Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Safe Routes to School across Wisconsin

In January, the Bike Fed helped to launch the Wisconsin Safe Routes to School Network, which brings together 50 state leaders from government, non-profits and the bicycle business to remove barriers to walking and biking to school. Safe Routes to School is a national movement to boost the number and safety of kids walking and biking to school, and our network is one of 20 such groups throughout the country.

At the heart of the new state network effort is policy change. We want to remove policy barriers to walking and bicycling to schools by:
  • Creating complete streets that include pedestrian and bicycle accommodations
  • Changing statewide policies for how sites are chosen for new schools, so that accessibility by foot and bike are considered
  • Implementing legislation that leads to funding or policy changes
We also have several non-legislative priorities.
  • Complete Streets. The network has reviewed and submitted comments on WisDOT’s draft complete streets administrative rules. The rules will flesh out the complete streets law passed by the Wisconsin legislature in 2009, which mandates that newly constructed or reconstructed state roads include access for people traveling by foot, wheelchair and bicycle.
  • Sharing Information. The network is working with WisDOT to create a guide highlighting the successes of Wisconsin’s existing Safe Routes to School programs and how other school districts can emulate them.
  • Improving Curriculum. The network is reviewing a bicycling safety curriculum for physical education teachers and looking at ways to include active transportation education in many academic subjects.
  • Access for Low-Income Communities. The Wisconsin Network is actively working to make Safe Routes more accessible to low-income communities of color, including American Indian tribes, and has applied for a grant to support these efforts.
You can read more about our work in this fall's issue of the Wisconsin Bicyclist.

If you’re interested in participating in the Wisconsin Safe Routes to School Network, or want more information about it, please contact me at jessica@bfw.org or 414-431-1761, ext. 3. You can find more information at www.saferoutes.bfw.org.

Thanks for a great Ride the Drive!

Lance Armstrong and Jack HirtWorld bicycling champion Lance Armstrong with Jack Hirt, executive director of the Midwest Cycling Series. Photo by Sknurr Photography.

highrise bikesDouble-decker bicyclists begin their loop around Ride the Drive. Photo by Sknurr Photography.

Thanks to everyone who joined us at Ride the Drive - a celebration for anyone who wants to run, ride, skate or stroll in the city of Madison - on August 29. We had a great time meeting so many of you. We're grateful to everyone who became a Bike Fed member at Ride the Drive, and so is Burley, which donated a Travoy trailer and three detachable transit bags to raffle off for these new members. Congratulations to Jeremy Basoulek of McFarland, who will now be toting his groceries by bike!

At the opening ceremonies, Lance Armstrong hit home with a lot of children in the crowd when he talked about the freedom he felt when he first lost his training wheels as a kid and was allowed to bike around the block by himself. We've never forgotten the freedom that bicycling brings to both kids and adults, and love helping more people experience that freedom in our day-to-day work here at the Bike Fed.

We'll be posting more photos from Ride the Drive later this week.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bicycle Rights AND Responsibilities

We get lots of great questions in our info@bfw.org inbox, and many of them share common themes. Occasionally, we'll be posting some of the questions we get (along with their answers) on our blog.

One of the frequent themes is whether bicyclists need to follow the same laws as motorists. This question is often followed up with a request that the Bike Fed correct the rude behavior of some people who use bikes. Here's a recent one:
Dear Federation,

Your web pages apparently don't have a link to information about what is legal behavior on City streets or other roads and highways for bicycle riders and for the motorists who use the way with them.

Your web pages do mention bicycle "rights." I don't see anywhere any mention of bicycle riders' responsibilities.

So, I would like to see if it is legal for bicyclists to block lanes of traffic ever.

It seems like there is a general presumption that the bicyclists and their rights are the ones at risk and therefore, motorists need to take steps to recognize their "rights." Actually, rights are constitutional things whereas behavior, legal and illegal behavior, is written down as statutes.

But, it also seems to me that quite few bicyclists have seriously bad manners and very bad attitudes about motorists and can be very confrontational about that.

So, as I say, I would like to read about the appropriate behavior of both parties as written down in law.

In any event, as the Federation, I think you clearly have a responsibility to promote discussion of bicyclists' RESPONSIBILITIES just as much as about their "rights". There is no right to dangerous, rude, confrontational behavior on the part of anyone on bicycle or not. Not promoting this kind of discussion and public awareness, I think, is avoiding a very clear need. We need some balance here.

