Bike census

I get really frustrated when I hear people say “Oh, hardly any people ride bikes, so there’s no need for bike infrastructure.” Classic chicken-and-egg case: if it were easier and more comfortable to ride, it’s likely people would – which would have major implications in several community indices, notably public health.

But how to track where and when people ride bikes, and why? Q&A surveys, perhaps. There’s also the standard “stand on a street corner” traffic survey (it SO aggrieves me when these studies are done in the dead of winter & taken as a good indicator of demand for bike & ped facilities!)

In the absence of those types of censuses, there’s the totally unscientific “bikes I see when I happen to be out and about” variety. There’s got to be at least some value to that, right? Observing actual cyclist behavior at various locations at various times of day?

I’ve decided to record my observations here. Totally unscientific, and utterly depenent upon when and where I happen to be out, but why not?

Sunday, April 23, 2017, 13:00-14:00, Scottsbluff

Bike 1: man (carrying bags from shopping) eastbound on 33rd St, on sidewalk on south side. Turned south on Ave B to first business driveway, crossed to funeral home driveway and continued southbound through business parking lots.

Bike 2: man westbound on West Overland on sidewalk on north side. Crossed to west side of Ave B & waited for light. Proceeded southbound on Ave B sidewalk.

Bike 3: woman westbound on West Overland at Avenue B, in street.

Monday, April 23, 2017, 15:00-16:00, Scottsbluff

Bike 1: man northbound on Broadway on sidewalk on east side, turned eastbound onto street at East Overland.

Bike 2: man westbound on 14th Street west of 1st Avenue, walking bike with trailer in the street.

Saturday, April 29, 2017, 10:00-12:00, Scottsbluff

Bike 1: man northbound on Broadway at 17th in the street, rider wearing a backpack and smoking a cigarette

Bike 2: child southbound on east-side sidewalk of Broadway at 17th , accompanied by other young pedestrians and a stroller, then northbound again a few minutes later

Bikes 3-6: family group of parents and two children riding northbound on the east-side sidewalk of Broadway at 17th , mom smoking, dad with bag from a store

Bike 7: man northbound in the street at 17th, turned a circle in a parking space to talk to a pedestrian, then proceeded into turn lane and went west on 18th Street

Bikes 8-9: teen boys riding southbound on east-side Broadway sidewalk, crossed street diagonally at 17th and continued southbound on west-side sidewalk

Saturday, April 29, 2017, 17:00-18:00, Scottsbluff

Bike 1: man riding northbound on centerline of 4th Ave at 18th, turned west into library driveway

Bike 2: man wtih a backpack carrying shopping bags riding westbound on East Overland sidewalk south side at 4th Ave

Monday, May 1, 2017, 8:00-9:00, Scottsbluff

Bike 1: man eastbound on 20th street at 1st Ave on the sidewalk on the south side

Tuesday, May 2, 2017, 12:00-13:00, Scottsbluff

Bike 1: man southbound on Avenue B, on sidewalk on east side, turned east on north side sidewalk of 20th street – at Avenue A crossed street diagonally and continued eastbound in the street until reaching business driveway and getting on the south side sidewalk

Wednesday, May 3, 2017, 12:00-13:00, Scottsbluff

Bike 1: man southbound on Broadway east side sidewalk at 19th

Wednesday, May 3, 2017, 16:00-18:00, Scottsbluff

Bike 1: man southbound on Broadway east side sidewalk at 17th

Bike 2: man northbound on Broadway in street at 17th

Thursday, May 4, 2017,  Scottsbluff

Don’t remember all the details, but spotted 3 bikes in the downtown area, all being ridden on sidewalks – 2 men, not sure of the third cyclist.

I’m really thinking about this – if people do not feel comfortable riding in the street, is the best way to increase cycling and facilitate transportation to encourage sidewalk riding? Yet, there is potential for pedestrian conflict, and safety issues for people riding bikes on sidewalks when they cross streets and driveways.

This article has influenced my thinking quite a bit:

How Low-Income Cyclists Go Unnoticed

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PS – I love the idea of changing the “punchbuggy” driving game, where VW beetles are noted, to a “punchbike” game, where people on bikes are noted. Get everyone’s “bikedar” revved up!

Top 10 Reasons to Preorder a Nebraska Bike The Good Life License Plate

nebraska license plate

In January, the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance launched a campaign to get a bicycle-themed “organizational” license plate design accepted by the State of Nebraska. The state approved the application and proposed design, so all that’s required now is 250 pre-registrations collected by the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance. SEE HERE FOR APPLICATION INFORMATION and FAQs.

This license plate is an “organizational” plate* (like the plates for Union Pacific, Beef State, Corn, Duck Unlimited, Henry Doorly Zoo, Creighton, UNO, Omaha Chamber of Commerce, and Fire/Rescue). These plates cost an additional $70 per year, and the fees are divided between the DMV cash fund (15%) and the Highway Trust Fund (85%).

I want to encourage more Nebraska bicycling enthusiasts to pre-order their plates so we can hit the minimum and I can get my NEBIKE plates ASAP! So, I give you:

TOP TEN REASONS TO PRE-ORDER A NEBRASKA BIKE THE GOOD LIFE LICENSE PLATE

10. It makes a great gift for a bicycling enthusiast who “has it all.” You could make the payment ($75 via PayPal to Nebraska Bicycling Alliance), and your intended gift recipient could complete the paperwork to submit. (This would make a great gift-giving tradition to start on Bike to Work Day. *wink, wink*)

bike gift

9. You are a Nebraskan. Pioneers are in your cultural DNA. If you pre-order a plate, you will be one of the pioneers – the first to have Nebraska bike plates.

nebraska pioneer

8. You can help Nebraska establish a new license plate type. Even if you don’t renew the bike plate in future years, if the magic 250 minimum is reached, the option will remain available for others.

~*250*~

7. The new plates have a “Nebraska red” theme, unlike the standard plates that have a blue field and yellow lettering, which I keep thinking are from Michigan.

nebraska font compare

6. No Sower!!!! Uhhh . . . about that Sower . . . in person on the plates, he looks kind of like a smudge of dirt.

56f742aec0ad4.image

5. Be that reminder to other drivers that people who ride bikes also drive cars.

MY OTHER CAR IS A BICYCLE

4. Promote a cool slogan: “Bike the Good Life.” We Nebraskans know all about the Good Life, and Nebraskans who bike know how biking contributes.

584354 KS-I680

3. Help promote the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance. The organization’s website is listed on the plate: www.nebike.org.

NeBA logo

2. Pay an extra $70 bucks a year to the DMV, to gain more ammo to blow up the canard about road user fees. (You know the one.)

*BOOM*

1. Get Nebraska into the majority of states that now offer bicycle-themed license plates. Nebraska needs to be on this list!

state bike license plates A thru L

state bike license plates M thru S

state bike license plates T thru W

What are you waiting for? Your current plate to expire?

Don’t wait! You need to get your application in now, or the new bike plates won’t be available when your renewal is up.

If you wind up getting the new bike plates midstream in your registration, you can turn in your old plates to get a refund on the remaining registration fee.

Don’t delay – complete your Bike The Good Life license plate application today!

*Nebraska also has “specialty” plates, some of which cost the same as regular plates, some more, some that contribute a small amount of money to special causes. These plates require an act of the legislature to establish (e.g., mountain lion / conservation, Huskers, Nebraska Sesquicentennial, breast cancer, and, soon, “choose life”.)

Copyright 2017 by Katie Bradshaw, except images

Bicyclist opinion, highway project prioritization meeting = round peg, square hole?

Sorry, folks – this is going to be kind of a longish and dullish post without pretty scenery pictures. Your eyes may glaze over.

But I have some thoughts I need to process after attending a Nebraska Department of Roads project prioritization meeting in Gering yesterday.

I didn’t really know what to expect, didn’t know whether it would be worth my time to attend (two hours on a weekday morning!), since this was billed as the second round of a project prioritization process.

Would my views as a bicyclist fit in?

