Tips

The Rules of the Road

DSC03341It can be hard to figure out what the hell you should be doing out there in the vast wilderness of traffic. People get angry about pretty much every behavior. Someone will get mad at you for following the law precisely, while someone else gets mad that you harmlessly break the law. Car-driving commenters love to rail about how bikers break the law and use that as an argument for why we shouldn’t invest in bike infrastructure or encourage cycling. Bike-riding commenters complain about drivers parking in the bike lane or pedestrians walking on bike paths. It’s all a hot mess. To help bring some clarity to the conversation, here are critical rules and behaviors for navigating urban streets no matter what mode you’re using. Some of these rules are not actually legal, so follow them at your own risk.

Bikers

  • Idaho stop: The Idaho stop is a law which allows bikers to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs. I advocate for this approach, since it helps people biking establish themselves in the road. The authors of one study stated “stopping discourages bicycling, substantially increasing time, energy expenditure, discomfort, risk of collisions and risk for strain and overuse injuries.” They went on to write that, “Bicyclists enjoy vastly superior abilities to perceive and execute a safe yield at a stop than other modes, and great incentive to do so safely.” The study found that bicycle injuries decreased by 14.5% the year after the law was implemented. Whether or not the Idaho stop is officially canonized into law, we shouldn’t ticket bicyclists for running red lights or failing to stop at stop signs when this behavior can improve their safety and comfort. This is not a full license to blow through a red light. But if you come to a stop (or significantly slow down even if you don’t put your foot on the ground), look both ways, and make sure it’s safe to proceed, then go ahead.
  • Don’t bike fast like a jerk: If it’s a Saturday afternoon and you wanna cruise 25mph down the Greenway unimpeded, just stop. That’s not going to happen. If you try to zip down the Greenway and get frustrated every time someone is in your way, it’s your own fault for having unrealistic expectations. If you want to bike fast and unimpeded, bike in the street with the cars. You do not own the path any more than anyone else. This means that if you yell, “On your left,” from two blocks away and people don’t hear you, you’ll have to slow down, repeat yourself, and pass once they move over.
  • Biking on the sidewalk: Biking on the sidewalk is dangerous. A study in Minneapolis by Bike Walk Twin Cities found that 39% of motorist-bicyclist crashes occurred when bikers were entering traffic from a sidewalk. Sidewalk biking may feel safer to you, but it’s actually one of the most dangerous things to do on a bike. If you’re afraid of biking in heavy traffic, find quiet side streets to bike on. For example, in my neighborhood many people bike on sidewalks along Lyndale Avenue to avoid heavy car traffic. If they biked just one or two blocks off Lyndale in either direction, they’d find quiet side streets where there’s less traffic and slower moving vehicles. This is a better option than sidewalk biking. If you insist on sidewalk biking, realize that it’s your responsibility to yield to pedestrians, to take extra caution at all intersections, and to be aware of your surroundings.
  • Don’t pass on the right: There is no need to pass on the right. Other bikers aren’t expecting you there and if they’re about to turn right, they’re going to turn right into you causing both of you to crash. If you’re trying to pass on the right because it’s not clear to pass on the left, that means it’s not clear to pass at all. Just wait a second already!

Drivers

  • Slow down: Speed is dangerous. Driving faster increases the likelihood that you will kill a person walking or biking if you hit them. If you’re driving at 20mph and hit someone, the chance that they’ll die from their injuries is 5%. If you’re driving 40mph and hit someone, the chance that they’ll die from their injuries sky rockets to 85%. If you’re in a crowded pedestrian area or on a residential street, 25mph is plenty. Driving slower means you’ll have more time to respond to someone in the street and will be less likely to seriously injure or kill someone if you do hit them.
  • Stop for pedestrians and bikers: Did you know that in Minnesota, walkers have the right of way at every corner? Every corner where two roads come together is an unmarked crosswalk, which means you should be stopping when you see someone waiting or starting to cross. It’s a law that most drivers ignore and most pedestrians are too afraid to take advantage of, so the norm is that drivers don’t stop at unmarked crosswalks and barely stop at marked ones. You can and should change this norm by respecting walkers and bikers who are trying to cross the road.
  • Move over: If you are passing someone on a bike, you must give at least three feet when overtaking them. This is to avoid sideswiping them or hitting them if they swerve to avoid debris in the road. This is not a simple courtesy, it is a matter of life and death. You will probably have to cross the center line to pass a cyclist safely, and that is okay. If you can’t change lanes or there’s oncoming traffic that prevents you from crossing the center line, then just wait. It’s common sense. Don’t put someone else’s life at risk just because you’re impatient.
  • Don’t honk, seriously: It’s loud. Honking is illegal unless you’re in imminent danger. Honking is scary for people outside of a vehicle. If you’re honking at a person on a bike, you might cause them to lose their balance and fall over right in front of you. Just don’t do it.
  • Don’t give up your right-of-way: I know you’re trying to be nice when you give up your right-of-way and wave a biker through a stop sign, but you’re making things worse. Imagine being at an intersection where another vehicle has clearly gotten there first, as often happens to me when I’m on my bike. I sit and wait for them to go. They sit and wait for me to go because I’m on a bike, and they’re confused or trying to be courteous. Sometimes they’re waving me through, but often I can’t see the driver due to windshield glare. Then after we’ve been stuck in a stalemate for far too long, I eventually go. If drivers would just go in the correct order, we’d avoid a stalemate and I might not even have to put down my foot because I’d be able to time my approach to the intersection to arrive after the car has proceeded through.
  • Right turn on red: Right turn on red is dangerous, many pedestrians are hit, injured, and killed this way because drivers only look to the left to ensure they are safe to move into traffic and do not look to the right to avoid hitting pedestrians in the crosswalk. If you’re going to turn right on red, do not move into a crosswalk until you’re pretty certain you can move out of it quickly. Before turning right into traffic make sure you look right to ensure you’re not going to run over a pedestrian. If you don’t have a clear sight line to oncoming traffic, or would have to block a crosswalk for a significant period of time to get one, just wait. Red lights don’t last that long.
  • Don’t park in the bike lane: The bike lane is not there for you to park in. There is no excuse for parking in a bike lane ever. Figure out some other place to stop or park your car that is not endangering the safety of bikers.

Pedestrians

  • Don’t walk on bike paths: If there’s a bike path and a walking path and you’d prefer to walk on the bike path, just stop. The reason there’s a bike path is so people can ride their bikes on it; the reason there’s a walking path is so people can walk on it. These are two different groups that move at different speeds, it makes sense to keep them separated. In the winter when walking paths aren’t plowed, the bike paths essentially become shared use paths, so see below.
  • When you’re walking on shared use paths, stay right and stay alert: It’s great that you’re out walking your dog, but other people want to use the path too. Don’t take up the whole thing because your dog’s leash is way too long and he’s curious about those smells over there. Pay attention to your surroundings. If you’re on a shared use path, stay to the right and stay alert. Be ready to move over when people jogging, rollerblading, or biking want to pass you. It’s only polite.
  • When someone says “On your left” trust that they’re passing on your left: This means you need to know left from right and be ready to move over if someone’s coming. Please pay attention.

Everyone

  • Don’t use your phone while you’re moving: Even if you’re walking. Pay attention to where you’re going. If you must use your phone, pull over to the side of the road or walk over to an unused part of the sidewalk. Don’t block traffic, watch where you’re going, and avoid hurting or killing people.
  • Be courteous and patient: No matter how many people behave well, there will always be a contingent of people who are gonna act like assholes. Accept this. Don’t go fuming into a rage anytime someone on a bike blows through a red light. They’re one person, they’re not an ambassador for everyone who rides bikes. If a walker on the bike path is taking up all the space and not paying attention, realize that it’s not a personal affront against you or a reason to treat other walkers like enemies. If a driver cuts you off, try to let it go without escalating the situation or cutting off the next driver you see. There are lots of careless mistakes that happen in moments of confusion, they’ve happened to me and they’ve happened to you. The best we can do for ourselves and for others in our community is to assume that other people are just trying to get somewhere doing the best job they can.
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Three mile smiles

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Biking three miles at an average pace only takes slightly longer than driving. While about half of all trips in the US are three miles or less, 72% of those trips are driven. Pedal MN’s new 3 Mile Smile campaign is trying to change that. Through stories, resources, and rides, they’re encouraging Minnesotans to back away from the car keys and hop on their bike for trips of three miles or less.

