The following are articles I wrote for the Winter 2007 issue of the newsletter of Greenwich Safe Cycling:
Who We Are
Greenwich Safe Cycling (GSC) is a non-profit, tax exempt organization consisting of Town residents — both serious cyclists and occasional recreational riders — whose mission is to make Greenwich a community in which bicycling and walking are accepted as convenient and comfortable modes of transportation and recreation. Working with the Town’s Department of Public Works, we have been instrumental in the preparation by professional consultants of a Master Bicycle Plan. We use the funds we raise to underwrite a portion of the costs of implementing the Master Bicycle Plan.
A Healthier Community Our Declining Life Expectancy The US could be facing its first sustained drop in life expectancy in the modern era, according to a nationally-respected health trends researcher. Consider: We have perhaps the highest standard of living in the world, but our life expectancy is going down! The main factor is increased obesity of America’s children which leads to various health complications, including an elevated risk of type-2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and cancer. These conditions impact not only life expectancy but also quality of life. According to the National Institutes of Health, lack of exercise and poor diet together are the second-largest underlying cause of death in the United States. (Smoking is no. 1.) A recent study found that childhood obesity is less prevalent in urban areas, where children can more frequently walk or bike to their destinations, than in suburban areas, where they are more often driven. If development is spread out, with homes and other destinations far apart, people are likely to walk and bike less ─ and to weigh more. Although teaching children wise food and exercise choices is largely the responsibility of their parents, it is also a societal issue. How we build our environment ─ our streets, our sidewalks, our towns ─ contributes to community health outcomes. It is directly related to the obesity trend. Not coincidently, childhood obesity rates significantly increased in the same time period that children stopped walking and biking to school. In the 1970’s, about 66% of school-aged children walked or biked to school; today that percentage is less than 14%. In Greenwich we have begun to address this negative trend by implementing Safe Routes to School programs at several schools. We have a long way to go. Adults can also benefit if there are safe and convenient routes to destinations in addition to school, so that we can get some exercise as part of our commute to work, trips to the grocery store, the library or the post office and visits to friends. A transportation network in Greenwich that includes bike routes and sidewalks is the goal of GSC. We want to enable the town’s citizens to integrate movement into their daily lives. Greenwich Schools Adopt Wellness Procedure The Greenwich Public Schools are doing something about the problem. They have added a new operating policy, called its Wellness Procedure, intended to teach all students the skills needed to adopt healthy eating and physical fitness activity for life. Beginning with the current academic year, only healthy drinks such as water, milk and 100% fruit juices are sold in vending machines and school cafeterias; soda, coffee and sweetened fruit drinks are no longer permitted. School vending machines are stocked only with healthy snacks, as determined under state guidelines. School cafeterias are using more whole grains, seasonal fruits, vegetables and salads and less trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Food is not used as a reward or punishment. Similarly, the Wellness Procedure includes specified levels of physical activity in the form of physical education and recess and opportunities for extracurricular physical activities. Physical activity is not used as punishment (e.g., running extra laps) nor are opportunities for physical activity taken away as punishment (e.g., recess). If you have children in the public schools, they may have complained to you earlier in the school year, particularly about the choices of food now available to them. Hopefully they’re getting to like the new choices, and you’re hearing fewer complaints now. TSB Recommends Bicycle/Pedestrian Improvements The Transportation Strategy Board (TSB) is a state-mandated body charged with developing a transportation strategy for the State of Connecticut for submission to the Governor. The strategy is updated biennially, and the most recent update was submitted earlier this year. It includes a significantly increased emphasis on bicycle and pedestrian travel. The TSB’s report notes that effective bicycle and pedestrian networks result in a reduction in vehicle trips which, in turn, results in a reduction in emissions, need for roadway infrastructure and parking facilities. It identifies three major roles that bicycle and pedestrian modes can fill: As a primary mode, directly accessing a job or other site. As a feeder mode, accessing transit services that will complete the trip. For circulation through an activity center. Despite being relatively densely populated, Connecticut is below national averages in commutation by bicycle and on foot. Approximately 0.2% of commuters use bicycles, as compared with 0.4% nationally, and 2.7% walk to work, as compared with 3.0% nationally. Walking to work declined in Connecticut between 1990 and 2000 from 3.6% to 2.7%. But where bicycle facilities have been provided, they have seen increasing use. The report notes the success of providing bike racks on CTTransit buses in Stamford and New Haven. In the first eight months of 2006, 4356 bikes were put on racks in Stamford, as compared with 3000 during the same period in the previous year. The equipping of CTTransit buses in the Hartford area is scheduled as part of the upcoming fleet replacement. Bike racks at train stations have also been successful, and the provision of bike racks at stations is being addressed by the State on a continual basis. All of Greenwich’s train stations have bike racks. In recognition of the role that bicycle and pedestrian strategies can play in accomplishing the State’s overall transportation strategy, the TSB’s 2007 report makes the following recommendations: Provide dedicated bike space on passenger trains at all times of the day. Identify and support bike routes to transportation centers. Identify and remedy existing bicycle storage and parking deficiencies, especially in urban centers and transportation centers. Adopt a policy of allowing bicycles to be carried on state funded bus routes. As new buses are ordered, equip them to permit the carriage of bicycles. Encourage municipal and regional officials to work closely with the Connecticut Department of Transportation to include expanded bicycle and pedestrian facilities as part of all roadway projects. Support the development and implementation of the Federal Safe Routes to School program.
Safe Cycling: Braking
On a bicycle, effective braking can be a life-saver. But you can’t just jam them on and skid to a stop, as in a car. When you’re stopping ─ in a car or on a bicycle ─ your weight shifts forward. On a bike, the weight goes to the front wheel. If you squeeze only the front brake lever, the rear wheel will lift off the ground, and if you’re going fast enough, you can go over the handlebars. If you squeeze only the rear brake lever, braking is weak and the rear tire skids.
The trick is to use the rear brake as a guide to how hard to apply the front brake. You become an antilock braking system for your bike. Squeeze both brake leavers, but squeeze the front lever harder. If the rear wheel skids, release some pressure from the front lever, transferring weight toward the rear to reduce skidding and avoid a pitchover. Continuously adjust pressure on the front lever to keep the rear wheel just below the point of skidding.
Naturally, your brakes must be in good condition to give you the best control. Brake pads wear, so be sure they’re in good condition. But even if they are in good condition, both your pads and rims can become slippery in wet weather. Dry the rims by applying the brakes before you expect to use them ─ this may require 100 feet or more.
Pads can become overheated on a long, steep downhill. Control your speed by using both brakes equally, and check them from time to time by increasing and then decreasing pressure on the levers to be sure they’ll work effectively when you need them.