Would there be an opportunity for me to express what I have heard over and over again from my fellow western Nebraska cyclists, what several of them asked me to bring up during this NDOR meeting? Specifically:

Roads need shoulders. Nice, wide, smooth ones. Shoulders should be maintained with the same level of care as the main traveled surface. A disjunct surface between the lane and the shoulder is bad. Surface cracks are bad – deep, spoke-breaking perpendicular ones, and also the deep, wheel-trapping parallel ones. We would much rather ride on the shoulder than in the traffic lane, but very few road shoulders exist or are in good enough shape to ride.

Alas, my answers to the above questions are “not really.”

I felt like I was trying to fit a round peg of an opinion into a square hole of a question.

The point of the meeting was to make comments on a list of 12 NDOR West Region Candidate Projects.

NDOR west region candidate projectsHere’s a screenshot of a portion of a handout from the meeting, which was the focus of the input NDOR was gathering:

NDOR west region candidate project list

For those unfamiliar with the term (I wasn’t), a “Super 2” is a two-lane highway upgraded with “passing lanes ~ every 5 miles, or as needed” and “variable width paved shoulders.”

For the the full NDOR West Region Candidate Project List, click here.

My top transportation wish-list item – replace the shoulder surface of Highway 71 in Banner County – was not under consideration. (To see why this is a priority for me, check out this video of a portion of my favorite riding route. The video is 2 minutes from my rear bike camera of spine-jarring, chain-rattling shoulder riding northbound on Highway 71 north of Highway 88. I weave back and forth on the shoulder a little, trying to find the least bad part of each crack to ride over. On some days, the assault from the shoulder cracks are too much for me to bear and I cross the rumble strip to ride in the lane, which is nice and smooth.)

I felt a little bubble of hope when NDOR Deputy Director Khalil Jaber mentioned the NDOR’s new tag line in conjunction with the new Nebraska slogan “Good Life. Great Opportunity.” (Thank goodness, something better than the Nebraska Tourism Commission’s “Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.”)

good life great journey

“Good Life. Great Journey.” Heck, yeah, man! That’s what it’s all about!

But then, the metrics set in.

We have these 12 potential projects, see? And we have limited funding. So we have to use engineering performance, economic performance, and stakeholder input to set priorities.

Engineering performance means things like safety, traffic volume, congestion, time savings, cost.

Economic performance means things like jobs created, the wages of those jobs, and “gross state product.”

Stakeholder input means, well . . . for a two-hour meeting on a weekday morning, from what I observed, it means primarily the opinions of:  1. people who are paid to be there as part of their jobs, 2. people who are retired and have the time to dedicate to promoting their interests. In the half of the room in which I sat, the most vocal and numerous participants seemed to be those representing the Heartland Expressway Association (made up of business and local government interests) and some folks from Chadron who are riled about an idea to install a roundabout or any possibility of a Chadron bypass.

The gist of the atmosphere I absorbed from the discussion in the room about “engineering performance, economic performance, stakeholder input” were not things I associate with a “Good Life. Great Journey.”

More trucks. Move more vehicles faster. Take pressure off I-25. Nationally-important travel corridor. People and goods hurrying through.

I get it.

Jobs are important. The economy is important. Without cash in hand, it’s real hard to make the Good Life happen. And when I’m heading somewhere in my car on a timeline – the Denver airport, for example – I’m perfectly happy to speed along at 70 miles per hour.

Time and money are easily measurable. I get that. I’ve worked in both the “hard sciences” and the “soft social sciences.” Quantitative data is more satisfyingly . . . quantitative . . . than qualitative data.

But the “time and money” equation leaves something out: quality of life. The qualitative stuff that’s hard to measure. A part of that “stakeholder input” that the NDOR, to their credit, is trying to capture.

Is a fast, efficient journey “great”? Or does a great journey meander and discover? It depends on who’s speaking.

For a bicyclist, or for someone who specifically chooses to get off the rat race of I-80 to take state highways, a great journey is perhaps more “discover” and less “efficient.” (Side note: Hey, Nebraska Tourism Commission – how about “Good Life. Great Discoveries.”? You’re welcome.)

When it came time for the breakout session to discuss the 12 project options, I wanted to bolt. I didn’t really have a good picture of all the possible projects on the prioritization list. (What the heck is a “viaduct” anyway? Apparently there are some in Melbeta, Minatare, Lewellen, and Bayard that need fixing.) But I stayed anyway, and put in my two cents’ worth.