There are many ways that getting started biking can be daunting. You have to find a bike. You have to figure out how to transport stuff on your bike and look presentable when you arrive at work. You have to learn how to bike confidently in traffic, even if it freaks you out a little. But traveling long distances doesn’t need to be a barrier. Work is 15 miles away? You don’t have to tackle bike commuting immediately, instead you can bike for shorter trips to your favorite neighborhood restaurant or the grocery store.

Biking for short trips can be powerful on a personal level by saving you money and improving your physical activity. On a societal level, the positive impact can be staggering. A 2012 study conducted by the University of Wisconsin calculated what would happen if 50% of short trips (less than 4.9 miles) in the Midwest were conducted by bicycle instead of by car. They found that the reductions in air pollution and increases in physical activity would result in a savings of over $8 billion and 1,295 fewer deaths per year. That’s incredible.

Pedal MN’s 3 Mile Smile campaign includes articles that will connect you with other folks who choose biking for short trips. Want to learn about the physical activity benefits of biking three miles? There’s an article for that. Want to read a 5-year-old’s perspective on biking for short trips? There’s an article for that too.  You can also learn about garage sale hopping by bike, mountain biking with kids, vacationing with bikes, and more.

And if you want to learn about biking with your dog? I wrote about how fun it is to pull my pup in her trailer and have her run alongside my bike.

Summer is prime biking time, and with the trailer I never have to leave Rosie behind. I bring her to outdoor concerts, festivals, and to get drinks on patios with friends. I bring her bike camping and on group bike rides. Drivers treat me better when I’m biking with a trailer, giving me a wider berth because they probably assume I have a kid in there. Passersby look in the trailer expecting a child, and are then tickled to see it’s a dog tailing along for the ride. Dogs are the perfect conversation starters, and dogs in bike trailers even more so. All the attention we get sometimes makes me feel like a celebrity’s bodyguard, constantly yelling thanks to all her smiling fans.

Read the entire article here.

I love the 3 Mile Smile campaign, because biking for short trips is easy and fun. Once you get used to it, choosing to bike for short trips will feel just as normal as choosing to drive. Driving makes me feel blah in many ways. I feel disconnected from my surroundings. I feel lazy. I feel like I missed an opportunity to move my body and breathe fresh air. Even in the middle of a hectic day, a short ride can lift my spirits and put a spring in my step. And that’s definitely something to smile about.

 

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You’re seriously killing it

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I see you out there doing your thing. You’re just biking along, but I see what you’re doing. I just want to tell you that I like it.

I like it when you’re first getting your balance riding around town in the heart of summer: that old bike you’ve had since freshman year all tuned up for the first time, your helmet strapped on tight, your smile a little tense with anticipation. You take a loop around the lakes and that burn in your legs feels bad, but good, because you know you need the exercise. I like it that you’re biking slow and that you’re figuring this shit out.

When you’re unsure of yourself, trying something new, that’s okay. You don’t have to pretend that you have your shit together. Your newness, excitement, anticipation, and anxiety are all part of you. They’re visible to other people, including that one person over there. That person who’s been thinking about giving biking a try. Seeing you do it, even though it’s clear you don’t do it a lot, makes it seem like anyone could. You’re not just doing this for you, you’re doing it for them too.

I like it when you ride your bike in fancy clothes: your business suit rustling in the wind, your flowing dress trailing behind you. I like that you don’t listen to those people who say you can only bike in athletic clothes. You’re going to work at your office, or you’re on your way to a wedding in 5-inch heels. You don’t want to change when you get there, so you’re wearing your clothes. You believe biking is a normal thing to do, so you wear what you want.

