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September Critical Lass and upcoming dates

September Critical Lass and upcoming dates

On September 15th, we met up as usual at the Garneau lamppost and rode south to check out the new bike lane on 40th Avenue. Our next two Critical Lass rides will be Monday evenings, October 14th (tomorrow! to help us burn off all that turkey and pumpkin pie) and November 18th, meeting at 6pm in the usual spot. We also have a Kidical Mass coming up: October 27th, meeting 1 pm, location TBA. Wear your Hallowe’en costumes! (Update: Kidical Mass was foiled by the early snowstorm that day! We’ll try again in Spring.)

Here are a few of the photos I took last ride – the full Flikr set can be viewed here.

Keith came along this time, with his fabulous fatbike, and his gorgeous wife Donna and daughter Dani. That Raleigh Twenty that Dani is riding is deceptively fast – she sped ahead of us for much of the ride.
Keith adjusting Anna’s seat.
Shamin and Mandy and her daughter. For being so little, she is always ridiculously well-behaved on these rides.
We rode through the residential streets east of the U of A to the LRT MUP,
over the pedestrian overpass to U of A’s South Campus and continuing on the MUP (past a guy on a cool trike) until we reached Lendrum. Somehow we missed the turnoff into the neighborhood (maybe the CoE needs to add a wayfinding sign here?) and found ourselves on the sidewalk of busy 111th Street.
This is the landmark where we turned in Lendrum – the “castle” (which used to be a daycare centre IIRC) near the strip mall with Sunterra in it on 111th Street. This took us back into the residential streets in search of the actual bike path (which we knew was in there somewhere) and the pedestrian overpass over the Whitemud Freeway.
Eventually we found it. This is the corner of 51 Ave and 115 St.
The view of the Whitemud from the pedestrian overpass.
We stopped to admire the view, take some photos, and rehydrate – but you can tell Dani is impatient with the delay.


The on-street bike lane south of the freeway.
We found it! This is the brand-new bike lane on repaved 40th Avenue (you can see Petrolia Mall, the site of the lemonade stand pop-upthis summer, in the background). Hey, this paint still looks wet!
There’s a reason for that! Keith and I both excitedly parked our bikes so we could snap a few photos.
One of the stencils the city use to mark the lane with reflective paint.
The hard-working city staff who were painting the lane.
Thank you so much!!!
There was no bike rack outside the convenience store in the strip mall at the corner of 40th Ave and 119th Street, so we took shifts watching the bikes while we all grabbed slushy drinks from inside. The guy at the cash register seemed confused when I suggested they could call the city to arrange for one to be installed.
It was time to head back, so we turned north on 119th Street and headed for the overpass over the Whitemud.
There were a group of guys practicing cyclocross on a course on the other side of the road at this spot. Cool!
The view of the Whitemud at the north end of the overpass.
Continuing north on 122nd Street (the same road, it changes its’ name) past Michener Park. Look how adorable Keith and Donna are.
I love riding past the U of A experimental farm (which is part of South Campus). Here’s the view to the east,
and to the west. Pretty, eh? There’s also a windbreak of willows (I think) along part of it.
Of course we ignored the mad-cow-outbreak-era no-entry sign beside the open gate into the farm (everyone does).
People use this path all the time for walking, running, and cycling, and it’s both the prettiest and most convenient way to get back to the LRT MUP.
See? Much prettier than the perpetual snarl of traffic where 122nd Street turns into Belgravia Road.
There are even sheep grazing on the other side of the path in the livestock area.


The juxtaposition of the old barns and Livestock Pavilion with the new Saville Centre is really interesting, too.
Back over the overpass over Belgravia Road, and this time we rode through the residential neighborhoods south and west of the U of A and along the Saskatchewan Drive MUP, instead of along the LRT MUP,
and past Rutherford House then along the bike paths to our meeting spot at the Garneau lamppost as the sun dipped low.
A final photo of those who remained at ride’s end (taken by Keith with my camera) – Mandy had taken her little one home for a nap.

P.S. – Forgive me for the lateness of this ride report! The Local Good’s election coverage has been keeping me very busy, and one of my WordPress settings is refusing to allow me to upload photos of any size. This will get fixed soon, but in the meantime the extra step of uploading everything to flikr then embedding that takes all the fun out of blogging.

