Archive | June, 2011

Bicycle-Friendly Minneapolis

30 Jun

Last year, Minneapolis was named the most bike-friendly city in the United States, and for good reason. The City has a year-old bike share program and a network of bike trails, the star of which is the Greenway, a 5.5 mile long former railroad corridor that is now a highway for cyclists and pedestrians. And now we hear about a new company,  Bike Fixtation, which offers self-service kiosks that cater to cyclists in need, and just opened its first location, in a Minneapolis transit shelter above the Greenway. 

As it says on the Bike Fixtation website: “Bicycles are incredible tools for transportation and recreation. And of course, they’re a blast to ride. But sometimes you get a flat tire, forget to bring a snack (beware of the bonk!), or need to make a minor adjustment. That’s where Bike Fixtation comes in. Bike Fixtation offers self-service kiosks on an extended-hours basis for bicyclists in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area. You can buy a tube or patch kit, pump up your tires for free, and make simple adjustments using supplied tools.”

You can also make other fixes — such as broken lights — and even get some snacks and drinks from the vending machines.

We at the GMTMA think this is a fantastic idea and would love to see these kiosks in our area, because, as you know, making places more bike-friendly is not just about making biking appealing, but it’s also about making biking safe and feasible and easy. What do you think, On the Move readers? Where in our area do you think such kiosks would make the most sense?

For more on Minneapolis’s great bike culture, check out this short Streetfilms movie: http://www.streetfilms.org/major-bike-mojo-in-minneapolis/. 

Gas Prices Up, Solo Driving Down

27 Jun

Although, gas prices have decreased significantly since the $4.02 average that drivers were paying in early May, people are still feeling the sting of higher energy prices and, at least partially, acting accordingly. In a sign that the higher gas prices are taking a toll on the economy, a new government report finds that in May, Americans spent at the weakest pace in 20 months.

And according to local bike shop owners, people are turning to old faithful: the bicycle. An article in yesterday’s Trenton Times — which includes a quote from GMTMA’s Executive Director Cheryl Kastrenakes —  discusses the noted increase in bike purchases and bike repairs in recent months, as well as an uptick in bike commuting and carpooling. Charlie Kuhn, who owns Kopp’s Cycles in Princeton, noted that he saw the increase right after gas prices rose in April.

The price of a gallon of regular gas hit $3.86 a month ago in the Trenton area before falling back to $3.67 last week, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report. A year ago, the national average was $2.74.

GMTMA’s Bike to Work Week, which was in May, drew four times as many signups as two years ago, and our carpool connection service at http://www.gmtma.org saw a 25% uptick in May as well.

Hopefully folks will realize the myriad benefits of bicycling to work, including cost savings, personal and public health, air quality improvement, and others. A Dutch study last year found that cycle commuters provide their employers with an economic advantage by requiring fewer sick days each year and enjoying better overall health. Other research has shown that bike commuters are happier and less stressed than those who drive or take transit. At rush hour, your bicycling employees may get to work faster and with fewer unexpected delays. Businesses who adopt bicycle commuting programs for their staff can also reap a wide variety of benefits, including:

  1. Increase worker productivity: Fit employees are more alert, more productive, perform better and more efficiently.
  2. Improve employee health.
  3. Lower health care costs: healthier employees can reduce health insurance costs.
  4. Reduce parking cost.
  5. Reduced carbon emissions.
  6. Reduce turnover: Employers who appreciate workers’ personal needs have less employee turnover.
  7. Supporting bike commuting is less expensive than an in-office fitness facility.
  8. Improve work/ life balance: Bike commuting can be substituted for the gym, saving employee’s personal time.
  9. Community engagement: Bicycles can be produced and maintained locally by local bike shops contributing to local job opportunities as part of a sustainable economy.
  10. Improve company image.

Readers, are you biking to work more? And if not, what could your community or employer do to make it more appealing for you?

Bicycling: Just for Men?

23 Jun

In John Pucher‘s recent Transportation Research article, “The Bicycling Renassiance in North America,” (PDF) he provides some sobering statistics about gender and age disparities in the commuter cycling world, including the tidbit that almost all the recent growth in cycling in the USA has been among men between 25-64 years old, while cycling rates have remained steady among women and fallen sharply for children. Even here at GMTMA, a look at our admittedly small sample size of Bike To Work participants last month shows that most people who signed up were men.

So, what gives, ladies? Theories abound; the two most common are fear, and fashion. A widely cited 2009 study found that women are more likely to choose to ride on quiet residential streets, while men are more likely to choose direct routes even if they have heavier traffic. Professor Pucher has said in the past that women are an “indicator species” for cycling, and that cities can cajole greater women ridership by building safer-feeling bike infrastructure. Much is also made of another concern women often express in surveys — that cycling to work will impede one’s ability to conform to professional norms in clothing, makeup, and hairstyles. Nobody wants to show at work with a wicked case of Helmet Hair, right?

Yet, this gender disparity doesn’t exist everywhere. Although men’s cycling trips surpass women’s by at least 2:1 in the United States, this ratio stands in marked contrast to cycling in European countries, where urban biking is a way of life and draws about as many women as men—sometimes more. In the Netherlands, where 27 percent of all trips are made by bike, 55 percent of all riders are women. In Germany 12 percent of all trips are on bikes, 49 percent of which are made by women.

Many feel that a big part of the problem isn’t vanity, or even safety: it’s that women have a wider variety of stuff to do in their days. They’re not just going straight to work and returning directly home at 5pm. They’re als0 going to the grocery store, the daycare center, the school, the dry cleaner. In the U.S., most cycling facilities consist of on-street bike lanes, which require riding in vehicle-clogged traffic, which is a lot scarier and more cumbersome if you’ve got a bike trailer behind you with your kids inside. And, when cities do install traffic-protected off-street bike paths, they are almost always along rivers and parks rather than along practical routes that lead to the supermarket, the school, etc.

