Friday, March 25, 2011

Have Bicycle, Will Flee

By now everyone in New York City should have realized that we live within 50 miles of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant.

This realization has perhaps raised its ugly head again since the awful catastrophe in Japan, with no less than six Tokyo Electric Fukishima reactors suffering breakdowns and emitting harmful levels of radiation that have affected people, food, air, and water.

The workers in those plants will probably be very sick, and may die. The unknown is how many other people who lived near the plant--and that includes up to 90 miles where the wind blew harmful radiation, will be affected.

What's maddening is that the officials at Japan's nuclear agency deemed the safety precautions taken by Tokyo Electric to be sufficient, just as the American Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given their seal of approval to the much aged Indian Point Power Plant.  The final license renewal was completed in December, 2010.

Not much has been said about the Buchanan, NY based plant since it had a series of leaks about 10 years ago, when as a journalism student at Columbia University I did a story about the age and fitness of the plant and the area's evacuation plans.

At the time, the plant was already considered old. It had recently been taken over by Entergy Corporation which had gone on a buying spree across America scooping up old plants and making them more efficient by firing excess staff and streamlining operations.

But already then there had been several leaks, some into the air, and some into our very own Hudson River. Concerned local residents stocked up on Potassium Iodide in case of a major leak. But most of all, concerned citizens said that in the event of a major leak at Indian Point, the evacuation plans will yield not fleeing people--but a parking lot.

Riverkeeper, an advocacy organization that focuses on the environment along the Hudson River stated, "Due to Indian Point’s vulnerability to terrorism, a laundry list of safety problems, the storage of 1500 tons of radioactive waste onsite, and the lack of a workable evacuation plan, Riverkeeper has been working toward the permanent shutdown of the Indian Point nuclear power plant."

Now with the breakdown of the Japanese reactors, Riverkeeper is calling for the immediate shutdown of Indian Point.  The group is not without its power brokers, with Robert Kennedy Jr. acting as their primary counsel.

Since I wrote that story in 2002, it was my greatest concern to protect myself and my family, arming myself with a bicycle (which I already had) and a trailer for young ones who can't ride.

As it turns out, any major explosion or breakdown at Indian Point will create gridlock of epic proportions all the way up and down the northeastern corridor.  The best way to flee will be by bicycle.

My advice is this: if you don't already have a bicycle--get one. Learn to ride, and make sure everyone in your family is suitably outfitted, either with a trailer for smaller children, tricycles or pedicabs for the older person in your family, and trailers for your belongings. Just think if it this way: if nothing happens at least you'll lose some weight.

We're not hysterical, crisis-driven, negativity forecasters: just realistic.

Friday, March 11, 2011

New Yorkers ask Capitol Law Makers to Retain Bike Funding

Thursday, March 10, 2011
Cyclists from all over the U.S. converged on Washington this week to discuss the state of cycling at the National Bike Summit. And their message to lawmakers on Thursday was, if you have to cut any budgets, don't cut ours.

And while the headlines grabbed the hearings by Peter King (R-Dist 3, Long Island), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, about the radicalization of American Muslims, people were dying on our roads and highways in droves.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) Chairman of House Homeland Security 
In New York State alone in 2009, there were more than 5,600 accidents between cyclists and motorists, resulting in 29 deaths of people on bikes, and the death of one motorist.

In that same year, the last year for which statistics are available, more than 14,800 pedestrians were injured by cars, and 302 people were killed by motorists, according to the New York State Dept. of Motor Vehicles.

King's district on Long Island hosts some of the most dangerous roads for cycling and walking in the state. Long island also hosts many roads where motorized traffic comes to a grinding halt every day at rush hour, costing the area millions of dollars in gas costs, business lost, and lost hours of a person's life.

Obesity costs the United States $147 billion dollars, and New York State $7.6 billion a year according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control.

The problem of obesity is reaching epic proportions for children and adolescents, whose numbers have tripled over the past three decades. Currently, a third of New York State's children are obese or overweight.

Being severely overweight has serious health consequences: cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and a shortened life span.

Hazelhoff and McCorkell waiting to meet with an aide from Rep. Rangel's office (C) BBB
But these killers are semi invisible to both the media and lawmakers because the deaths and costs occur daily and on a constant basis, and don't carry the shock or the marketing capital of a terrorist strike.

This is the battle that cycling advocates have to face when bringing their message to the steps of the Capitol: though bicycling efforts may be boring to you, they are very important to us.

