Category Archives: Bicycle Safety

A Few New Things

On Sunday we visited the Shmaltz Brewing Company in Clifton Park.  An easy 25 minute drive and worth the trip.  It wasn’t until we got back that I realized I had opted to drive to drink beer on the same day thousands marched for action on global warming in New York and other cities.  Does it help that I had filled my car with three other people?  I didn’t think so.  Sorry!  Oh.  I should also point out that I drank only 6 0z. of beer, as I was the designated driver.

The tasting room offered flights of five 6 ounce beers for $10 and for that you get to keep the glass.  They served four beers on tap and had a fridge full of bottles that they’d open to add to your flight upon request.  I enjoyed everything I tried (I had a sip of two others), even the offerings that veered off the beaten bath.  I visited on a Sunday so they were holding their Beer with a Shmear.  Buy a flight and get a bagel, cream cheese and/or crackers, cheese and olives.  Nice spread!BV

The free tour was terrific.  Shane hosted and was a delight.  Very fun and lively give and take.  I missed the intro but based on his references to “my recipes” I got the sense he was the brew master.  If he isn’t, he could be.   Remember to bring a glass from the tasting room and he may offer you free beer during the tour.  Highly recommended.AB

In other news, yesterday I attended a public hearing before the traffic safety committee of the Albany Common Council to learn about red light cameras.  Legislation has been drafted, but it has not yet been presented to the Common Council for a vote.  Here is the bill in the form provided at the meeting:  45.92.14

Michael Cox, the deputy chief of police, started things off.  He gave a good presentation the punchline of which is he’s in favor of them.  The second speaker drafted the proposed legislation.  The third speaker was from AAA.  He shared a ton of stats which he characterized as supporting red light cameras.  The “preponderance of the evidence” supported them, was his exact phrase.

Members of the public safety committee were then given the chance to ask questions.  I got the sense that most were in favor with one notable exception.  Judd Krasher hates them.  His objections centered around 6th Amendment concerns (specifically the right to to be confronted with the witnesses against an accused in a criminal proceeding).  Thing is, the proposed legislation as currently drafted, Ordinance Number 45.92.14, imposes a penalty of $50 (aside:  parking tickets are $42 with the service fees–$50 is a bargain for endangering the lives of your neighbors).  No summons to appear.   Just a ticket, like a parking ticket.  In fact, the Parking Violations Bureau would be in charge.  To quote:

An imposition of liability under this section shall not be deemed a conviction of an operator and shall not be made a part of the operating record of the person upon whom such liability is imposed nor shall it be used for insurance purposes in the provision of motor vehicle insurance coverage.

All of that suggests to me that the 6th Amendment protections should not apply as there is no criminal proceeding.

Judd was also concerned that the collection of $50 for running a red light is a regressive tax.  I don’t see it.  Regressive taxes are a problem when imposed on things people need (say food), but in this instance the “taxpayer” can opt out.  Don’t run red lights and you won’t be taxed.

Roughly 25 members of the public were there and about half took the opportunity to speak.  About eight were against and four for.  Of the eight against, four were from out of town, so local feedback given at the meeting was about even.

The against camp frequently asserted privacy concerns.  Fair to be concerned, but the current state of constitutional law doesn’t provide much cover.  Rights to privacy in public are severely limited and do not generally extend to things that are in plain view.  Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe officers can look into cars (through the window) without a warrant.  This proposed legislation requires the demonstration program to ensure, to the extent practicable, that photographs produced will not include images that identify the driver, the passengers or the contents of the vehicle.  This safeguard should look pretty good in comparison to the current practice of collection of images and data from stationary police cameras and cameras mounted to police cars.  Point is, we are already being watched so I am not concerned about more cameras designed to improve safety on our streets.

The against camp also suggested the data doesn’t support the assertion that red light cameras make roads safer.  Principal concern is that rear ending accidents go up as people begin to stop for red lights.  Easy solution–stop exceeding the speed limit, tailgating and assuming the car in front of you will run the light.  It will still happen, but it isn’t right to blame the camera.  The person behind is always at fault in a rear end collision.  End of story.