We breakout session participants were each given three dots to place next to project options we wanted to discuss. I put dots on just two projects, roads I had cycled on before: US 26 east of Minatare, and US 26 west of Morrill.

My comments were basically: 1. I’ve seen a significant amount of bicycle traffic on Highway 26 between Torrington and Scottsbluff – both leisure riders and commuters. 2. Having worked in the tourism industry, I know a lot of tourists journey on Highway 26 along the Oregon Trail. Oh yeah, and 3. With the Scottsbluff airport suffering of late, Highway 71 south of Kimball has become more important as a back route to the Denver airport.

I felt like my bicycle comments were a microdroplet in the bucket.

When I approached one of the NDOR presenters afterwards to pass along some written comments from a fellow Western Nebraska Bicycling Club member who could not attend and I began to talk about the importance of good road shoulders for bicyclists, I saw the person’s eyes glaze over (whether from fatigue at the end of a long series of listening sessions across the state, or lack of interest in the concerns of bicyclists, I know not).

But a participant from the Chadron delegation did come up to me afterwards and express appreciation for the “non-motorized transport” viewpoint – the ability of pedestrians and bicyclists to navigate a potential Chadron roundabout was a concern, he said. “The video from the DOR didn’t show any bicyclists or pedestrians moving through it.”

Come to think of it, the illustration on the NDOR Super 2 highway fact sheet doesn’t show any bicycles, either. Or shoulders, for that matter.

NDOR super 2 highway

I get the sense the Super 2 highway may be a preferred option because it’s cheaper. My question is, how well will the “variable” shoulders of a Super 2 highway accommodate bicycles?

But the hopeful thing is, NDOR is open to further comment on this topic, until July 29, 2016, at least. One of the handouts at the session was a sheet full of blank lines, headed with “We want to hear from you.” The contact listed on the sheet is:

Sarah Kugler
Public Involvement Manager
Nebraska Department of Roads
PO Box 94759
Lincoln NE 68509-4759
sarah.kugler@nebraska.gov

I plan to send a link to this blog post to Ms. Kugler, as well as to Nebraska Senator John Stinner (who was present at the meeting) and to U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (who had a representative present at the meeting).

If you have something to say about anything I’ve described or linked to, I’d encourage you to send your comments along as well. The deadline is July 29.

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

 

 

Cloud ride at Scotts Bluff National Monument

This morning’s ride was magical.

As I pedaled through Gering for an early ride up Scotts Bluff National Monument before it opened to car traffic, I could see the top of the bluff peeking up out of a fog bank.

When I got closer to the bluff, I plunged in and out of the mist draped across the landscape, in full sun one moment, in shadow the next.

On my journey up Summit Road, I had to stop a couple of times to take pictures.

summit road fog pano

Panoramic shot at the beginning of the ride.

sun fog bluff

The scenery in front of the sun fighting through the mist tumbling across the bluff was otherworldly.

grass and fog

Closer to the top, the fog started to break up a bit.

As I neared a final turn, a ray of sunshine broke through and illuminated the fog particles as they rode a turbulent wind gust, around and around and down.

I paused in the parking lot up top to capture the wind in motion, made visible by the fog.

I took a short hike to an overlook, hoping the fog would break up and I could get an amazing shot of the bluff tops hovering above the clouds. Alas, the fog thickened.

Here’s an example of what I had hoped to see, from a photo posted August 6, 2015, on the Scotts Bluff National Monument Facebook page:

SBNM Aug 6 2015 fog

Photo credit: Scotts Bluff National Monument

The fog-filtered light atop the bluff – illumination without shadow – made the flora growing there seem distinct, distinguished.

cloudy sunlight

yellow flower

On my cautious, wet-brake descent, I stopped to take pictures of the tunnels. It was a little eerie looking to the side of the road and seeing nothing but cloud, easy to imagine being at a much greater height than I actually was.

summit road tunnel b

summit road tunnel a

So glad I decided on an early morning training ride today. What a way to start the week!

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw, except photo credited to Scotts Bluff National Monument

2016 OTD Hill Climb

Another Oregon Trail Days Hill Climb in the books – 1.6 miles, 460 feet of climb, and lots of cyclist camaraderie.