One answer is that we need to start using bikes, and bike equipment, that we can use to carry kids and cargo. But the other answer is that we just need to keep making it safer and easier to walk and bike to all of our destinations.

A few municipalities are beginning to implement strategies aimed at broadening the cycling demographic. In Portland, Oregon, they’ve started up a Women on Bikes program that targets such concerns as fixing a flat tire. The city is also building its first cycle track—a European-style bike lane that is separated from cars and pedestrians. Across the country state and federally funded Safe Routes to Schools programs are creating practical bike and walking routes for kids so they don’t have to be driven to school by their parents. Back east in New York City, about five miles of traffic-protected bike lanes have recently been installed.

So to our women out there: what would it take to get you to get on your bike more? We want to hear from you.

Bikes Are the New Black

13 Jun

Apparently, bikes are the new black. Marketing gurus have caught on to what we bike folk have always known: that the bicycle is the ultimate accessory. According to Transportation Nation, bikes are now being used to sell everything, from high-end shoes and purses to jeans. Stores like The Gap and Urban Outfitters are even selling bikes and using them in their window displays.

So join the movement — get on that bike! Don’t have a bike? Check out the Trenton Bike Exchange. They have a wide selection of great used bikes, both for kids and adults. And if you buy a bike from them, you’re supporting a great cause — the Boys & Girls Club of Trenton.

Getting Around Via Transit Just Got A Little Bit Easier

10 Jun

One of the goals of the Greater Mercer TMA is to ensure that *all* citizens can maximize their mobility by ensuring access to convenient, affordable, safe, and comfortable transportation options. This “access for all” ensures that children, senior citizens, and disabled citizens have the transportation options they need in a transportation system that has historically overlooked these populations. But, just like anyone, they need good ways to reach the goods and services they need for a healthy, productive, independent, and spontaneous lifestyle.

In response to this burgeoning demand, numerous organizations are making impressive strides — from establishing new feeder routes to connect with transit, to improving communication networks among local social service providers.

To facilitate communication between communities and enable their great ideas to become models for the entire country to follow, GMTMA has developed a new forum: the Mobility Management Website. This website is a news feed, blogging portal, calendar and file cabinet all-in-one, and it can be found at www.mobility-managers.com. Groups who are working on mobility management projects and programs now have one more resource at their disposal to help bring about positive change in their community and a new way to benefit from the expertise and experience of a nationwide conglomerate of like-minded professionals. As our online community grows, who knows what new and exciting things we’ll be adding to the site? Check it out! www.mobility-mangers.com.

The Long Hot Summer, By the Numbers

8 Jun

Today is another “Code Orange” day in the Greater Mercer TMA region, and tomorrow is also expected to be another Code Orange day as temperatures rise into the high 90s. As we’ve told you before, that means that it can be hard to breathe, especially for more vulnerable populations (children, the elderly, and anybody with any respiratory or heart problems). Days like these crop up regularly for the whole summer, through mid-September, so we all have to be vigilant. But what, exactly, does an “Ozone Action Day” mean?

Ozone Action Days are the days when the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection forecasts exceptionally high concentrations of ground-level ozone (usually thanks to high levels of humidity and high temperatures, combined with polluted air). Unlike ozone (O3) in the upper atmosphere that protects us from ultraviolet rays, the closer-to-home molecules can damage one’s lungs and throat, intensify heart and lung diseases, and lower resistance to illness. Children and those with breathing problems are the most at risk, but everybody can suffer.

Ozone, the main ingredient in smog, forms when there’s a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight. The summer provides the sun, and plenty of sources (automobile exhaust, industrial emissions, and gasoline vapors, among others) provide the rest. New Jersey sits in a perfect storm of air pollution; for the tenth consecutive year, the American Lung Association has given the state failing grades in its State of the Air report, and parts of the Garden State were ranked among the most polluted areas in the country.

The DEP posts air-quality readings, forecasts, and ozone alerts on its website (http://www.nj.gov/dep/airmon/ozact.htm). Here’s a primer on ways you can help improve air quality and protect your health and that of the public:

DO…
•    Work from home
•    Carpool or use mass transit
•    Refuel your car in the evening
•    Plan efficient routes

DON’T…
•    Top off your tank
•    Do strenuous activities outdoors
•    Venture out if you are in an at-risk category
•    Idle your car
•    Use gasoline-powered mowers

Air Quality Index:

GOOD AQI: 0-50
Weather Conditions:  Cool summer temperatures; windy; significant cloud cover; heavy or steady precipitation.
Health Effects:  None

MODERATE AQI: 51-100
Weather Conditions: Temperatures in the upper 70’s to lower 80’s; light to moderate winds; partly cloudy or mostly sunny skies; chance of rain or afternoon thunderstorms.
Health Effects: Unusually sensitive people should consider limiting prolonged outdoor exertion.

UNHEALTHY(for Sensitive Group) AQI: 101-150
Weather Conditions: Temperatures in the 80s and 90s, light winds; mostly sunny skies; slight chance of afternoon thunderstorms.
Health Effects: Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

UNHEALTHY
AQI: 151-200
Weather Conditions: Hot, hazy, and humid; stagnant air; sunny skies; little chance of precipitation.
Health Effects:  Active children and adults, and people with respiratory diseases such as asthma, should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit outdoor exertion.

VERY UNHEALTHY
AQI: 201-300
Weather Conditions: Hot and very hazy; extremely stagnant air; sunny skies; no precipitation.
Health Effects:  Active children and adults, and people with respiratory diseases such as asthma, should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit outdoor exertion.

Chart information courtesy of the USEPA.