Sharing your reading: the walkable city (1)

(1st in a series of posts on sharing your reading)

from Jeff Speck, Walkable City (courtesy of Tony Hanna)

“Walkability is both an end and a means, as well as a measure. While the physical and social rewards of walking are many, walkability is perhaps most useful as it contributes to urban vitality and most meaningful as an indicator of that vitality. . . . Get walkability right and so much of the rest will follow.”

‘The pedestrian is an extremely fragile species, the canary in the coal mine of urban livability.”

“If they are to function properly, cities need to be planned by generalists.”

“What used to be white flight to the suburbs is turning into ‘bright flight’ to the cities.”

“The automobile is not only the single greatest contributor to our total carbon footprint but also a reliable predictor of that total.”

“We are a destructive species, and if you love nature, stay away from it. The best means of protecting the environment is to live in the heart of the city.”

“In most of our nation, the car is no longer an instrument of freedom, but rather a bulky, expensive, and dangerous prosthetic device, a prerequisite to viable citizenship.”

Gadfly invites you to share a few clips of your reading  — with or without comment — pertinent to the Gadfly project of conversation about Bethlehem.

Gadfly’s tail on the trail report

(Latest in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

Are you keeping fit?

After a poor start in May, Gadfly stepped it up in June, and is now on pace to double the Tail on the Trail 165-mile challenge. Just as he planned.

Been taking advantage of some beautiful weather. Mainly on the Delaware & Lehigh Trail. And mainly heading Allentown-way.

Hoping to live to see a junction bridge where he can cross the river.

Not too late to start if you aren’t in.

Tail on the Trail

Tail 1

 

Tail 3

Speeches and — Yes! — dancing at the Walk/Roll block party at Broad and New (27)

(27th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

(As you listen to the speeches, you can’t help but note the angry growls of car and truck traffic surrounding and menacing the enclave of walkers and bikers!)

“For many, many years after the car was invented, we have built communities
for the car and not for people.”
Becky Bradley

“If you build more roads, you’ll get more cars. You’re not really solving the problem.”
Phillips Armstrong

“We’re trying to create a movement here.”
Steve Repasch

“A successful city is one in which people choose to walk.”
Bob Donchez

“We look forward to helping all of you get to where you need to go.”
Owen O’Neil

“We have work to do . . . to bring humanity back to transportation.”
Scott Slingerland

“If you make it accessible, everybody will come.”
Greg Bott

“To me, my bike is freedom.”
Eric, Community Bike Works intern

“We get to dance in the streets today.”
Becky Bradley

walkroll

Morning Call photo

Some people “we” know were among the dancers!

Tom Shortell, “Bethlehem hosts dance party in traffic to promote pedestrian awareness.” June 12, 2019.

  • Normally, partying in open traffic is the type of behavior municipal planners, safety officials and transportation advocates frown upon. But a host of local government and nonprofit entities threw the dance party at New and Broad streets to promote Walk/Roll LV, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s soon-to-be released study on alternative transportation in the Lehigh Valley.
  • As the Lehigh Valley grows and develops, its aging infrastructure has struggled to keep up with the growing number and sizes of vehicles. The region’s transportation funding from state and federal governments is only enough to address about half of the needs across the region’s highways and bridges as it is, and that figure will likely get worse as more people and warehouses come into the region.
  • In an effort to alleviate that strain, the Planning Commission is advocating for more investment in bike trails, sidewalks, nature trails and public transportation. The goal is to ease congestion by making it easier for residents to bike or walk to work or go shopping.
  • While the study is nearing completion, there is still time to provide comments on the Lehigh Valley’s sidewalk and trail connections. Interested participants can go online to lvpc.org/walkrolllv.html or attend the next Walk/Roll LV working group meeting at 3 p.m. June 26 at the America On Wheels Museum at 5 N. Front St., Allentown.

Gadfly walked the 1.1 miles to the party. Wouldn’t dare drive to an event like this!

Walking the Talk! (26)

(26th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

Such a beautiful day! Did you do some exercise? Were you walkers and bikers taking advantage?

The goal for lots of Gadfly followers is a Bethlehem walker- and biker-friendly.

We can’t just talk the talk. That goal can’t just be political gabble.

So take a look at this — June 12, 3:30 PM, Broad and New. Party time!

Donchez walk

And how many of you are Tail on the Trailers? 165 miles in 6 months. May 1 – Oct 31. About a mile a day. About 30 miles/month. Can be done anywhere.

Gadfly plans to double the challenge — 330 miles. But he lost two weeks in May because of a couple family obligations. So he’s behind now. Only 42 miles instead of about 60 in May.

Tail 2

“Who goes with me?” as the great Walt Whitman ended one of his most powerful poems.

Biking in Bethlehem: be safe, have fun (24)

(24th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

Anne Felker lives in Bethlehem, works with the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation (CAT) as a board member and cycling instructor, and has been active for many years on the City of Bethlehem’s Citizens’ Traffic Advisory Committee.  She encourages anyone interested in joining her weekly women’s ride on the towpath to check out the ride schedule at LVCAT.ORG for more details.

You can always find the link to the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation (CAT) on the Gadfly sidebar.