And with cost-cutting a major message of members of Congress, cycling advocates like Charlie McCorkell, pounded the pavement to ask our elected officials to please keep federal funds where they are, and if you have to cut, cut from other budgets that offer less bang for the buck.

McCorkell owns the Bicycle Habitat bike store in New York City and has been active in bicycle advocacy since his early 20's when he worked with Transportation Alternatives to make cycling more accessible in the city. He rode his Soho S fixed gear Trek a little over a mile in the pouring rain to the Rayburn building:"It took half an hour for my pants to dry," he said.

Dressed uncharacteristically in a tie and formal shirt, he walked down the flag-decked halls of the Rayburn Building to visit the offices of Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Charlie Rangel.

With him was Aja Hazelhoff, a representative from the New York City based advocacy group, Transportation Alternatives: she was armed with statistics and numbers about how much cycling contributes to the economy, and how much more we will be able to achieve by backing alternative transportation measures.

Seated on the standard issue leather couches and arm chairs in Jerrold Nadler's office (D- Dist 8), the two spoke with James Owens, Nadler's legislative assistant, an elegant red-haired man who sported a beard and was immaculately dressed in a pressed glen plaid suit.

Mind you, congresspersons and their aides hear all kinds of things all day from constituents, special interest groups, advocates and lobbyists, and competition for ears and eyeballs is fierce. Hazelhoff and McCorkell had but 15 minutes to get across the idea that a cyclist only requires only 1.5 percent of federal transportation dollars, when 12 percent of all trips are made on a bike or two legs.

The Hallway to Rep. King's office (c) BBB
For one, Hazelhoff and McCorkell were looking for continued support for the $117 million that pays for Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS),  helps build bike trails and pathways, and supports cycling education and advocacy. With a push for cost-cutting in federal spending, all of those programs face the hachet.

Hazelhoff explained it makes more sense to continue to fund cycling spending at the same level, because the more people you have on a bicycle, the more money you save in health costs, gas costs, and in highway maintenance.

BBB was there and could not help asking Owens for assistance in supporting the bike lanes in New York City--at least in terms of backing the efforts of DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik Khan publicly in light of recent negative feedback from various local communities.

Back in hallway I was chided for speaking out about an issue that wasn't in Nadler's district, though the bike lanes in his district along Ninth Avenue, could always become an issue if the backlash spread through the city. Already on Columbus Avenue between 86th and 72nd Sts., retailers who have not seen the value of the bike lanes recently installed there have complained vocally to the city's local lawmakers. Clearly though, the Capitol is not for neophytes like BBB.

On to the next office of Rep. Charlie Rangel, we were waiting outside in the hallway while scores of other special interest groups passed, some from CARE, others wearing white medical jackets representing the pharmaceutical industry, and still others in amalgam groups of five or seven, in ties and jackets, skirts and heels clicking down the stone hallways, coming to have their voices heard.

Nancy Maier, publisher of joined Hazelhoff and McCorkell for the meeting with Marion "Butch" Johnson, an amiable Congressional Fellow from Rangel's office (D-Dist. 15).  He listened attentively as McCorkell described the 200,000 bicycle commuters in New York, and how cycling has had a "vast economic impact" on the city.
Two delegates from Bike Summit getting their shoes shined in the Cannon Bldg Basment
Both Nadler and Rangel supported the Transportation Enhancements bill which provided monies for cycling and cycling infrastructure improvements, so their empathy was a given: but could we depend on them to fight for level funding? Rangel, noted Hazelhoff, was one of the first in Congress to adopt a Safe Routes to School Program in his district (he has two now.)

Steve Faust, a transportation planning guru came into the meeting 5 minutes late and asked for continued help on specific projects like the Putnam Line, a rail to trail project in which has never been completed, and talked up a storm about the Kingsbridge Bike Park which had been opened by the NYC Parks Dept. in upper Manhattan.

The Cannon Building at Capitol Hill
Maier added that this was one park that really serviced kids in the community and kept them from getting into trouble otherwise.  Faust also put in a word for what he said was his "lifelong" fight, to add a bike lane to the Verazzano Bridge--- a bridge that is parenthetically many miles away from Rangel's district.

Never mind that, the personal messages provided some color for the legislative aides that need something to go back to the Congressman about. When Hazelhoff mentioned the Tour de Bronx, Johnson asked her what date it was so Rangel could attend. Inviting our representatives to specific events is an important element of showing them virtually how the cycling community works.

Neither New York nor New Jersey were fully represented at the Bike Summit, so some of our group had to deliver the message to representatives outside of our own districts. I delivered messages to Rep. Maurice Hinchey who represents an area upstate where my family spends their summers, Steve Israel (D-Dist 2), and Peter King (R-Dist 3).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

New York City Chooses Bike-Share Finalists

Washington, DC, National Bike Summit

Two bike-share companies have been short-listed as finalists to provide bike-share systems to the city of New York: B-Cycle and Public Bike System (Bixi).

Neither company would provide official confirmation of the choice, and the city's Department of Transportation also would not confirm the selections.

However, the choices for the two finalists, who will now be asked to set up demonstrations of their bike-share system prior to final selection by the DOT, did become known to BBB through private discussions at the National Bike Summit being held in Washington, DC this week. There was no word on a third finalist that would compete as was mentioned as a possibility in the DOT's request for proposal, and it appears no third company will be chosen.

B-Cycle is sponsored by Trek Bicycles Corp., a private company based in Madison, WI, while Public Bike System is a non-profit bike-share company based in Quebec, Canada.

Trek's president John Burke, spoke at the closing plenary of the summit, and clearly has a strong track record when developing partnerships. B-Cycle currently has smaller systems set up in Denver, CO, Chicago, IL, Des Moines, IA and San Antonio, TX, and will be rolling out programs soon in Louisville, KY, Broward County, FL and Hawaii.

The New York bike-share however recommends that the finalist set up 10,000 bikes and 600 stations in Manhattan by the end of 2012, and expand further into outer boroughs in following years, making it the largest bike-share system in North America. Paris's Velib system run by JC Decaux is the best known bike-share system, and is currently the largest system in Europe, hosting 24,000 bikes.
Sadik-Khan at the Bike Summit

Trek has long been known to make ambitious and successful marketing alliances, such as their support of Lance Armstrong and his Livestrong team, and now their backing of two major bike racers, Andy and Frank Schleck.

The Schleck brothers will be joined in the Luxembourg based team by time trial great Fabian Cancellara. As a trio, the riders will provide a serious challenge to Alberto Contador, who won last year's Tour de France.

But perhaps because Trek recognizes the growing opportunity that bicycle share systems pose as they grow in cities around the world, as well as the threat to traditional bike sales, the company is now moving quickly to respond to city requests for proposals.

New York's bike-share RFP however was a challenging one. It was the first of its kind to expect much more of suppliers, and give back so much less.

The DOT requests a revenue share model with the City, and also asks that the supplier provide maintenance and provide compensation for the use of public space, such as parking spaces. At the same time, the department asked that no supplier use more than minimal advertising, a barrier to entry so great that two major companies, Cemusa of Spain and JC Decaux of France did not submit bids.

Officials in those two companies who spoke off the record because they were not authorized to speak on the topic said that the New York City bid set an "impossible" financial bar to achieve.

That statement is even all the more interesting given Public Bike System's financial model, which up to now has been non-profit. New York's tough requirements will force the company to start making money on advertising, even if ultimately they continue to be structured as a non-profit.

Public Bike System, who rolled out their first bike-share program in Montreal, also has bike-share programs in London with 6,000 bikes, Melbourne, Australia (650 bikes), Minneapolis, MN, (600 bikes), and Washington, DC (1,100 bikes).  The company also has smaller systems on the Washington State University campus, and at the corporate campus of RIM.

Team from Recycle a Bicycle at National Bike Summit
New Public Bike System programs will also be opening in Boston, MA, and Chatanooga, TN, said a representative for Alta, a consulting and operations partner of Public Bike System.

But neither of these two companies have ever supplied or run a bike-share as large as the one proposed for New York, and their inexperience may well have had to do with their willingness to submit proposals matching the city's requirements.

In the case of Public Bike System, all of their systems are either paid for directly by the cities they work with, or have been underwritten by loans guaranteed by public entities in those cities.

In London and Montreal, both systems are paid for by the cities themselves, and $5M in capital funding for the Washington, DC program was provided through the Federal Highway Administration. Operating costs for the DC program of approximately $2.3M per year are born by the city itself, and are only partially offset by membership and usage fees.

Which begs the question: should public bicycle transportation be privately run? Currently the city of New York does not expect its subways, buses or trains to be funded by private companies or even to run on a profit. To expect a fledgling bicycle share system to do what no other major transportation system in the city is doing provides an ambitious and unprecedented challenge for both of the two finalists.

The news comes at the heels of a lawsuit by a group of seniors in Brooklyn, NY over the Prospect Park bike lane which was recently installed by the department of transportation.