I competed this year, and I beat my previous time (from 2011) by 2:30! (Granted, I was riding my new carbon road bike instead of my steel hybrid.)

rider 24

Photo by Kay Grote

I’m mystified, though, why the turnout for this event is so low. Only 29 people competed this year, only 7 of which were women. (When there are prizes awarded for the top male and female in both road and mountain bike categories, those are pretty good odds for the ladies!)

I did meet a woman from Kansas who competed this year. I’m bummed I did not talk to her more and find out how she learned about the event. Her comment was that the air is pretty dry here. It is. A significant amount of “hill climb hack” could be heard during and after the event. But at least when you sweat, it cools you quickly.

Yes, it’s definitely a challenge. It’s all uphill. But if you take it slow and steady, it’s doable (remember: pole pole). And it’s in the cool of early morning on a scenic bluff.

sbnm

I mean, really – how can you beat this scenery?!? Sure, the bluff looks intimidating, but the course goes up a paved road with an average grade of 5%.

For locals, it’s a great cardiovascular fitness tool to bike (or run or walk) up Summit Road on Scotts Bluff National Monument – before the road opens or after it closes to vehicle traffic (check the SBNM website for operating hours).

For out-of-towners, it’s a great time to visit, since there’s so much to do during Oregon Trail Days. (If you’re staying overnight, though – book early. Hotel rooms can get scarce.)

And now, a few photos from the day.

shadow

I biked from my house to the Monument, via the trail that runs across the property. I heard the calls of pheasant and goldfinch and western meadowlark. My shadow fell across fragrant sagebrush and yucca pods and Mexican hat wildflowers.

milkweed flower

Yeah, I had to get out of bed early to get to the Monument by about 6:15 a.m. via bike from my home near downtown Scottsbluff, but the payoff is the exquisite quality of the morning light, which makes everything – including end-of-bloom showy milkweed – radiate a dreamy beauty.

prairie woman

I got a kick out of the contrast between the modern bike kits and the historic garb of the park rangers preparing for the Oregon Trail Days parade.

wagon

Bikes, make way! Here comes a wagon for the parade!

down below

It’s easy to make a new friend while waiting in line for your time to start up the bluff. Riders are released at 30-second intervals. I could feel the adrenaline kick in when it was my turn to wait at the starting line for the beep.

up top

Up top, everyone cheers on the rest of the riders. Once you’re up top (as a participant or spectator), you wait until everyone is done, as downhill traffic is prohibited for safety reasons during the race. There is water and snacks at the top as well as a portable toilet. And great views. If the air is clear, you can see Chimney Rock about 20 miles to the east and Laramie Peak about 100 miles to the west.

After the Hill Climb was over, I biked through Gering towards home, but took a detour into the Gering High School parking lot, which is the staging area for the Oregon Trail Days parade. I didn’t want to hang around in my bike kit until noon to watch the whole parade, but I wanted to see some of the floats. The GHS parking lot was my sneak preview.

sbnm float

Here was a part of the entry for Scotts Bluff National Monument – featuring a volunteer who would ride in full sun in the parade – in a suit! – portraying painter William Henry Jackson.

william henry jackson

Paint away, Mr. Jackson! More on WHJ here.)

legacy float

I just adored the Legacy of the Plains Museum float, which made great use of a bicycle “horse team” crafted for use in horse-driving training. It won first place in the historic float division.

horse closeup

A closeup of the mighty steampunk steed. Doesn’t show well in the photo, but the tumbleweeds on the float are painted a bronzy-gold.

oompa loompas

How can you not appreciate the colorful Theater West float to promote its Willy Wonka production? It was crawling with Oompa Loompas, one of whom cried, “Wait! Wait! Let me put on my wig!” when I asked to take a picture.

balloon fest

Loved the color – and the chuckle – of the Old West Balloon Fest float. I guess there weren’t enough portable toilets during a portion of the rebooted festival last year.

After I left the parade grounds, I swung by the 18th Street Farmers Market before heading home for a shower and some slices of fresh cinnamon swirl bread. Yum!

Think this sounds like fun? Start making your plans for July 2017. I think it will be July 8 next year.

