Sunday, January 30, 2011

Two Wheels, No Fear, In Slush or Powder - Winter riding in NYC

Since New York City seems to be getting more snow that Vermont right now, here is a short piece from the New York Times about winter riding in the snow. 

Riders racing through unplowed snow in Central Park.
Pascal Sauvayre hopped his front tire through several inches of freshly fallen powder, stopping in front of a small group of cyclists gathered in the morning darkness at the southeast end of Central Park.
“Pascal! Oh, he’s a hardy soul,” called out one of the assembled, Dave Jordan, a pair of ski goggles hanging around his black neck gaiter and a headlamp shining from his helmet.
“I had to shovel the sidewalk anyway,” Mr. Sauvayre said, explaining why he had come out, at 6:30 on a frigid morning this month, for this race in the snow that had been hastily arranged online days before. It would be fun, the 50-year-old psychologist said.
“This is legit powder!” another rider called out. “Let’s go!” said another. And the group began slowly rolling into the deserted white park.
Such high spirits notwithstanding, riding in the dead of winter, in several inches of snow, is not everyone’s idea of a good time. The cold pushes many cyclists indoors, and the snow often deters the rest. Commuting rates drop precipitously, and bike lanes can be empty for long stretches of time.
But there are also those determined, or required, to stay in the saddle all year round, and they greet the cold by reaching for an extra breathable layer, a balaclava and some booties.
“Today, I couldn’t even feel my toes when I got to work,” said Meena Kim, 31, a fashion designer who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and rides to work on West 14th Street. Bike fenders, more than warm clothing, are key to surviving wet winter conditions, she said. “If you don’t have a fender, you get super slush butt.”
Even in winter, Ms. Kim said, the bike is the best way for her to get around from band practice to various aspects of her social life. “It can be slushy and disgusting, but it’s totally ridable and it’s so worth it,” she said.
The snow also changes the topography of the city, narrowing streets and disrupting the flow of cars and pedestrians. “When it gets gnarly out there like this, every 10 feet you’re reassessing the situation,” said Ethan Benton, 34, who works at home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, but uses his bike as his primary mode of transportation.
Most sidewalks are cleared by tossing snow into the street, and cars can reduce the flakes to slush and dirty water. That often sends cyclists from hugging the sidewalk into the drier center lanes, which can be dangerous.
“You definitely fall a lot more in the winter,” said Jessica Meany, 24, of Williamsburg. “But at the same time, you have so much gear on, you don’t have to worry about bad scrapes.”
Some riders adopt the time-tested tricks of messengers, food deliverers and others who must ride in the snow, including carrying an extra wool layer, wearing a good pair of all-weather construction gloves or wrapping the seat and handle bars — and even the feet and hands — in plastic.
All that might not sound like fun. But the payoff, Ms. Meany said, is that the hardy band of winter riders often have the roads and bike paths to themselves. “We wave to each other — it’s pretty funny,” she said of her interactions with riders on the Williamsburg Bridge. “That never happens in the summer.”
Read the full article here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Record-Breaking Year for East Coast Greenway

From people powered blog
By Carolyn Szczepanski on January 25, 2011

imageThe economy was weak, the job market grim and the political outlook more than a little challenging, but the East Coast Greenway Alliance finished 2010 stronger than ever. We just got the organization’s December newsletter and the headline says it all: “A Record Breaking Year.”
The aim of the ECGA is to foster a “traffic-free multi-user trail linking cities and towns between Maine and Florida” and even the organization’s executive director, Dennis Markatos-Soriano, was surprised by last year’s progress toward that lofty goal.
“Although the economy remains a challenge for all of us, the growth of our greenway exceeded our expectations in 2010,” he writes in the December edition of the East Coast Greenway News. “More than 100 new miles were designated this year, translating into 20 percent growth!”
That progress is only possible with engaged members and volunteers, and 2010 was a banner year for ECGA in that regard, too. The first-ever New England Bike-Walk Summit drew 180 participants and the Cross Triangle Bike Ride drew more than 200 cyclists. “As a result, our membership and volunteer base has now surpassed 8,000 people,” Markatos-Soriano writes.
Hopefully that momentum will bring results in 2011, too. “The year 2010 is a tipping point for the East Coast Greenway, which is now over 25 percent off-road,” Markatos-Soriano writes. “As long as we continue to have your help, we can keep breaking records and a healthy, sustainable America is within our grasp.”
Read more about the ECGA here.:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Help shape the Vermont Public Transit Policy Plan (PTPP)

