Category: Advocacy



“Act Bicycle! Speak Bicycle! Write Bicycle! Advise Bicycle! Impact Bicycle! Meet Bicycle! Recruit Bicycle! Persist Bicycle! Subscribe Bicycle! Communicate Bicycle!

Roger Hertz, cycling advocate

What he said. Yep. The mind immediately jumps to the folks who are in front of politicians or talking to the press about “cycling issues.” Of course these people are advocates and they do a lot for the rest of us. But not all of us have the will or wherewithal to do that kind of advocacy.

Here are some of the other advocates: The road rider out on rural roads. The commuter who rides to work…in the rain or snow…in February. The adult with the trailer on the back pulling the little ones. The trail riders. The charity riders. Triathletes. And the folks who put together and lead social rides through our cities at night.

All of these ARE “communicating bicycle,” with every mile they ride. But what are they communicating? How do we act, speak, write, advise, impact, meet, recruit, persist, and subscribe? Are we modeling good behavior? We are told that everyone must share the road, and that bicyclists and motorists share the “same roads, same rules, same rights.” But how do we put it into practice? Motorists insist that “bicyclists never follow the law. They blow through stop signs, they run red lights, they ride the wrong way!” Yes, some do, and when they do, the message they communicate is that they don’t care about the rules as they apply to bicycles.

But motorists often fail to notice that they are often scofflaws, as well. How many motorists never go faster than the speed limit? How many come to a complete stop at every stop sign? OK, that’s what I thought. So perhaps their sanctimonious feelings are a bit misplaced, hmm?

We’re all guilty, just of different offenses.

So remember, whenever, however, wherever you ride, you ARE an advocate. And what you communicate matters.



I’m on the plane on my way home from the annual Lifesavers Conference: 2,500 of my closest, newest, friends. It’s a national meeting: the largest gathering of highway safety professionals in the US. Attendees comprise law enforcement, EMS, planners, engineers, and advocates. Never heard of it? Neither had I until a friend said he wanted me to speak at it several months ago.

The goal of the organization is to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries nationwide. So, as you may imagine, Vision Zero was mentioned often by leadership and workshop speakers. In case you don’t know, Vision Zero in 25 words or less is the idea that any number of traffic deaths other than zero is unacceptable. Last year, there were 35,092. A tough goal to reach, no doubt, but many at the conference are aware that something’s got to change.

I spent most of my time following the “Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety” track. You’re not surprised, I’m sure. The Ped/Bike track comprised talks on bicycling and motorist enforcement, community engagement, engineering, pedestrian enforcement, safety campaign ideas, and technology. Detective (Ret.) Arnold Anderson (Essex County Public Safety Academy) invited Cyndi Steiner (New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition) and me to join him in conducting a workshop on the law enforcement program I created and implemented, and our efforts to improve conditions for road users in New Jersey.

Attendees in our workshop came from all over the country, and from multiple disciplines. The majority were law enforcement officers, and there was considerable interest in the subject. The audience had many thoughtful questions, and was genuinely interested and concerned about how to balance protection and enforcement. It turns out that the consensus of the group was much the same as our premise: enforcement of motor vehicle law, for both motorists and bicyclists, does not need to be about writing citations. It needs to be about educating people about expectations. It needs to be about opening people’s eyes to the fact that VEHICLES don’t use the road; PEOPLE do. Roads are not built for cars (or for bikes), but for PEOPLE to travel from one place to another.

Throughout the sessions, there was an awareness that we need to stop thinking about roads solely as a means for carrying vehicles at ever-increasing speeds to ever-more-distant places. In one engineering session the presenters admitted that their views are rather heretical among their peers…they espoused the idea that in too many cases to mention, it was ROAD DESIGN FAULT that causes so many of the deaths we see on our roads.

A common theme emerged, almost as if all of us speakers had planned it, but we didn’t – we need political will and community engagement to stop the killing on our nation’s roads. We need to do a better job at engineering. We need to educate drivers. We need to enforce the law. And unless we talk to each other, and do ALL THREE, it won’t get better.

If this conference was any indication, it’s going to get better.

You say you want a revolution? (pardon me, Beatles)

You say you want a revolution? (pardon me, Beatles)

“For the city bike to catch on we need a revolution in our society’s infrastructure. Right now a city rider needs to be a road warrior, and the bike needs to be cheap and ugly so it won’t get stolen. That’s not a bike-friendly culture.”

Gary Fisher, mountain bike pioneer

Three sentences. That’s all. Just three sentences. But oh, so much is in those three sentences. Let’s take it apart and talk briefly about each part. By the way, there are way more than three topics in those sentences.

“For the city bike to catch on…”
It has caught on, in a big way. It’s true that it has caught on more in some places than in others, but people enjoy being able to ride bikes to go places. Many in younger generations are even opting out of getting drivers’ licenses! People are moving back to cities, fed up with the culture that says driving everywhere is the only way to go. That was certainly one of the factors my wife and I considered in our recent move.

“…we need a revolution in our society’s infrastructure.”
And the change we see in the young requires a change in our infrastructure. With cycling “catching on,” we need to catch up. It’s not only physical infrastructure that needs to be changed, but also our “mental infrastructure.” Roads can be redesigned and cycling-specific accommodations can be included in new projects…but these require those who contract, approve, design, and implement those changes to think differently. Motorists need to think about ALL road users, not just themselves. Politicians need to consider solutions that include everyone, and not just the select few.

“Right now a city rider needs to be a road warrior…”
Yep. While most motorists are perfectly willing to share the road, most if not all bicycle riders can recount stories of blaring horns, being yelled at, maybe even having things thrown at them, or drivers intentionally intimidating them with their motor vehicles.
I’m one of what are called the “strong and fearless” riders. I’ll ride just about anywhere. But many don’t feel comfortable riding on streets with wide lanes and fast-moving cars. In my home city, bike lanes were just installed on a major road. The parking lane was narrowed so much that in some spots, even a small sedan parked RIGHT up against the curb sticks out into the bike lane. And then there’s the bike lane: It is in the no-man’s land between the parked cars and the right lane…the perfect spot for someone to open a car door and slam right into a bike rider.
The city touts the cycling infrastructure. Meanwhile, many bicyclists are uncomfortable using the (inadequate) bike lanes and motorists get angry when a bicyclist rides in the right lane instead of the bike lane.

“…the bike needs to be cheap and ugly so it won’t get stolen.”
Bicycle theft is real in my city. There is a group hard at work that regularly reunites bikes with lawful owners. But it’s crazy. Most days I open up facebook and see a picture of another stolen bike. Sometimes it’s the story of the theft, and sometimes it’s the finding of the thief, or at least the bike. If you intend to rely on your bicycle as a vehicle, this is a huge concern. Many people move to a city so that they can be close to the things they need and want to do. The ability to use a bike on a routine basis enhances that choice. The fear of theft discourages some from even trying.

“That’s not a bike-friendly culture.”
What he said. Let’s change that.

I see…people

I see…people

“I want to kill a bicyclist. I want to hit one of them with my car, knock him off the road, send him spilling over the curb, tumbling out of control. I want to see the bike go flying, and then–this is my fantasy–I stop the car, get out and so do all the other drivers. They cheer me. They yell ‘hooray!’ and then they pick me up and carry me around on their shoulders.”

Richard Cohen, journalist, in Washington Post Magazine

I don’t think Mr. Cohen really means he’d like to murder someone. At least I hope not. If he does this, though, we have this in print, so we know he’s been thinking about it for a while.

Thank goodness this is not a fantasy that is prominent in most people’s minds. At least, I don’t think it is. Most people treat other people the way they’d want to be treated. Usually it’s not even done consciously. Maybe they don’t often go out of their way to help someone, but whether in big cities or small towns, in cars or on the sidewalk, there’s an acknowledgement that the people around you are just that: people. Mothers, sons, friends, daughters, and fathers. Waiters, engineers, teachers, CEOs. Poor, rich, and everything in between. There’s a dance, or an unending string of “negotiations,” if you will, among motorists, among pedestrians, and even between motorists and pedestrians.

And yet, once in a while, the humanity disappears. The dance turns ugly. We see road rage. We see hit-and-run crashes with other motorists, with pedestrians, with people riding bicycles.

Did you see what I did there? Motorists and pedestrians, more often than not, are seen as people. But “cyclists” are those whack jobs in garish outfits who have no respect for the law. They never stop at stop signs or lights and just appear in front of you out of nowhere! They insist on riding in the lane and I can’t get past them! Why don’t they get off the roads??? The dance ends. Negotiations cease. In their place, rancor. Dehumanization.

News flash: those “cyclists” are people, too. People riding bicycles. Parents, children, friends. Musicians, bus help, vice presidents. People at every level of education, society, economics. People riding for fitness. For fun. To get to work or school. To run an errand.

And, yes, some of them may be disobeying traffic law. But before you judge, look in the mirror, buddy. Do you ALWAYS come to a COMPLETE STOP before turning right on red? I didn’t think so. Do you EVER exceed the speed limit by a few miles an hour or so? Oh, yeah, I thought you did…So wait, we’re ALL scofflaws. And we’re ALL people.

Mr. Cohen’s rant takes the humanity away from those who choose to (or have no option but to) use another form of transportation. It reduces the person on a bicycle to an object. In fact, an object of disdain, to be (literally) crushed. Luckily, most people don’t share his fantasy. Most motorists are perfectly willing to coexist with other road users.

But there is ignorance out there. Many people in cars don’t really understand how to behave around bicyclists. And some people on bikes don’t play nice. We need to better inform EVERYONE of his or her rights and duties. Better behavior can happen, but we really are talking about a change in the culture.

In one sense, it’s an enormous change. It’s moving from a car-centric view of the world to one that sees roads as a means to facilitate movement from one place to another for all who wish/need to use them. Looking at it another way, though, it’s not so big. It’s just looking AT, not THROUGH, people, and remembering that we all have the right to move about in society, in whatever way we choose.



“Distance measured with a pair of compasses is not precisely the same as when measured by the leg.”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel

He’s right. It’s all in the perception. Point A to Point B. Here to there should be the same, regardless. But it’s not. We all think of time passing at different rates, depending on the circumstance. Some days just fly by while others drag on forever…

But we often don’t give that consideration to distance. Covering miles on the bike works much the same way. There are days when going 2 or 3 miles seems like an interminable (and insurmountable) distance. Think of the days when you’re really tired, or the time you “bonked” (for non-riders out there, that’s when you “run out of gas,” typically because you didn’t adequately nourish/hydrate yourself, or you’ve reached the limit of your fitness and just have no more energy to continue).

On the other hand, there are days when you get to Point B and feel like your legs haven’t even warmed up yet! I find myself experiencing distance in a different way now that I live in a city. The places I frequent are not so far away on a bicycle. In fact, in some cases, it seems like the distance is shorter on the bike, compared to the car!

OK, so New Orleans is small. It seemed to be a much larger place when I was a kid. But given the whole process involved in driving, it often takes less time to ride the bicycle than to drive somewhere.

But it really is more than time. I drove my bicycle to the New Orleans Bicycle Summit last weekend. It would have been weird to drive a CAR to a BIKE summit, right? Driving from my home to the summit location in a car involves getting on an interstate, finding parking, etc., etc., etc. Driving my bike took me on a relaxing route along tree-lined boulevards, aside a bayou, and then to the edge of City Park where the summit was held. I rode the bike right up to the door and parked in the bike rack, feeling relaxed, stress-free, and ready for the day.

I also found myself surprised that the trip didn’t seem nearly as far to me as it does when I drive a car to go get beignets and café au lait at Morning Call, perhaps a half mile away from the summit venue. Did it take more time than it would have, if I had driven my car? Yes, but just a few minutes. But what I gained was the day. The weather. Nature. Sights. Smells. Saying, “Good morning” to people I passed, and them returning the greeting. Freedom. The feeling of flight that only the bicycle can give. The lack of the stress of travel. The joy.

Yes, that’s it. The joy.

You Never Know

You Never Know

You may know that I am a League Coach for the League of American Bicyclists. In that capacity, I have conducted seminars across the country, certifying new League Cycling Instructors (LCIs). They then teach bicycling skills and safety in their own communities, from “Learn-To-Ride” sessions for children and adults, to bike rodeos, to road use discussions with community planners and engineers, multi-use path safety with parks and recreation staff…you name it.

I usually am called upon to conduct three to four seminars annually. Candidates come from all walks of life. I’ve worked with teachers, ophthalmologists, police officers, bike mechanics, retirees, city planners…

In the seminars, I hope to convey the love I have for bicycling, and both the passion to educate people on the skills they need to do it well and the things they should know to do it safely.

The thing I never know is how the work I do in those seminars affects the candidates. Well, not usually…At the end of each seminar, I meet with each of the candidates to let them know how they did, and to either certify them as LCIs or let them know what they need to do to become LCIs in the future. During one consultation, a candidate stopped me and said that he had something to say, about something he hadn’t told us.

Turns out he had been laid off three weeks prior. His whole world was turned upside down. He decided not to chase jobs around the country in a declining industry, but wondered what was next. He told us that the seminar completely turned his attitude around. The possibilities that it opened up excited him about his next chapter. The way he described it (hard to do in print, since it was the way he said it) was that instead of asking, “What am I going to do???” he was asking, “What am I going to do!!!”

It turns out that there is a real possibility for creating a “place to land” right near his home. A new position in the bicycling world appears to be in the works, and now that he’s an LCI, he figures he has an edge on the position. Of course, he’ll be working hard to get it, but he’s got the right attitude and is going for it. Will he get that job? I don’t know. I DO know that he left with a renewed sense of purpose. Because we talked about bike stuff! He told me so.

A friend of mine asked a question one day on facebook: “What do you want to do before you die?” My response was, “…make a difference.” I think I have, at least this once.

That Ain’t Right…

That Ain’t Right…

“Nobody ever died from not knowing how to play flag football. Yet we spend tax money teaching kids its nuances in gym classes, while bicycle safety is still foreign to most school curriculums. That ain’t right.”

Don Cuerdon, cycling writer

I was at a drivers’ education symposium last year, representing a state advocacy/education organization. We were interested to talk with attendees, almost all physical education teachers who handle Driver Education. Our organization offers Smart Cycling, the bicycle curriculum of the League of American Bicyclists. Using the League’s curricula, a number of “off-the-shelf” programs are available, and using those same curricula, we can also tailor a program to meet specific needs.

I was extremely disappointed in the responses we heard. I’m paraphrasing, but here’s the gist of what we heard: “Nice idea, but we don’t have time to fit any more in the curriculum.” “We have all we can handle just getting through the material on driving a car.” “Just about all the kids know how to ride a bike.”

Likewise, some of the other exhibitors with whom we spoke were less than enthusiastic about partnering to talk about bike safety. “Get us a grant to talk about it and we will.” I realize that funding drives a lot of initiatives, but really?

As the writer of the quote said above, “That ain’t right.” The teachers are too busy talking about other things, so there’s no time to talk about behavior that may save lives. Other organizations are talking about pedestrian and motorcycle safety, but won’t add bicycling safety without additional funding.

We weren’t talking about a course in bicycle handling, although we certainly would have been happy to do so. We were talking to them about incorporating awareness of bicyclists as legitimate road users. We wanted to discuss teaching students how to drive alongside bicyclists and what it means to “Share the Road.” We wanted to share a systematic approach to make their students aware that bicyclists have all the duties…and rights…of a motorist, and that motorists need to be aware that their choice of transportation mode does not give them special privileges. But no.

We’ve continued the effort, nonetheless. We crafted a lesson plan for a “Share the Road with Bicyclists” day and made it available on the state’s Driver Education website. We’ve rewritten all the sections of the state drivers’ manual and commercial drivers’ license manuals that apply to bicycles, and submitted those edits to the state DOT for consideration. It is our hope that those manuals will include our edits when they are printed again….

One step at a time, one step at a time.

Who pays for the roads, anyway?

Who pays for the roads, anyway?

A friend asked a question on facebook yesterday. She wanted an objective, fact-based response to the argument some people start about bicycle riders: “Bicyclists don’t pay for roads so they shouldn’t use them.” This argument seems logical to many, but in fact, is completely off-base.

First, there is no such thing as a road tax. All of us pay taxes to support the functions of government. One of those is creation and maintenance of a transportation system. I hear you saying, “But gas taxes pay for roads.” Yes, gas taxes do contribute to infrastructure development and maintenance. But in many places (notably here in New Jersey) the gas tax got rolled into the general fund. And the general fund is used to pay for anything for which the government chooses to use it. It is NOT dedicated to infrastructure construction and maintenance. Also, gas taxes, even if they were dedicated to road costs, would not cover the cost of construction and maintenance. So a significant portion of the funds would still have to come from the general fund.

In almost all places where bicycle riders are on the road, the local government handles road construction, or at least maintenance. Funds for the local government come mainly from…property and/or sales taxes. So anyone who owns property or buys anything is actually paying for the road.

And county and state roads are mostly funded by…income or sales taxes. So anyone who works or buys anything pays for the roads.

And Federal highways are funded by the US government. And the Federal government is funded by…income tax.

So anyone who works, or owns property, or buys anything pays for the roads. Wow, that changes perspective, doesn’t it?

Now back to the original proposition (that bicycle riders don’t pay for roads). Quiz: do bicycle riders own cars? Almost all do. So they do pay gas tax, like everyone else who drives a motor vehicle. They bought those cars, and groceries, and clothes, so they also paid sales tax, too. They probably work somewhere to get the income to buy all these things, so they pay income tax, too.

Oh…sounds like that argument just doesn’t hold up, doesn’t it?

Bicycling in NOLA

Bicycling in NOLA

We’ve spent the last week in New Orleans. It’s been fun visiting family, eating at some of our favorite haunts, and just enjoying the city’s amazing vibe. One of the things that has become more and more apparent in the years since Katrina is the rapid rise of bicycling in the city.

It began with sharrows on some of the fairly major roadways across the city. Over time, we began to see bike lanes, then bike taxis in the French Quarter, dedicated bike lanes on some of the major roads into and out from the central business district, and bike shops springing up all over town. On this trip, we couldn’t help but see the throngs of tourists on bicycle tours of the city.

The city seems to have made a commitment to alternative transportation. And many people have made the same commitment. Public transit has been big in NO at least as long as I’ve been alive. So I guess the willingness to NOT use a car was already there.

I have not yet ventured out in NO on a bike (at least, not since my college days, when my bike and public transportation were my means of getting around). I’d like to do it, but I think I’d have to come down here with that as my primary agenda item, instead of visiting family and friends. Much of the family lives outside of town, and there is, literally, no way to go from New Orleans to points east by bicycle.

Gambit Cover Green mileThe city’s latest project is the “Lafitte Greenway.” Work finishes up this spring on repurposing an old railway bed that runs for 2.6 miles from the edge of the French Quarter out to the Lakefront, pretty much bisecting the city. It will connect many diverse neighborhoods with a multi-use park, with sports facilities, paths, bike lanes, and businesses all along the perimeter. An ambitious, and inspiring, project. The Dec. 30 issue of “Gambit” gives some of the details.

It is amazing to see. There are already bicycles everywhere. The city and businesses have installed racks all over town. There are people RIDING their bicycles everywhere you look. You’ll have to visit, rent a bike, and explore. And later this year, maybe even ride the Greenway! So many things to do, so little time! And besides, if you ride your bike there, you can afford to consume a few more calories in some of the most amazing restaurants you’ve ever seen.

Theme: Elation by Kaira.