Although the local Community Board 6 had asked DOT to come in with a plan to reduce motorist speeding, and cut down on bicyclists riding on sidewalks and in the wrong direction, and then subsequently approved the plan, residents opposed to the new bike lane have hired Jim Walden of Gibson Dunn to challenge it.
Bixi Bikes at the National Bike Summit

Walden says the city presented misleading facts regarding the results of safety measurements taken after the lane was implemented. 'It was abundantly clear that crashes and injuries were not down," he said.  He also said the city failed to conduct an environmental review of the area, and although it agreed to release data is did not do so until after it had presented its final numbers to the Community Board.

So far the city has not commented on the lawsuit, but said their plan reduced traffic speed, reduced crashes and injuries of cyclists and pedestrians, and responded to the community's concerns.
Speaking at the opening plenary of the Bike Summit, DOT commissioner Janette Sadik Khan said "It's wonderful to be here this morning and with so many friends," perhaps an indirect reference to the fact that many New Yorkers have turned their backs on her.

Sadik-Khan responded indirectly to the criticism of late when she spoke about the new bike lanes in Prospect Park and elsewhere: "They have created really dramatic changes, controversial things like reduce speeding and taking cyclists off the sidewalks."

Acknowledging the role that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has played in opening up New York to its bicycle potential she also noted, "It's hard and its painstaking work, and there are unexpected setbacks and unexpected events--but that's to be expected."

Needless to say, among friends, Sadik Khan's words were met with thundering applause.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

NJ Bike-Walk Summit Inspires, Highlights Challenges

Prof. Pucher shows highest fatality and injury rates for US cyclists and pedestrians
"Women are an indicator species" Prof. John Pucher, Rutgers University

The second New Jersey summit of its kind for cycling and walking lovers, advocates, and other folks was held this past Saturday.

Pulled together by the New Jersey Bike Walk Coalition had two clear messages: whatever we can do to improve cycling and walking conditions is necessary, but getting it done will take a lot of work.

It's no surprise to most bike-ped advocates in New Jersey, or in the U.S. for that matter, that changing conditions for cyclist and pedestrians is difficult.  John Pucher made that point loud and clear in his keynote address held over wraps and vegetable chips at the historicTrenton, New Jersey Masonic Lodge.

Prof. Pucher shows outrageous conditions for pedestrians on local bridge
A professor in urban planning and policy development at Rutgers University, Pucher's provocative address demonstrated how other countries like Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands are far ahead of the U.S. in providing safe cycling and pedestrian access. His charts on health, safety and obesity gave an indication that compared to those three countries,  the U.S. is a sad and distant cousin.

What's more, Pucher noted that "women are especially sensitive to safety, more than men," which helps explain why cycling is the U.S. is dominated by young males. "Women are an indicator species: if you don't see a lot of women cycling, then you are not doing the right thing."

Dr. Cheryl Allen Munley brought an e-bike to demo
One reason women don't ride here as much as they could, it's not safe said Pucher. Fatality and injury rates are much higher in the United States.  Conversely, in Denmark, 55% of all bike trips are made by women.

"It's a matter of social justice: we need to make it safer and more convenient for any New Jerseyan," to ride or walk, he said noting that in those European cities, neither "age, sex, skill level or dollars" prevent anyone from getting on a bicycle.  What's more, those countries give independence to the elderly, where over half of the trips by those 65 and over are by walking or cycling.

"Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands weren't always so safe," Pucher said. In the 1950's and 1960's there was a sizable decline in cycling because of the growth of the automobile. But since those countries adopted a purposeful policy to decrease their reliance on the almighty car and improve bike/ walk facilities,  "there has been an 80 percent decrease in cycling fatalities," he noted.

What's more, the experience of those cities show that "as levels of cycling increases, injury and fatality rates per trip and per kilometer travel fall dramatically." Conversely, injuries and fatalities in the U.S. are much higher per bike trip taken, he noted.

A flyer from the Morris Area Freewheelers
But as he spoke, Pucher interjected comments regaling the lack of safety even in his own town of New Brunswick. Pucher does not own a car and gets around by bicycle, walking and public transportation he said proudly, drawing a round of applause from the audience. But he does so often at his own peril, he noted, citing multiple intersections and areas where motorists don't even stop when he is in the crosswalk, a fault due partly to poor design and partly to lack of sufficient law enforcement.

Pucher also pointed out the "best pedestrian crossing in New Brunswick," where flashing lights embedded in the sidewalk, cross hatching, and a raised area demarcating the crossing made it obvious that cars had to stop. "Twenty percent of cars went through anyway," he said, "but WOW, if we could get more crosswalks like that, I would be very, very happy."