Vermont Public Transit Policy Plan (PTPP) Update
From VTrans:
The purpose of the PTPP is to review and update transit polices and goals and to develop strategies to meet current and emerging public transportation challenges. 

The PTPP is primarily focused on Public Transit services which means “…any fixed route, paratransit, transportation brokerage, user-side subsidy, and or rideshare/ride-match program which is available to any person upon payment of the proper fare, and which is promoted to be available to all members of the public, including those with special needs.”  Equally important though, the plan is concerned with coordination and connections between public transit services as well as intermodal passenger connections to other forms of public transportation such as intercity passenger rail, commercial aviation services and park and ride locations.

The PTPP is one of a series of policy plans developed by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans). Together these policy plans provide direction for VTrans various programs, as well as forming the basis of the state’s Long Range Transportation Business Plan (LRTBP).   VTrans regularly prepares policy plans for the following modes: Airports, Rail, Highways, and Pedestrian and Bicycle as well as the Vermont Long Range Transportation Business Plan. The PTPP will be consistent with these other modal policy plans as appropriate. These modal plans along with many other applicable plans and studies can be found at the following web site:

VTrans is committed to public involvement in all of its planning activities. The State’s Public Transit Advisory Council (PTAC) is serving as the Study Advisory Committee to provide review, input and feedback on the contents of the plan as it is developed. 
In addition, VTrans has employed the Transportation Planning Initiative’s (TPI) cooperative relationship with the State’s Regional Planning Commissions and the Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization to support that work (see the TPI Guidance Manual at the link at left).

There will be two rounds of three public meetings each, one in the north, one in the south and one held through the Vermont Interactive Television network.  The first round will be to help shape the vision for the state’s transit system and to identify and explore issues that should be addressed to realize that vision.  The second round will be to present the proposed plan to the public and interested parties and to gather public comment.
Public Meetings

Come share your views on public transit services and needs in Vermont!  Public transit plays a vital role in the high quality of life that Vermonters enjoy and we need your help. 

The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) is currently updating their Vermont Public Transit Policy Plan (PTPP).  The purpose of the PTPP is to review and update transit polices and goals and to develop strategies to meet current and emerging public transit challenges over the next 10 years.  

As part of this process, VTrans is holding a series of public meetings to help shape the vision for the state’s transit system and to identify and explore issues that should be addressed to realize that vision.  A second round of public meetings in November will present the proposed plan to the public and interested parties and to gather public comment.

All meetings will begin at 7:00 pm. The schedule for the meetings is:

2/7/11        Vermont Interactive Television (VIT) sites throughout VT including BenningtonBrattleboroCastletonJohnson,LyndonvilleMiddleburyMontpelierNewportRandolph CenterRutlandSpringfieldSt. AlbansWaterburyWhite River JunctionWilliston.
For location information and directions go to: or call: 802-728-1455

2/8/11        Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission 
29 Main Street
Montpelier, VT 05602 
2/9/11        Connecticut River Transit (CRT)- The Current
706 Rockingham Road
Rockingham, Vermont 05101

For more information, contact the PTPP website:
         Or:     Scott Bascom, Planning Coordinator
Policy and Planning Division, VTrans
1 National Life Drive, Montpelier, VT 05633-5001
Phone: (802) 828-5748; e-mail:

For information on reaching the meetings on public transit, contact your local transit provider:

Planning a bike trip off-road? Check online!


Who makes the smallest pack-size solo tent?