Ride The Trail For Elizabeth Sovis – Critical Lass Aug 2013 ride report

Ride The Trail For Elizabeth Sovis – Critical Lass Aug 2013 ride report

Just after postponing August’s Critical Lass ride to the following weekend, the message that this summer’s final leg of Ride The Trail For Elizabeth Sovis was the same day got passed along through social media. (You may remember that I mentioned her tragic, preventable death after being struck by a drunk driver on a PEI highway while cycling the Trans-Canada Trail in the Maritimes last year.) Elizabeth’s husband, Edmund Aunger, is riding the Trans-Canada Trail in five stages to promote its completion and improve the safety of its users, who currently are forced onto dangerous high-speed freeways at the incomplete and impassable sections. You can support the project by signing the petitions or visiting the Trans-Canada Trail Foundation’s website to learn more and donate.

So, naturally, we changed our route plans so we could support Elizabeth’s family and the completion of the Trans-Canada Trail. We met as usual at 1pm at the Garneau lamp-post at Bike Bottleneck, took a leisurely ride down Saskatchewan Drive to meet the ride as it crossed Hawrelak Footbridge at 2pm, then tagged along with the ride as it made its way through the river valley to the steps of the Alberta Legislature for a rally at 3pm. (The entire Flikr set can be viewed here.)

Mary adding some air to her Trek’s tires at our meeting spot before departure. Mary commutes 20 km daily in a dress on this bike, but later in the day was informed that “there’s a rule against riding a bike in a dress.” Really?
Mary, Mandy and her daughter, and me on the Saskatchewan Drive MUP near the University of Alberta. Love the shadows in this shot!
The group accompanying Edmund Aunger since the morning’s departure from Devon crossing the Hawrelak Footbridge, our designated meeting point.
Edmund is the gentleman riding the heavily-loaded touring bicycle. This summer he rode in stages through British Columbia and Alberta, stopping frequently to take notes on the condition of the Trans-Canada Trail route.
The group stopped to eat and rehydrate at the picnic area closest to the footbridge, and we had a chance to chat with a few of them. I counted about 30 riders, many of them on road bikes. Elizabeth’s son Richard was a gracious host, thanking us for coming, accepting our condolences, and chatting about how touched he was that Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society had spread the word.
Richard gave each of us one of these retroreflective stickers. They were also distributed later on at the rally.
We rode along the official Trans-Canada Trail route, on the gravel trails along the floor of the river valley. In places the trail was right at the river’s edge, with lots of erosion from our rainy summer evident. A couple of steep sections had enough loose gravel that it was necessary to get off and walk. We were astonished when one guy gave a woman on a road bike with tires a quarter the width of mine a hard time about unclipping and walking.
We crossed the river on the LRT bridge (officially, the Dudley B. Menzies Bridge), then went through the Royal Glenora and climbed to the top of the bank on the road below the Legislature. This is our view of the High Level Bridge from the LRT bridge.
Since we had nothing to prove and were in the back of the pack, we stopped to drink some water in the shade. It was a hot day, and by this time Mary and I were regretting our choices to wear vintage synthetic fabrics.
The view of the North Saskatchewan River, the High Level Bridge, and the LRT bridge from the road on the hill below the Alberta Legislature.
Edmund Aunger addressing the crowd (and a few television news cameras) on the steps of the Alberta Legislature. The text of his speech is at on the blog.
View from the side of the crowd at the rally during Edmund Aunger’s speech.
Teenaged unicycle riders at the Leg after the speech.
Judy met us at the rally, and we carried on to Credo to chat over iced coffees after the rally ended. I took this quick panda shot while we were waiting at a red light en route.
A sun-drenched shot from our ride home over the High Level Bridge.

Our next ride is September 15th – follow the link for the Facebook event page. We’re planning to go explore some of the newly-installed bike lanes. Also mark your calendars for October 14th and November 18th – we’re making a switch to Monday evenings to see if we can improve the turnout, and to accommodate our upcoming Kidical Mass ride on Sunday October 20th (with Hallowe’en costumes!).

Isaak Kornelsen Deserved Better.

Isaak Kornelsen Deserved Better.

Video from the beautiful Critical Mass memorial Ride For Isaak by Andriko Lozowy, via YouTube.

Others have written much more eloquently than I can manage about the tragic, horrifying death of 21-year-old Isaak Kornelsen, who lost his life while cycling on Whyte Avenue in late August, and the infrastructure deficit that put him in danger. I refer you to their posts:

My heart breaks for Isaak Kornelsen’s family and many friends, and I feel I am poorer for not having known him. Certainly the world is poorer without him. 

I still feel ill whenever I think of the accident – and the ignorant, callous, victim-blaming comments I have seen made in certain quarters. The attitude that cyclists and pedestrians are inconveniences and obstacles to legitimate road traffic, instead of real people, particularly upsets me. Some have suggested banning the use of bicycles on Whyte altogether, and forcing cyclists to use the side streets, which misses the point that road safety is about making streets safe for everyone, not removing vulnerable users from them. I’m convinced that adding off-street parking in the form of another parkade and using what is now a parking lane to create a separated bike lane along Whyte Avenue would be a win-win for cyclists and motorists. If only it didn’t take a ‘freak accident’ completely preventable death to catalyze these important conversations about road safety and incomplete infrastructure.

(Isaak Kornelsen was not the only Edmontonian to needlessly lose their life while on a bicycle this year, although his death is being more widely mourned. While on a cycling vacation with her husband in July, 63-year-old Elizabeth Ann Sovis was struck from behind by a van driven by a man with multiple prior convictions for drunk driving. Follow up reports stressed that she was a cautious bicyclist, and Cycling PEI held a small memorial ride for her. The narrow, shoulderless country roads of PEI probably won’t get any infrastructure upgrades, despite the promotion of the province as a cycle touring destinationThe driver will go to trial this autumn. Ms Sovis was a French teacher, close to retirement, and her death has played out as a private tragedy because of her age and the location of her accident – but it was just as preventable.)

My New Neighborhood

My New Neighborhood

As I’ve mentioned before, my past six months have been absorbed with house hunting and moving. Our new neighborhood is next-door to our old one, still in the southwestern suburbs of the city; we wanted to keep the kids in the same school, and we like the area’s New Urbanist plan, which really does work as intended to make the subdivisions more walkable/bikeable (well, when the streets aren’t covered in snow, anyway). 
So why move? We needed a floor plan that works better for our family; much as we loved our old house, our needs have changed since we bought it (before kids), and we really wanted a home with all the bedrooms on the same floor and the kitchen and living room overlooking the back yard. The house we bought has good bones, a big yard for gardening, and good solar exposure. As we have time and resources, we’ll be making lots of changes to the new house that allow us to live more sustainably, which will be an ongoing topic on my other blogToday’s post has more to do with showing how our new location will still make it possible, with some diligence and work, to live car-light here and to model an active outdoor lifestyle for our kids.
When I spent some time with Google Maps, I found that our new house is: 

  • 2.0km from the kids’ school (25min walking or 8 min cycling for an adult), 
  • easy cycling distance from the cluster of shopping strips (1.7km to the Save-On Foods)
  • 2.4km from the new rec centre (and the weekly farmers’ market!),  
  • 3.0km from the new big-box area with proposed pedestrian-friendly ‘main street’ that’s being built on the other side of the Henday ring road (10 min cycling), and
  • 750m from a shopping strip that will include a yoga studio and a restaurant (2 min cycling), that includes a drug store with a convenience grocery section.
Yes, there is a bike rack already at the drug store. Planning fail on not bringing a longer lock or a reuseable bag.

Public transit is decent; currently my husband drives ten minutes or so, then parks and takes a 20 minute LRT ride downtown for work. I’m planning to work from home. The kids will be able to take a school bus to school, as well. 

So the current walk score of 10 (eep!) and transit score of 32 don’t tell the whole story of what it will be like to live here in a couple of years once all the local amenities have been built. I think living car-light will be completely doable for us in this location.

One of the other big attractions of our new area is its proximity to the Whitemud Creek ravine for recreational walking and cycling. Our house is only 100 ft from the trailhead for a network of recreational trails along the top of the wildlife sanctuary that I’m enjoying exploring with my kids. Here are a few photos:
a paved multiuse path winds along the perimeter of the neighborhood at the top edge of the ravine,
with signage that shows a map of the main trails
and photos of the wildlife that live in the nature sanctuary along the creekbed,
and lots of inviting side trails to explore on foot.
(This one leads to a handbuilt child-size bench with a view of the creek below.)
Where the paved MUP crosses into the wildlife sanctuary, there is a broad meadow and a sign on the fence.
You can really tell here that this part of the area used to be farmland.
Where the paved path currently ends, there is a former farm driveway that connects to the MUP at the other end of the ravine, beside the uber-eco Larch Park development, so we think this will be paved at some point as well,
but there is also a well-worn footpath that leads down through the forest to the meandering creek.
There are lots of trails like these, much better suited for walking than cycling, including the abandoned piece of 142nd Street that leads down to the power line right-of-way and a path alongside the creek under the Henday to the other side, and a steep downhill path edged by caragana bushes that leads to a former coal mine (no, we haven’t found a shaft, just slag heaps). There’s all kinds of wildlife living in the ravine, too; so far my kids have seen a beaver, a coyote, and several species of birds while exploring these trails with their dad. I haven’t been quite so lucky yet. 
The 6 year old urban planner. Part II.

The 6 year old urban planner. Part II.

 Sometimes my kid cracks me up. Early this summer I was driving with him on Aurora Blvd. Highway 99 extends both north and south of Seattle, but it then becomes Aurora Blvd, a city street lined with businesses in the north end, before reaching the tunnel and then the Viaduct downtown. For much of its length, this street is a major arterial with four lanes, two in each direction. It carries a high volume of traffic and is a necessary route through the city, but is an awkward hybrid of freeway and city street and is a major barrier for both pedestrians and cyclists.

As we drove south, Spencer asked “Where’s the bike lane?”

“Well”, I replied, “It’s on the sidewalk. People walking and people on bikes have to share.”

Spencer was not pleased with this explanation. “That’s not fair! There isn’t enough room there to walk and ride bikes at the same time!”

Well, Seattle?

The 6-year old urban planner

The 6-year old urban planner

My son is a chatterbox. He can keep up a running commentary about dinosaurs, Star Wars, Spiderman and more, interrupted only to ask me to read signs to him. I will confess to tuning out sometimes – when I’m driving or cycling, I need to pay attention to the road and I really don’t care why Spiderman is SO COOL. However, it’s worth reserving at least some of my attention for him, because every now and then he comes up with a few gems.

Last weekend, we were driving to soccer practice in the Queen Anne neighborhood. As we turned onto Nickerson Drive, we slowed down.

Spencer asked “Why are we going so slow? Go faster, Mommy!”

Me “There’s a bike ahead of us. We can’t go faster until it’s safe to pass him.”

Spencer “Why isn’t he in the bike lane?”

Me “Well, there isn’t a bike lane here. We have sharrows, special markings saying that cars and bikes have to be careful and share the same lane. See, here it turns into a bike lane, so we have more room and I can pass him”.

I passed the cyclist and had a minute or so of silence while Spencer looked out the window. Then he spoke up again.

“Why is the bike lane here and then gone, and then here and then gone again?  That’s too confusing!”


Ballard Greenways

Ballard Greenways

If you’ve talked to me in person in the last few months, you’ve probably heard me talking about Neighborhood Greenways*. To crib from a previous post “These are quiet streets that give priority to cyclists and pedestrians, while still allowing motorized traffic at lower speeds. They’re for people who don’t want to ride on the busy arterial streets, but still need to go somewhere”.

A group of folks in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle have been meeting to discuss Greenways, why we think they would be great for Ballard and how to organize to bring it about. We now have a name – Ballard Greenways** – and a facebook page.

Last Sunday, I organized a group ride to tour some of our proposed routes and to start promoting the idea to the community. We timed it to finish at the Summer Field Day, a kids’ event featuring outdoor games and races at a local park. A couple of neighbourhood blogs were good enough to post about the ride (Thanks MyBallard and Totcycle!), which brought us a few new folks. There was a steady drizzle all morning and I was concerned that I might have to cancel. However, the rain stopped midday, so the ride was on.

Chatting about the route as we wait for everyone to arrive.

This was the first time that I had brought Spencer for a group ride. He was very interested in this little girl in her trailer.

Spencer found it hard to resist touching everyone else’s bikes. Resist? Who am I kidding? He didn’t even try. Clearly, this will take more discussion and coaching before I try it again. However, once we got on our bikes and got rolling, he did great.

I’m afraid I don’t have any photos from the ride itself. Leading the ride, watching Spencer, and talking about routes took all of my attention. Next time, I’ll have to pass the camera on to someone with a free hand. However, it went really well. There were good discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of different routes. We were treated to a little local history about an old theatre and the old bus and streetcar routes.

I know we’ll have to be patient and that this will take a lot of work. The group rides and discussions over a beer are pure fun, but the serious organizing is just beginning. Still, I’m really excited to see how many people are enthusiastic about bringing better and safer infrastructure to our neighbourhood.

*After 10 years in the US, my writing is a random mixture of Canadian and American spellings.

**Cause we’re creative like that.

This is my group ride entry for the LGRAB Summer Games 2011.

Margin of Error

Margin of Error

What makes good infrastructure? One key feature is that it is forgiving. Infrastructure that requires expert skills and an absolute focus is crappy infrastructure.

Photo courtesy of Michael Snyder via SeattleBikeBlog.
A recent example of this can be found on the Burke-Gilman Trail. This is the grandaddy of multi-user trails in Seattle. It’s a major route for bicycle commuters during the week and is thronged with the kids & dogs crowd on the weekend. It’s one of my favourite parts of Seattle. However, it does have its flaws, including a spot near NW 41st St. where the trail crosses railway tracks. The trail does try to indicate that cyclists should cross at a 90 degree angle, but the natural path to take is a shallow angle that places cyclists at considerable risk of catching a tire on the track and falling. To try to improve safety, a rubber mat was installed. This does prevent catching a tire, but can become very slippery itself when it’s wet or frosty. Not surprisingly, this has been the site of many accidents (well covered by the Seattle Times and SeattleBikeBlog) and I’m happy to hear that SDOT is fixing it.
The response to the story has been fascinating. At some point in the comments, you’ll typically see an exchange like this:
  • People ride too fast there! I always slow down enough and cross at a 90 degree angle and I’ve NEVER had a problem
  • Well, I’m a VERY experienced cyclist and have crossed that spot thousands of times without a problem before falling and breaking my arm!
  • People have to learn how to cross railway track safely. Slow down and cross at a perfect 90 degree angle!

Now, I’m all for safety, and hearing about these accidents certainly reminds me to be careful when crossing the tracks. I also recognize that the city can’t find and correct every hazard out there, whether it’s gravel, potholes or wet leaves. However, I think people tend to miss the point. When we build and design infrastructure, we can’t assume that everyone using it will be highly skilled. We also can’t assume that those who are skilled will be paying perfect attention at every moment in time. Our brains do not work this way. We all get distracted by things we see on our way, personal issues, or even thoughts of dinner. If a spot is particularly risky, you can do everything correctly (which we often don’t) and still have a significant chance of falling.

If our infrastructure demands perfection, it’s only a matter of time before we’ll fail. Good infrastructure allows for some margin of error. We demand it in the design of our highways and cars – let’s also demand it in our bicycling infrastructure.
Gender Gap?

Gender Gap?

There’s a fascinating discussion going on in bike-blog-land as a result of Elly Blue’s Bicycling’s Gender Gap post at Grist. She makes an interesting argument that the gender disparity in ridership figures could be a result of economic disparity and additional caregiving and household duties, in addition to the ‘fear and fashion’ theories – and points out that both cycling infrastructure and appropriate, affordable bikes for carrying kids and cargo are missing in most North American cities. The lively comment section is well worth a read, with additional points about racism, class-ism, street harassment, and public perceptions of cyclists being made. It’s also well worth going back and reading the rest of the series of articles, which includes some especially salient points about political pressure to keep the status quo and the actual costs of freeways. The author also followed up on her own blog. Meanwhile the discussion has spun off onto one of our favourite bicycle blogs, Velo Vogue. Go read the links and meet me back here, mmkay?

You’ve read it now? Good stuff, right? If a bit counter-intuitive based on the explosion in lady-bike availability and number of women writing fantastic bicycle blogs.

So, instead of debating which is the most important, let’s say that all those factors are at play in preventing women from riding at the same rate as men do in North America – which they probably are, to some extent. How can we fix that? How do we encourage more ladies to get on their bikes? Can bike blogs like ours, and the social rides and bikey events organized by blogs like ours, actually make a difference?

Angel (my Loop-Frame Love coblogger) and I probably aren’t typical cycling activists (if such a person exists). We’re moms with 2 young kids each and minivans and small budgets who live in the suburbs – and we’d love for this blog to (eventually) demonstrate that it’s possible to live car-light under those circumstances, if not completely car-free – like our blogging heroes at Carfree With Kids, Car Free DaysChicargobike, full hands, mamafiets, and Totcycle are already doing on their blogs for their circumstances. So let’s be honest about the barriers we face to doing that, and how they relate to the factors mentioned above.

(Our coblogger Jen’s situation differs from ours in that she’s living in a more central neighborhood in a different city, has one child, and is still commuting to full-time work instead of staying home or working part-time… so we hope she’ll chime in in the comment section.)

My favourite current setup for easy kid-hauling is the Bobike Junior seat on a Raleigh-built 3-speed (Ms. Trudy Phillips),
but my 8-year-old is a bit too big for the seat and the pretty wicker basket will only hold a small bag of groceries.

We’re pretty lucky in a lot of ways. We’re middle-class white Canadians, so our experiences are fairly sheltered. Our husbands are not themselves cyclists, but are happy to support our interest in cycling. We’re part of a bigger local community of cyclists, advocates, and bike bloggers who are demonstrating through their daily lives and organized rides just how much fun life on two wheels can be. We’re social creatures, so it’s probably important in helping us stay motivated that we have that support system.

We live in a city with progressive urban planners who are in the process of improving the infrastructure for public transit and active transport, and we live in neighborhoods that have multi-user paths and/or sharrowed bike lanes that we can safely ride to useful destinations. However, we also live in the closest big city to the Oilsands, in a politically conservative part of Canada, in a place where a large proportion of the automotive vehicles using the roads are pick-up trucks and sports utility vehicles. So, when we venture outside the MUPs and sharrows, we don’t always encounter drivers who are predisposed to be kind to bicycle users. We have been buzzed and yelled at. We totally understand when our friends who haven’t ridden since their teens ask hesitantly about traffic on the route for the next Critical Lass. That said, the infrastructure in our neighborhoods has made that a pretty minor concern for our day-to-day rides.

We’re also really lucky to be part of a community with an amazing not-for-profit (EBC) that makes it possible to buy a low-cost vintage bike and turn it into a safe, reliable ride we can wear our regular clothes on; but turning it into a grocery-getter and a good way to get young children from A to B can be a bit of a challenge. We still wish we could get our hands on a longtail or cargo bike without having to blow our budgets. Going car-free so we can increase our bicycle budgets is not in the cards for our families, and we’re both still figuring out how we can run bike errands with two kids in tow, since neither of our eldest children are strong solo cyclists yet, despite being too big to be passengers. We’ll be actively working on that during the summer holiday from school.

We can testify that how busy our day is and how pressed for time we feel does directly affect how much (or how little) we ride. A quick run to the grocery store without children for a few items is easily managed by bike, but multiple errands with the kids becomes an all-day adventure when you’re not properly set up to do it by bike. A longtail or cargo bike would make that much easier, but ferrying the kids to extracurricular activities in other parts of the city immediately after school still would require a car because of the distances involved. If we were commuting for work, public transit would probably be more time-efficient than cycling, because we both live walking distance from major suburban transit hubs (As it happens, my husband has found that taking the LRT downtown is usually quicker than driving, and more pleasant.). So, ability to use our bikes while caring for our children and living our busy lives has been our single biggest barrier to riding more.

Your turn, my friends. What’s your single biggest barrier to riding more? Which barriers do you feel apply to your friends (of either gender) who don’t use their bikes? How can bike bloggers and cycling advocates help remove those barriers?

Update: I’ve just been reading Velouria’s post on Lovely Bicycle about the different kinds of bicycle commuting, and I wonder how the study that’s being discussed accounted for office-job commuters versus freelancers and errand-runners, and how gender might skew which category you fall into?

Update 2: You need to also check out LGRAB’s new series of guest posts on commuting by novice cyclists, the first of which was just posted – they’ll be talking about their barriers and how they surmounted them, too! I love the ideas from the current post of learning to bike commute in steps, and seeking out social ties to the activity so you have friends and role models. 

3rd July, Update 3: We’ve been invited to crosspost this piece on the perfectly wonderful blog Lindsay’s List, which has necessitated a slight rewrite and the addition of a shout-out to a few of our car-free-and-car-light family blog heroes. I’ll also be adding a photo that wasn’t originally included, of my current setup, once it’s been taken.

10 July, Update 4: It’s up!

The Magic Stoplight – Updated

The Magic Stoplight – Updated

Update at the bottom:

One of the key aspects of creating walkable and bikeable neighbourhoods is to funnel traffic onto arterial streets and use traffic calming measures on the residential streets. For the most part, this seems to work pretty well in my neighborhood. Frequent speed bumps and traffic circles keep traffic speeds low and discourage cut-through traffic. The streets are narrow and tree-lined, making it pleasant for walking. It’s quiet enough that I can give my son a little more freedom and let him run or bike to the corner on his own, though he still needs to wait for me to cross the street. It’s a pretty comfortable environment for novice cyclists as well.

Until…you reach the arterials. These busy streets have high traffic volumes and speeds and often no safe way across for pedestrians and cyclists. If there is a street light, it’s only triggered by the presence of a car on the secondary street – a cyclist can wait until nightfall without getting a green light. These arterials effectively form a moat or wall, separating my neighbourhood from parks, stores, friends – all the places that I want to use my bike to get to. Now, when I’m riding on my own, I can watch the traffic and usually find a gap between the cars that is big enough to dash across the road, even if it is a little hair-raising. When riding with my son, though, I was forced to either make a substantial detour to find a friendlier crossing or to dismount, hop up onto the sidewalk and press the button to trigger the pedestrian signal. Both options are annoying.
Last fall, my world changed. I discovered the Magic Stoplights. When a secondary street crosses an arterial, the city of Seattle typically installs an induction coil. If a car is waiting, the metal in the car triggers the switch, changing the light on the secondary street from red to green. In the photo below, you can just see the circular cut in the pavement where the induction coil was installed. What I didn’t know is that a bike can trigger also trigger the switch! Because a bicycle has so much less metal than a car, position is key. You have to place your front tire on the little white T, approximately at 9:00 or 3:00 on the circle.

Placing a bike wheel on the “T” triggers the green light.
SDOT has recently changed the marking to the cute little cyclist shown below. I haven’t seen any in my neighbourhood, but I have spotted one or two around the city.

Photo courtesy of
This seems so simple, but it makes a world of difference in finding safe, convenient routes to our destinations. It’s a great compromise, allowing safe crossings to cyclists, while maintaining good traffic flow on the arterials.
The main gap now is publicity – far too many cyclists have no idea what the markings mean. Every time I see a cyclist waiting for the light at the wrong spot, I make a point of telling them how to do it. I’m on a mission to spread the word!
Update: I was as at a neighbourhood meeting last night and chatted with a real, live traffic engineer. Apparently, the little white T marks the position of the induction lead, so positioning yourself on the opposite side of the circle won’t work. Also, he recommended placing the crank over the T, as that’s the part of the bike with the most metal. If you have a steel frame, it probably won’t matter, but if you have a carbon fork, the front wheel may not have enough metal to trigger the switch. I tried this on my way home, but, alas, I found I couldn’t trigger the switch no matter what I did. I’ve wondered about that particular intersection before, but there are always enough drivers and pedestrians around during commuting hours that some one always triggered the light before long. Looks like I’ll have to call SDOT on Monday.