Inspiration Comes from the Heart

Peter Bilton, previously a member of the Alan M. Voorhees transportation center at Rutger's and now a principal at the Civic Eye Collaborative, opened the summit with a message that the key to increasing cycling is "happiness": making people happy will bring them out on their bikes.

Rich Averill discussing Collingswood Bike Share
The layered complexity of that statement became more obvious as the summit's speakers delivered their addresses. First off was Rich Everill who started off a "library method" bike share program in Collingswood, NJ.  Because the town is only two square miles, the program has one central location, and is open two days a week.

With 200 bikes donated from people's unused or outworn bicycles, the program charges users only $25 a year to use the brightly-green painted bikes. "The program injected 200 bikes into the community that would otherwise be sitting in a garage," said Everill.  It also brought people of different backgrounds together, and allowed some who did not own a car or without access to bike shops (there are none in Collingswood itself), to ride bikes. Nearby bike shops were also asked to help repair the bicycles at a cost, but children in the neighborhood were inspired to come in and learn bike repair, said Everill.

A rider from the 2009 Morristown Halloween Ride
Kendra Arnold of Morristown Critical Mass and or Morristown Bike Ride charmed the crowd with her stories about a critical mass bike ride which she started in 2007, and evolved to a 3.54-mile monthly bike ride for all to come and join.

The first rides went off despite then Mayor Donald Cresitelo's objections to putting bike lanes in Morristown. "He called it "the stupidest thing he had ever heard," said Arnold, "because men in their thousand dollar suits  and women who did not want to mess up their hair, would not want to ride to work."

(In 2010, the former Morristown mayor was ordered to pay an $11,375 fine for alleged campaign finance violations during his 2005 mayoral run, according to the Election Law Enforcement Commission.)

That was in 2007, and the monthly ride has been a tremendous success since then, attracting on average 200 riders, and enjoying free police entourages for safety. It might be enough to provoke jealousy from cyclists taking place in critical mass events in New York where they are going through a period of harassment from police. "We keep going through red lights after the green and the police don't seem to mind," said Arnold.

The ride uses themes to attract non-cyclists, like the Zombie ride: "Maybe they don't want to ride but they do want to be a zombie," said Arnold to laughter.  In 2008, even a police chief and several council members ignored the mayor's negative pronouncement by showing up regularly, and soon the ride became a safe place for children to ride around town said Arnold.

The ride also features after-parties, a vegan food truck, chalk-out contests, bike-in movies, and is a regular location for politicians to show up and hand out buttons and tee shirts for their campaigns. Needless to say the new mayor of Morristown, Timothy Dougherty likes the ride, said Arnold.  Marty's Reliable Cycle Shop has been a strong supporter of the event, and hosts several Youtube videos of the event on their site.

Laura Torchio discusses BikeWalk Montclair
Laura Torchio spoke about the Bike and Walk program in Montclair, NJ, an area that is surrounded by highways and byways and indeed to the outside observer, seems impenetrable to the average cyclist. Their goal is to "advocate, educate and encourage," and in the last festival over 1,000 people attended said Torchio.

The program appears to gain much of its success from the imaginative use that the non-profit 501 (c) organization puts to use, like a Crossing Guard Appreciation Day, when crossing guards are given "flowers, coffee, and hugs," a Fourth of July parade using bikes, on foot and stilts, a Critical Manner, Courteous Mass on each Friday of the month, Bike to Work days, a Tour de Montclair on May 15th, and the moniker, "Bikes and Feet on Every Street."

BikeWalk Montclair also enjoys the blessing of their town council, and for the first time the council has applied for Complete Streets status from the New Jersey department of transportation. "This was the carrot that allowed us to go for the gold," said Torchio.

Kendra Arnold
Complete Streets is a designation by the NJ DOT that a town or locality provides "safe access for all users by designing and operating a comprehensive, integrated, connected multi‐modal network of transportation options."

But as Ms. Arnold noted at the question and answer section of her presentation, New Jersey towns are very competitive, and once one town has applied for Complete Streets, others will follow. "I want to win," quipped Arnold.

Later this week: presentations by Sharon Roerty, National Center for Biking and Walking; Leigh Ann Von Hagen, Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center; Jeff Peel, League of American Bicyclists; Sheree Davis, New Jersey Dept. of Transportation; Elizabeth Thompson, North Jersey Planning Authority;  and Summit Wrap up with Mike Dannemiller, RBA Group.