If you're traveling lightweight and only carrying two pairs of shorts maximum, how do you prevent saddle sores?

What's the weather like on the Colorado Trail in August?

If you have a question about mountain bike touring, you're likely to receive an answer from the large community at The online forum launched in 2008 under the direction of Scott Morris, an Arizona mountain biker and founder of the mapping software Morris formed the site to offer a comprehensive bicycle travel guide with a focus on off-road touring, from singletrack tours to fully loaded dirt road touring (e.g. on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route).

Besides a question and answer forum, the site offers gear reviews, lists of personal bikepacking setups, trip reports and classified ads. For the more competitive side of multi-day mountain biking, the site also includes ultra-racing records, race tracking and discussion. The forum has more than 4,000 members and nearly 15,000 posts on hundreds of topics.

"My idea for the site actually came while doing research for my latest trip on the (Continental Divide Trail)," Morris wrote when introducing the new site. "I was digging through Backpacker magazine's site, trying to find GPS data for the trail. I asked myself, why isn't there a bikepacking site?"

Morris' passion for multi-day mountain bike touring began long before he formed an online gathering place for the small but dedicated community.

"I've been riding mountain bikes since I was 12, more or less daily since 14. As time went on the rides got longer and longer, until I realized the only limitation was a fundamental one: Daylight," Morris wrote. "I had some experience backpacking, including working as a wilderness ranger for the Forest Service. It seemed only natural to try to combine the two."

The site invites members to become contributors, offering an array of entertaining reports and clever suggestions for gear, routes and trailside repairs. If you're interested in taking your bike travel off-road, is a great resource to start the learning process.
Check out more on

Obama: Europe and Russia Invest More in Roads and Railways Than We Do

From Streetsblog Capitol Hill:
President Obama made his long-awaited infrastructure push during his State of the Union address – with more information included in an accompanying memo released today (see below). This is what he told Congress:

The third step in winning the future is rebuilding America. To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information – from high-speed rail to high-speed internet. [Applause]
Our infrastructure used to be the best – but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D.”
We have to do better. America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, and constructed the interstate highway system. The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down tracks or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.
Over the last two years, we have begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. Tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble these efforts. [Applause]

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The many joys of cycling in winter in the UK -- same in Vermont...

snow bike
I rode to work for the first time in a week, a hiatus caused by a combination of days off, lingering snow and a series of chores involving the carting of heavy parcels to post offices.
On the face of it this was a decidedly nondescript ride: a misty, barely-light sky framing a succession of damp, unlovely, slush-fringed London streets I've cycled down countless times before. But I was filled with euphoria. A slightly gormless grin even flickered across my face a few times.
In only a week I'd forgotten how cycling presses your nose (literally and metaphorically) so keenly against the outside world. The rush of air against your face and limbs makes the weather so much more real, tangible.
Even as a pedestrian the cold, rain and snow can be sheltered from, huddled against. On a bus or a train they might as well be imaginary. When cycling, they're inescapable and – if possible – to be embraced. Suck in that crisp air. Blink the snowflakes from your eyes.
This is all the more important if, like me, you live in a big city, where it's all too easy to get cut off from the elements. Cycling is a way of experiencing the changing seasons, marking the transitions of each year as layers of clothing are gained and shed.
While it's undeniably lovely to feel the glow of summer sun on your bare legs and arms, I'd argue that all the seasons have their joys, even winter.
It's easy to skimp on the cycling during miserable weather. Keen to embrace my mood I've been pondering the delights of winter riding, whether on a commute or further afield. Here's the five that came to mind most instantly – I'd love to know yours:
• Knowing you'll never really be cold. This might sound counter-intuitive but it's true. Assuming you don't make any really disastrous clothing choices – yes, the man spotted this week cycling through the snow in hip-height 70s jogging shorts, I'm thinking of you – then you'll inevitably warm up after a mile or two. When it's really cold you're also spared rain, the one element that really can ruin a ride. The coldest I've ever been in my life was one April, when endless rain and high wind forced me and a friend to abandon a ride on the South Downs and shiver miserably like dogs on an isolated railway platform.
• The wonder of new technology. I know some readers believe donning anything more sophisticated than an old woolly jumper and an Aldi bin liner is the hight of metropolitan foppishness, but I disagree. What's to fear about winter when you can fight back with neoprene overshoeshigh-tech socks and breathable base layers, not to mentionultra-powerful LED lights small enough to fit in a pocket?
• Toasty warm cafes. It's a close call, but I reckon that huddling over a steaming mug of tea and a slice of cake mid-way through a rural winter spin is even more satisfying than that pint of cold beer at the end of a summer ride. Less likely to make you wobble on the way home, too.
• Fewer fellow bike commuters. Of course, in almost every way I love the fact that so any more people use bikes than not too long ago. But the misanthrope in me appreciates the space, the lack of a Tour de France-style scrum at traffic lights, that retro feel of being part of an isolated fringe pursuit.
• It's not for everyone, of course, but few things can beat a crisp, frosty expedition through the countryside on a mountain bike. Apart from the odd hardy Labrador and their owner, at times even over-populated home counties commuter-belt countryside can feel like the wilderness.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur: Help make our streets safe — and complete

From Burlington Free Press:
Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur of Burlington is state and community outreach Director at AARP Vermont. She has led the effort to form and direct the Burlington Livable Community Project ñ a partnership with Burlington and a host of stakeholders aimed at preparing the city to accommodate a rapidly aging demographic, particularly in the areas of community engagement, housing and mobility.

A top priority for AARP Vermont in its statewide transportation agenda is the passage of Complete Streets. Think of some of the things that are vital to older residents in their community — staying active physically and mentally, traveling to stores, visiting friends and family, attending recreational events and walking around the neighborhood comfortably. In short — mobility.

If you can't get where you need to go, you're stuck and isolated. Sadly, a significant mobility barrier for many older Americans today is the condition of our streets and intersections.
Q. How do you intend to move this effort along?
With the active support of some 45 partner organizations around the state, AARP Vermont is leading a campaign to pass legislation that will improve safety and access for pedestrians and other users of Vermont roadways. Regardless of age or ability or whether traveling by car, bus, bike or on foot, Vermonters deserve a safe way to get around. Complete Streets guidelines will require engineers and street planners to consider roadway accessibility and safety of all people, including the much-neglected non-motorist population, when building new roads or making improvements.
Q. Will the greater public support this?
While safety concerns for pedestrians and others are paramount, there are a host of other reasons to support Complete Streets, including the environmental benefits of fewer cars reducing our collective carbon footprint. In addition, enabling more citizens to walk and ride will lead to positive health and fitness outcomes while improved land use and public transit considerations are other important benefits. That's why groups like Local Motion, Smart Growth Vermont and the Vermont Natural Resources Council are among those actively supporting this effort.
Q. What's makes a street "incomplete?"
Incomplete streets include anything from no sidewalks or bike lanes — to broken sidewalks and unsafe crossings.
Q. Is this a real problem?
The statistics paint a compelling picture: A recent AARP report found that two-in-five Americans over 50 say their neighborhood sidewalks are inadequate; nearly half reported not being able to safely cross a main road near their homes. This is a key reason why 65 percent of non-driving seniors make fewer trips to visit family and friends, or to shop and attend community events.
It is unacceptable that so many older Vermonters are staying home and missing out on activities that are so vital to mental and physical health due to inadequate pedestrian access or safety concerns. By 2025, people age 65+ will comprise nearly 20 percent of the population. Yet two-thirds of transportation planners and engineers say they have yet to begin addressing older people in their street planning.
Pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation users of all ages support Complete Streets as an important step toward ensuring we are able to make the most of our communities in the future.
Q. What's the rush?
Let's face it, we're all getting older. In fact, Vermont is older than most states. We need to prepare for a population that might not always hop in the car to get around.
Learn more
AARP Vermont:
National Complete Streets Coalition:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pedestrian fatalities rise slightly, reversing trend

The nation saw a slight uptick in pedestrian fatalities in the first half of last year, a puzzling trend for researchers and safety officials because it came as overall traffic deaths were falling.