Gadfly:

I’m one of those people you see riding a bicycle on the streets of Bethlehem.  I’ve been doing it for years, and in addition to walking, my bike is my primary form of getting around town.  I’m interested to read the thoughts of Kate McVey on the mysteries of sharrows in Bethlehem.  Those shared lane markings, or sharrows, show where cyclists should safely ride and have the side benefit of letting the car drivers know that bikes belong on the streets.

I must admit, though, I get nervous when I hear people talking about installing bike lanes in Bethlehem. Bike lanes are not a magic bullet; unless we are willing to give up lots of on-street parking to install protected bike lanes — steps which I do not see us having the political will to do now, though I’m willing to continue working in that direction —  cyclists have to be comfortable sharing the roads with cars.  Slapping down some paint on a road side and calling it a bike lane gives the least experienced cyclists a dangerously false sense of security, increases the likelihood of car/bike conflicts, and encourages vehicle drivers to shout at cyclists all the more to get off “their” roads.

With a view to encouraging cycling in Bethlehem as conditions exist currently, I offer the following observations:

  1. CYCLING LOOKS SCARIER THAN IT IS

Our roads are plenty wide enough for both bicyclists and drivers.  For example, our main east-west thoroughfare, Broad Street, used to have a trolley line running down the middle and now, even with on street parking on both sides, there’s plenty of room for a bicyclist riding visibly and faster moving traffic passing.  If you don’t like the bigger streets, take the less traveled — Market Street does have more stop signs and signals, but as a result the car traffic moves much more slowly.

Often, when I get to where I’m going, and someone sees me locking my bike or carrying my bike helmet, I will get exclaimed at as if I just walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope.  “I could never ride with all those cars and trucks on the road!”  I could point out that a cyclist travels through town an average of 8-12 MPH, so if I had a conflict with another vehicle, I am safer than if I was tripping through the streets in a vehicle at 30-40 MPH, even with all that metal and glass surrounding me.

I’ve come to understand such exclamations are much more about that person’s anxiety than about cycling being in any way significant or special.  Not to be macabre, but I suspect we might have a more realistic perception of the relative dangers of any kind of travel If we marked every spot where a motorist died or was severely injured in an accident, as we mark where an unfortunate cyclist meets his or her end.

To me, at the end of the day, traveling by bike is mostly mundane. Enjoyably so, but cycling a mile or so to the library or the coffee shop is just not that big a deal.

  1. SAFE RIDING IS VISIBLE RIDING

It may seem counter-intuitive, but as a cyclist you are far safer riding out in the lane of traffic than you are hugging the shoulder or riding next to the parked cars.

There are several reasons for this.  Primarily, if drivers don’t HAVE to see you, they won’t.  They won’t slow down, and that’s unsafe for you.  They won’t notice that you are going straight while they are turning right, and they will cut you off, and that’s unsafe for you.  Riding next to parked cars puts you at great risk of riding smack into opening car doors, because parked  drivers don’t look for cyclists before they swing open their doors.  Also, riding on the side of the road puts you in loose gravel, potholes, broken glass, and other car detritus.

Look at where those sharrows are, on the roads that have them.  Our Bethlehem Streets Dept installed them properly; the sharrows show where you as a cyclist should position yourself.  Try it.  Take that near middle-of-the-lane spot, ride in a straight line and you will find you are out of the road debris, out of the door zone and clearly visible to all drivers.   On roads without sharrows, the principle you need to follow is this:  Ride as far to the right as you can safely travel in the lane going in your direction.  This means, you stay out of the door zone and visible to other drivers, and usually will put you in the middle of your travel lane.

The basic rules of riding a bike are to act like a vehicle — ride with the flow traffic, stop at all stop signs and lights, signal your turns, etc.. So, for example, where there’s a right turn only lane and you are going straight, look behind you, signal your move and get into the lane of traffic that’s going straight.

  1. THE MORE OF US WHO RIDE, THE SAFER WE ALL ARE

There’s some intriguing research, cited by Peter Walker in his 2017 book How Cycling Can Save the World, that shows that the cyclist mode share outweighs even helmet use as a safety factor for cyclists.  Translation from transportation-nerd jargon:  The more of us who ride our bikes, the safer we all are.

I don’t know all the reasons for this, but I’ve noticed over the years that my experience as a cyclist has made me act differently when I get behind the wheel of my car —  I drive slower as well as more cautiously, than I did when I was only a car driver.

  1. HELP IS AVAILABLE

When I first took to my bike I was baffled at how to go about it, but in that pre-internet time there weren’t a lot of resources for someone who wanted to learn to travel by bike. Now, though, we have plenty of resources, both online and in person.

An array of on-line resources includes: cyclingsavvy.org; bicyclecoalition.org (Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia); transalt.org (NYC’s advocacy group Transportation Alternatives); adventurecycling.org (resources for long-distance bike travel) and our very own lvcat.org, the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation.

For those in Bethlehem, consider a visit to CAT, if only to check out the many resources available there. (FULL DISCLOSURE:  I’ve been involved with CAT since its inception over 25 years ago, for many years as its attorney and in more recent years as a board member.)

