Friday, March 26, 2010

Cycle Gross in New Jersey

Photos: Jen Benepe (c)

If you thought you've been to the best cycle-cross course before, you should try Henry Hudson Drive in New Jersey.

It will knock your spokes out, puncture your tires, and make you wish you'd never pedaled a bike there before. And I am not sure it's even legal to be there.

The major storm that hit New Jersey two weekends ago from March 12 through 13 with up to 80-mile-per-hour winds, tore trees by the root out of the ground, knocked down power lines, and plunged parts of New Jersey into four days without power and water.

But perhaps the Henry Hudson Drive was the most damaged area of New Jersey per square meter. No where have I seen so much destruction, cracked and destroyed trees as if they had been split in a hundred pieces from the air all along the four-mile stretch from Englewood Cliffs to the bottom of the hill at Alpine, NJ.

I took a ride up Henry Hudson Drive on Thursday morning: all the trees that were downed from Fort Lee to Englewood Cliffs have been cleared. But go up the hill and past the gates--and you enter a world of no return.

The first quarter mile was covered in downed trees, twisted vines, and detritus. After the old cemetery, I was dismayed to see the old picnic grounds, normally a haven of towering pine trees, now covered with cracked, split, and ripped trees festooning the road side.

Then came the endless downed trees, vines, bushes, and rocks blocking the roadway. There were over 30 felled trees and more than 1,000 other pieces of detritus including vast masses of vines, fallen rocks, branches and other blockages over the 4-mile distance, over most of which I had to stop and carry my bike. At about mile two, I wanted to quit and turn around but going back through the mess I just came through was worse of a thought than making it to the end.

I would not recommend trying this, but if you have a lot of time to waste and feel that you have the skill to make your way through hundreds of downed branches, entire trees, endless fallen rocks and branches, or even if you just want to witness the utter destruction of the storm, you could try it.

But it's not recommended for the faint of heart, or for those who really just want a bike ride--this was torture.

The rest of the road at the far Marina--was clear. The Palisades Park priorities or budget are clearly not up to clearing a road that is used mostly for cyclists and hikers.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ignorant Kornheiser Tweet-Slapped by Armstrong

Well another ugly American reared his head today and showed us how some people in this country think by suggesting that drivers should run cyclists off the road, and even maim them.

And it happened in the capital of our country where good ideas are supposed to be born to serve as a model for our nation to progress. Yeah right.

I can tell you this: Washington, DC and the areas around it are woefully deficient of good bike paths, and the attitudes of their drivers are stuck in the dark ages--as evidenced by the gross display by commentator Tony Kornheiser from ESPN.

The announcer who is known for his controversial thoughts, said he thought Washington, DC was turning into another Beijing because it was creating bike lanes on Pennsylvania Ave--where currently no cars are allowed anyhow. He also openly advocated for punishing cyclists by knocking them down with a car.

But this time he went too far, and got bitch slapped through Twitter by Lance Armstrong who finally took a stand for cyclists' rights on the road by responding with outrage. "Listening to Tony Kornheiser's comments/rant on ESPN radio re: cyclists. Disgusting, ignorant, foolish. What a complete f-ing idiot," wrote Armstrong on Twitter.

Armstrong has long maintained that his primary goal in life now is to raise funds for fighting cancer through his not-for-profit Livestrong. Responding to questions at Interbike in 2008 he said he does not have time to help make cycling safer in the U.S.. But this time, the slight may have been too grave for him not to step into the fray.

Kornheiser's comments were followed by more outrage, which lead to the man --who seems more like a village idiot than a paid journalist-- apologizing publicly to Armstrong, and Armstrong going on his show the following day to discuss cycling with him.

Kornheiser said he is "sorry," said Armstrong's Twitter page.

Among the insults, Kornheiser publicly called for knocking cyclists off the road. His co-host agreed, arguing not to kill them but to cause them to lose a limb. "Just take down the one," said Kornheiser, arguing that cyclists should stick to the "little lane on the right."

Kornheiser also stated that the roads are for big cars like his, and he owns the road.

It's amazing to listen to this kind of ignorance among grown men in this society with supposedly responsible jobs. When I visited D.C. a month ago, I tried to ride ONE MILE on the roads, and I was pushed straight to the curb. I was scared out of my wits. Mind you, I am a New York City rider. This was like riding on a god d--n highway, and it was a small suburban side road.

Not one single driver acted as if I belonged there, and not one gave me the space to ride. I stopped as quickly as I could to ride on the sidewalk, and then took a trail that even though was okay, was covered in mud, and did not take me to my destination.

