Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Stunt man, or normal cyclist?/ Western Ave notes

I try to post original content, mostly about my biking life, but I thought this video, recently posted on Boston Biker, was so awesome, that I had to pass it along,

Basically the guy runs straight into any obstruction in the bike lane:  cab, trash can, moving truck, even police car.   I hope he didn't get seriously hurt,  because he took some serious spills.

It's a classic reducto ad absurdium argument- if bikers were required to stay in the bike lane in all circumstances, they would suffer the pratfalls that he does.  Nicely filmed, and the Vivaldi in the background is a great counterpoint to all the mayhem.  He's got a great point, that the cops should be ticketing obstructions of the bike lane, not the riders.   Notably, in NYC, as in Boston, it is perfectly legal to ride outside of the bike lane.

And yes, I went to the Western Ave meeting.  It was mostly a yawn, with a couple of neighborhood residents ranting about long term neighborhood grievances (rats and trash pickup), and John Allen ranting about how cycletracks are Satan Spawn and how dare we encourage kids and newbies to  ride.  (I kid you not, he said that it was better not to encourage new cyclists than to have them ride on this deathtrap) Classic culture of fear.  He also wanted to discuss how adding planting beds and narrowing the road from a superspeedway to a two lane arterial was making it "ugly"  Whatever, dude.

They've made some improvements, including bike boxes for Copenhagen left turns,  a leading bike interval (similar to a Pedestrian leading interval, but longer) so that bikes get a head start on cars,  and some structural changes to bring bikes out from behind the parked cars at intersections to improve left turning and visibility.  

At this point, it's going to happen.  And yes, I get that you have to be careful at intersections.  To my mind, this  is true whether you're in the street or on a path. You just get to relax between the intersections without the added danger of being doored midblock. If you feel the need to move so fast that you can't deal with the occasional small child, errant pedestrian or slower biker,  feel free to ride in the car lanes.   My feeling (borne out by observations in Barcelona and Amsterdam) is that if you have a steady stream of bikes,  and clearly marked lanes, the pedestrians learn PDQ to stay out of the bike lane, and the width is double the Charles River MUP.  Even if there's an obstruction of the path (trash barrel) I'd rather veer around it onto sidewalk or buffer than to have to swerve into traffic.  And it's awfully hard to double park in it!

There is still the legitimate issue of  a safe bike route from the river back into Central.  And I think that problem still needs a solution. However, I fail to see why we should  have no infrastructure just because it doesn't meet some perfect platonic ideal.

In the hour of "open house"I  had a great chance to chat with one of the city of Cambridge's project managers, who tipped me off about all kinds of great changes coming to the Kendall/ East Cambridge area.  Lots of reversal of the 80's suburbanism that was imposed in the gentrification.  I want a chance to take a look at the plans online, but sounds like some great improvements coming.


  1. John Allen is a total kook. What is it with these older guys ? You'd think that they would want to encourage people to ride. Obviously his helmet is too tight.

  2. @ Anon. I really hesitated before publishing your comment, because I feel it's a personal attack. I published it so that I can argue with you.
    I do not think that John Allen is a kook, but generally makes logical arguments about the various weaknesses of infrastructure designs. My counterargument is that there are weaknesses to the VC approach, and problems with requiring everyone to apply them, and that good, even if not perfect, infrastructure that makes it more comfortable for people to travel by bicycle is better than no infrastructure. I feel that he overestimates the dangers, assuming like the video above that people on the cycle track will ride blithly into right hooks and pedestrians without thinking. Perhaps it is my personality, but I am willing to trade off a bit of speed and perhaps even convenience to not have to share the road with multi-ton vehicles.

    If we are extremely lucky, I'll go to one of these meetings in 50 years and people will complain about how backward the design of Western Ave is, and how it should be redone to match the modern wonders of car free Mass Ave !

  3. The first crash in that video is so hilariously well done. I had a hard time keeping the laughter down so I wouldn't alarm my coworkers.

    VC is a great skill to learn, but such a rigorous doctrine will never be exclusively practiced by more than a handful of people. The argument that you are safer in the motor vehicle lane won't make anyone FEEL safer in the motor vehicle lane. In my mind the hardcore VCers in Boston have already lost, and the ones who continue to rail against separate infrastructure are beating a dead horse. The increase in number of cyclists has nothing to do with their efforts, but they derive benefit from the increased acceptance of bicycles in Boston. The smart VCers will sit back and enjoy it while riding in the traffic lane in relative peace, while those with dictatorial personalities will continue to attempt to garner universal obedience to their rules.

  4. P, I think we have reached the same conclusions. VC is a useful skill, but it still doesn't make you feel any more comfortable when there's a Ford F150 revving his engine 10 feet behind you as you ride like hell down the middle of a lane too tight for him to pass you in. It also doesn't help with the tiny number of clueless drivers who will try to squeeze through even if you're in the middle of the lane, or who abuse you for being "in the middle of the road." Traffic herding and education of drivers can only go so far.

  5. In point of fact, it is not legal to ride outside the bike lane on a NYC street that has one, unless there are obstructions in the lane. And that's what the video artist was given a summons for, not for straying outside the lane to avoid obstructions. When the video starts, there's a clear bike lane wisible behind him for several blocks -- unless he was a "wrong way bike salmon" -- he ends ups complaining about stuff in the bike path, but it's not shown during his being stopped.

  6. That was an excellent video - it's a shame that cycling has to get so political, though. I guess everything does, in the end!