Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bad cycling, Vehicular Cycling - Healdsburg edition

I saw some bad cycling in Healdsburg today.

I was walking out of the (fantastic) Taqueria Guadalajara and saw two cyclists headed South on Healdsburg Avenue towards the US-101 onramp. This is a pretty sketchy chunk of road - the typical path for cyclists from the corner of Mill St and Healdsburg Ave to points south is to follow Healdsburg's own little version of San Francisco's Wiggle , following Mill Street East and then taking every right turn you can to get to the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge, where you re-enter Healdsburg Ave, cross the bridge to the South and get onto the reasonable bike lane on Old Redwood Highway headed out of town.

When I first started riding up here, I - like any novice - just looked at the map and followed Healdsburg Ave instead. As you get to the intersection with Exchange Ave, the road has three lanes, the left onto Exchange, a straight lane on Healdsburg Ave that ends up at a stop sign at the crossing of the freeway offramp from US-101N, and the right hand lane which is the entrance to US-101S. I usually stayed on Healdsburg Ave. Now, I take the wiggle route, unless I am headed to Guadalajara, after which I wiggle over on Exchange back to Healdsburg Ave on a section which while not great, doesn't have a freeway interchange interleaved in it.

I watched these cyclists to see where they were headed. They were pretty close to the onramp and still hugging the right hand shoulder, which is the one place you don't want to really be, because well, it's the onramp to the freeway. They then proceeded to pass a big rig on the right hand side. Not good.

They sort of realized the pickle they were in and hung out there for a moment. There is a crosswalk from the gas station at that intersection to the opposite side, where they could make a box turn onto Exchange, but if they wanted to head SB on Healdsburg Ave that wouldn't work, and unless they *knew* that they could bypass it via Exchange, they wouldn't try. Eventually they made a really strange maneuver, which I caught on long distance video.

They sort of figured out that they needed to get across the onramp to get to the SB Healdsburg Ave continuation. They went through a light cycle or two, and then when the light turned green, they veered left in front of the lead vehicle in the offramp lane and into the SB HBG Ave connector lane. The big problem with this is that the SB traffic on HBG Ave also has a green and they just veered in front of it blind to that traffic's viewpoint, and the road narrows into a little slot lane to get to the crossing of the NB US-101 offramp.

This is the sort of odd behavior that drives a lot of the crazy internet comments. The ironic part is that these vitriolic comments are thrown at people in bike coalitions, clubs, and advocacy groups. Generally, the members of said groups have moved past such confused maneuvers. What was going on here? The cyclists I observed had rental bikes - Wine Country Tourists. Most of their route is straightforward, but the last little jog into Healdsburg is a bit confusing, and if they make a wrong turn they end up in a chunk of infrastructure that is not intutive to an inexperienced cyclist.

Me - if I am on that chunk of road, early on I check the traffic, move to the SB through lane or the left turn onto Exchange, position myself center lane, and do a tiny bit of "Vehicular Cycling". I don't really adhere to the consider riding for miles in the center of high speed roads "because we are a vehicle", but in this sort of intersection, the VC theories are correct - in places where you are pinched, assert yourself or get pinched worse. Even though those riders probably own cars, they don't assert their position because it isn't even something they comprehend.

What's the action item? We'd want better infrastructure such that inexperienced cyclists don't end up in pinch spots like this, but redesigning an intersection like this would be very expensive with little ROI. Healdsburg should probably start with some BIKE ROUTE signs at Mill and Healdsburg to keep people who are simply lost from entering that trap when a simple, more pleasant, and SHORTER alternative exists (not to mention that that alternative is where the bike rental shops are!). They could even promote the route - call it something neat like say... "The Wiggle". Then work on education, for drivers and cyclists. Fortunately drivers in Healdsburg proper tend to be overtly aware of cyclists and very accommodating, probably because everyone either is a cyclist, knows a cyclist, or makes their living from selling stuff to cyclists.

It's a non-trivial problem, for sure.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Polk Street

Hi all -

There is a streetscape improvment being proposed for Polk Street. Here is the pre-hullabaloo information about the project.