The increase was small — just 0.4% — but it follows four straight years of steady declines in pedestrian deaths, according to a new report by a national highway-safety group. The rise occurred as overall traffic deaths fell by about 8%, says the Governors Highway Safety Association, citing preliminary estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

James Hedlund, a former NHTSA associate administrator for traffic-safety programs and author of the report, says no single factor explains the slight increase.
"It may be the canary in the mine," he says. "It may be an indication that the drops we've been seeing (in fatalities) overall may have stopped."

Road deaths overall increased by 2.5% in the third quarter of 2010, the first quarterly rise after 17 consecutive quarters of declines when compared with the same period the previous year, NHTSA data show.

Among other possible factors driving the increase: more pedestrians talking and texting, or walking while intoxicated, and more exposure as people pursue active lifestyles that emphasize walk-able communities.

"Anyone who travels in a busy city has seen countless pedestrians engrossed in conversation or listening to music while crossing a busy street," says Vernon Betkey, chairman of the Governors Highway Safety Association. "Just as drivers need to focus on driving safety, pedestrians need to focus on walking safely."

In Oregon, where pedestrian fatalities rose by 18 in the first half of 2010 after a 60-year low the previous year, more than half the deaths involved people under the influence of drugs or alcohol, says Troy Costales with the transportation department.

"Just as we have aggressive drivers, we have aggressive pedestrians," he says. "People who are on cellphones, or texting, or on alcohol or some other type of intoxicant. In that situation, your ability to make wise choices and split-second decisions has become compromised."

A critical factor in many pedestrian fatalities is speed, says David Goldberg with Transportation for America, a group that studies pedestrian safety. "It's important not to lace neighborhoods with high-speed arterial roads," he says. "Unfortunately, that is the case in most of urban America. We found that 56% of fatalities happen on these arterials."

Pedestrian deaths from 1999 to 2009 fell most sharply for folks younger than 20 (down 42%), adults 30-45 (31%) and people 65 and older (29%); they were unchanged for people in their 20s and up 16% for those age 45-64.

Some perspective on Vermont's ranking as healthiest state

According to the annual America’s Health Rankings, issued last month by the United Health Foundation Vermont is ranking first in the nation as the healthiest state. 
Although this article suggests that this must be read with caution, it also reveals some interesting numbers and facts - in comparison. For example, 58% of all adult Vermonters are either overweight or obese. And the state still ranks first in the U.S. 

By Tim Johnson, Burlington Free Press:

Vermont’s recent ranking as the healthiest state in the country might be cause for celebration, but on closer inspection, that distinction isn’t quite as wonderful as it looks.
The annual America’s Health Rankings, issued last month by the United Health Foundation, take 22 primary indicators into account — such as prevalence of obesity, health insurance and primary-care-physician coverage. For each indicator, states get a score based on how they compare with all the other states, and the sum of those weighted scores becomes the basis for the national health ranking.
Vermont came out No. 1 for 2010 and for 2009. Why isn’t this something to crow about?
Because the states Vermont surpasses aren’t doing so great to begin with — considering that the United States, as a rich, industrialized country, trails its peer nations in health quality. In other words, Vermont sits atop a country that’s an also-ran.
What’s more, one of the indicators — for which Vermont is No. 1 — is not a direct reflection of health quality at all. It’s the state’s high school graduation rate, listed at 88.6 percent. What does that have to do with Vermont’s healthiness?
“It is an indication of the individual’s ability to learn about, create and maintain a healthy lifestyle and to understand and access health care when required,” reads the methodological explanation.
As for the health indicators, Vermont gets its lowest ranking for binge drinking (No. 36) and scores in the middle third for smoking prevalence (No. 17), occupational fatalities (No. 18), immunization coverage (No. 27), poor mental health days and cancer deaths (both No. 19).
What pushes Vermont to the top overall are its showings for obesity prevalence (No. 5) , its low incidence of violent crime (No. 2) and infectious disease (No. 4), its primary-care coverage (No. 4), the share of its population covered by health insurance (No. 4), early prenatal care (No. 1) and infant mortality (No. 4).
Not all of those rankings are as impressive as they sound.
Take obesity: How much satisfaction can Vermont take in being less obese than the rest of an increasingly obese country? According to one recent survey, 58 percent of Vermont adults are overweight or obese. So what if that percentage is lower than for other states — it’s still higher than recommended.
What about primary care? Vermont has a documented shortage of full-time primary care doctors (the state has 476 full-time-equivalent physicians, according to data being developed for 2010, 25 fewer than needed.)
“There is a persistent and pervasive shortfall of internal medicine practitioners — that is, those who serve adults in primary care — in every region of Vermont,” said Elizabeth Cote, director of the Office of Primary Care at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.
“But we are doing well compared to other states,” Cote said. “Lots of effort goes into health care work force pipeline development, recruitment and retention.”
Consider infant mortality. The United States has a higher rate than 43 other countries in the world — higher than Taiwan, Singapore and most of Europe. In that context, Vermont’s high state ranking isn’t exactly cause for rejoicing. Moreover, the state’s population is so small that one death can change the rate dramatically, noted Breena Holmes, director of maternal and child health at the state Department of Health.
“We still have work to do,” she said, adding: “We do very well getting people into prenatal care.”
Read the full article here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Graph Shows Influence of Gasoline Price on Miles Driven in the U.S.

At first glance this graph from Stanford University appears a little confusing, however a closer look reveals some very interesting facts on how Gasoline Prices have (and have not) influenced the miles driven in the U.S.


gas prices and driving graph image
It Takes a Lot...
The graph above (you can see a bigger version here) shows average gasoline prices in the U.S. on the Y axis and the X axis shows average miles driven per capita each year. At first glance, you can clearly see two big spikes that represent the oil embargo and energy crisis in the 70s, and the recent increase in the second half of the 2000s.

Some of the things that jump at me:
-Gasoline was extremely cheap in the U.S. for almost 20 years. Over that period, the average number of miles driven each year per capita rose by almost 2,500.
-Even the high oil prices of the 1970s didn't do much to reduce the number of miles driven. You can see a reduction in 1974, and a small one in 1979-1980, but nothing major.
-The mid-200s were something else! Almost no increase in miles driven between 2004 and 2007 (probably because post-Katrina gas prices really scared most people and forced many to downsize to smaller vehicles and/or drive less). Then 2008 saw a reduction in miles driven, followed by a bigger one in 2009 and a further small reduction in 2010 (which was a projection at the time the data was pulled together).
So what are the takeaways here? The obvious one is it takes 
a lot to make Americans drive less, and it's not just that each driver drives more over time, but also that there are more drivers on the road as population increases. So what are the variables that we can do something about? A carbon tax could increase the cost of fuel, encouraging people to drive less (it could even be done in a revenue-neutral way with payroll tax cuts or whatever). Making cleaner vehicles could reduce the impact of each of those miles, potentially by a significant amount (ie. an electric car charged with renewable energy, made with recycled materials, in a factory powered by renewables, etc). And changing the environment where people live could reduce the need to drive (better designed cities, better transit, mixed neighbourhoods, New Urbanism planning, morebike infrastructure, etc).
What I'd like to see happen is a massive transition to modern transit (bus rapid transit, light rail, high speed rail, etc), more biking and walking, and private cars used only when necessary (rural areas, etc). But what is likely to happen is that we'll still see more cars on the roads, especially in the developing world, and there will be a combination of higher fuel prices, more efficient cars that eventually drop the internal combustion engine for electric motors & batteries, and more transit/biking/walking. It's better than nothing, but it's certainly not a dream scenario.