They were also concerned about giving money to a private contractor who would be retained to install, maintain and operate the cameras.  In round numbers, it sounds like the contractors get around 40% of the revenues generated.  Still yields millions of dollars each year to each municipality that has installed them.  Nothing to sneeze at.  And if you are against public private partnerships, you’ve really missed the boat.  Private contractors have been providing services to municipalities for as long as municipalities have been around.  Maybe the objectors were public employees and fear more outsourcing?  They did cite corruption experienced in other municipalities.  Surely a risk here, but if we tossed out every service tainted by malfeasance we may be without services altogether.

Another oft cited concern was that red light camera programs are intended only to generate revenue.  Fine with me.  Albany needs cash.  The AAA rep stressed the importance of earmarking money raised by the red-light cameras to fund further advances in traffic safety, including engineering improvements and education.  Sign me up.  WS

This marked the first time I’ve attended a public meeting.  I may be hooked.  I expected boring but got impassioned speeches, some accusations and heated defenses.  I wasn’t bored for a minute of the two hours.  If you haven’t tried it, do.  I think there is another public meeting on this issue on October 8.  Check here.  If the safety committee (say…isn’t this a code for something other than safety?)  approves the legislation it will be presented to the full council for a vote.  Stay tuned!






Here I expressed misgivings regarding the net benefit of a protected bike lane proposed for Madison Avenue.  Intersections concerned me the most.  Of course the Dutch have sorted it.

(from Momentum Magazine)

I wonder if we can get protected bicycle intersections at the same time we get protected bicycle lanes?  For what it is worth, my hands would be in the air.fig

And then there’s this.

Take care.



All Over Albany shared a proposal to add to Madison Avenue a protected bicycle lane.  AOA is great blog deserving of its large readership, so big thanks, but lots of readers means lots of comments.  Comments are often wipeouts that spoil an otherwise pleasant day in the surf.  Happily, not so bad this time.  The comments on this post in large part make me proud of my neighbors (even as my comment reminds me to proofread more carefully).  Onward.

No offense to the good folks advocating for protected bike lanes, but I kinda sorta don’t want them.  The benefits are obvious, I’ll give you those, but they’ll be hard to see in shadows cast by billowing clouds of downsides.  Don’t see the clouds?  I always do.  I remember my mom calling me a worrier.  As in I worry too much.  She’s right, but I won’t stop.  I was born this way.  Worries keep me safe.  Here are my worries.  Maybe they’ll keep you safe.

Crazy pedalers.  Protected bike lanes encourage new pedalers to get out there.  Pedaling without instruction as to how to pedal in traffic, in protected lanes in particular, is crazy.  Crazy pedalers are a risk only to themselves, pedestrians, dogs, squirrels and paint jobs, and they go slower than cars.  Maybe they know this and it’s why they feel ok ignoring inconvenient laws.  Stop it!  You make us look bad.  I know motorists break as many laws and risks are higher with higher speeds, sizes and weights,  but for you and me, it is guilt by association.  You’re on my team and I expect more from you.  That, and I don’t want any of you, pedestrians, dogs, squirrels or paint jobs to get hurt.

Crazy pedalers may do fine in a protected lane, perhaps better than outside of one, but intersections and driveways are where most accidents happen and protected lanes don’t help in these dangerous zones–they make things worse.  If there are two way bike lanes on one side, pedalers traveling against the flow of auto traffic will be harder to see.  Also, traveling behind the parked cars that provide the protection further decrease your visibility.  Visibility is a peddler’s guardian angel and I’m leery of anything that reduces it.

From memory, the biggest risk faced by cyclists is the left hook (left turning motorist hits a pedaler going straight).   The second is the right hook (right turning motorist hits a pedaler going straight).  Collisions while being overtaken, the collisions that protected lanes may help reduce, are way down the list.