When you’re not fitting in to that little box of what people think bikers look like, you’re throwing convention to the wind. You’re making it clear that you’re going to do whatever the fuck you want, and you’re going to do it with style. It doesn’t matter if you get a little windswept on your way, it’ll just give your hair a little more volume. You’re making biking fit into your life, instead of changing your life to accommodate biking.

I like it when you do weird shit with your bike. You’re giving rides to your friend on the back of your longtail bike? You’re biking while your dog runs alongside, tongue flapping? You’re hauling a ping pong table twenty miles on a cargo trailer? You’re biking to work in sub-zero temperatures? You’re decorating your bike with lights and glow sticks and fake flowers and tape and yarn? You’re killing it out there, you weirdo.

When you use your bike to express your individuality, people don’t just see a biker. They see you, whoever you are, in all your glorious you-ness. They see why biking is so fun. They don’t ask why you would ride your bike. What you’re doing looks so fun, the reason is obvious. The joy of it becomes contagious.

I like it when you’re so comfortable with your bike that it becomes part of you. I see you with your beat-up single speed that’s covered in stickers and rust spots. I see how well-loved your messenger bag is, how the butt of your pants is getting worn in the shape of your bike seat. I like that you love biking and you’re not afraid to show it.

When you love biking so much, everyone can see it. Your friends and family don’t comment on how much you bike anymore. They comment whenever you don’t bike. Your coworkers see your bike sitting in the office every day and they start to wonder whether they should give bike commuting a try. You don’t have to evangelize. Your love of biking speaks for itself. You, in riding your bike every day, are doing what words never could. You’re showing, not telling. And that’s powerful.

By doing your thing, you’re not just doing something for yourself. You are a billboard. A two-wheeled billboard communicating to everyone else that what you’re doing is possible. You’re an inspiration, to me and everyone else. Keep it up.

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New Year’s resolution: Bike more

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It’s that time of the year when people regret stuffing their faces with a million cookies over the holidays and decide they’re going to be different next year. They buy gym memberships, download budgeting software, and pledge that this will be the year they finally try to reduce their carbon footprint. The year is over, and whatever happened in 2015, you’re probably thinking that you could stand to make some changes in 2016. If you’re ready to trim down, save money, or treat the environment with a little more kindness, there’s one thing that can help you reach all those goals. Bike more.

Okay, so why’s biking such a good thing to do? I won’t bore you with too many stats since I’ve sort of done this before, but here are some of the ones I find most compelling:

  • Health: Biking is really good for you. It improves your physical health by reducing the risk of deathcertain cancers, and high blood pressure. Biking improves your self-esteem and mental health while making you enjoy your commute more. People who bike live on average two years longer than people who don’t, and they take fewer sick days. Building physical activity into your daily routine, by biking or walking more, makes it much more likely that you’ll get enough physical activity. Less than 1 out of 3 Americans meet physical activity requirements of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, five days a week. People who bike are more likely to meet physical activity requirements than people who don’t.
  • Saving money: Operating a bike for a year costs about $308, which is only 4% of the cost of operating a car for a year ($8,220). That’s just the cost of operating a car, and doesn’t take into account the fact that cars are expensive to buy. Car ownership isn’t a possibility for many people, and for them riding a bike can be a way to gain increased mobility and save money on bus fare.
  • Environment: Even minor increases in biking and walking could make a dent in our CO2 emissions. One study found that by increasing the amount of biking and walking from 12% to 15%, we could save 3.8 billion gallons of fuel each year. Air pollution has deadly consequences, especially for people with asthma and other respiratory disorders. It isn’t just important to reduce CO2 so we save the planet, that air pollution could trigger your neighbor’s next asthma attack.

So what now?

You were completely swayed by those short paragraphs about why biking is so important, and now you’re ready to do something about it, right? Alright, let’s get started.

Changing behaviors is never easy. Most of our behaviors are made up of one or more habits, that are ingrained into our brains through thousands, if not millions, of repetitions. Making the change from a not-so-good habit to a good habit takes effort, but once the habit is developed it should just become second nature.