I think people in this country deserve more from their leaders in the capital, and from their spokespeople on large, public sports channels. What should be done with Kornheiser is obvious: he should not be allowed to ever again speak in public, except perhaps as the crazy person he is, on a soapbox in the middle of a desert.

Below is a  close approximation to a word for word of his show which you can listen to on Youtube:

(Male Host) The center of Pennsylvania Ave., from the White House to the capital may be reserved for just two things, the president's inauguration, and PEOPLE RIDING BICYCLES.

(Male Host) When I read about this early this morning...and I thought that a bike lane would be one lane on the right hand side...and they never use them. Then I learned that these things were going to be used to remove an entire lane for automobiles, and the last time I looked, the roads were MADE for automobiles. And they are going be in the middle and not on the sides and we are going to be dominated AS IS THIS WERE BEIJING by hundreds of thousands of bicyclists.

(Kornheiser) I think this is a terrible, terrible idea, , I mean I don't mind those one lanes, but you get in Rock Creek Park, and these people are three or four of these people start riding abreast, and I swear it is all you do to NOT RUN THEM DOWN, like wiley coyotes, RUN THEM OVER.

I mean (they should) stay on the right, stay on the right. I am happy to share the road, but by share the road I mean, get over on the right, ...GET THE HELL OUT OF MY WAY. Am I right on this?

Another host says (unidentified woman)...
Here is the problem I have is give them the bike lanes and open ..it's so congested already.

(Male host)  These chesty cyclists I mean they take the right lane and they are already moving over to the middle of the road...they are just so annoying

(Kornheiser) And My God with the little water bottles in the back, and their stupid hats, and their shiny shorts...

(Male host) Look at their filthy packages bulging...

(Kornheiser) They are the same disgusting poseurs that come out in the middle of a snowstorm cross country skiing on your block. RUN THEM DOWN.

(Male host, rhetorically) Really?

(Kornheiser) I have no problem with that...

(Male host) Or they can ride on top of the curb, they're a ballsy group

(Kornheiser) I dont take my car and ride on the sidewalk, because I understand that's not for my car. Since when, why do these people think these roads were built for bicycles?????

(Male Host) Because they are crunchy granola, they just want us to live in a cleaner world.

(Kornheiser).Someone is going to hate me for this, but am I wrong?

(Male Host) Well they already do

(Female Host) The bike sponsors are cutting off right now... You know if everybody truly shared the road, I am all for people getting more exercise...

(Male host) They don't share it now

(Kornheiser) They don't share the road, they DOMINATE the road. They DARE you to run them down.

(Male host) Yes they do...

(Kornheiser)...And if you do (run them down) they get angry, WHAT IS THAT ABOUT?

(Male Host) If you honk they slow down right in front of you

(Kornheiser) And so you TAP them, (big cackling laughter all around) I don't mean kill, I mean tap them, tap the one

(Male host) You make them take a spill, not a fatal spill but just a limb losing spill.

(Kornheiser) If you are not rubbing you are not racing, so you just tap them a little bit and see what happens

(Male host) It is so annoying. This is a Fenty move, he is a big bike guy

(Female host) With a security detail of course

(Kornheiser) But again, what is wrong with the little lane on the right?

(Male host) then you got the Sequeways...

(Kornheiser) I don't drive in the little lane on the right.

(Female host) Here is the argument that they would make, is that the little lane on the right is covered up by cars parked at the wrong time of day and buses that pull over....

(Male Host) TELL THEM TO TAKE METRO, we have a subway system that works

(Kornheiser) Really? Well they can be around a little bit, my objection is when they ride in the middle of the road, they give you the finger, they do it all the time, because they think they you think you own it. I don't think I own it, I OWN IT. I have a car, I HAVE A LARGE POWERFUL CAR, compared to YOUR STUPID LITTLE BICYCLE.

(Male Host) It seems discriminatory to me, I mean what about unicylists? Why don't they get a lane?

(Kornheiser) They can use the same lane on the right, anything with less than four wheels, or three wheels, they take the bike lane


(Male host) And if there isn't one they can take the metro.


(Male host) What about a Sequeway? (Lots of mockery and cackling laughter ensues)

(Kornheiser) So the whole city is just going to be for bicycles?

(Male Host) Under siege.

(Kornheiser) It's going to be like Beijing, just buses and bicycles, that's all there is going to be

(Male Host) There are plenty of pads (?)