Look at a diagram of a protected bike lane and ask yourself how you will react at intersections, whether going straight through them or turning.  What crazy things do you think motorists and other pedalers will do?  And never forget the door zone.  You pedal four feet from parked cars to reduce the risk presented by opening doors, right?   In a protected lane as proposed, passenger doors will be the ones swinging into your path.  Maybe that’s not so bad as most car trips are taken alone (no passenger), but it only takes one.  Before you pedal take a bike safety class from a League of American Bicyclists approved instructor.  Please!

Crazy Motorists.  Even if new pedalers take bike safety classes, motorists won’t.  That’s crazy!  How will you ever learn that I am stopped in the left lane, your lane, signaling a left turn, because I am turning left (you know who you are, you Kia SUV owner who honked at me thirty minutes ago)?  Crazy motorists will find themselves on a road with new markings with nothing but guesses as to what they mean.   They’ll misinterpret the markings six different ways.  Much like they misinterpret sharrows.  They’ll “wing it.”  Winging it for crazy drivers means looking ahead and maintaing speed.  Maybe even gunning it (to get through the confusing bits more quickly).  They’ve been driving for years and the worst thing that’ll happen to them is a little scratched paint.  They know because papers tell them it takes a lot more than killing a cyclist to get as much as a ticket.

Even the most compassionate and well informed motorists may not see a bicyclist when turning.  Attention, vision and interpretation are imperfect at best.  Add a two way protected lane on one side of the road and now fast moving pedalers are coming from two directions when a motorist is trying to turn left or right across the path of the two way bike lane.  Even one way protected lanes have the left and right hook problems.  How’s that going to work?  Crazy motorists can’t figure out how to share nicely on our 101 level roads.  Protected bike lanes are master’s level set ups and I do not want to pedal through the learning curve.

[The news just said “the bar served him three double gin and tonics in an hour.”  I wasn’t otherwise listening, but my guess is the man with a big thirst for G&Ts got in a car and killed someone.  Six drinks in an hour?  Drinker:  If you must, that’s home style drinking.  As in keep it in your home.  Bartender:  Be more careful when dispensing strong medicine!  Pedalers:  That’s who we are pedaling amongst.]

A brief aside.  How’s a pedaler to keep safe, protected lane or not?  Don’t trust any motorist to see you.  Your safety is entirely your obligation.  Twice I have said to myself “they see me” and both times I have been hit.  Once on a motorbike and once on a bicycle.  Learn from my mistakes.  Don’t pass cars on the right at intersections and take the lane, whether traffic is stopped or moving.  Act like a car.  Wait in line and you’ll be more visible.  The risks of left and right hooks will be reduced.  An added benefit–motorists only have to pass you once.  Think about it–if you pass motorists on the right at red lights and stop signs, they have to pass you multiple times on a single stretch of road.  I feel ok expecting my neighbors to pass me safely once, and in return I don’t make them do it again.

Experienced Pedalers.  Like I said, we are safer when seen.  I love my helmet mirror.  It helps me more easily scoot out into traffic where the road is too narrow to share side by side, where I’ll be seen.  Motorists are forced to wait behind or change lanes to pass.  Scoot to the right as soon as you safely can.  Or sooner if you see in your mirror motorists are misbehaving.  Protected bike lanes will force pedalers to the very edge of the road, traveling behind parked vehicles (think like a pessimist and picture panel vans and tall trucks).  Pedalers will be way less visible.  It will be doubly important for pedalers to pause if not stop at intersections, despite a green light.  Motorists will need to do the same.  I will.  Will you?  What if your riding partner doesn’t?  The increased risk means more slowing, even stopping, so a harder ride.  Accelerating is tough!  That’s why Idaho lets pedalers roll trough stop signs if it is clear.  Pedalers, both new and old, will be less likely to ride if they have to stop every block.  I ride on Madison instead of back streets because it is a through street giving me green lights through many intersections and a second lane for cars to easily pass me.  Protected bike lanes will slow me down.  Others may go faster, or as fast, but that’s a mistake.  We’ll see.

My Hang Ups.  More personal, but maybe more important because it would come up on a daily basis.  Give me a facility and I form an expectation.  I’ll get grumpy when my expectation isn’t satisfied.  Build a protected lane and people will park on it.  Potholes, debris and snow plowed to the side will make it unpassable.  I won’t curse the snow (truth be told I probably won’t be pedaling much in it), but I will curse wrongly parked vehicles and poor maintenance.  It’s like the nifty new stop signs in front of our local park.  As soon as they put them up, my blood boiled as 95% of motorists roll through the signs.  Some without braking.  The nerve!

Universal Balance.  You win some, you lose some.  Add a protected bike lane and a counterweight will appear.   Something bad.  Cars will be parked on the protected bike lane.  You’ll get angry.  You leave the lane to avoid the parked car.  Then a car hollers at you to get in the protected lane.  Maybe an officer gives you a ticket for pedaling outside of the lane.  Angrier still.  Sad.

Isolation.  Even if you like protected lanes, one protected lane blows.  Even if the protected lane is consider a success, don’t hold your breath waiting for a second lane.  We just got our second painted bike lane in Albany.  How many years since our first on Clinton Avenue?  How many times is a new biker going to have a trip starting and finishing on the segment of Madison Avenue with the lane?  When new pedalers leave the lane to go to the co-op or the Spectrum Theater, how’s it going to go?  It makes me really nervous.

Enough with the worrying.  Just my thoughts.  If most want the protected lanes, and most probably do, have at it.  But please get educated, slow down and get a mirror.

One thousand five hundred eighty-eight words.  Time to go!

Some Things

Pedaled to Daily Grind for coffee beans.  As I passed my local cop shop, traveling over fresh new pavement adorned with blinding white sharrows in the middle of the lane, with officers getting into cars and what not, a dude in a Cadillac pick up honked at me.  Wanted me to get over.  Wasn’t safe, so I didn’t.  He honked again.  I didn’t.  Then the parked cars were no longer and I pulled over to let him pass, which he did.  I pedaled the next block smelling the stank from his stogie and storing away the experience.  Tossed it in a big pile of similar ones under which I have placed a cardboard sign that says “Laws Don’t Mean Shit.”  Not when people don’t know them.  Not when the police don’t enforce them.  They are just there, raising our expectations for a very brief moment until we pedal in the real world and find we’re all basically alone (Andrew Bird–Imitosis).

Got a mediocre falafel at a new to me falafel hole on Lark.  Guy said he’d been open for two years.  Huh.  It came with tzatziki sauce (yogurt).  Huh.  I need to get out more.  I forget that some folks make falafel with yogurt (rather than tahini).  Didn’t have the energy to talk to him about it.  Next time I will just go to Hot Dog Heaven and have them fry me up a Field Roast dog (hope that train is still running).  Got my beans and crossed the street to Fuzz Records.  Bought Dum Dum Girls’–Only in Dreams.  Surfy goodness is punching out of the hifi now.  Pedaled home.  A block before the cop shop I got two more honks to pull over.  Didn’t until it was safe, then they passed.  On the block of the cop shop a car passed me within a foot.  I pulled up next to the driver at the light and asked her to leave three feet when she passes.  I said it was the law.  She said she didn’t know that was the law.  I said now you do.  That was that.

All very cool, but golly it would be nice if the city ran a PSA with a few helpful tips.  Something like learn then follow the ef’ing law a-holes.  I’ve been doing great ignoring losers but when they accrue on a short ride, my deputy dog badge starts a tinglin’ right through my vest pocket. I sometimes can’t help myself.  I interact.  Don’t want to, but there I am doing just that.  Gotta cut those puppet strings.  Anyone have some comically big scissors?

Parts & Labor are still making me smile.  Just watched them cover Kanye’s Runaway.  I stopped the video half way through to check out Kanye’s work.  I hadn’t heard the song.  Glad I did.  Muy pleasant, and fits with my sort of cross mood courtesy of my motoring neighbors.

Part’s & Labor’s version:

Part’s & Labor killed it, don’t you think?

Have a swell weekend, folks.



Wasted Ones and Zeros

Helmet or no?  You decide.  If you’d enjoy something in writing to make you feel better about your choice to ride without, here you go!  If you’d enjoy something in writing to make you feel better about your choice to ride with, here you go:

I am happy to be part of a pedaling minority, but I am generally unwilling to be among the group of Americans saying no to helmets (although I may occasionally ride helmetless around the block when and if the mood strikes).  I understand that some consider it to be a chicken and egg issue–that I should skip my helmet so that others would feel better about the idea of pedaling to the point they’d do some themselves–but I am too big of a chicken to ride with an unprotected egg.  Although the protection afforded by bicycle helmets is negligible (when compared to helmets used in motorsport), I feel better with a little something something up top.  Always have (I wore a Bell Biker as a kid at a time when few were bothering).  It is just the way I am wired.

In support of my reticence to skip a lid, I turn the issue around.  Instead of making cycling look safer by pedaling without a helmet (where my bare head would be a bit player in a theater production largely for the benefit of others), I’d rather overlook the implication of danger that arises with helmet use (where my self-deception benefits me directly–my kind of theater).  The same way I accept motoring in vehicles with seat belts and airbags, I happily pedal with a helmet in a country of mostly helmeted riders–perceived danger be damned!  Selfish, but I am ok with that in this context.

I am not certain there is a causal connection between shedding lids and increased riding and increased safety.  Could be a coincidence.   My guess is the real causes for the different experiences among countries are more complicated.  It is possible that some countries have higher pedaling rates and lower injury rates because their citizens are simply better motorists and pedalers than are we.  That might have something to do with better education of motorists and pedalers.  Might have something to do with road design.  Might have something to do with tough laws and judges placing blame on motorists when warranted.  Might have something to do with a greater respect for life.  Who knows, really, but to explain our different experience by pointing to a preference for helmet use is a cop out.  Or at least an over simplification.  Instead of placing the blame for our abysmal cycling rates on a piece of molded plastic, take full responsibility for the welfare of all by driving even more safely and politely and pedaling even more skillfully and politely and, if you prefer, keep a bucket on your coconut.

I was just in Arizona were I am always surprised to see all the helmetless motorbikers.  Do motorbikers in the rest of the country wear helmets only because they are told to do so?  Unlike flimsy bicycle helmets, motorbike helmets can be very protective.  If I still motorbiked and found myself in Arizona, I might ride helmetless three times a year, same as I do on my bicycle.  Just for fun.  But I’d wear a full face helmet 99% of the time.  Even when not in the midst of crashing, the visor would protect my eyes and the enclosure would protect my hearing.  I appreciated these conveniences on every ride.  Similarly, I enjoy my bicycle helmet even when I am not flying through the air–my helmet, without fail, remembers to bring along my lights and mirror (they are zip tied in place).  I’d rather dork out my helmet than my beautiful bicycles.  At least the bicycle gets to look cool when I step away from it.

Again, do what you want (unless you are Lacey).  Lacey:  I can’t let you pick good hair over the contented feeling I get knowing that if a careless or mean motorist hits you just so, and you land just so, your helmet may make a positive difference.  Selfish, but again I will forgive myself in this context.  Does it help to know that I don’t think your helmet messes up your hair?  Probably not.  I’ve been married long enough to know when it is time to put down the shovel.

Stepping away from the shovel!

Heavy Mood

Postal carrier delivered this to me (as I was in the yard cutting back and digging out surplus hostas).  

I am a sucker for colored vinyl.  Love it almost as much as I love Tilly and the Wall.  Their new album, Heavy Mood, is muy bueno.  Writing very good in spanish is as close as I am going to get to writing an interesting review.  I am seriously tired from digging hostas.  Deal with it (or just trust me and buy the LP).  By the way, the LP is a single color.  The mottling is the result of my squishing down the file size to save space.

On Sunday Lacey and I pedaled to the Spectrum to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.  Staged by the National Theater in London.  We were watching a recording of a live performance at a movie theater.  What a world we live in!  Such a good play.  Impressive use of dance and technology to relate the goings on in a mind on Asperger syndrome.  See it if you get the chance.

On the way home a car honked at Lacey or me–I can’t remember.  It was just a honk.  Nothing more.  Who cares?  Apparently I did.  Although I’ve been consistently ignoring misbehaving motorists as I pedal, something snapped this time.  I didn’t say or do anything ridiculous, but my insides were on fire and my face was probably a few degrees short of pokerish.  Maybe I am only getting better at controlling my emotions when pedaling alone.  Exhibit anything other than caution and respect in the presence of my dearest Lacey and things can get ugly.  It was good that the front seat passenger rolled down her window and apologized twenty ways to Sunday, but I have more work to do.

Today Frida stopped and stared at a white Honda Civic.  Not quite a Fit, but there is a strong family resemblance.  Just like she used to stop and stare at Beetles, but  this was the first time she exhibited a recognition that small white Hondas might give up a Lacey if stared at long enough.  Didn’t work this time, but it was cute as all get out.

That’s enough for now.  Hope you are well.

Speed Matters

Sounds like New York City gets it.  The following stats were especially eye opening:

…a pedestrian hit by a car going 40 m.p.h. had only a 30 percent chance to survive. Those struck by a car at 30 m.p.h., she said, survive 80 percent of the time. At 20 m.p.h., the figure climbs to about 95 percent.

Drive?  Then you, too, can kill.

Don’t wait until you hit someone to accept that (a) going slower increases the time you have to see other road users and to process what you see and (b) slowing reduces the danger you present to other road users if you don’t see them.  Few things in life are that sure and that easy.

Do you really need to get where you are going a few minutes early?  Is my life less important than you getting to work on time?   It was roughly noon and sunny both times I was hit.  In both incidents the motorists said they didn’t see me, but because they were going well under 20 (they were both starting from a stop just before they hit me), I didn’t suffer as much as a bruise.  OK, one of the two times I was on a motorbike and was wearing a full protective suit with armor covering my back, elbows, knees and shoulders and a full face helmet, but I was going 30 and could have been messed up if the driver was going faster.  The second incident was on my bike, and I had just a helmet, shorts and a tee shirt.  Still, not a bruise.

Last weekend Lacey and I pedaled downtown for burritos.  In the short ride, we had two close passes by vehicles exceeding the 30 mph speed limit.  The first was a cab.  I was angry but held it in.  The second was a big SUV.  I screamed something–Hey!, I think.  He stopped at the next light.  I stopped well behind him.  He asked out his window what he had done.  I said he passed too close.  He said sorry and sounded sincere.  I said sorry, too (I hadn’t done anything wrong and wasn’t sorry in the moment for using my mouth as a horn, but I am programmed to apologize).  That was about the best outcome one could hope for.

One reasonable exchange shouldn’t make the rule.  More often than not these on-road education sessions go nowhere or worse.  Some people are hard to reach.  These may be the folks who drink and drive, drive and text, speed through construction sites and don’t change lanes to give room to officers who’ve pulled someone over.  All illegal and the laws are highly publicized, but the laws are too often ignored and tickets are rarely issued.   Seems like murderers will sooner get the death penalty than a driver’s license will be suspended.  I have given up trying to understand it.  Instead, I will do my best to not make things worse.  Not convert a kind motorist into an angry one.  I will ride predictably and within the law.  I will take the lane only as long as I need it to be safe.  When I am slighted I will try to pretend I am in a car bubble and say not a thing.  Just move on.  I am learning that the only person I can hope to control is me so that’s where I will direct my energies.

It isn’t easy, though.  Anger accretes.  In the case of the two close passes on our burrito run, there was zero traffic in the oncoming lane–we were on a complete ghost road–such that the close passers had no reason to pass within three feet of Lacey and I.  The two drivers opted to buzz us as they passed.  That bugs me more than anything.  When I want to be really upset (and truly I never do),  I remember that all close passes are optional and illegal.  Passers can and should, are required by law, to always wait to pass until the pass can be executed with at least three feet of space.  Why not more than three feet, just to be safe?    These things that go through my head after most every close pass.  The second close pass in a couple of blocks on an empty road can be just too much.  I have more work to do.

That’s enough of that.