There are three main pieces to any habit: a cue (something that triggers the habit), a routine (actually performing the action), and a reward (the benefit you gain from the habit). So if you want to start riding your bike more, you should find a way to start building that habit into your life, even if it’s very small. I’d recommend choosing an errand you run regularly and deciding that you’re always going to do it by bike, no matter what.

Let’s say that you’re always going to grocery shop by bike, no matter what. When you run out of food, that’s your cue. You write your grocery list and then you get on your bike. You might bring a backpack you already own, or you might decide you want panniers or a trailer so you can carry more groceries. All this is part of the routine. The inherent rewards for this behavior include having food at your house and feeling good after a bike ride, but you can throw something else in there too. Get your favorite fizzy drink every time you bike to the grocery store. You’ll start to associate that treat with biking.

Maybe you’re already riding around town and you want to start commuting. You don’t have to commute every day. Just decide that you’re going to commute every Friday, it’ll be a nice end to your week. Figure out the route you’re going to take and anything else you need and get started. You could reward yourself with something for this too, or you could just enjoy those endorphins and bask in the glory of having bike commuted.

The most important thing to remember is that you should start small. You don’t have to decide that you’re going to go from not biking much at all to bike commuting every day. It’s okay if you never bike commute. Just start to explore your neighborhood with your bike, start to insert your bike into your regular routines, and eventually riding a bike to get around will just become a habit. It’ll be no harder or different than driving a car. And I promise it’s okay to wait until spring to really get started.

Want to learn more about how to make healthy changes? Learn how to build your self-efficacy to become more awesome.

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You could ride your bike

woman riding bike with yoga matYou could ride your bike to the grocery store. You don’t need any special gear. Grab that old Jansport backpack you’ve had since 1998 and a cable lock and head out the door. Don’t worry about getting a huge load of groceries, just buy a few things: some milk, a few vegetables, a box of pasta. It’s okay to start small just to see if you like it.

You could ride your bike to your friend’s house for dinner. She only lives a mile away. Take that bottle of wine you’re bringing and stick it in your backpack. If you don’t feel safe riding on the streets, you can ride on the sidewalk until you get to the bike path. That’s allowed, you know. Once you’re on the path you’re golden. You’ll look great when you arrive at her house, your cheeks rosy with wind and physical exertion.

You could ride your bike to work. You’ve always meant to do it. Your coworker Steve does it, his lone bike locked up in front of the office building, his helmet resting beside the computer monitor on his desk. You’ve Google mapped the route many times, but you’ve never taken the leap. But now, well now seems like the time. You’ve tackled getting to the grocery store and going to your friend’s house. Biking around town is actually pretty fun. You might as well give biking to work a try.

You could go on a group bike ride. Steve noticed your bike parked out front over the past couple weeks, your bike and his resting side-by-side in friendly companionship. He invited you to this ride because, well, now you’re a person who rides bikes. You could set aside your Minnesotan hesitancies and go meet some people. Your mom thinks it’ll be good for you.

You could keep biking as it gets cold out. You could unpack that long underwear that’s been in storage since your cross-country skiing days. You could wear it under your jeans and keep biking. You don’t need anything fancy, even though Steve has all that high-tech gear. You could just put on a warm sweater, don that goofy fur cap you’ve always had, and wear your dad’s old leather choppers. What’s a little cold to you, you hardy Minnesotan?

You could bike in the snow. Sure, it’s a little slippery and a little scary, but taking four months away from your bike sounds pretty bleak. You’ve just finally figured out this regular biking thing. Spring is a long ways off, and biking has become one of the best parts of your day. Your commute time is space for you: no obligations, no distractions, no one else to demand your attention. You could invest in a set of studded tires, or just decrease the tire pressure on the tires you already have. You could make winter biking work.

You could keep biking. There’s no such thing as bad weather, there’s just bad clothing. Your friends and family have stopped commenting on how much you bike, they’re used to it. You’re used to it too. It would be a shame to stop now.

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