(Male host in background) What's next, eating dogs (?)

(Male host) The capital crescent takes you to Georgetown and you can take the Metro from there..Get on a bus

(Kornheiser) Yes! What is your problem?

(Male host) Feed the economy

(Kornheiser) What did you call them, Granolees?

(Male Host) They are a crunchy group

(Kornheiser) They don't shave their legs

(Male Host) Many of them are men, they don't shave their legs

(Kornheiser) Actually I think they do, the women don't shave their legs..for those bicycle shorts so they can glisten as they ride

(Male host) They throw water on themselves and they aren't even sweating.

(Kornheiser) Well we trashed them pretty good, huh?

(Male host) yeah.

(Kornheiser?) You feel good about that.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Political Correctness Keeps Florida the Deadliest State for Cyclists, Peds

Florida is the deadliest state for cyclists and pedestrians, according to the government group that tracks fatalities across the U.S.
In 2008, 11.1 percent of pedestrians and 17.4 percent of cyclists killed in the U.S. were killed in Florida where 6 percent of the nation's population lives according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
This news reported by USA Today, said that the top four of the 10 most dangerous metropolitan areas for walking are in Florida. Add to that, Florida has been in the top three in bicycle and pedestrian fatalities every year since.
The article goes on to state that "the statistics perplex state officials," and that there are many factors involved.  Among the possible factors they cite are, torrid population growth, tourism, climate and behavior.
An alliance of the Transportation for America and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership --conducted a study that found pedestrians in Florida and nationwide are endangered by the country's shift from development clustered around traditional streets to wide, high-speed roads designed to move thousands of vehicles-- a much more reasonable analysis than the mock hand-wringing, shoulder shrugging political correctness that the DOT is offering.
Marianne Trussell, chief safety officer for Florida's Department of Transportation said, "The roadways aren't as dangerous as the (study) would have made it seem," she says. "It's not the roads. The roads are just sitting there by themselves."
The statement in itself is ridiculous. It was only in 2004 that I recall a long battle cyclists had with the state department of transportation to increase the width of Route A1A so that cyclists could feel safe riding on one of the most scenic but also narrow roads in the U.S.
For one, DOT officials refused to force private property holders to give up two to three feet of their crab grass covered easements to form the bike space. And those holdouts stubbornly withheld their precious little spaces from the public good, preventing the bike lanes from being built.
Add to that a series of roadways that are narrow everywhere, and the propensity all across the U.S. to drive too fast, the lack of enforcement, and the total absence of penalties for hitting and killing people in the U.S.
But what other little factor could be causing these accidents? I remember I used to go down to Delray Beach every March to visit my grandparents where I would rent a bike from the local bike shop and ride to my heart's content along A1A.
My grandmother told me that the majority of drivers were elderly, and many of them could not see. She was heartbroken when her own beau (my grandfather had died) was killed by a head-on collision with another driver who was, she said, "too old to drive."
The fact that not one of the factors mentioned in the list offered by "experts" includes the ages of drivers shows that they are not serious about solving the problem of increased fatalities in Florida. 
It is no secret that Florida is a retirement state.
Currently, Florida only has a minimal train system that runs north to south along the Atlantic Coast. But the state needs fleets of mini buses for local transport, as well as good city buses for easy on, easy off access. 
If the groups involved trying to solve this problem, including the DOT, and the Center for Education and Research in Safety, based in Kalamazoo, Mich. who have worked with more than 80 Florida cities-- were politically honest instead of politically correct, they would acknowledge that the lack of any public transit infrastructure that offers people who can't see well or react quickly a transportation alternative is one of the real causes of their problem. 
The town of Saint Petersburg did take matters into their own hands. They had an out of control problem with motorist-pedestrian collisions, 203 in 2000 when their community was identified as the most dangerous in Florida by the Surface Transportation Policy project. 
Using a combination of $40 million in grants and other incentives, the town built over 100 miles of bike lanes and trails, installed sidewalks where none existed, improved crosswalks, and installed new flashing lights (for weak sighted eyes maybe?) for traffic signals.
In 2008, collisions were down to 89--a notable achievement. 

Monday, March 01, 2010

New Jersey Bike Summit First of its Kind: Optimism in the Face of Reality

March 1, 1010
Photos copyright, Jen Benepe
Left: One lone bicycle outside Denville Town Hall

New Jersey had its first Bike Summit on Saturday in Denville, NJ, bringing together bike advocates in what might seem to some like mission impossible--making the state safe and accessible for cyclists and pedestrians.

