Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Riding bicycles in Hartford

The subtitle of our blog is "Riding bicycles in Hartford". We talk about it less and less because, well, we've got a lot of posts at this point. It'd be boring. However, every so often there's an affront to riding a bicycle in Hartford and we must respond. Chris will be responding in greater detail soon, but I'd like to offer some preliminary anger.

Recently, The League of American Bicyclists came to Hartford to talk about making things bicyclely friendly. I didn't go and I'm not even sure if I heard about this event. Through our friend Kerri at Real Hartford, who went, I learned that the League ranked Connecticut 44th (out of 50 states) in terms of bicycle friendliness. Much like an American in Europe, I am compelled to defend my homeland.

How can this be? What the hell? What does this even mean? Why am I standing up for Connecticut even though I just got hit by a car? These questions are just for rhetorical flourish, but I am pretty perplexed by all these states that rank ahead of Connecticut. I will admit that I have not ridden my bike in all 50 states, not even close, but I have ridden in several states that rank far ahead of Connecticut, like Maine. Third place? Come on! I have ridden in greater Portland a bit and it felt a hell of a lot like riding in greater Hartford. It didn't feel fourteen times better. Drivers were about the same and the infrastructure felt about the same. They had some bridges with bike lanes and we have some bridges with bike lanes. They have some bike paths and we have some bike paths, etc.

Connecticut probably does not have as many cycling advocacy dorks as other states, because the vast majority of people who commute to work drive. Whatever. We're a hypocritical "progressive" state. However, our aged, not very wide roads are pretty easily traversed by a bicycle. Compared to other states that rank much higher, our roads are much better for having a relatively dense population. Greater DC? They have some nice bike infrastructure, but if you're not in the more affluent places that have those improvements, good luck riding on the 17 lane roads. I suppose it's conceivable that a state deserves a higher ranking if it has made an effort to address bike problems because of it's really wide roads.

My 5 mile commute (round trip) is pleasant, very short and is entirely in Hartford. Yet, when I ride to work from my parents' house in Avon, it's 20 miles and more or less without incident (unless someone takes a left in front of you). During weekends when the weather is more pleasant, cyclists flock to out where my parents live. They wouldn't do that if the roads were unrideable. Although, I do admit that the distracted drivers of large, powerful vehicles in the affluent suburbs are occasionally menacing. We really need to pass and enforce some distracted driving legislation.

I don't know. I'm totally perplexed. It would seem that a ranking of 44 would that it's barely possible to even ride a bike in Connecticut, but I do it all the time with considerable enjoyment- especially with the pleasant snow conditions as of late.

Heck, Florida ranks 12 places ahead of Connecticut and it's the most dangerous place to ride a bike in the country.


Kerri said...

I'm really surprised by your angry reaction. Most of the stats that I included in the post came out of me looking at the League website, and not from the content of the presentation last night. The symposium, I thought, was very optimistic and pragmatic. But, I included CT's ranking in my write-up because I found that to be a fair assessment of the state.

From my perspective, CT is not bike friendly. My perspective is that of a person who has not been riding regularly her whole life. I'm not entering bike races or dressing myself in super speedy gear or able to lift my bike over my head. While this may not be a part of the League's criteria, I would put forth the question of how many women are riding on the streets. Where I ride, which is a main street with a bike lane, I normally see two women, and they have not been out since the weather got cold.(Yes, the cold weather pushes a lot of people into cars and buses, but the remaining cyclists I've seen since November have all been males) I look at who shows up at Critical Mass, who's in the pictures at various races, and who writes about biking, and primarily, it's not the females. I know that the local bicycle community is numerically dominated by men and I don't expect the lack of females on the road to be something that even is on the radar, but to me, if half the population is so drastically underrepresented, there is something inherently not bike friendly in this community.

Now, I know this is a really long document, but it's the criteria that the League uses for determining BFC status, and I think it's worth reading because it explains exactly what they look for:

It's useful to examine a place by looking at it in full, and not just at a few aspects. For instance, they're not just looking for bike lanes, but inquiring about snow removal from these lanes. As an aside, two weeks ago, I was using the marked bike lane on Capitol Avenue and hit a hard, two-foot high pile of snow that had been plowed into the middle of it. It was night and there are also no street lights in this area. It was icy and I had the choice between hitting cars speeding by, hitting the snow mound, or jamming the brakes and seeing where I ended up. Would a bicycle friendly community that experiences snowfall each year make a bike lane impassable?

I am not super familiar with the League, but I think it is unfair for Andy Clarke or the organization to be portrayed as if they came into Hartford to put the city down. That is not at all what I got out of the symposium and I am sorry that after reading my blog, this was your impression.

It's possible to bike in Hartford and the rest of CT, yes, but is it what I would call a bicycle friendly community? No. You know I love Hartford, but I want my city to be depicted accurately, even if sometimes that means getting less than rave reviews.

Brendan said...

I'm angry about the ranking, not so much the presentation. I only know about the ranking because you went to the presentation. I got increasingly angry by looking at the League's website. Legislatively, cycling is a fringe special interest in CT. Census statistics show that people who commute by bicycle are almost nonexistent. So, it's obvious that we're not going to have very good laws or much capital spending on infrastructure. But, you know what? I don't really mind. I know what I'm doing is fringe behavior. Even though we have a pretty good road bike, mountain bike and cyclocross scene in CT, riding your bike to work, the bar or the grocer just doesn't seem to make the cut a lot of people. But whatever, that's a latent culture change that has nothing to do with the League's bizarre quantification of bicycle friendliness. Umbrage inducing is that CT is ranked sixth worst in the nation in terms of bicycle friendliness. I equate that with a state that hates more or less everything related to riding a bike within its borders and that's simply not true. It's a sleight to everyone who rides a bike in the state or has done anything to promote cycling in the state.

Regarding women and bikes, there have been a lot of internal bbbmails or beat bike bikemails or beat bike electronic mails or something speaking to the exact issue. We don't know what to do. We wish we had a blogger who was a girl, but we don't know how to get one. We also don't know what seems to stand as a barrier to women cycling. When I ride with women they seem exactly like men cyclists, but there must be some profound ontological difference between men and women on bikes or we'd see more women. Do you have any insights? I like what you write about getting places by bike and don't see any difference between that and what a guy would write.

Anonymous said...

There might be so few women blogging about biking for a couple of reasons:
1. Most things technological (e.g., blogging) tend to skew male.
2. Most dangerous activities (e.g., driving fast, extreme sports) tend to skew male.

To the extent that biking is perceived as dangerous or a fringe activity, men will likely be overrepresented. Compound that with fewer women bloggers, and boom! Lopsided ratios.

Brendan said...

I have to disagree with with anonymous. Blogging is a decidedly gender-equal thing, especially in Hartford. In fact, I would venture to say that there are more blogs in Hartford written by women than men.

Further, the majority of engineers I know are women. Fast drivers & cycling? I don't know if you can point to the relationship. Cycling makes me drive slower because I don't want to kill my counterparts.

I don't think you can assign stereotypes to explain this.

Anonymous said...

A couple of responses to Brendan:
1. According to Technorati's State of the Blogosphere 2009 report, male outnumber female bloggers two-to-one.

2. About 10% of engineers are female (Brendan, you know a very select crowd.)

3. It's not that cyclists are fast drivers, but that cycling is perceived by many as risky behavior, and men tend to engage in risky behaviors more often than women do (this in part explains why men die younger on average.)

Brendan said...

I guess I live in a small and perverted world of perceived gender equality.