Thursday, May 4, 2017

Neon green while bike commuting

Car passing by with about 15-18
inches of space
I rode wearing both grey and neon green. Being seen and being given more room as a bicycle commuter is important, and I am convinced wearing a neon green shirt, neon green helmet, and blinking lights makes a difference. While not a truly scientific process, over about a 2-week period I alternated between wearing a grey shirt and no blinking bike lights and wearing a neon green shirt and blinking bike lights during my daily bicycle commute. I had both front (white) and rear (red) facing lights, and for this discussion, I focus on the behavior of vehicle drivers that passed me. I did not have a way to measure differences in passing distance, but I did observe what seemed like significant, practical differences in amount of space others left when passing by, and in my comfort level.
Wearing neon green with blinking lights;
drivers seem to pass with more room

From what I observed both while riding, and after re-reviewing video of my commutes, wearing the neon green and lights resulted in vehicles passing by me with more room. In many cases, if the left lane was clear, drivers were more likely to actually change lanes from the right to the left lane when passing by when I was wearing the neon green with blinking lights. When they did not change lanes they were more likely to provide more room between their vehicle and me by moving further left within their lane.

With grey shirt, drivers seem
to pass with less room
These images show both the front view and a side view in a mirror attached the bicycle handlebars. The first image shows me wearing neon green (and lights) with a blue pick-up truck in the left lane, about to pass by, with a full lane's worth of distance (about 12-14 feet) away. In this case the truck actually changed lanes from the right to the left before passing by. The other image shows me wearing a grey shirt (and no bike lights) while a white sedan passes close by, with only about 2-3 feet of distance between us. This difference was commonly observed throughout the 2 weeks. I think more drivers (duh) noticed me earlier and where more likely to change lanes or move left within their lane when I wore neon green with the blinking lights, as compared to the grey-shirt case.

2 front & 3 back blinky blinky
LED lights w/rechargeable batteries
I run redundant, blinking bike lights, all LEDs. On the front I have a 2 watt and a 1/2-watt light which both blink. I run all the lights all the time. The lights all have either AA or AAA rechargeable batteries such as those by Duracell (available at Kroger). On the rear, I have 3 different lights, all blinking. Of course you can set the lights to run steady (or have some blink and some on steady), depending on where you are, and what you need. At night I often run one steady on the front and back. I also have an external bluetooth speaker (which can play via your phone) or via a plug, such as with my i-Pod Shuffle. I have a small piece of Velcro attached to the stem for the Shuffle but I usually stream Pandora or NPR online. Sort of an obnoxious audio horn on most of the time as a ride down the road or path. People do hear me coming!

I also have a bling-bling bell to alert pedestrians when riding on a shared-use path (or occasionally the sidewalk), a beverage holder for water bottle or coffee cup, and a left-side mirror. I have light-weight rain fenders too, and wear comfortable hiking pants to commute in which are passable at work too. My neon green gloves are used to cut the edge when cool, and the jacket has zip off sleeves so I can wear it as a vest when it is warm.

Anatomy of a bicycle commuter
When it rains I bring/wear a jacket underneath, and have rain pants as well if I need/want them. I also have a rechargeable RePlay video/audio recorder mounted facing forward. I don't have it all the time, but do like having it in case I want to review a recording. I wear a neon green helmet 99% of the time. The exception may be when going on vacation and renting a beach cruiser (at low speeds) along the boardwalk or while riding in a bouncy house (hah). When I travel to conferences, I usually plan ahead and find a bikeshare system and bring my helmet and jacket along. Most bikeshares have lights on the bikes.

All of this is not needed to ride a bike. You can jump on and ride relatively safely in work clothes and no helmet. One big reason I wear a helmet is that I have been hit (head on) and hit both the hood of the truck and the pavement with my helmeted head, and was able to walk away (much to emergency services' chagrin). Also a neon green helmet is visible to others, and one can even mount a light(s) onto it, and attach additional reflective tape. Or even a video camera. Plus it holds down a hat, and feels sort of like a thunder blanket or seat belt on my head.

Stay safe and get alternatively commuting!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Are we living in an active, healthy town?

Virginia Town & City, April 2017
One of my Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon* defaults is to notice anything with a bicycle, bike icon, or other related bicycle-related component on it. This week I spotted the April 2017 Virginia Town & City magazine at work, which features an article by Susan DeFrancesco, entitled "A place that's fit to live in." It is particularly fitting since May is both National Bike Month and the Ride Smart Challenge. The author sent me a PDF of the article. Take-aways include these tidbits for a community, many for me which seem obvious - but I am in the weeds - do others think our town is an "activity-friendly environment"? The article mentions that such communities:
  • Encourage walking, bicycling, and active play and recreation
  • Adopt and implement transportation policies and practices that create complete streets, streets designed and operated to be safe and accessible for all users
  • Prioritize pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure
  • Have an environment where healthy foods are available and accessible
  • Have a comprehensive plan that promotes healthy and active living
Poverty Creek Trail System Map 
I think the Town of Blacksburg has most of the components to some degree, and we too could join the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Campaign if someone were to champion it; we have a bicycle plan, some town staff know at least what complete streets is (and is not), we have a Corridor Committee that annually prioritizes the "missing sidewalk-segments" list by high, medium, and low priority, we have a robust downtown Farmer's Market (that accepts and encourages SNAP at double-value), and the transportation chapter of the Town's Comprehensive Plan (being updated through 2017 - take the survey!) mentions the pedestrian and bicycle routes, including the Huckleberry Trail, and other shared-use pathways. We also have two health-food stores, a fair number of organic food products in our grocery stores, a vibrant running and a walking/hiking store, and nearby we have Pandapas Pond and the 17-mile Poverty Creek Trail System. And there is more if you look. 

What is your take on it? 

I am just a lowly daily bicycle commuter and a runner in a small college town, admittedly on the fringe, so I cannot claim to represent the majority. All 5 of the bullets above seem wise, but what seems walk-able or bicycle-friendly to me may not seem so to others. What the Town has listed online may not align with your personal experience as to what makes for a good, activity-friendly environment.

*The Baader-Neinhoff Phenomenon is "where one stumbles upon some obscure piece of information and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly."