Tag Archives: Ann Arbor

Five Feet to Save Lives

It’s December, and it’s snowing, conditions when I normally put away my bikes for the year and dream about long rides next summer. Yet bikes are on my mind right now due to some recent and ongoing developments that could significantly improve cyclist safety and encourage more people to get on a bike.

The one I’ll talk about here is a proposed “five-foot rule” for passing. It requires a driver to provide at least a five-foot cushion while passing a cyclist on the road. While some drivers do this already (and thank you thank you thank you!) there are many who give less, or don’t move over at all. Those drivers are taking a huge risk.

Five feet may seem excessive to you as a driver, but to us cyclists it can make all the difference. Even if it looks like we’re in control, all it takes is a pothole or patch of loose gravel to make a tire slip and suddenly we’re right in front of you. Even a minor distraction can cause a cyclist to drift into the road. Is giving us some more room and slowing down for a few seconds really going to ruin your day? Not doing so has a good chance of ruining the day, and more, for both of us.

Ghost bike indicating a cyclist was killed here. Way too many of these.

“Ghost bike” indicating a cyclist was killed here. Way too many of these.

At the November meeting of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition  they mentioned this rule was under consideration by the Michigan Legislature and asked us to write our congressional representatives in support. I did, and was pleasantly surprised to receive this response from the office of Gretchen Driskell (GretchenDriskell@house.mi.gov):

Thank you for contacting my office to advocate for legislation to better protect vulnerable roadway users. I appreciate hearing from you on this critical issue.  

As a Michigander and a bicyclist myself, I was deeply saddened by the tragedy in Kalamazoo earlier this year. I believe it is incumbent upon my fellow state legislators and me to enact legislation that prioritizes the public safety and helps prevent such awful occurrences in the future, and I agree that Senate Bills 1029 and 1030 and House Bills 5002-5004 are meaningful steps toward this end.  

Senate Bills 1029 and 1030 were introduced on June 9, 2016, and are awaiting a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. House Bills 5002-5004 were introduced on October 20, 2015, and are awaiting action in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. I encourage you to contact the committee chairs to urge them to bring these bills up for a vote, and I’ve included their contact information below for your convenience.

Even better, my hometown is not waiting for the state to get its act together. The Ann Arbor News reports that the City Council has approved a local ordinance adopting the five-foot passing rule for both pedestrians and cyclists. It takes effect in January. Under the ordinance, drivers can be ticketed and fined $100 for violating the five-foot minimum passing cushion. And the initial “if conditions allow” language was removed, which means if conditions don’t allow for five feet, the driver must wait until they do.

It’s not a perfect rule. It’s hard to enforce unless drivers are caught in the act. And there will be a learning curve just like with the new crosswalks, which I still see drivers ignoring. But it’s a start.

It’s sad to think that it sometimes takes an event like in Kalamazoo, with five cyclists killed and four injured, to get traction on improving bike safety. But I will not complain about the progress being made, and I hope this rule, along with other proposed measures like increased bicycle awareness in driver’s ed classes, are passed and implemented soon.

I’ll be writing about some other bicycle-friendly proposed legislation later. In the meantime, I encourage my Michigan cyclist readers to let the legislature hear your voices as well. Write to Rep. Driskell at her email address. And the committee chairs mentioned in the email are as follows:

Senator Rick Jones, Committee Chair
Senate Judiciary Committee
(517) 373-3447
SenRJones@senate.michigan.gov

Representative Peter Pettalia, Committee Chair
House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee
(517) 373-0833
PeterPettalia@house.mi.gov

Ride Silent, Ride Strong

Last week I took part in the Ann Arbor Ride of Silence, a three-mile group bike ride through the downtown commemorating the five cyclists killed and four injured in Kalamazoo earlier this month. The mood was very similar to the “Boston Strong” group run in 2013; subdued, but with a strong undercurrent of positive energy as the community came together in support.

A2 RoS - Gathering

Tim Potter, the race organizer, told me the turnout was far higher than he expected. By my rough count, there were over two hundred cyclists. Ann Arbor mayor Christopher Taylor was there, and spoke briefly about the need for drivers and cyclists to share the road safely.

A2 RoS - Starting Out

We had a police escort, but even so the route presented a challenge, both to the cyclists and the drivers downtown during rush hour. The size of the group meant that it took over five minutes to pass through the intersections, and I’m sure many drivers felt inconvenienced as a result. I felt bad about that, but not enough to quit the ride. The nine riders in Kalamazoo struck by an out-of-control pickup truck were inconvenienced permanently.

You can read more about the reason for the ride here. And here you can read a letter of thanks from a Kalamazoo cyclist that Tim read out loud.

A2 RoS - State Street

And now I must editorialize.

Reading the articles about the ride on MLive, I was surprised at the number of negative comments. Some of them questioned the need or ‘purpose’ of the ride. And some adopted the ‘blame the victim’ angle by criticizing cyclists in general for breaking traffic laws, e.g. riding through stop signs. Yes, some of that happens.