This was our response:
Thanks for your email, and sorry you had trouble finding the information you were looking for on our site. We are currently trying to make our site easier to navigate, but obviously there is still work to be done.

You can find information on the rules of the road and courteous bicycling/driving at www.bicycling101.bfw.org and www.share.bfw.org. We don't include city-specific statutes because we are a statewide organization, but we do address state-level laws that apply in every Wisconsin city.

I wish I could directly answer your question about blocking traffic, but the rules about impeding or slowing the flow of traffic depend on the situation. Hopefully, the links above will answer your questions. If you have further questions, please let me know.

We agree that no road users should act in a way that is rude or dangerous to others. We promote legal, responsible bicycling behavior. We regularly engage our members and others on these topics through our interactive forums, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. We also educate road users on the importance of safe and legal behavior through classes, workshops, public service announcements and other media. We welcome your ideas for venues in which to share this information.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Join the Bike Fed at Ride the Drive and win a Burley Travoy

burley travoy

Bicycle trailer manufacturer Burley wants to encourage more people to join the Bike Fed in making Wisconsin a better place to bike. So, if you join the Bike Fed at Ride the Drive on August 29 in Madison, you will be entered to win a new Travoy trailer and two attachable Transit Bags. The trailer is designed especially for commuting and shopping, and it's easy to attach and detach so you can take it with you once you've parked your bike. Skip the grocery cart – use your Travoy.

You can see the Travoy and sign up for membership at one of the two Bike Fed booths at Ride the Drive - one on Capitol Square (where the Travoy will be on display) and the other at Olin Park. We'll draw the winner at the end of the day.

At Burley's request, only people who sign up for membership at Ride the Drive are eligible to enter to win the Travoy. We look forward to seeing you at Ride the Drive!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bike Fed statement on Iowa County DA's letter about Allen Belonger case

Recently, the Spring City Spinners cycling club and the Bike Fed wrote to Iowa County District Attorney Larry Nelson asking why no traffic citations have been issued in the year since Allen Belonger, 61, was killed in a truck-bicycle collision while he was cycling in Iowa County on July 11, 2009.

A state trooper's report completed in October 2009 found that the driver of the passenger truck had failed to yield and that Belonger's behavior did not contribute to the collision.

We thank Mr. Nelson for taking the time to write to us in response to our questions. However, we are disappointed by the content of that response.

Mr. Nelson stated in his letter several reasons for why no citation had been issued. These included:

  • "… issuance of a citation is a law enforcement function. District Attorney's [sic] Offices do not issue tickets." This response begs the question. District attorneys have the power to recommend that law enforcement personnel issue citations. Mr. Nelson made no such recommendation.
  • "I would support a decision not to issue a citation in this or any other matter where the incident occurred and all appreciable facts were known over a year before." This answer is based on a false premise – that all the facts were known more than a year ago. The sheriff's department did not conclude its investigation into the collision until October 2009. The Spring City Spinners did not receive the accident report until July 2010. Moreover, there is plenty of precedent for acting on a legal infraction more than a year after the infraction occurred.
  • “Could I … recommend to the Sheriff’s Department that they issue a citation? Certainly. … I did not do so out of an affirmative decision not to issue because it may or may not have been warranted.” We do not understand why the district attorney feels that a citation "may not have been warranted" in a clear case of failure to yield resulting in death. (That's not our conclusion; that's the state investigator's conclusion.)

We do not seek retribution against the driver whose actions resulted in Allen Belonger's death. However, we do believe that he should not be spared the legal consequences of his actions.

Every day, we teach people how to operate their bicycles safely and legally on Wisconsin's roads, and we support efforts to keep bicycle operators legally accountable for their behavior. We believe that motorists should be held to the same standards.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Iowa County district attorney stands by decision not to issue citation in Belonger's death

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Tom Held reported today that Iowa County District Attorney Larry Nelson written a letter to explain why no citation was issued in the July 11, 2009, killing of Allen Belonger - but it doesn't clarify much. Belonger was fatally struck by a passenger truck when the driver made a sudden left turn, according to a state trooper's report.

Nelson wrote:
I would support a decision not to issue a citation in this or any other matter where the incident occurred and all appreciable facts were known over a year before.
Nelson made the statement in a letter to the Spring City Spinners (Belonger's cycling club), Belonger's widow and the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. The group had written a letter to Nelson on July 27, 2010, requesting an explanation for why no action had been taken in the year since Belonger's death.

Nelson's above statement is problematic because the state trooper's report was not submitted until October 2009 and not released to the public until July of this year. It seems, then, incorrect to conclude that all appreciable facts were known more than a year ago.

Nelson also stated:
“Could I after declining criminal prosecution and having been made aware a citation had not been issued at the scene recommend to the Sheriff’s Department that they issue a citation? Certainly. I expect the Sheriff’s Department would have done so upon my request. I did not do so.

“However, I did not do so out of an affirmative decision not to issue because it may or may not have been warranted. As I stated before, my focus was to review possible criminal charges.”

It's difficult to figure out why Nelson thinks charges "may or may not have been warranted," given that the state trooper's report clearly states that the truck driver "failed to yield to the oncoming vehicle. This was a significant factor in this crash."

The report also stated:
The timing of the crash sequence demonstrated that Belonger was riding defensively and was watching the slowing truck as it approached the driveway. Belonger did not have any obvious perception delay to the hazard. He was presented with a nearly impossible hazard to avoid. The manner in which Belonger was operating his bicycle was not a factor in this crash.
The Spring City Spinners are currently considering their next step.

See last week's blog entry for more background on this case.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Milwaukee bike plan needs your support

The Bike Fed and the City of Milwaukee recently completed Milwaukee by Bike, the city's 2010 bicycle master plan that, if approved, will guide the development of bicycle policies and facilities in Milwaukee for the next decade. In addition to proposing more than 200 miles of new bikeways, the plan sets goals and objectives designed to increase the safety and ease of bicycling in the city.

If you live or bike in Milwaukee, please help ensure passage and implementation of Milwaukee by Bike by contacting your alder and the mayor to express your support for the plan. A form letter of support is available here, but your letter will be even more effective if you use your own words to explain why the plan is important to you and the city you love. Contact information for your elected officials can be found here.

Our list of frequently asked questions provides basic information about the plan and talking points on why the plan is important for Milwaukee.

Please show your support!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Enter our Wisconsin bicycling photo contest!

The Bike Fed is holding a photo contest for pictures that represent the fun of bicycling in our state - whether by commuter bike, recumbent, coaster, racing bike, tricycle, mountain bike, tandem, hand-powered bike, BMX, cargo bike, trailer, or some kind of bike we've never heard of.

To enter, post your pictures to our Facebook page or email them to Kathryn Kingsbury, Bike Fed communication director. Include the location where you took the photos. You can also send entries to Attn: Photo Contest, Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, 106 E. Doty St, Suite 400, Madison, WI 53703. Deadline for entries is August 20. Winners will be featured on the Bike Fed website and publications, and retain the copyright to their work.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Looking for answers in Allen Belonger's death

Allen Belonger was killed on July 11, 2009, while riding in Iowa County. As he descended a hill at 30 to 35 miles an hour, a 16-year-old driver named Eric Hendrickson "abruptly turned [his truck] in front of Belonger," according to a recently released state trooper's report. The report states that Hendrickson "failed to yield" even though Belonger was in his sight line for 10 seconds prior to the crash, and that the "manner in which Belonger was operating his bicycle was not a factor in this crash."

Despite these conclusions, no charges have been filed against Hendrickson. Nor has he received a ticket for failure to yield. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Hendrickson orginally received a citation related to intoxicated driving, but when tests showed no alcohol in his system, that citation was dropped and no other citations were made.

Belonger's friends at the Spring City Spinners cycling club are pressing Iowa County District Attorney Larry Nelson for answers. A recent letter to Nelson written by Spring City Spinners President Laura Fisher and co-signed by six other club members, along with Bonnie Belonger (Allen's widow) and Bike Fed Executive Director Kevin Hardman, says:
Our question is a simple one: Why was no ticket issued to Mr. Hendrickson? There is no defense to his driving that day. Our friend died a violent and needless death because this young man was not paying attention and violated the law, and not even a traffic ticket was issued. Why?

Please understand that we have no vendetta against Mr. Hendrickson. He must be
devastated by this tragedy, and no doubt will carry it with him the rest of his life. We also understand that you must be very busy in performing the important functions of your office. Nevertheless, it is our opinion that there must be some official condemnation of his actions. Otherwise, the public may very well and possibly quite reasonably conclude that your county does not take the safety and rights of bicyclists seriously. That type of attitude can only lead to a greater disrespect of cyclists' rights and therefore to more tragedy, not only in Iowa County, but throughout the State.