I am not sure if I have ever ridden on Polk, frankly - but what happens on Polk will influence what happens elsewhere. And no, I don't want to talk about JFK- if JFK is worse for you now than it was before it's still orders of magnitude less dangerous than Oak, or Polk, or the Chavez crossing of 101, or Division or even Market. JFK is a distraction. I'm forwarding some commentary from Jodie preceeded by my own experience which some of you youngun's may not recall even though it wasn't really that long ago

3 years ago there was a proposal to turn a chunk of Noe Street into a park. The road would be closed to traffic South from 24th Street for 60 feet, fronting 24th. This was after the first parklet at Mojo and the City was looking for a bigger streetscape project to mirror the Times Square closure. There was a lot of international interest. Well, some people who drive through there (or parked overnight in the four metered spots in front of their houses instead of in their garages) decided this would not stand, and told then Supervisor Bevan Dufty that the city was nuts and nobody would want this and they should kill it. I thought this would be a *GREAT* idea - to have a chunk of ground in central Noe where I could let my toddler run around, and it would eliminate most of the car/ped interactions in a very nasty intersection but closing off the through traffic.

So we managed to keep the thing limping along for a meeting. We worked very hard and got big numbers to show up. I gave a nice speech, countered by a crazy person rambling about how since she was a 68 year old fourth generation Noe Valleyan she and her gray haired friends knew what was best for the neighborhood - which as you know is rapidly changing (and boy do they resent it). This allowed us to merely fight to a draw and set up *another* meeting. That meeting was at 7 PM, which was awful for the primary proponents who were putting their children to bed and were somewhat dispirited by the first meeting.

This is what happened at Meeting #2

For 15 seconds I thought "No way Bevan Dufty caves into these crazy people - we win". Then I looked at Bevan and saw a *coward* and realized we lost. And now I realize that the people who are against streetscape changes that promote safety for people over their personal desire to have as much parking inventory as possible, have a straightfoward template for how to beat these changes. Show up to meetings and YELL AND BOO AS LOUD AS THEY CAN. Because they know IT WORKS. It worked with Bevan Dufty and it sure as hell will work with David Chiu. God bless David he knows what the right thing is but I'm sorry David - I have yet to see you stick your neck out on the line . So the ONLY way this project happens is if this meeting has HUGE numbers from people who want a calmer, safer, more inviting Polk Street.

I can't make the Saturday meeting because my in-laws are in town. But I'll be there Tuesday night. And I'll be buying beers afterwards NOT from any bar on Polk Street who opposes the project, and sending a scan of the receipt to David Chiu and every bar on Polk that opposes the project. As should you!

There has been a lot of progress since three years ago. Even though we lost that one, the NIMBYs talked about how they craved parklets, and put a lot of money into buying a PARKING LOT in Noe Valley and closing it down permanently for a park. Because they knew if they didn't start throwing us some bones, soon enough we'd be coming back after that street closure. I put a shit-ton of time into that and it got us the two parklets in Noe Valley and that helped popularize the concept. If you want improvements anywhere in the city, this meeting for Polk can be the thing that shifts the tide if we show up in NUMBERS.


Here is Jodie's pitch.

We need hundreds of people who care about this issue to attend one of these meetings to speak up for safety on Polk. We can be sure that the angry crowd of people who don’t value our safety will be there in force. And so, we need to publicly show there is support in favor of.

SFMTA Polk Street Improvement Project Public Meetings

Saturday, April 27, 10 am to 1 pm Tuesday, April 30, 5 to 8:30 pm Location: 1300 Polk St (at Bush) at the First Congregational Church Fellowship Hall


These meetings are not sit-down, drawn out, hours of your time. This is a QUICK, drop in, add your voice, a 20 minute stop that will make a world of difference.

In order to be sure we have the amount of force necessary to combat the crowd that is against parking loss on Polk Street, we are taking a head count, so RSVPing is important.

Polk Street is a BIGGIE --This is a make or break moment for the future of Polk Street, and biking in San Francisco. Despite the hundreds of letters of support and support expressed at past public meetings, decision-makers are actually beginning to publicly question whether biking and walking safety on this street deserves attention. This is not acceptable.

Many thanks,


Know the Facts

Someone on a bike and walking is involved in a collision on Polk once a month. There are about 42 full-time and 5-6 part-time car travel lanes within a half-mile of Polk, and only about 0.5 bike lanes. Polk really is the only viable biking street to connect the center of the city and points North.

According to a City study, 85% of people on Polk Street get there without a car, and people who drive to Polk actually spend the least amount of money on Polk Street per month.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Stolen Red Specialized Road Bike, Sonoma County?

Another potential use for cyclists and helmet cams...

Riding home through Wikiup California last night... (not sure if Wikiup is an official name or if I was in Santa Rosa or Windsor, or even if I was in Larkfield instead of Wikiup, but I digress...).

I noticed someone standing by the side of the road and glanced over at him, and then I noticed his very nice Red Specialized Road Bike. This is a bike that would sell for over $1000 new no matter what, and if it were a nicer version of the bike (depending on the wheels, shifters, etc...) could reach into the $5000 range. The guy with the bike was scruffy, smoking a cigarette, and most relevantly had no cycling gear/clothing at all, not so much as a helmet. Sorry, but it just doesn't fit. The bike is stolen.

I started thinking I needed to get a picture of the guy and the bike in case I might be able to find the owner. Then I realized I had my helmet cam on...

The video isn't the greatest for this purpose, especially after it's been dumbed down by YouTube, but here you go... at the 10 second mark...

Thursday, March 14, 2013


I was riding to Healdsburg today to grab a few things this morning. At the last second, I decided to grab my helmet camera. Usually - 99% of the time, my rides are uneventful. Today was not.

I approached a 4 way stop - and this happened.

I followed the driver for 2 primary reasons - to make sure I had the license plate on film, and to get the driver's face on video. I didn't expect the driver to tell me that she drove into my path in order to get payback for some prior wrong. I'm pretty sure I've never met this woman and certainly don't recall personally buzzing her in the crosswalk. To me this is a tacit admission that she did what she did intentionally with complete disregard for my safety.

Note that I rolled up to the stop sign about the same time as another car, and did a foot down stop and let two cars go through first, and entered the intersection before the offending car even hit the stop line. So much for the theory that if cyclists "just behaved" that then they would get respect.

This happened in Healdsburg, in Sonoma County. Sonoma County has passed a law to protect cyclists from intentional harassment from motorists which I think would apply here if I were in unincorporated Sonoma County. I was in Healdsburg, which does not fall under that umbrella - yet. On May 6th however, Healdsburg will a similar ordinance which I hope will pass.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cyclists and Red Lights

Riding on the Embarcadero a few weeks back, I captured a sequence on my helmet cam which I think is educational.

Here's the video

OK, so I approach a red light with another rider (unknown to me) on my tail, and I stop. I am clumsily trying to balance so I don't have to unclip without rolling too far into the intersection. It's a T intersection so there's no inherent danger of rolling into or even past the crosswalk (assuming I know there aren't any pedestrians, and at 1 MPH I am in a lot more danger from a ped than a ped is from me as if we collide, I fall down go boom).

The other rider comes around me and instructs me to run the red light! Scofflaw!

He made a very salient point. He said "This is a good one to blow" because shortly upstream, the bike lane disappears beneath a chain link fence for construction. Cyclists are forced to enter the right "car" lane. This means you are either merging into high speed traffic or you make it in and get the wrath of the high speed traffic that is "stuck behind you". By blowing the light and hammering it past the blockage, we get safely back into the bike lane and mosey on.

When Diana Sullivan was killed on King (extension of the Embarcadero), she was perhaps faced with a similar situation. One possible scenario for her death was that she was stopped at the same traffic light with a cement mixer to her left. If she runs the light, she gets in front of the cement mixer where the driver can see her. Of course, running the light at 2nd and King isn't so clear cut since there is cross traffic.

