Friday, December 28

“One Mile Solution” Problems

Andy Cline, in his excellent blog, “Carbon Trace,” espouses what he calls “The One Mile Solution.” Put briefly, it advocates simply switching over from motorized to non-motorized transportation for those short, daily trips of a mile or less. Personally, I like the concept. It works well for open-minded people in reasonable health that live in urban areas. And that is also the rub.

More often than not, I stop for coffee on my way home from work. Conveniently, there’s a handicap sign that provides a convenient place to park my bike. While the coffee is a large brand based in Seattle, the store itself is part of a major grocery chain. This particular store has nearly a dozen handicap spots and they are often all occupied. I have no way to know what all the various handicaps consist of, but one wonders how many of these drivers would be amenable to a “one mile solution.” Indeed, my own parents are not inclined to ride to many places that I walk or ride to when I visit them. Ditto for my wife. I’m not sure how we, as a society, deal with this, since reduced exercise due to reduced mobility can become a downward spiral. Ironically, this spiral starts with the young. As often as not, the worst traffic conflicts I encounter on my way to work are at an elementary school on my route, due to all the “drop offs” that occur, even though a “safe routes to school” program was completed in 2011. Perhaps our high health care costs are not solely due to government meddling – well at least not in the obvious meddling. After all, government pushed to build the freeway system and that plays a role in our long-term health as people drive more.

Walkability and Bikeability
Modern suburbs have become traps for the residents. Fifty plus years of residential developments and the proliferation of “big box” stores, and even Internet retailers, have resulted in ever-less “walking friendly” neighborhoods. My own current neighborhood is very poor in this regard, though cycling to local shopping areas is not particularly difficult. Even our projected future residence is in an area that is not designed to encourage walking rather than driving. Few local businesses consider anything other than automobile parking. Fortunately, we took all this in consideration and did not seriously consider housing that was poorly sited. As a result, our house is less than ten minutes by bike from the major businesses in the community and the transit pickup that has an express route to the major cities in the county. Though my wife might not be able to take advantage of our house’s “non-motorized friendliness,” the rest of us in the family will rarely need to drive on a daily basis. It remains to be seen how things actually turn out.
Our Future Home
My loyal reader knows that I have rarely run across cycling infrastructure that has caused me to ride somewhere I wouldn’t have otherwise ridden, nor that demonstrably increased my safety. Even so, I use infrastructure such as paths despite the knowledge that, while pleasant, they are more dangerous than the nearby road system. What’s more, we live in an aging society, with a roadway system focused on facilitating high-speed travel without regards to making things easier for those with limited mobility, much less creating an atmosphere where non-motorized users feel like more than unwanted adjuncts to the motorized majority.
Clearly, Andy’s “One Mile Solution” is part of the “answer” rather than part of the “problem,” but it needs to be coupled with added actions. I’m sure Andy agrees with this. Some of these actions require government, such as laws that treat motoring misdeeds against other road users seriously, and police investigations that treat crashes as fundamental failures requiring corrective action, rather than nuisances. Others may be better encouraged through private efforts such as the Bike League’s “Bicycle Friendly Business” program. Bike lanes and separated paths may help establish an encouraging environment, but we should never support bike infrastructure that is KNOWN to be dangerous simply for the sake of tempting people. In most cases, safer is not hard to do. Door zone bike lanes do not exist where parking is restricted to private property. It isn’t hard for police to understand that wrong-way riding is easy to spot and dangerous to all at the same time. Intersection conflicts are far fewer when attention is paid to reducing them. In truth, most of the time, dangerous facilities are a result of traffic engineering that departs from things like the AASHTO rules rather than considering them as “minimal” standards.


Janice in GA said...

You know, there is literally NOTHING but houses within one mile of me in any direction. There's a little shopping center with a Hispanic grocery about 1.5 miles from me. There's a Kroger and a Target and a Costco all about 2.5 miles, though. And if I'm willing to go a little farther afield, there are a couple of shopping centers within 5 miles (one way) in two different directions.

One shopping center is bike-unfriendly (i.e., the security guards tell you that you can't ride a bike through the main parking area. They do have one barely accessible bike rack, in the back, by the dumpster. It's usually full, and since there's a parking space RIGHT NEXT TO THE BIKE RACK, there's usually no way to access the back of the rack.

Target has a CONVENIENT bike rack, so I go there pretty often.

I'm in a suburb north of Atlanta. I will give this county props for gradually putting in more sidewalks and multi-user paths, though.

cafiend said...

At home I live just over 3 miles from the nearest store. I've ridden to it, but the twisty, hilly little road to the bigger shopping center is used by a lot of speeding rednecks, so on any ride I might have an unpleasant encounter. Panniers or a trailer loaded with groceries make me feel less prepared for evasive maneuvers. The store in the other direction is a glorified convenience store.

I do ride to work during the months of longest daylight, a total daily mileage of 29-34 depending on route variations.

On visits back to Annapolis, MD, where I lived for many years, I am saddened to see what happened to a very bikeable town. Motorist-oriented development rampaged, even as bicycling interest ironically surged (compared to our freak status at the end of the 1970s and early '80s). We just went there for a few days to visit my wife's family. We walked to nearby destinations from our hotel, but it was a tactical problem every time.

We were in the west end of town, where the cycling had been the most challenging anyway, and only poor people walked. In that sense it may have improved a little because the dense shopping developments include pedestrian amenities, but these do not extend from one block to another. You can walk within a complex but not from one to another.

What pisses me off is that the pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure being shoehorned into a few of these these hellish motorscapes could have been designed and built into all of them in the first place. Bicycling and walking just didn't have a big enough political presence to force the designers to take them into account. Bicyclists and pedestrians in the street scene weren't counted and accommodated. Designers looked past them peevishly and basically brushed them off the page like eraser crumbs on their concept drawing of the perfect driving route to ample free parking.

John Romeo Alpha said...

Even getting more people to get out an walk that mile would help. I often walk the one mile to the nearest grocery store, and some of my neighbors view me as something of an athlete for tackling such a task. But they know that I commute by bike, too, so I'm just "that weirdo" on a bad day, and "good for him" on a good day.

Unknown said...

I guess I am fortunate where I live. There are over 60 miles of greenbelt trails to about any commercial or residential location.

From my house I can go 2 miles or less to the east, south and west to many stores: 2 Walgreens, Kroger, HEB, 2 Randalls and a multitude of other stores and banks.

Now the question is do I ride to these stores? Not usually. Sometimes I bike to the Post Office but not to mail packages, only letters or to buy stamps. I see some people biking with trailers and wonder if they ever use them to go to the store or just carry their children around.

Just today I saw a tweet from @juliabike about some straps you can use to hold bags on your mountain bike bars but I have to admit that one time I tried biking with bags and almost crashed trying to keep my balance when the bags swung too much.

Most of the stores have bike racks and unlike one comment above I have never seen a security guard give anyone a problem. There are the usual no bikes, skateboards and rollerblades on the walkways signs around stores but I still see some skateboarders on them.

I think the problem will be convincing people the one mile solution is really a solution. After 100 years of driving cars with almost no physical effort getting on a bike and riding to a store, hauling stuff back home and working at it is a big change for people to make. Unless there is some kind of a crisis most people do not change their habits.

I live in Kingwood, TX.
Rick Ankrum

RANTWICK said...

I need to try harder. Sad as it is, I am happy to cycle my commute (4 miles min.) or for a whole day recreationally, but hop in the car for even the shortest of errands.

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