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Why Do Cyclists Break Traffic Laws?

August 28th, 2012 No comments
Busted

Photo Credit: BR!AN QU!NN

I’m paying close attention to my behavior and the behavior of other cyclists on the road. I made a decision to ride my bike consistently with the rules of the road, but other cyclists may not share that sentiment. The problem lies not in the cyclists themselves, but in the way that cyclists are treated as road users.

There is one particular crosswalk on my commute that represents the issue. It is a pedestrian activated traffic light that allows people to cross Iliff Ave (a fairly busy road) and connects two sections of bike path with homes and a school. It’s a major crosswalk that is ignored by essentially every pedestrian that uses it. The problem is that it is a 3 minute wait for the signal to change (that doesn’t sound like much, but the average traffic light changes every 30-60 seconds). During that 3 minutes there are frequent breaks in traffic, and there is a large median in the center of the road, so most pedestrians just cross when they can rather than wait. The question I ask is, “is there a timing for this signal that people would be willing to wait for to cross safely?” I think the answer is yes.

Apart from being a long wait, this traffic signal sends a clear message: “Pedestrians are not important!” It effectively treats anyone who uses the crosswalk as a second-class citizen. As a result, people act like second-class citizens and ignore the laws that are meant to protect them. This is the same behavior I see from cyclists. When infrastructure is provided that creates a positive environment for cyclists, generally there are fewer infractions. When cyclists are marginalized, however, the reaction is to act outside the law.

Of course there will always be cyclists that ignore the law, just as there are motorists that do the same. But some cyclists’ perception that they can ignore stop signs and traffic signals is just as prevalent as motorists’ perception that bikes don’t belong on the road in the first place. If the infrastructure and attitude changes to give bicycles equal share of the road (and really we’re only asking for 3 feet), then I believe we will see more cyclists acting responsibly. The result will be safer roads for everyone.

Categories: bike, commute, opinion, safety Tags: ,

Activity Versus Diet

May 16th, 2012 1 comment

I have been thinking a lot lately about the role that diet plays in a healthy lifestyle. In the past I have been quick to write off dieting as a weight loss method due to the fact that I place a heavy emphasis on activity. With my level of daily activity I can maintain my weight, and even lose weight, without any adjustments to what I eat. I tend to boast that I can eat whatever I want as I know I’m going to be able to run or bike it off later!

But, “whatever I want” is different for different people. Even at my worst I don’t eat fast food, junk food like potato chips are reserved for the weekend, and healthy portion sizes are the norm. The question that has come up in my mind is, “Even with my level of daily activity, would a poor diet lead to weight gain?”

The reason I think this question is important is related to the childhood obesity problem currently affecting Americans. The current trend is to blame lack of activity for children’s weight gain. No doubt that plays a role, but are video games and lack of physical education programs at school just scapegoats for the food industry? If you have children you know that they have almost infinite energy, and their desire is to be active without any motivation. Despite changes in the school system that limit physical activity, all schools still have recess and playgrounds. Kids have far more daily activity than adults, so it’s hard to believe that lack of activity is the main factor in childhood obesity.

Instead, I am starting to think that it is possible to undo all of the healthy effects of activity merely by dietary choices. And more importantly, blaming video games and schools for childhood obesity while the fast food and junk food industries rake in profits with little to no oversight, seems unfair.

Everyone makes choices, whether consciously or not. I consciously choose to exercise because I know it helps me stay healthy, but to some extent I unconsciously choose to eat healthy options because I have been doing it for so long. For some, the choice to exercise and to eat healthily are both conscious, and often difficult, decisions. However, ignoring the effect of one or the other is shortsighted, and can only lead to failure. Small, positive activity and dietary choices every day are the true path to success.

Recovery

March 26th, 2012 1 comment

I think one of the biggest problems of the fitness industry is sports and recovery drinks. Coincidently, sports and recovery drinks accounted for $3.9 billion in sales in 2010 and continue to increase. It’s no wonder that the soft drink manufacturers want to get in on the action. But in many respects they are selling products that most consumers don’t need, and will in fact harm them.

Part of the problem arises with our definition of “athlete.” “Athletes” need sports drinks to achieve top performance, the University of Florida showed us that. “Athletes” need recovery products to kickstart the muscle building process, bodybuilders have known this for years. But these cases reflected the needs of pro-football players, and people pushing their bodies to the very limit of performance.

The term “athlete” now refers to anyone who does anything physical. Just watch a sport on TV and keep an eye out for the sports drink ads. Are these companies spending millions on advertising to reach the 0.1% of the population at the peak of physical fitness? Are NFL football players recording the games they missed on their DVRs, then watching them later in the week thinking, “I bet I wouldn’t have missed that pass if I was drinking that!” The sports drink industry wants every armchair quarterback to think that they need 20oz of electrolyte drink after they mow the lawn. That’s what makes $3.9 billion.

So now we have a generation of active, informed adults who are doing exactly the right things to get in shape, then eliminating all their gains with their choice in recovery drink. They don’t need a 20oz sports drink and a protein shake to recover from an hour long trip to the gym, they need a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk!

I understand there are barriers to making real food part of a recovery plan. Almost all of my workouts end with me going back to work, so I can’t exactly grill a lean chicken breast to eat. But I can take dried fruit in my lunch instead of an energy bar. I can buy a small carton of milk at the cafeteria (granted I have to dig deep into the refrigerator display to find it). And I can pay attention to what advertisers are telling me. Good products sell themselves and don’t need the hype. When it comes to my fitness, I’m pretty sure the soft drink giants don’t have my best interests in mind.

Categories: fitness, opinion Tags: , ,

The Long Road

March 19th, 2012 3 comments

I’m ready to admit it; I’m out of shape.

I’m not “Biggest Loser” out of shape with hundreds of pounds to lose, I’m every-man out of shape. I’m carrying a few extra pounds around the middle, I sit at a desk all day, and while I can walk up stairs easily I usually choose not to. So I’m staging an intervention.

I’m committing to get back in to doing something active every day. It doesn’t have to be the most intense workout of my life, but it does have to take at least half an hour. I’m also making a commitment to bike commuting more often. Riding my bike to work keeps me healthy by doing something that I have to do already, it’s free exercise time! Running is part of the plan too. I can get a better cardio workout from a 30 minute run than I can from a 30 minute bike ride, and it’s weight bearing, working a different set of muscles than I would on the bike. Finally, pushups are in the mix. I can work in a set of pushups anywhere I happen to be, no gym required.

Seems so simple, yet I know how difficult it can be to stick to. I’ve fallen off the wagon for almost 6 months, and now look where I am. No one would ever tell me I look out of shape, but I know it’s true. I think we all know when we are not doing enough with our bodies, it’s just hard to figure out where to start. And it’s a long road, with no end in sight. Because “stay in shape” isn’t a goal, it’s a lifestyle choice. It’s not a 5k in September, or a charity ride in the spring. It’s getting out there every day without any other reason than it’s the right thing to do.

And doing the right thing is always hard.

Categories: motivation, opinion Tags: , ,

A Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes

March 23rd, 2011 2 comments

A few years ago I was just a driver. I didn’t run. I didn’t ride a bike. Today I am many things: I am a pedestrian, I am a runner, I am a bike rider. Each time I have stepped into the shoes of one of these other activities it has required me to learn new things, and above all it has made me better at the other activities I do. Here are some of the things I have learned walking a mile in other people’s shoes.

One of the first things I learned when I started walking and taking the bus instead of driving is that drivers are jerks. I don’t mean that the people who drive cars are jerks, I mean that a nice person behind the wheel of a vehicle is a jerk. The problem arises from the very nature of a personal vehicle: the vehicle is designed to get “me” from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and anything that stands in “my” way is a nuisance. This means that speed limits are ignored, red lights and stop signs missed, crosswalks blown through. Above all, slow moving vehicles must be passed at all costs, regardless of whether they are keeping up with traffic or not. The solution is to get out and walk, ride a bike or take the bus. After you have been narrowly missed by a car speeding through a crosswalk, or found yourself repeatedly catching up to vehicles on the road even though you are “slow moving,” you’ll start realizing that impatience never really gets you ahead, it just makes you unsafe. That knowledge makes you a better driver.

As a runner I learned that cyclists are jerks. They don’t mean to be, but runners and cyclists are different “social groups” and the two do not mix. As the naive runner that I am, I wave at every bike that goes by. The looks I get are those of bewilderment and disgust, “How dare you wave at me, a cyclist!” At some point I realized that they are never going to wave back. “On your lefts” are few and far between, because really it is a “bike path” and other users just need to watch out. Passing within inches, two abreast on the path is acceptable because they don’t want to interrupt their conversation to drop back to single file. The solution is to get out and run! After you have been buzzed by a bike going 30mph with no warning you’ll remember to give that “on your left.” After you, as a cyclist, have been snubbed by all the other cyclists on the path just because you’re running, you may give a little wave to runners as you pass.

As a cyclist I learned that runners are jerks. Half the time they are wearing earphones, so if you shout a warning they won’t hear you, and then jump out of their skin when you pass as if they are shocked that anyone would be riding their bike on the “running path.” The other half of the time they hear you shout, but do nothing to acknowledge it, so you are forced to assume they are wearing earphones, or just oblivious. In addition, the popular response to hearing “on your left” is to actually jump to the left directly into the path of the bike. Running in the middle of the path is acceptable, as is running two or three abreast taking up the whole path, after all no one can possibly be moving faster than they are. If they are running with a dog, the dog will be on the opposite side of the path on one of those 40′ long extend-o-leashes, invisible to the naked eye and razor thin. The solution to this is to get out and ride a bike! After frustratingly trying to pass 30 people who do absolutely nothing when you shout “on your left” you may give a little wave the next time you are running and a cyclist gives warning. You may also stick to the right, and opt to run without headphones, making the “multi-use path” just a little safer for everyone.

The bottom line is we are all jerks when we stay in our own little world and don’t acknowledge the safety or presence of others. We all use the same space every day, whether it be roads, paths, or sidewalks. We all learned to share when we were in kindergarten. But doing the same thing day in and day out makes us complacent, and overconfident in our personal rights. Getting out and trying a new activity makes us better and safer at all the activities we do, and more importantly it makes us better people. Better drivers, better walkers and runners, better cyclists, better at living with each other!

Categories: bike, opinion, running Tags: ,

How the Bicycle Improves Our Communities

February 21st, 2011 No comments

It’s no secret that I dislike cars. Cars are a necessity in this age, unfortunately, but I believe the isolation they foster is a major contributor to the loss of community that is present in urban society. Rather than make this post about a negative, I want to view the positive: that the bicycle and “alternative” forms of transportation are the keys to restoring this.

My generation is accustomed to instant-gratification. We want something, we buy it online. We want entertainment, we turn to our instant-queues and on-demand. We want to get somewhere, we hop in our cars and are there in almost no time. It’s no surprise that the concept of riding a bike to our destination, or taking public transit, is not even a consideration. These activities take too long and we are impatient. But what is often considered to be a waste of time, is actually a huge opportunity for personal interaction with our neighbors and community members.

When I ride my bike to work I pass through many neighborhoods. I am mostly riding on side streets and bike paths, so these cut through the hearts of the communities that lie on my way to work. There are few cars, and most of the interactions I have are with people who are out walking or exercising. Many of these people I see at the same time every day, greeting them with a “good morning” after my “on your left”. I see people working in their yards, caring for their houses and proud of their neighborhoods. I see children walking to school, playing and racing each other as they go.

By the time I arrive at work I feel energized! Apart from the satisfaction of arriving at my destination under my own power, there is a sense that I have been somewhere. I have taken part in a very human thing: enjoying the presence of other people. This is why we first gathered in villages, built towns and cities, we crave these interactions and the sense of community. As more and more people jump in their cars, remaining effectively isolated for the entirety of their journies, we lose this aspect of our humanity.

While I believe that there are many ways for us to recapture this, the bicycle is by far the most efficient way of placing ourselves back into our communities. As more people choose to ride, either for commuting or for fun and exercise, more bicycle routes will be planned and built. At first these will link schools and parks, benefitting our children and allowing them to grow up more invested in their neighborhoods. This will rebuild the community that we are losing, not all at once, but one bike ride at a time. My choice is to show my kids that they can get wherever they need to go by riding their bikes, and to not be afraid of saying “hello” to people as they go. My choice is to lead them into what I hope will be a better future by example, by choosing to ride my bike to work and using public transportation.

You can foster this growth as well! Find a bike store, fix a bike yourself, find safe bike routes to the places you visit most often. By increasing your comfort level with this mode of transportation you will be more likely to choose it as an option. Invite your family to join you on your rides, ride to an ice cream store! Ride to work once a month, or even once a week! The great thing about a bicycle is that anyone can ride one. Your journey to a better community starts with a single pedal stroke!

New Qualification Times for the Boston Marathon

February 17th, 2011 No comments

The Boston Athletic Association released new registration procedures for the Boston Marathon this week (see this news article for details). Essentially it boils down to the fact that qualification standards are going to get tougher by 5 minutes (actually 6 minutes due to the revoking of the 59 second rule) and that registrants that exceed their qualification time by a greater margin will have priority registration. By doing this the B.A.A. hope to assemble a stronger field than any other marathon.

There seems to be a lot of debate in the running community over whether this decision is a good or bad thing. It was certainly clear that the registration process had to change; the race sold out this year in just a few hours, leaving many qualified runners unable to register due to work or home obligations. I felt especially bad for some runners of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Denver Marathon this year who were attempting Boston qualifying times on a course that turned out to be longer than a marathon. Boston registration opened and closed the next day, and I’m sure more than a few runners were frustrated when their non-qualifying times were adjusted to qualifying times weeks later. Too little, too late for these athletes.

My opinion of the move is mixed.  While I think the tightening of the qualification standards was inevitable, changing the registration process to favor faster runners is unfair. There are plenty of runners capable of running well under their qualification times, and with the current running boom the demand is certainly high enough to sell out the field through “advance registrations” only. This may mean that runners who run a qualifying time within 5 minutes of the standard are not even given the opportunity to register! If the B.A.A. wants to limit the field to faster runners, which is certainly their right, they should do it solely by tightening the standards and not by introducing strange new registration practices. From 1980-1986 the marathon qualifying time for men under age 40 was 2:50, and they had no problems filling the field then. Is there any reason why they shouldn’t introduce such strict standards again? Why not reduce the times by 10 minutes instead of 5 and leave the registration open? At least then runners will have a goal to shoot for instead of “you need to run 3:05, but probably 3:00 to be safe.”

It seems to me that the attempt here is to avoid facing too much negative press by using a wishy-washy registration process, but I think they should just come right out and say it: if you want to run Boston, you are going to have to run faster. For me nothing changes. In 2013 I will be 36 and my qualification time will be the same 3:10 that it is now, but that’s not going to stop me from training for a 3:00 marathon.

Categories: opinion, running Tags: , ,