On the Road With Julie, Part One: Colorado Bike Summit

Posted on March 21, 2016 · Posted in General

What a whirlwind the last several weeks have been! Between keeping up with the progress of LB 716, bike summits on the regional and national level and presenting at a conference in Kearney, I’m certainly not lacking in inspiration or things on which to reflect.  I thought I’d take a moment to share some of the ‘a-ha moments’ that got feverishly scribbled in my notebook. (Now the challenge becomes trying to decipher those scribbles.)

Overview

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Attendees were greeted by elementary school students handing out valentines! “I get to have a bike race and you get to ride it everywhere.” Yup.

One of the items to come of out of the NeBA strategic planning process last fall was the goal to host a state bike summit.  Our friends at Bicycle Colorado have organized a similar event for a while, and we’ve heard that they do it well. A ridiculously cheap flight and Airbnb room made it possible to head to Denver and do some recon. Even better, our board member Katie Bradshaw from Scottsbluff was able to drive down for the day and join me.

The agenda was top notch, with speakers including big wigs like Colorado Governor Hickenlooper, Tim Blumenthal, President of People for Bikes (located just up the road in Boulder), and the Director Colorado Dept of Transportation, Shailen Bhatt.  We were also treated to thoughts from the new Colorado Bike Czar, Ken Gart. (Ken is a personal friend of the Governor and is doing this job unpaid.) The awesome lunch keynote address was brought by Mikael Colville-Andersen, CEO of Copenhagenize Design Co.

A-HA Moments

We’re Famous! (Or Infamous)
Once again, Nebraska was called out, this time by CDOT Director Bhatt, for being the only state left with a Department of Roads and not a Department of Transportation. To some, it seems like a meaningless one word difference; to those who understand that transportation is more than just cars, it is the elephant in the room.  This agency name – and the mindset that goes with it  – needs to change in Nebraska. We do see a light at the end of the tunnel here, and we’re anxious to play a role in making it happen.

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Sorry for the poor quality! Photo of a powerpoint slide from the back of the room.

Momentumists vs Recklists
Mickel Colville-Andersen’s keynote address was amazing. His company has spent hundreds of hours researching where and how bicyclists ride. This research was spurred by the complaints they hear from policy makers and citizens when discussing potential bike infrastructure projects – complaints that always seem revolve around the “bad” behavior of bicyclists . This struck a nerve with me, with the questions continually raised by our own state senators fresh in my mind from LB 716 conversations.

At any rate, I was grateful to see the results of one recent study Andersen’s team had completed. It involved human observation of bicyclists at one intersection. The team categorized riders into three groups: “Recklists” – those that flew through the intersection, ignoring the traffic signal, putting themselves and others at risk.  “Momentumists” – those that encountered a stop signal, but slowed down, hesitated (without stopping), and proceeded through only if there was no oncoming traffic. Their motivation was to maintain that crucial momentum to keep riding.  “Conformists” – those that followed the traffic signals to the letter of the law.

After 250 hours of observation, the results:
Recklists = 1%
Momentumists = 6%
Conformists = 93%

Of course, it is the Recklists that are the stickiest – it is this type of behavior that sticks longest in the minds of our law makers and the public at large, even though the majority of people are following the rules. It is maddening.  It would be great if we could figure out a way to replicate this type of study locally.

Isn’t Safety Enough?

My other big A-Ha came at a session with a panel of local officials that had recently been working on bike infrastructure projects. Some projects had been successful, some had not. The lessons learned were valuable. Even bicycle utopia cities like Boulder don’t have it easy, contrary to what it seems like from the outside looking in.

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This one wasn’t hard to decipher.

My background is in Public Administration, and so the public process is something near and dear to my heart. I think it is important that our leaders engage the public as early and as often as possible when it comes to governing. However, the kind of push back that we often get at meetings about bike-related topics is usually emotion-based, and just plain wrong. One quote I scribbled: “No matter how much public outreach you do, people will still complain.” This may have been stated by someone in the thick of a frustrating project.

How much weight should be given to opinions that are not fact-based when it comes to determining whether or not we should, for instance, build a street with a protected bike lane? If we know from all of the data, both qualitative and quantitative, that a certain project will make a street measurably SAFER FOR EVERYONE, shouldn’t that count for something?  Shouldn’t that count for everything?  This is not to say that we should ignore and not attempt to address the legitimate concerns of citizens and project stakeholders; scrapping a project altogether on the basis of one group with a NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) argument is another story.  How can we balance what people (don’t) want and what people need (safety)? I’m still pondering this one.

Data, Data and more Data:
Attendees were implored by the panelists to collect as much data as possible on infrastructure projects. “Get 3 times as much data as you think you need” was one quote I noted.  Using simple Go Pro cameras and other low-tech methods were discussed.

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Don’t be afraid! 

Interim data collection was another thing the group was encouraged to pursue. “Don’t wait until the end to tell people how it is going.”

Duly noted.

 I did not attend the Lobby Day portion of the event the next morning. Bicycle Colorado set up a table with bagels and coffee inside the state capitol and encouraged summit attendees to reach out to their reps and invite them to meet and chat with them. It was informal, but a great chance for personal connections to be made and strong working relationships to be be fostered.

In the end, it is clear that our friends at Bicycle Colorado are doing great work and have figured out how to create an interesting and informative state bike summit.  We are looking forward to the day that we can host our own and have a room full of people that want to make Nebraska more bicycle friendly!

Next installment, coming soon: the National Bike Summit