Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wander Around Washington -- 7-27-07 (Olympia)

This morning I do touristy bike-geeky things. I take pictures of the capitol. I take pictures of bike lockers and bike racks by the transit center. I take pictures of my bike by a big war statue.

At 9:00 AM, I meet up with Larry Leveen at his house. Larry is one of those great guys who just plain gets things done. Larry literally wrote the book on bike commuting and then put it up as a free PDF here:

He has a bunch of other great stuff including printable summaries of the Washington State bicycle laws on his website here:

Larry and I chat for several hours. Larry has a good sense of what works in terms of growing a community that fosters cycling. "It's not just facilities and infrastructure, it's education." But jurisdictional issues make it hard to do programs and it's relatively easy to put a stripe of paint on the road. But a bad bike lane, something that encourages cyclists to ride in the door zone or dumps them into the path of right turning cars, often does more harm than good.

We talk about the Effective Cycling people. "The problem is a lot of people will never even consider riding in traffic and a lot of EC folks spend way too much time and effort railing against facilities." I tell Larry about a site I tend to point people to, Michael Bluejay's How Not To Get Hit By Cars. "I like it because it's more pragmatic and less dogmatic."

Larry and I agree that one of the things that makes us safer as cyclists is if there are more of us out there. And that's where facilities can help. But it's not all one thing or the other. Bike trails, bike lanes, vehicular cycling, sharrows, helmets can all be part of the mix but each of those things can also be a point of controversy that absorbs huge amounts of time and energy.

Larry has good advice on how not to get bogged down in the "you're wrong!" discussions. "Keep the ego out of it. Work on what you can and if folks wind up using it, that's great." He points to his commute guide. "We just made it." Larry left space on it where folks can put their own logos and stuff and he encourages folks to print it out and use it. "It's been used by a variety of other states and towns." He's found it pirated in some cases but usually people ask. "I don't have a problem with people making copies, that's why we made it, but it's better if they ask. I can keep track and keep people up-to-date with revisions." As with many things, there is more to do than time to do it. I tell Larry I'll be happy to help with the next round of revisions.

Larry is getting ready to head off on a camping trip, so I thank him for his time and all his great work. It's 11:00 AM now and his shop is open so I swing down to Oly Bikes to snap a few pictures, get a local bike map and advice on the best route out of town.

Oly Bikes is a tiny shop, but they make great use of their small space. They sell a lot of basic transportation bikes and Larry told me that business is up 20% this year and 40% for the last month. Since coming to Olympia, I've seen more bike trailers in use than I've noticed anywhere else. Larry attributes the popularity of the trailers to the presence of Evergreen College and it's environmentally minded students. There are a lot of folks in this town riding bikes instead of driving to do errands, get groceries and do other practical things.

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