When Randolph Ang ran a red light on the Embarcadero, he wasn't trying to protect himself. He was in a hurry to get to work.

The different scenarios present an interesting discussion. One thing I think is very important to note - the way we have designed our roads *incentivizes* cyclists to disregard traffic laws in certain instances because the built infrastructure jeopardizes their safety. We ran the red light because the City just let the construction block the bike lane despite the fact it caused a hazardous situation. If we were worrying about safety as much as throughput, the right hand "car" lane would be half blocked off making it impossible for a car to use, with the remainder becoming a regular bike lane.

2nd and King has a similar problem with bad infrastructure - and it isn't even temporary - it is officially designed in!

The problem then becomes that since it becomes commonplace to disregard rules as a matter of self-preservation because you have been given the finger by the people responsible for the roads, why not disregard rules at other times when it's clear that disregarding them is safe? And then it snowballs

If we want more compliance from cyclists, we need to stop designing in situations where compliance means you are put at risk. <.P

Thursday, February 14, 2013

What is a "Sharrow" ?

The recent death of Diana Sullivan on King Street near 3rd in San Francisco, has brought a spotlight onto the difficulty of navigating that route. It's a route that sees a decent amount of usage as a connector to various spots. I traverse the same North to South stretch frequently but take Townsend, which has a striped bike lane and calmer traffic because it's not the de facto 280 freeway onramp that King Street is, but I am headed to Caltrain, which is a destination on Townsend as much as it is on King. Ms. Sullivan was headed to AT&T Park which is on King, as are many other destinations. That road will be used, and should be improved.

There is a bike lane on the Embarcadero all the way from North Point, and this section is a very well traveled bike route. Embarcadero turns into King Street, the lane continues then abruptly ends at Second Street. At this point there is a "Sharrow" painted towards the right side of the road.

What is a "Sharrow"? Let's go to Wikipedia

A shared-lane marking or sharrow is a street marking installed at locations in Australia, Canada, and the United States. This marking is placed in the center of a travel lane to indicate that a bicyclist may use the full lane. The name sharrow was coined by Oliver Gajda, of the City and County of San Francisco Bicycle Program, and is a portmanteau of share and arrow.

Another good pull is this...

Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in lanes that are too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane;

Now let's see what someone from the SFMTA - who is responsible for the design and maintainance of our streets - thinks about Sharrows

Jose said King Street's lone sharrow was painted on the right of the street because there's no parking there, meaning bicyclists can ride farther to the side without fear of being hit by an opening car door.

WRONG. The whole point of a sharrow is to indicate that in this instance, the cyclist is supposed to take the whole lane because it is too narrow for the motor vehicle and bike to travel side by side. If anything, the sharrow should be painted farther to the LEFT in order to preclude the cyclist from taking a cue from the marking to ride to the right in the lane that is too narrow for them to safely do so!

The photo at the start of that article sums up how Ms. Sullivan died. The cyclist is positioned side by side with a big truck on a road that doesn't support that positioning.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Windshield Parking Perspective

Just saw an interesting article about a text messaging based service where drivers can register their license plate so that if someone sees them illegally parked, the person who notices this can notify the driver that they are parked improperly.

The article and comments quickly discussed how this system would be abued

"OMG - Your car is full of monkeys!".

"No kids will ever spam/text because they love/hate your car"

"And I'm sure there wouldn't be any car jackings, abductions or rapes where victims were lured out of safety to check their car because someone said their lights were on..."

But the writer who was the most off the mark was this one...

Great idea that will never work. Why, you ask? The people who typically struggle with their ability to park are not going to buy into a system where they can be called out by the masses for their parking ineptitude
Wrong. What this service would accomplish is to enable parking ineptitude. Well, not ineptitude, but parking laziness.

If you are struggling to find parking in a crowded neighborhood late in the evening for dinner in a world where this service was the status quo, the pro move would be to just park in front of the driveway of some random driveway, and go to dinner. Chances are the owner of the house isn't going anywhere, and you'll be fine. If not, they'll text you to come move your car to another driveway. No need to worry about being towed!