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw, except cyclist photo by Kay Grote

A scary pass, an educational opportunity

I ride my road bike on the road because that’s where it’s designed to be ridden.

Also, since my community lacks connected bike path infrastructure, to get where I’m going on a bike, I have to use roads.

Whenever possible, I choose low-speed, less-traveled roads. However, sometimes I have to ride on the highway to get where I’m going.

I have met several cyclists who no longer ride on paved roads. They stick to gravel roads exclusively. They’ve had too many run-ins with ignorant, inattentive, or ill-willed automobile drivers.

I’m not willing to give up road riding. I think things are getting better, with more cyclists on the road and more awareness of safe driving practices.

But I did buy a bike camera to record the traffic around me, just in case.

On a recent ride, I had a semi truck pass me far too fast and far too close for comfort.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 1.40.27 PM

You can see in this screen shot that I was in the travel lane (the shoulder here is in poor condition & had lots of debris), yet the semi was straddling the center line.

My bike camera captured it all. I had the license plate and DOT number, the company name, the time/date stamp.

But still, I wondered what to do.

Clearly, the footage is scary, but does the close pass violate the “3 feet to pass” law? They didn’t hit me, and I didn’t crash from an air wake blow-over. Would this be worth taking to law enforcement? Should I try contacting the company directly, or would that accomplish nothing but stir up a hornet’s nest for me?

Instead, I decided to turn this video clip into an educational opportunity, and a shout out to drivers who rate an “A+” in how they maneuver around bicyclists.

Here’s my little video (which I struggled long and hard with in iMovie to create – no video artist am I).

I’m sure this video will win me some criticism.

Like, I probably should have been riding further left in the lane to signal to the drivers behind me that they should change lanes to pass. But would that have only landed me closer to the passing semi? Traffic interactions are such a delicate dance!

Regardless, I hope that it makes people think about their interactions on the road and contributes to overall road safety.

The life you save may be mine!

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

Y Not Ride, community ride 2016

This year’s Y Not Ride community ride was a bit challenging. There was a stiff breeze out of the east (25 MPH sustained, gusting to 35-40), and there was wildfire smoke from Canada, and some folks on the 54-mile route got caught in rain showers, but it was still a great kickoff to the cycling season. I appreciate all the volunteers & sponsors who make it happen! Thanks as well to the Bayard Depot Museum and Scotts Bluff National Monument for serving as rest stops!

A few pictures from the ride:

IMG_1620

A Western Nebraska Bicycling Club member passes us on our tandem. The fact that the smoke from the sugar factory stack in the background is going horizontal gives an indication of the wind.

IMG_1627

Cattle sloshing around in a marshy area. Note how hazy the air is. That wasn’t moisture. It was wildlife smoke. As the day went along, the smell of smoke got stronger and the density of smoke particles got thicker.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 11.17.53 AM

The wildfire / air quality map from that morning, from airnow.gov.

IMG_1628

Hooray for the SAG volunteers! Also, hooray for the fact that this was our turn on the 28-mile route, and we could quit bucking the wind! (I do much prefer to have a headwind on the way out, when I’m fresher, so a wind out of the east wasn’t the worst thing in the world.)

IMG_1631

More cattle. The babies gamboling on the greenery were so fun to watch!

IMG_1634

Approaching the overpass bridge in Gering, you can just baaarely make out the outline of Scotts Bluff National Monument in the distance. Darned smoke! *koff koff*

IMG_1636

Rolling through Gering, 53 degrees, pushed along by the same wind pulling the flags out horizontal.

IMG_1641

A touch of sun illuminates the smoke-blurred bluffs.

IMG_20160507_095626756

At the Scotts Bluff National Monument rest stop. I was rather wishing I’d brought my jacket as this point. Kind of chilly. But we were almost home! (Photo courtesy of water station volunteer.)

I’m looking forward to the end-of-season “Monument to Monument” Y Not Ride challenge ride in September! (Note: the M2M ride is a great supported 50- or 100-mile ride for out-of-towners who want to see two National Monument properties and some gorgeous High Plains scenery. Keep in mind, while it’s the “plains,” it’s not flat.)

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw