3 Tips for Cyclists, 3 Tips for Drivers

I was out for my first bike ride of the season recently and I noticed some really dangerous patterns. Here are some tips for safe riding for cyclists, and some tips for how to drive with bicycles on the road.

Tips for Bicyclists

1. Be Predictable. The safest thing for you to do is the thing that drivers expect you to do. Ride on the right-hand side of the road. Make turns from the right-hand side of the proper lane. If you have to cross at a crosswalk instead of as part of traffic, get off your bike and walk across the street following pedestrian guidelines. Remember, if a driver hits you, it might be their fault, but you're on a 15-pound bike and they're in a 4,000-pound steel box. You're going to hurt more, I promise.

2. Use Hand Signals. If you don't know you're hand signals, please learn them. There are three. Here they are. You make them with your left hand because you're riding on the right-hand side of the road (you are, aren't you?).

3. Stay Off The Sidewalks. The reason traffic laws apply to bicycles is that sidewalks are meant for people to walk on. If you're riding on a sidewalk, you've got two wheels and you're moving in the neighborhood of 12 miles per hour. That's slow to vehicle traffic, but you're more likely to cause serious harm to a pedestrian. If it's a 19-year old healthy pedestrian with quick reflexes who can jump off to the tree belt when you come flying around the corner, well, fine, you've just angered someone. But if it's an elderly woman with a walker? That's trouble.

Tips for Drivers

1. Bikes Are Traffic. A cyclist riding correctly is following all the same rules you are, except she's riding to the right so you can pass her. If you're turning left at a traffic light, she has right-of-way if she's going straight. If she's turning left at a three-lane intersection, she's going to do so from the left-hand lane. Be prepared to go a little slower behind a bike, but you should be able to recognize what the cyclist is going to do next.

2. Give Cyclists Some Space. Off to the right-hand shoulder where cyclists ride, you often find things like sewer grates, potholes and broken bottles – items your typical car tire doesn't complain about. But these are things that at best leave a cyclist with a flat tire and busted rim miles from their origin and destination, and at worst mean broken bones. Figure that a cyclist needs at least three feet from curb and at least another couple of feet to swerve if necessary. Remember that even at 30 miles an hour, your side-view mirror nicking their elbow could break a bone, knock a cyclist off his bike, and cause some serious damage.

3. Lay Off Your Horn. Did you know it's illegal to sound your horn when there's a horse being used as a vehicle nearby? That traffic law dates back to a time when horses were more commonly used for transportation, but it makes sense: If you scare a horse, there's no predicting what it will do, and you put everyone in danger. The same goes for a cyclist: If you honk your horn, the cyclist is going to try to figure out what's going on. He might swerve into the middle of the road, he might swerve into your car, he might hit something in the street he would have seen if his eyes were where they should have been – and would have been, had you not distracted him.

If you'd like to use these tips on your blog or in your publication, contact me at mail@joshshear.com; in most cases, I'll let you use it for free with attribution, but check with me first, please.

What makes a walkable city?

View Larger Map

Scroll around that map up there a bit. You see the "A" in a balloon? That sits outside a Barnes & Noble store in Syracuse (if you know the area, it's on Erie Boulevard East).

Across the street from that book behemoth you'll find Honeybaked Ham (a sort-of deli), a Subway, a Panera, a Best Buy, an Office Max, a K-Mart, and Fleet Feet (a runner's shop), among other things. If you spent some time scrolling around the map – which is zoomed in enough for you to tell – you won't see a crosswalk anywhere close to that Barnes & Noble.

I know firsthand, because if I leave my office and cut across the parking lots behind buildings and sneak by the cell phone store, I can walk directly across Erie to the bookstore. It winds up being about an 8 minute walk.

And to get across the high-traffic Erie Boulevard, you pretty much say a prayer and run (even if you're not religious – it's amazing how a 4,000-pound steel box at 45 miles an hour will help you find G-d). I've only made the walk a couple of times, and usually in early spring, the first time it gets warm enough to take a nice walk on lunch.

Joel Kidder apparently preferred walking to and from the Barnes & Noble as well, and on December 4 he was almost across Erie, having left the store, when he was hit by a car and died.

He was a lifelong learner, a professor emeritus in philosophy, and, it seems, an all-around nice guy.

This isn't just a problem for those of us who prefer to walk. If you take the bus around town, you have to cross Erie one way or the other to complete your round trip.

Kidder's unfortunate accident appears to be spawning a discussion about the days when there was a bookstore in downtown Syracuse.

If you put a bookstore there, it's on a bus route, it's safe and walkable, and people would go. There are also two nice book shops on James Street, in another wonderfully walkable neighborhood.

But I would love for the Erie East area to be walkable, as well. I live nearby, I work nearby. If you make only part of the city walkable, you still lose.

How to drive when bicyclists are on the road

Ride a bike and learn to kick cabs in your steel-toed boots and always cherish the scabs when you fall hard and it's dirty dark and you're forever scarred by a stark reality, a compassion-free urban community. The majority is the majority no matter where you are (no matter where you live most) (no matter where you go) and a freak is a freak is a freak is a freak is a freak. It's no new news story for the Toronto Star (or the National Post) (and it's not like that's not something that you don't already know). It's just another business day in another business week - Who cares about the fall of the freak?

-Ember Swift, "Freak" (Permanent Marker, 1999)

Clearly, it's not enough that I write this post about twice a year, so I'm doing it again.

Cyclists are traffic.

Cyclists. Are. Traffic.



Any questions? No, really, any questions?

When a cyclist signals that s/he is moving over to the left instead of merging on the highway, it's the same as if someone driving a car is using a blinker: if they are in front of you, you just have to wait.

If you are waiting at a traffic light to turn left and a cyclist is in the oncoming lane going straight, you yield to the cyclist, just like you would a car.

When a cyclist is on the right side of a left turn lane waiting at a traffic light, it is much more likely that the cyclist is waiting to take a left-hand turn than that s/he is sitting in the middle of the road simply to anger you.

One more thing: Cyclists are forced to ride over on the right-hand side of the road, where sewer grates and potholes live and people throw glass bottles. Give them more than a foot of space between your side-view mirror and their elbows. You'll thank yourself when you don't have cyclist splattered on your windshield after they try to avoid these obstacles.

For the love of God, stop talking and tear the thing down already

In 1989, the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants played in the World Series. It was called "The Battle of the Bay." It dragged on forever, not because of long games, but because there was an earthquake that halted play for a little while.

Take 12 minutes or so to watch what San Francisco did with the part of their freeway that collapsed in that earthquake.

Video courtesy of Streetfilms

Now, why aren't we tearing down Interstate 81?

Other cities have moved or removed freeways with great success.

There are a lot of naysayers; let's look at the arguments.

It's too expensive. Actually, the raised portion of I-81 has been up about 10 years longer than it was meant to last, and it's going to cost roughly the same to tear it down as it would to rebuild.

Syracuse can't handle 60,000 additional cars getting off the highway and moving along city streets. If you build a street-level boulevard, you're likely to put a punch of businesses there, and traffic lights every quarter mile or so. If you're looking to head through the city, you're more likely to drive seven miles on the I-481/I-690 spur, than to get off the highway and drive five miles in stop-and-go traffic.

If you put a street-level boulevard, you get more pollution. This is maybe a valid argument, but maybe not. The item just above points out that traffic moving through the city probably wouldn't use it. And if there are businesses along the boulevard, you trade the pollution for the revenue. Or, gasp, you improve your mass transit so people don't have to drive on it. Repeat: gasp.

It takes longer to get places. Sorry, but Syracuse shouldn't be in the business of making sure people can get out of the city quickly. And if it's people trying to get into the city from the suburbs, maybe they'll just move into the city so they don't have to worry about it.

You risk losing lives if people can't take the highway to the hospitals. I disagree. I think that most people who take the highway to get to the hospitals are either (a) living out in the middle of nowhere, when they could be moving into the city (see item above), or (b) not in danger of dying, if they're not taking an ambulance, which can do highway speeds on local roads. Also, figure if you take out the elevated portion of I-81 – not the whole thing through the city – you're getting off at the same exit if you're going to St. Joe's, or another exit a half-mile away from the current one if you're going to Upstate.

I can't think of any reason you'd leave the thing up, frankly.

40 Below Summit: Syracuse Exposed

I spent a good chunk of time Saturday at the fourth 40 Below summit. It was the second year I've gone.

The idea of this group is stop what's called brain drain – people either leave for college and don't come back, or they come here for college and leave.

If you can retain young people in the area and let them do great things, your area benefits. Dig?

Greg and Laura bounced around and saw a bit of everything, so if you want the overview, read the article.

I saw the opening film and panel, and then went to a panel on some of the projects going on downtown, and then saw some of the development.

The opening film, done by panelist Zach Phillips of Scherzi Studios, included a bunch of young Syracusans, including fellow panelist Suntrana Allen, who owns a North Side barber shop, and 40 Below chair Dominic Robinson.

The film's theme was essentially doing something good for your community, whether it be riding a bike instead of driving, taking care of people who need it, or recognizing that if you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anything else.

After that, Phillips, Allen, Sharif Bey of Syracuse Kung Fu, 40 Below founding member Jessica Crawford of the Syracuse Research Center, and Alys Mann of the Near West Side Initiative.

They spoke about the challenges of deciding to be in Syracuse, whether they grew up here, left and returned, were transplants to the area, or if they'd been here their whole lives.

One thing struck me about all of them, because it's something I had to recognize in myself a few years ago: If we want this to be an amazing place, we have to make it that way. We can't sit and wait for others to do it.

I like the way Allen put it best: "If you want this to be your Atlanta, make it your Atlanta. If you want it to be New York, make it your New York."

The downtown development panel, moderated by my fellow 40 Under 40 winner Merike Treier, featured David Mankiewicz of the Downtown Committee, Andy Breuer of Adapt CNY, and Nick Ciotti of Syracuse 20/20.

Adapt CNY was created out of the first 40 Below summit, and their first project was to buy the Wilson Building. I helped clean out the building as part of last year's summit, and it's a gorgeous old building, built in 1898. Adapt, a non-profit, is renovating it for apartments and retail, and Breuer said they're close to signing with a preferred developer for the project.

Adapt CNY is beginning to look at other buildings.

The Downtown building has purchased three buildings adjacent to the Wilson building, and is going to work on those.

Ciotti's presentation was on a bit of a different subject. Syracuse 20/20's stated goal is "government modernization," which essentially means power concentrated in fewer places – rather than having lots of villages and towns in addition to the county and city, have just the local government, or just the county government.

Essentially, Ciotti focused on sprawl. He noted that between 1960 and 2000, the population of Onondaga County grew about 40,000 people – a little less than 10 percent. At the same time, the amount of land developed for homes – including roads, sewer lines, etc. – grew from about 60 square miles to just over 120 square miles.

So, you have a few more people living in twice the amount of space. He threw up a photo of a fire hydrant that had to placed in a particular spot due to regulations and sewer lines and everything, and there was no building within three miles. But because there was development in each direction passed it, it had to be placed there.

All the extra roads, utility cables, hydrants, sewer lines, this stuff costs money, and it's a reason taxes are so high.

Putting boundaries on future development and offering incentives to renovate vacant buildings – as Portland, Ore., has done since 1979 – are good ways to curb sprawl, Ciotti said.

I asked particularly Mankewiecz and Breuer a question that grew out of the CNY Speaks forums: will any of these apartments they're creating be affordable?

If we want the sort of people who work at non-profits and/or are at the early stages of their careers to move downtown to help revitalize the area, we can't expect they'll be able to pay $750 and up per month.

The answer is, sadly, mostly no. The former Masonic Temple will include both "market-rate" and affordable apartments, but they described most of the units being created downtown as "market-rate," which means they're going to price out people who aren't necessarily pulling in good money, and keep them only going downtown occasionally.

Which, frankly, I think is stupid. But I'm not a developer, and I don't necessarily understand market trends.

Overall, the self-guided (after the film and opening panel) format was, I thought, not-so-good. If you were already motivated and knew the city, you'd handle it pretty well, but if you're the sort of person 40 Below really needs – a potential convert, if you will, who didn't necessarily know the city and needed to be hand-held through some of it – it was really a hassle to get to the next place at the summit, without a guide to actually follow.

I'm looking forward to the 2009 version, and hope there's a return to action, like there was in 2007.

CNY Speaks: Third forum

I've written about the first two CNY Speaks forums, but wanted to add a few thoughts about the third, and (for now) final forum, which took place Tuesday.

Post-Standard Civic Engagement Editor Greg Munno gives a quick overview of what was discussed during the forums in today's paper, but there are some more notes that you should know about.

• Mayor Matt Driscoll and members of the Syracuse Common Council and Onondaga County Legislator were invited to participate as citizens (as opposed to elected officials – they would be asked to listen and comment and stick to the forum format, rather than speak to the audience or campaign, for those who are running in 2009). Not one of them showed up to any of the three forums.

• I spoke with Munno before the forum, and one of the things we talked about was getting people involved who wouldn't come downtown to participate in the forums, because they were downtown. After all, it's their input we need most – everybody who came was at least already somewhat invested in downtown. There's a possibility we could see future forums in DeWitt, Camillus and Liverpool.

• The next step is to have the student moderators code responses and run some statistics on feedback to present to candidates for mayor, common council and county legislature next spring.

While I do think some congratulations are in order for getting the discussion started, I believe the more important step is getting some action items taken care of.

I also think it's important to note that some journalists – who too often take the viewpoint that their job is to tell people about what change is going on, not to help drive change – attended as citizens. For fear of leaving out people I didn't meet or recognize, I won't name anyone, but you know who you are. Thanks for showing up.

Cities: Urban creativity and good employees

I've been waking up at ridiculous hours this week (like 3:30-4 a.m., and wide awake), and maybe it's the lack of sleep, but something really clicked with me about the Richard Florida interview I woke up to.

Florida is an author and researcher, and his ideas mesh around the concept of a creative class. He's academic director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto.

He says they called it a "Prosperity" institute because of the growth associated with the word.

Anyway, what really touched me about the interview is his idea of the quality of place.

Included in this are the mixing of people and ideas.

If you build a new development, it's basically building a new shell. It has to grow, and it takes decades, centuries.

If you have a city, you have the energy of the people who started the city centuries ago mixed with the energy of the people who are there now, mixed with the energy of everyone who has been there in between.

The people who choose to be there are there amidst all this energy.

As interviewer Peter Day puts it, you need "good old-fashioned muddle" for a city.

Cities spark creativity, they spark life, and let's face it, the people who opt to live in cities already have those things, and feel they can grow from what's there and add to it.

The same, says Florida, goes for places of work.

When employers recognize that their employees have something beyond the little outline of their job to offer to the company, that's step one.

Step two is making sure employees want to be there – not just working for the company, but that they're given a working environment that helps motivate them.

I have step one at my company. In fact, it's grown beyond the local company, to other affiliates and to the centralized editorial department. Fantastic.

But I work in a soulless atmosphere; no wonder I'm not sleeping well.

I live in a house built in 1890. It has hardwood floors, and lots of character.

If I do freelance work, I do it downtown or in the Westcott section of town, which is fairly artsy.

My day job, though, I drive to an office park and sit in a drab gray-and-green cubicle.


In fact, I come to a chain coffee shop to write before work, because it's the only one close with Internet access (even though they block some sites).

And, if I want lunch, the only places I can walk to are that coffee shop, a small mall food court, and a Nothing but Noodles franchise.

To get to those places, I have to walk across parking lots and medians, because if I walked along the road (no sidewalks, by the way), I'd be looking at about a 40-minute walk to get anywhere.

No wonder we all want raises every year: We don't have any atmospheric motivation at work.

On the one hand, that's enough venting before 7 a.m. On the other hand, this is a real problem for American employers. A lot of us have voiced (repeatedly, over the course of more years than I've been there) that we'd like to move the office downtown.

If the company did that, and gave us an interesting place to work while there, the creative juices would be flowing, and productivity would rise. It sounds like that's not just my opinion.

The price (in dollars) of neighborliness

If you follow me on Twitter, or have me as a friend on Facebook (sorry, reserved only for people I actually know in some capacity), you know I've spent the bulk of the past two days frustrated (primarily in the run-up to the launch of high school football season, but check this out, we've got someone actually doing a live play-by-play).

After planning to have a four-hour break this afternoon before coming in to sit watch for a few hours, we ran into a last-minute bug, and four hours turned into two.

When I got to the house, I heard a shout from across the street. "Hey, sir? Can you help me?"

I looked over and saw the elder across the street sitting on the stairs that lead up to his house (see that photo above). It turns out he had fallen on his way up, and had been sitting there for a half hour.

After some work, I finally got him to his door, and he shooed me away, trying to give me $10 for my trouble. I managed to run away from him while he still held the bill.

I went inside, changed, re-packed my backpack (new book, etc.), and as I went to leave, I decided to go check on him, and lo and behold, he hadn't made it into his house.

I took his keys from him, opened the door, and helped him up the three wooden steps into his living room and onto his couch. I found his light switch, as I was absolutely not leaving him sitting in the dark until his son came home in three hours.

This time, he didn't let me escape without handing me a $20 bill, but I managed to toss it back into his living room as I backed out the door; I'm sure his son will find the bill on his way into the house.

I realized, if he had been paying me by the hour for the "work" I did as a neighbor, he would have dropped something on the order of $200/hr. That's crazy talk.

So, you tell me, is a not-really-physical, not-at-all time consuming act that any decent human being would have performed, neighbor or no, worth $200 an hour?

Let the creekwalk grow – and connect it to the trail path!

The creekwalk crosses a small bridge next to a stage at Syracuse's Inner Harbor, then continues for another quarter mile or so, before ending at, well, nowhere.

I often find my favorite news is buried way down in the newspaper. Like the story on the back of today's B section, a page frequently reserved entirely for the weather, that lets us know the creekwalk is going to get an extension – all the way to the lake!

If you haven't been on the small path along Onondaga Creek, you're probably not alone. Not only is it not exactly the most well-publicized public walkway the city has to offer, you kind of have to look for it. For my part, I've found it by accident.

If you walk downtown on Fayette Street frp, the Warehouse toward Armory Square, you cross a little bridge over running water. That's Onondaga Creek.

If you start following that north (you have to be a little clever about it, unfortunately), eventually you wind up in Franklin Square, walking at creek level (below the street). It's quite nice, actually, despite the fact that the creek isn't the cleanest body of water on the planet.

Eventually your walk along the creek ends for a moment, and you have to cross a street, walk about 50 yards up the road, then turn north on a walkway through a park before crossing Court Street to get to the Inner Harbor.

People who have read the blog for a while know I'm a fan of the Inner Harbor, not just for the fact that there are events there, but also because I can walk down on a nice day and flop in the grass with a book.

You can follow the creekwalk along the harbor, by the stage, and then under Bear Street on a nice, quiet paved path.

And then it just stops.

You're pretty much left with the option to either stare straight ahead in confusion, or turn around and go back from whence you came.

Where it stops, you're more or less at Hiawatha Boulevard, not at all far from Onondaga Lake.

Between Hiawatha and the lake, though, are train tracks owned by CSX railroad.

CSX recently gave permission for the a covered walkway under its tracks, so now they can build the creekwalk across Hiawatha, northwest to the lake. I'm sure that will make the Pyramid Cos. happy, too, because that leaves people at Carousel Center.

Here's where I get a little more excited.

Zoom out on this a little bit, and you'll realize that you're at the southeast tip of Onondaga Lake. To your right, you would swing up around on Onondaga Lake Parkway to get to Onondaga Lake Park. To your left, you would forage around next to I-690 to where the Shore Trail Bike Path ends.

This is the key point to tying the two parts of the bike path together in a second place, making it a loop.

Right now, you can park at Onondaga Lake Park, ride 2.5 miles from the Salt Museum to the Canteen, cross the lake, then ride another three miles along the other shore. Then you turn around on a loop and go back (that loop is where the pedestrian bridge was that they took down after the accident yesterday).

Wouldn't it be great to be able to ride the whole lake – not to mention have a safe alternate method of transportation to get from the Village of Liverpool to Carousel Center?

We can only hope.