Thursday, May 31, 2012.

Members are appointed by the City Manager as vacancies occur, and applications will be kept on file for consideration when an opening occurs.

For more information, visit fcgov.com/bicycling or call 970-224-6112.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Education Priceless When it Comes to Bicycle Safety


First published in the Coloradoan, April 16, 2012 

Why Not Become a League Cycling Instructor?
By Rick Price, Ph.D.

Self-preservation suggests that you should take care of yourself on your 30-pound bike when surrounded by 6,000-pound SUVs.  Part of that care is to anticipate hazards and avoid them.  So I am baffled when I see cyclists who put themselves so blatantly in harm’s way that they are literally crashes waiting to happen.
The cyclists in this photo (westbound on Mountain Avenue at College) are waiting for the light to change.  To be safe they should all be in the center of the lane behind that SUV.  They are putting themselves in a hazardous position, trying to make themselves small, by crowding into the gutter.  They face the hazard of right-turning motor vehicles around them as well as the hazard of fellow cyclists starting out and possibly turning right.  Nobody can interpret where they are headed.  The lesson here is:  get in line with other vehicles sharing the road and wait your turn, whether you are turning right or going straight.

Headed south in the south-bound bike lane on Remington Street I noticed a young woman cyclist across the street headed south in the north-bound bike lane.  I couldn’t resist calling out as we pedaled south together, “you know, what you are doing, riding the wrong way in the bike lane, is the single biggest cause of bike-car crashes in the nation.”   She pedaled on and soon found a safe opportunity to cross over to the correct lane.  I explained that I had spent the morning teaching bike safety to kids and couldn’t resist calling out to her.  She thanked me, told me she knew her behavior was dangerous and illegal, and encouraged me to continue mentioning this to wrong-way riders.

Another day coming off of CSU campus I was east-bound on Laurel Street preparing to turn north onto Howes.  I merged from the bike lane into the left turn lane where I stopped at the light.  A young man eastbound on his bike in the bike lane came to the light, turned left abruptly in the crosswalk in front of five stopped cars, went up onto the sidewalk and headed north along Howes Street

I turned north on Howes when the light changed and in the next block this same cyclist came off the sidewalk and crossed the intersection diagonally to head north in the correct bike lane.  I overtook him at Howes and Mulberry where we both stopped at the light. 

I told him that I teach bicycle safety to kids and adults and asked him if I could deploy a team of videographers to follow him through town to illustrate dangerous cycling behavior.  He said no but he did ask me to tell him how he should have handled that maneuver and admitted that he “hadn’t a clue on how to bicycle in traffic.”  I explained the safest way to handle that situation as we awaited a green light. 

If you “don’t have a clue” on how to bicycle in traffic, here’s a partial solution for your own safety and for the good of the community:  the Bike Co-op is hosting a League Cycling Instructor seminar May 4 -6.  This intense seminar is taught by Preston Tyree, the best bicycle education coach in the country.  The seminar costs $200 and it’s worth every penny.  Help us teach eight hours of safe cycling skills to kids in town and we will refund that fee to you.  The scholarship is made available through the support of the City of Fort Collins’ Safe Routes to School Program.  If you are interested contact me for details.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Aurora Firefighter on His Bike Killed by Sunblind Driver


Reported by the Denver Post on March 16

An Aurora firefighter died today after his bicycle was hit by a pickup truck this morning.

Firefighter Jason Murphy was riding his bicycle to work at 7:30 a.m. when he was struck in the 18200 block of East Quincy Avenue.

According to a news release from Aurora Police, witnesses saw Murphy using the marked crosswalk and signal lights at the intersection near Summit Elementary School.

Witnesses also reported the pickup truck was not speeding, traveling about 30 mph in the 40 mph roadway.

The driver of the Dodge Ram pickup that struck Murphy, William Nale, 49, said he was blinded by the morning sunlight and did not see Murphy or the traffic signal.

Aurora Fire crews responded, treated Murphy on the scene and transported him to the hospital with serious injuries.
Murphy passed away later in the emergency room.

CSU student Michael Mcnulty produced a video this week addressing this issue.  It's worth a viewing.









Train-the-trainer bike safety program

 
Teach Bicycling 123 Youth Skills in our schools!  The Bike Co-op is building a corps of experts to help teach safety to kindergarten through 8th graders.  If you are 14 or older JOIN US!

Saturdays, 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. -  March 24 and 31; April 7, 14, 21; May 12 and 19