The all-day event organized by the less-than-one year old New Jersey Bicycle Coalition brought together like-minded state and local advocates for one day to brainstorm how they could make their communities more bikeable and walkable--in short, more likeable.

Large national and regional groups including the League of American Bicyclists, the RBA group, and Bikes Belong also attended, bringing age old wisdom to the presentations--most of it a message of 'this will take longer than you expect, but it's well worth it.'

The summit, the brainchild of NJBC chief Jim Nicholson and organized by NJBC member Brendan Poh, was deemed a success--not just by the number of people who came out on a treasured day off from work, and when New Jersey was still reeling from it's last major snowstorm that dumped more than 20 inches of snow in many locations-- but also by what it achieved in one short day said Nicholson.

Brendan Poh (speaking) and Jim Nicholson (seated) of NJBC

"One of our main objectives was to bring together people from around the state in a common effort getting behind the "Bicycle Friendly" agenda," said Poh. He and Nicholson agreed the first meeting brought together cycling groups for the first time to share ideas, as well as set goals for supporting state legislation that will protect "vulnerable users" on the road, and create standards, means, and strategies for creating "Bicycle Friendly" communities.

The effort is sorely needed: "Bicycle Friendly" New Jersey is more often an oxymoron than not. For one, the snow and cold weather notwithstanding, all but two of the attendees had to drive or take public transportation to the event, an irony that more than one attendee mentioned in their remarks. One lonely bike stood outside the Denville Town Hall when I arrived.

Rhonda Cohen who traveled about 2 hours from Cherry Hill, NJ to the Denville Town Hall described her township as "A highway, a bi-way, and a lot of pot holes." Her group, Sustainable Cherry Hill has been trying to improve cycling access and safety in their area--a tough job she said as she rattled off the major attributes of the topography, two major interstate highways, one connecting route with no space for cyclists and speeding cars, four far flung schools, and several disparate developments.

On top of that the group faces an impenetrable bureaucracy for creating change, because the roads belong to the county, the township, the state and the federal government.

Cohen is not alone: many areas of New Jersey fit the same paradigm, and advocates who embrace the idea of creating new spaces in their localities also often face huge uphill battles.

Even the Mayor of Denville, Ted Hussa who donated the space for the conference has encountered some stumbling blocks when seeking state aid to improve Route 53 for cyclists--the road that passed right outside the window of the conference. Denville had been turned down for state aid--"I am sorry, to mention it," he said, turning to DOT Bicycle and Pedestrian chief Sheree Davis who stood at the dais behind him.

"The single impediment to getting on a bike is fear," continued Hussa, which means that communities need to make a real effort to create trails or spaces on the road that make riding safe. As the ultimate optimist--- a trait that any New Jersey cycling advocate has to have if they are trying to make their communities "Bicycle Friendly"---Hussa will try again for that grant.

Chowing down between meetings

The state faces some real obstacles. A car culture dominates, and it shows in the accident fatality numbers. The year 2008 was the worst year for cyclists as the number of people on two wheels killed by car drivers more than doubled from the previous year to 21. In 2009 pedestrian deaths in New Jersey went up by 14 percent, from 136 to 155, according to Sgt. First Class Stephen Jones of the New Jersey State Police's Public Information Office. Meanwhile traffic deaths of people in cars, --went down by 8 percent, a trend that reflects better protections for people inside cars, like airbags, and better car technology.

In the past snowstorm, four crossing guards were struck by cars--one of them killed. In some ways you could describe drivers as non-compliant savages because even in a snowstorm, they'll gun around the very people who are trying to protect their children crossing the street.

That culture is no less embedded among police enforcement. After the fatal accident of Bent Rasmussen in Sparta, NJ last year, an officer assigned to duty Rasmussen's funeral said the cyclist was at fault when a passing school van passed him too closely, striking him with its mirror and then running him over.

Davis, who is herself an avid cyclist, said the current acting commissioner at the Department of Transportation is a big supporter of cyclists which might help speed along some of the initiatives, such as their Complete Streets standing, a competitive state-by-state ranking by the national organization that measures whether states are designing their roads to be safe for all users, not just cars and trucks.

"Last year Delaware got into 9th place," kicking New Jersey into 10th, said Davis. "I didn't settle for that," she said. This year she hopes to help New Jersey get into the top tier of the rankings.

Her department is gearing up significant measures to make New Jersey a better Complete Street state. That includes backing a "Vulnerable Users" bill being brought to the Assembly by Rep. Grace Spencer (D-29th District), developing a statewide bike map which she says should be completed in about 10 months, backing a Stop and Stay Stopped law, further developing Bikeschool, which helps teach kids how to ride to school, and improving the department's assistance to local communities to develop more bike friendly roads.  But working on improving enforcement "is probably the toughest for New Jersey," added Davis. "Our goal is to see zero crashes and zero fatalities," she added.

Spencer, who also spoke at the summit and is a member of the Major Taylor bike club of New York and New Jersey, was at mile 70 of a 120-mile ride in 2007 when she was struck by a driver. Technically she struck the car, but the accident was the fault of the driver who sped up intentionally to pass her and then turn in front of her--an accident that landed her in the hospital for the day with a major concussion. The hit and run driver stood by in the parking lot watching Spencer being loaded into the ambulance and pretending he was a bystander.

Rep Spencer with Kyle Weiswall of Tri State Transportation Campaign and Paige Hiemier
Vice-President of NJBC

"In Newark, to say it is a jungle is not an understatement," said Spencer who in addition to sponsoring the Vulnerable Users bill will also be working to add bicycle-specific questions to the statewide test for drivers at the Motor Vehicle Commission. Currently, there are no questions or even instructions on how to drive around cyclists, she said.

Still there are some bright spots. Among the attendees was Anne Kruimer who was hit by a car more than 18 years ago while riding her bike--and was paralyzed from the waist down. She and her husband Mike had a tandem made for them that she sits in front of and pedals with her arms. They were at the summit promoting the East Coast Greenway which they rode--all 3,000 miles of it--from Maine to Key West in 53 days. They have already installed 5 kiosks along the greenway, and more than 30 percent of it is off road, said Mr. Kruimer.

And Zoe Baldwin, who heads the New Jersey arm of Tri State Transportation Campaign said that the inclusion of construction workers and crossing guards in the earlier version of the safe passing law have created a bill that may pass in the car culture dominant State Assembly.

There was much talk about two TIGER grants awarded to Philadelphia and Camden, NJ in the amounts of $17M and $6M respectively. Those grants will be earmarked for bicycle friendly changes. The TIGER Grant will pay for bike lanes, sidewalk improvements and sharrows on certain Camden streets to connect with the Ben Franklin Bridge the Camden Waterfront and the Camden County Trail Network. The Delaware River Port Authority will be building a ramp for the Ben Franklin Bridge walkway--which connects Philadelphia to New Jersey-- as part of their Capital Program in 2012.

Add to that the young people that are finding their way into cycling advocacy like 15-year-old John Lee and his friend 16-year-old Jake Rosa who are working to convert a 7.5 mile stretch of old Boonton railway to a cycling trail. They aren't deterred by the spur's owner, Norfolk Southern who stopped using the spur 11 years ago but refuses to sell or lease the land for conversion. Their group, the Montclair NJ Rail to Trail effort had already garnered support from the townships of GlenRidge, Bloomfield, and Montclair. They hoped to get more support from advocates at the bike summit.

"Copenhagen wasn't always a cycling paradise," said LAB president Andy Clarke in his remarks to the group. They too used to have parked cars everywhere, rising crashes, and impossible traffic in the 1960's. "You are the people that are going to make this happen in New Jersey."

Among those ever cheerful optimists in the audience who will definitely be leading the charge were Marty Epstein of Marty's Reliable Bike Store who helped sponsor the event, and Laura Torchio, who donned her "Bike Friendly Fairy" outfit, ready to transform your community instantly into what it really needs to be---bikeable.

Said NJBC president and Nicholson, "There was widespread agreement on a safe passing/vulnerable user law, and for bringing Complete Streets down to the local level." If New Jerseyites can achieve those two objectives in 2010, they'll be batting 1,000.

Attendees were sent home with homework said Poh: "That included such things as identifying  opportunities in their own communities to bring them toward "Bicycle Friendliness," recruiting other people to join the Coalition, and contacting their representatives in the State house to support a safe passing law."

NJBC's next big event will be hosting the "Winning Campaigns" seminar presented by the Alliance For Biking and Walking, coming up in June. Nicholson says they are also looking for people in parts of New Jersey who are willing to hold informal meetings in their homes or businesses to continue local discussions. You can contact Jim at jimnichlci@njbike.org, and you can join NJBC for as little as $15 for a "steel" membership, $60 for "titanium", and $100 for bike shops. Compared to the cost of a bicycle (or car), that's a real deal!