The Bike Fed fully supports the Spring City Spinners in their quest to find justice for Allen Belonger and make the roads safer for everyone, and we are working to educate motorists about the rules of the road as they pertain to bicyclists. (Please direct your friends and acquaintances to www.share4motorists.bfw.org for an introduction to these rules.) Yesterday, Tony Galli of WKOW 27 in Madison interviewed our Madison director, Amanda White, for a piece that laid out the problems with the case and why it's important for motorists to treat bicycles as the legal vehicles they are. You can see a summary of the piece, which aired on the evening news, here.

The Waukesha County case referred to at the end of the story was the Father's Day killing of Waukesha resident Brett Netke as he rode on Highway 18. He was hit from behind. The driver in the case has paid a $114 traffic ticket for failing to provide a safe passing distance and, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, may receive a three-point license deduction. You can see a story on the case from Milwaukee's TMJ 4 here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

You Are Riding Bicycle History

Darryl Jordan Photography
Ride the Drive, June 2010, Madison. Photograph by Darryl Jordan. All rights reserved.

I've been having fun perusing through the Bike Fed's archives recently, and ran across this article by Jim Guthrie, a member of the Bike Fed and The Wheelmen, a group of antique bicycle enthusiasts:

Think you're riding the latest, greatest, high-tech version of the two-wheeled human powered vehicle. That's what I used to think. Then I joined a group of antique bicycle enthusiasts, The Wheelmen, and discovered that it's all been thought of and been done before. The big difference between the past and the present is materials; the space age has brought some neat things to bicycling. Let's take a brief trip through the history of bicycling. Perhaps you will end up as hooked as I am on this fascinating story.

Carriage makers started making bicycle prototypes in the early 1880's. They had iron tires, wooden wheels and, of course, a not-so-comfortable seat. People simply called them "wheels." These machines were "enjoyed" primarily by wealthy young gentlemen in Europe who had more leisure time than most. They would ride their "wheels" through the parks thrilling all who watched. Unlike bicycles of today, on these machines the rider had to pick up the front wheel in order to change directions. And to move it forward, the rider had to push his feet along the ground--hardly an efficient means of transportation.

By 1821, the first "wheel" had made its way to the United States. By the 1860's, riders could actually steer and pedal thanks to those two inventions. But getting anywhere on such dinosaurs still took a lot of effort. (Remember what it's like to pedal a child's tricycle.) To rescue the winded riders came the big drive wheel (the front wheel to which the pedals are attached on a tricycle). It was developed by an Englishman named Starly and dubbed the "highwheeler". People loved them because, compared to previous models, they could really cruise on their highwheelers.

When Starly completed his bike, he challenged a horseman to a 100-mile, one-day race. Starly won the race on his contraption and didn't require any hay, oats or water. The horseman required two mounts to complete the journey. Eventually, people began to see bicycling as a real means of transportation and not just a toy. It allowed them, through their own exertion, to reach their destination faster than on foot. And many ventured farther than they would have without a bike.

This new freedom caused societal changes; in a small but significant way, it contributed to the women's liberation movement. With bikes, young women more easily evaded the watchful eye of their chaperones. Bloomers, an early version of pants, were invented by a woman for females who wanted to ride a bicycle and still appear to be appropriately dressed.

Still other activities evolved as a result of the "wheel." Ordinary (highwheel) bicyclists irritated horsemen because the bike sometimes spooked the horses. Retaliation by horsemen involved sticking their riding crop in the spokes of the bicycle's front wheel causing the cyclist to catapult off the bike onto his head. This maneuver was called "taking a header" and injured or killed many early cyclists.

Poor roads were also a hazard to cyclists. Muddy rutted wagon lanes often made falling unavoidable. Logically, bicyclists began to organize for their own protection. Riding clubs formed throughout the Midwest and the East. Ultimately, a national organization, the League of American Wheelmen [editor's note: now the League of American Bicyclists], was formed. Its goals were to teach people how to ride and to improve road conditions. The League's Good Roads Movement resulted in the paving of many roads out East. In Wisconsin, however, we can credit the dairy industry with our fine paved country roads.

With all this interest in cycling, it was just a matter of time before bicycle design became more cyclist-friendly. That day arrived in 1885 when the Safety bicycle was introduced by its inventor, James Stanley. Featuring a rear-driven chain transmission and two wheels of approximately the same size, the Safety is the direct predecessor to today's mainstream models.

According to Nick Sanders in his book, Bicycle: The Image and the Dream, "By 1900, the bicycle had nearly reached perfection and was much the same as it is today." Oh, yes, and that seat that you all find so comfortable -- there have been many attempts over the last hundred plus years to improve it. But alas, even space-age materials can't improve some things.