For about the price of a tank or two of gas, you can become a CAT member.  Located at  1935 W. Broad Street, CAT has a fully-equipped bike repair/maintenance shop, open to you and staffed by volunteers who can walk you through most any bike problem.  Don’t know how to work your gears? need to replace or repair a tire or pump up a flat one?  Need to get rid of a squealing brake or a noisy chain?  Go to CAT.  CAT also offers basic and advanced mechanics classes.

Most useful to anyone considering swapping out car rides for the occasional bike trip, CAT offers classes on how to ride the roads safely.  They can also help with logistics like route choices best suited to your comfort levels and how to equip your bike for city travel.

  1. BIKING IS ENJOYABLE

Doh! Do I really have to say this?  Of course cycling safety is serious, but riding a bike is fun.  It’s human-scaled transportation at a speed that connects us to our beautiful city.  You don’t need special shoes or lycra or glow-in-the-dark clothes.  Get on your bike, pedal, smile.  It’s that simple.

Anne

You can always find the link to the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation (CAT) on the Gadfly sidebar.

The pedestrian bridge and improving our sidewalks are not mutually exclusive goals (23)

(23rd in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

Paige Van Wirt is a Bethlehem City Councilwoman, physician, and small business owner.

Gadfly,

I am responding to Kate McVey’s piece as I am mentioned in it a few times. I am very happy to be having a dialogue about this, and happy citizens have a forum in Bethlehem to air their ideas. While this forum is valuable, I think the most powerful advocacy out there is coming and speaking before city council. It is remarkable how an informed, passionate citizen can sway opinion and open minds.

In terms of the bike lanes in Bethlehem, I agree they are inadequate. The concept is “sharrows,” which are shared lanes between bikes and cars. They are meant to help indicate where cyclists should be safe. They are less preferable than dedicated bike lanes, which I agree should be implemented in Bethlehem. This would cost time and tax dollars, but that does not mean it can’t be done. Citizens coming and speaking before council about their concerns and desires for safe cycling lanes is a very effective way of advocating for the dedication of tax dollars, or asking the city to obtain grants with the help of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission; the LVPC has a number of ongoing projects and exploratory studies to address this very issue — how do we foster safe cycling in the valley. I encourage you to come and speak and let City Council and the Mayor’s administration know how you feel. We would benefit from dedicated bike lanes on certain streets in Bethlehem. Even better would be an off-road set of paths and trails that could be shared by pedestrians and cyclists alike. Ironically, to your point, a pedestrian bridge would be a valuable part of any off-road system. A local group
involved in cycling advocacy is Lehigh Valley Coalition for Appropriate Transportation: http://www.lvcat.org/lvcat/. [You can always find this link on the Gadfly sidebar.] Walk Roll Lehigh Valley, through the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, is creating a master plan for walking and cycling in the Valley: https://www.lvpc.org/walkrolllv.html. These organizations are open to the public and welcome your advocacy and input. For every project, there is a cost/benefit analysis that must be data-driven and easily understood by the citizens.

I could not agree with you more about the condition of our sidewalks. In many places they are deplorable. The legal structure in Bethlehem means that homeowners are responsible for our sidewalks, and that puts a serious financial burden on homeowners as neighborhoods age and root systems wreak havoc on our sidewalks. One idea for improving our sidewalks is to increase code enforcement in houses that are sold — the sidewalks must be repaired, if needed, before the sale goes through; we should target absentee landlords in this particular transaction. This is a law on the books in Bethlehem which we are not consistently enforcing. Another idea I have proposed to the administration that we take a small portion of the $2.5 million we are using for street paving from the casino transfer fee and dedicate it to our sidewalks; the casino transfer fee is a one-time cash payment Bethlehem will see in the sale of the casino. As it is, this portion of the CTF is entirely dedicated to street-paving. Our streets must be maintained, but so must our sidewalks, as not all transportation in Bethlehem happens in cars walking is a valuable form of transportation. There are ways to offer grants to homeowners with this money instead of loans, to get our sidewalks into good shape.

Where I do disagree with you is the idea that when it comes to transformative projects like the pedestrian bridge project, and the sad state of many of our sidewalks, that the situation is zero-sum gain. It is not. The purpose of the pedestrian bridge study is to answer many of the questions you pose, and to explore the many different federal and state alternative transportation funds available for projects like the pedestrian bridge project. Most pedestrian bridges in the US are built with federal and state alternative transportation funds (along with tourism-related taxes such as the hotel tax), and there is no reason Bethlehem should not claim its share of those funds. The project, if feasible, would help create an off-road walking circuit in Bethlehem, linking our north and south downtowns, and transform our relationship to the river. I encourage you to bring your questions to future meetings of the pedestrian bridge project, as all citizen input, critical and laudatory, is welcome.

We should fix our sidewalks, look at the structure and costs of developing dedicated bike
lanes, and we should explore projects that may change the way we link our two downtowns and create a healthy, livable, and joyous city. These are not mutually exclusive goals and in fact should occur side by side.*** The funding for these goals is out there — we must must now show the will to implement them.

Paige

*** For a similar view, see “smandrew’s” comment on the previous post in this series.