Thursday, June 19, 2008

Commuter Profile - Casey Welch

Casey makes the the second Welch we have profiled. He is the spouse of Laurel Lee that was previously profiled here. Casey was sent the questionnaire in January and was to be the first commuter profile featured in Bike Jax. But due to his robust schedule as a professor of Sociology and Criminology at the University of North Florida and his being the Chairperson of BPAC. He is just now finding the time to respond. Better late than never.

What do you use your bike for?
I use my bike principally for transportation, to get from A to B. I go to work, to friends, to stores, etc. on it. Though I do very little recreational riding per se, bicycling does have the latent benefit, or use, of being profoundly relaxing (drivers permitting).

How often do you ride?
Most of the time I'm on it 5-7 times per week.

How long have you been commuting by bicycle?
I began in 1984, and have been full time since 1988.

What would you say to convince someone who is considering commuting by bicycle to go for it?
It's more relaxing than sitting in traffic jams, if it breaks down you can push or carry it, it's healthy, you can eat carelessly if you're biking all the time, your range of options is spatially constrained which is pleasant because you don't spend as much time driving 25 miles across town for a beer ("Hey man, I'm on bike, how about if we meet at a bar closer to my house."), it's easier to repair than a car, it's cheaper to repair than a car, you will be representing a more logical way of living, you will be promoting change in that logical direction (the ambassador role), some people may even think more highly of you, you in fact may even feel more righteous, less pollution, less wear on the infrastructure, no gas pump blues, it's relaxing (if I didn't write that already), I've read that bicyclists, on average, are exposed to less air pollution than are automobile drivers, you are more likely to connect with other people than you are while in a car,
you will develop an intimate relationship with your bike, which is cool and comforting. Ride on, comrades.

What could the City do to make biking better?
Our goals should be both short term and long term.
Immediate Policies, starting with simple, low-cost but substantial efforts:
• Educate police on the existing laws regarding motorists operating near bicyclists and rights of bicyclists as vehicles. Most police are probably aware of the gist of these rules, and though they have many other things they have to learn, adding a few bike laws will not be a burden.
• Enforce existing laws regarding automobiles and bicycles, esp. the three foot law and yield right-of-way laws. In other words, police should ticket motorists who endanger bicyclists
• Advertise the stepped up enforcement. For instance, JSO could do a "Day of Enforcement" or the "Day of Education and Enforcement" that targets several areas in town, e.g. the west end of Beach Blvd. This could be advertised to the media in advance: police to enforce 3-foot law and other traffic laws that motorists must abide in relation to bicyclists. On the day of enforcement, with media present, officers in plain clothes could bicycle back and forth on the roads. When motorists violate the law, such ride within 6 inches of them or throw things at them, they could radio ahead to officers in vehicles who then pull over the drivers and issue citations. Police power is not something we should readily turn to for solving social problems, but in a situation such as this, where law violation is very hazardous and where most people don't know the law, police enforcement can be effective. One of the most effective stages in deterrence is
informing people of laws when they previously had not known about them. (This same type of advertising-enforcement blitz has been used with seat belts, DUI, speeding in construction zones, etc.) On that same day, the city could also step up enforcement of the child helmet law. The city/JSO may even be able to have a diversionary program for the kids: bicycle safety education, and their fine is cancelled...and we can even throw in a free light or helmet.
Taken together, these enforcement efforts will benefit bicyclists, the JSO, and the city.
• It will increase the deterrent effect of the law by notifying/educating the public of the laws.
• It will make the roads safer for bicyclists.
• It will sensitize police to bicycle laws and engender empathy in them for what bicyclists experience on a daily basis.
• It will advance the cause of bicycling by increasing media coverage, public awareness, police awareness, and political will.
• It will generate money for the JSO.
• It may increase good will for JSO, esp. the kids helmet enforcement and education.
• It will enhance the reputation of the city as a place that is progressive on the issue of bicycling.
• Increase signage on existing bike lanes and bike routes, both with markings on the road and vertical signs. This will specify that it is a bike lane or that motorists should "share the road." As it is now, many drivers probably assume the bike lane is "their" shoulder. In most of my accidents and near misses, I don't assume malice, just ignorance of the law and a general disregard for bicyclists. The government including "bicycle" in our roadway signs will prompt drivers to think more about them.
• Include bike lanes on all new road construction and major re-pavements, which is a federal and state policy that seems to have been subverted by both a lack of enforcement and The Better Jacksonville Plan.
• Government-bicyclists partnerships should be encouraged. Government officials could reach out to the bike community. Councilman Redman has already done this, and Mayor Peyton supported him on this (for instance, the Bicycle to Work Day). Other government officials could easily work in this same direction.
o The government could increase funding of Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), as well as increase its prominence in the city government, e.g. through a web presence (currently it is not even mentioned on the city government web page even though it is part of the Northeast Florida Metropolitan Planning Organization, a regional government organization charged with improving and integrating transportation in NE Florida) and through agenda topics at committee meetings.
o Educate the public with a bicycle awareness campaign. Among many issues, people need to see bicycles as a means of transportation, not just recreation. The Day of Education and Enforcement can be part of a larger, and relatively cost-effective, campaign that propounds simple and direct messages, such as: bicyclists have rights and obligations the same as vehicles, they can ride on almost all roads in Florida, and the law requires that drivers move over for them.
o The government could support financially and normatively bicycle education programs, where people are taught the law, taught proper helmet usage.
• Existing efforts need to be applauded and supported. For instance,
o The work of BPAC needs to be recognized.
o CooltoPool carpooling effort can be endorsed and supported.
o The city's ranking as a bicycle city needs to be announced and praised repeatedly and efforts need to be made to increase the ranking.
o JTA adding more bike racks should be commended and the effort expanded, such as allowing bikes on the Skyway.
o Indeed, politicians should have a presence in great blogs like this one.

Over the course of the upcoming years:
• Normative and Political Goals
o Move the local government toward a pro-bicycle normative position, such that the mayors and council members, year-after-year, address bicycle issues as part of their platform and treat bicycling as a real transportation option. This is not just hollow positive rhetoric. On the contrary, if it's handled seriously it will lead to serious debates, controversial positions will be advanced, people will be angered. This shift will include pressure from the voting populace and rational conduct on the part of politicians.
o Designate one paid city employee to advocate for non-motorist transportation, including bicyclists, pedestrians, people with disabilities, and the elderly. This bicycle representative could serve on pertinent committees, such as the transportation, urban planning, and zoning committees. This would not be an advisor, but a voting member. He or she would have the sole job of monitoring and advancing the development of non-motorized transportation systems. This is common in other large cities, and it prevents the issue of bicycle transportation from getting lost in the maze of government activities.
o Strengthen BPAC, which could create and distribute PSAs, lobby, host education and recreational events, organize rallies, etc.
• Infrastructure Goals
o Create more bicycle lanes and designate more roadways as bicycle routes. First, assure that all new road and bridge construction, and all major modifications, such as on Main Street, include bicycle lanes and other bicycle- and pedestrian- friendly designs. Second, where the addition of bike lanes is not feasible, designate viable bicycle routes. Sometimes it is too costly or logistically difficult to add bicycle lanes to existing roads. In such areas, some of the roads should be identified with signs as bike paths so that drivers are made aware that bicyclists frequently travel those streets. This may require minor adjustments, e.g. removing on-street parking or repairing potholes.
o Construct commuter bike routes. The various rails-to-trails are great but are used primarily for recreational riding. We expand those trails even though we have no safe East-West bike route for commuters. For instance, we could take a lane from Beach/Atlantic Blvd in order to create bike lanes in both directions (Certainly taking a lane from cars may seem unthinkable to some, but it is done in many other cities, and drivers still make it safely to work. The difference is that then bicyclists do, as well.)
o Enact zoning that requires that bike racks be put into place with all new building construction. This will allow bicyclists to safely and legally secure their vehicle.
o Build toward the future of urban living and transportation, don't build toward obsolescence. Car travel will decrease in the coming decades, and we are already seeing indicators of that. Yet our city is investing nearly all its transportation money into road construction. That's shortsighted, and we will suffer in 20 years because of this. More construction money needs to be invested in what will benefit the city in decades to come: bike lanes, pedestrian resources, rails, improved bus systems, etc.
o Create and update maps of bicycle lanes and routes. These will direct bicyclists to these paths, which will be safer and more convenient to all travelers.

Two important points on all this. First, we don't have to invent these things. It's all being done in other cities like Portland and NYC. Second, even though this question focused on what the government can do, we also need to be part of the change. The bicycle organizations that do exist need to work together and become more political. The bicyclists need to become more political. We need to write to the papers to encourage them to cover bicycling issues. And so on.

What reaction do you get from co-workers?

What’s the best thing about commuting by bicycle?
Not being in car.

Can you give a brief description of your route?
To work, Springfield to UNF: South through downtown and over the Main Street Bridge, Left on Prudential, Right on Kings. That takes me to Atlantic, and that's where it gets hairy, and sometimes, literally, so frightening that I'll be agitated for the rest of the day: 60 blocks east with no bike lane. Then Atlantic merges into Beach Blvd (which merges into Atlantic Blvd. at the West end near Bishop Kenney High School). At Parental Road (I believe this is the name), the bike lane appears and I continue east to St. John's Bluff. R, or South on SJB, L on Center, and onto campus through the northern entrance. Takes about 1 hour.

Where are your favorite places to bike in Jacksonville? Least favorite?
Favorite: West from Springfield, esp. Springfield to Riverside via the Riverwalk.
Least favorite: Beach Blvd. or any major road with no bike lane and no alternative route.

What do you like about biking in Jacksonville? And dislike?
Like: I guess being part of the few, the brave, but really, compared to other cities, Jax is an unpleasant place to bicycle. In a round-about way, though, I do find pleasure in being part of the vanguard of change in the city. This blog, BPAC, certain politicians, these few voices will have a great impact on the near-future changes in this city.
Dislike: Motorists who are hostile, motorists who are ignorant of the law, police who don't enforce the law, politicians who don't advance this logical addition to the transportation system.

Have you ever combined transit and biking or used a bus bike rack?
Yes, often. It works wonderfully.

What’s your favorite piece of cycling clothing?
My elastic visor that stretches over the helmet. Less squinting in both the sun and rain.

Any bike gadget/gear cyclists should not go out without?
Wheels, and bright lights. And I really like my rack and panniers and mirror.

Do you commute in cycling or street clothing? And if cycling
clothing, how to handle the change to street?

Street clothes.

Are you a member of any cycling organizations/clubs? If so, which ones?
BPAC (Chairperson)

Favorite bike stories?
One that pops into mind is an occasional event of stopping to help a broken down car--change tire, push off road, etc. Just a little irony, a bit of the oppressed protecting the children and estate of the oppressor (though I recognize that no particular driver holds any animus toward bicyclists). Another one was when I bet someone I could ride between two poles with no hands on the handle bar. Not only did I not make it, but I had to pick myself off the ground and pay Jeff.

Scary bike stories?
Being hit, about once per month. Almost always on Beach Blvd.

Anything else?
Thanks for your work, Matt. You've expanded this thing so rapidly and intelligently that it really has become a heartening site. I hope you can keep being the bullhorn for bike events, the bridge between bike organization, and a staunch advocate for sane transportation.



Shek said...

That is a long route. I am fortunate to live 2.2 miles from work, so I get to go home for lunch and get about 9 miles a day. There are no bike lanes between my apartment and work, and part of the road is a narrow 2 lane section of deerwood with no shoulder. I control the lane when it is unsafe and let the drivers pass me when it is safe. I have been honked at once, but not anything else.

second_pancake said...

Hit "once a month"!!! Holy crap!! Put some damned bike lanes in Jacksonville!!!

North Florida Randonneurs said...

Most of my 16 mile round trip is rural but 2 lane, no shoulder roads. Jax can be a very hostile place for a cyclist even when you do everything right.