But the Kalamazoo cyclists were doing nothing wrong. What happened to them was entirely the fault of someone who’d decided that society’s rules about driving responsibly didn’t apply to him. If the victims had been in another car (he’d sideswiped at least one) or pedestrians (he just missed a guy coming out of a store), no one would be talking about how “that group” was to blame in any way. This anti-cyclist attitude concerns me. Why does it have to be seen as “us versus them”?

Ghost bike. Way too many of these.

Ghost bike. Way too many of these.

I ride over a thousand miles a year, so far without trouble. I do my best to be visible and to obey traffic laws. And yet I’ve been buzzed by cars and startled by people who think it’s funny to yell insults or bark like a dog as they roar by. I also know people who think that cyclists don’t belong on the road at all, and have told me how annoyed they get with those damn bikers getting in their way.

MDOT_share_the_road_sign_419309_7But cyclists have a right to the road in Michigan; it’s the law. And they deserve to have drivers treat them with the same respect as they would other vehicles on the road. That includes defensive driving principles that we all learned in driver’s ed. Slow down and give the cyclist a little space. And be sober when you get behind the wheel. Is that too much to ask?

I will continue to ride the roads. And I encourage anyone to take up cycling. It’s good for you. Ride strong, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, and everyone.

Friendly? Damn Right I’m Friendly!

The 43rd annual Dexter-Ann Arbor Run is this Sunday, and thousands of people will turn out to run and watch the 5K, 10K, and half marathon along the Huron River. The races all end in the heart of downtown, right next to the Taste of Ann Arbor festival, where local restaurants set up on the street with samples of their best stuff. Basically, it’s a day-long street party with running thrown in.

DXA2 2013 finish lineThe 2010 DX2 was my first-ever half marathon, and it remains among my favorite races due to the great turnout and positive energy everywhere. It’s one of the events that shows how strongly the Ann Arbor area embraces running.

And along those lines: Ann Arbor recently received the “Outstanding Runner-Friendly Community Award” from the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA)!

Ann Arbor Outstanding Running Community Plaque

What makes us so runner-friendly? One is our extensive and growing number of trails and multi-purpose paths, including the Border-to-Border Trail and a new trail opening this month in the Waterloo Recreation Area. Also, many local companies offer incentives or support for runners, and the Ann Arbor Track Club hosts races (like DXA2) and offers running scholarships. And runners are everywhere. On Saturday mornings it’s not unusual to see water stops for at least three large running groups, including, of course, PR Fitness.

Runners themselves are a friendly bunch, too. The groups I’ve run with have been, without fail, very welcoming. Want to run with us? Cool, come along. You’ll be asked what you’re training for, or how far you’re going that day, just out of curiosity. No one will think less of you if you’re not a racer, or are just starting a couch-to-5K program. In fact, people new to running often get the most encouragement. Joining a group was a big part of how I changed from an occasional, short-distance runner into a marathoner and beyond.

How about a big, sweaty group hug?

How about a big, sweaty group hug?

So, will I be at DXA2 like I’ve been every year since 2010? Well, no. I’m in Wisconsin this weekend taking part in a slightly more challenging race – the Kettle Moraine Trail 100. The start is 6:00 a.m. Saturday, and if all goes well I will cross the finish line sometime Sunday morning.

So why would I give up one of my favorite events to run for 24 hours or more on trails in the middle of nowhere? All I can tell you is there’s something about trail running that I find incredibly fulfilling, even as I splash through swamps and slog up and down hills, tripping on rocks and roots and getting incredibly sore.

Happy Trail Runners 2And trail runners are the most friendly and supportive people I know. I’ve written before how three runners walked me to the aid station when I bonked during a 50-miler last year. At Kettle I expect to hear (and give) lots of encouragement along the way. Does saying “Good job!” or the like to every runner I pass get old? Not so far. Never get tired of hearing it, either.

And the Kettle Moraine welcome email had these as the first two reminders to runners:

  1. No littering
  2. Help your fellow runners be successful

So in the minds of the race organizers, the two important things are: take care of the environment, and take care of each other. Sounds like a good recipe for life, doesn’t it.

Update after the race. If you feel like sending some emotional support, go right ahead. Make a new friend, or be kind to a stranger. I’m sure the karma will reach me!

In running, even the Devil is friendly!

In running, even the Devil is friendly!

Celebrating the Easter Spirit (and its costumes)

My best wishes for a peaceful and joyous Easter to everyone, regardless of your faith or celebration preference. Spring, with its promise of renewal, is upon us! We read these words from Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews in church this morning:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us, and persevere in running the race that lies before us…Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.

And for those who participate in the modern version of a certain pre-Christian fertility ritual, click here or on the picture below to see a fun collection of fitness activities featuring people (and other creatures) dressed up in bunny costume. Wow.

From the "Fit is a Feminist Issue" blog.

From the “Fit is a Feminist Issue” blog.

And don’t forget the chocolate!

Handcrafted chocolate Easter egg from Sweet Gem Confections in Ann Arbor. Just one of Nancy's amazing creations.

Handcrafted chocolate Easter egg from Sweet Gem Confections in Ann Arbor. Just one of Nancy’s amazing creations.