A Farewell

Bikes in OKC

Well Oklahoma City, it’s been a great run, but unfortunately my time in this city is rapidly coming to an end.  In just under a month I will be starting a new job in Detroit, Michigan.

For those of you out there who don’t know me, my name is Eric Dryer and I started BikeOKC over a year and a half ago.  I came to Oklahoma almost four years ago from Michigan to try to make the United States National rowing team and go to grad school at the University of Oklahoma.  My wife (who is also from Michigan) and I ended up getting good jobs and liking Oklahoma City so much that we decided to stay.  I currently work for the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments as a transportation planner and, as a resident of Midtown, I am able to ride my bike to work every day.  After a few months of bike commuting, I started BikeOKC as a way to get those who live in areas around Downtown OKC to ride their bikes as a form of transportation.  My main goal with the site has been to encourage the “casual cyclist”, someone who isn’t interested in riding 30 miles in spandex, rather someone who wants to ride three miles to the shops or to grab lunch, to ride their bikes.

Since starting BikeOKC, I truly believe that more people are using their bikes as a mode of transportation.  This could be due to the increase of millenials looking to leave their cars at home or from the improvements the city has made in cycling infrastructure or maybe people have been inspired by this blog.  Whatever the real reason is, it makes me happy to see a bunch of bikes locked up in front of Elemental Coffee or seeing a group of people riding through Midtown on cruiser bikes enjoying a nice day.    I hope that this momentum will continue with the increase in downtown housing, more people riding, and safer infrastructure.

As I said before, my wife and I are moving back to my home state because of a great job opportunity that I have accepted in Detroit.  It will be hard to leave this city, especially all of my friends and the other great people I have met here.  That being said, I want BikeOKC to continue on after I leave.  This blog and twitter account have sort of become an unofficial bike advocacy organization for Oklahoma City.  The brand recognition has already been established and it is becoming more popular every day.  I want cyclists to have a voice in this town and I would hate for those who share this passion to have to start from scratch.  I will be actively looking for someone, or a few people, to take over the site.  If you are interested in continuing BikeOKC, please leave a comment below and I will get in touch with you.

I’ll leave you all with a mission to carry on: Encourage your friends, family, and acquaintances to go on a bike ride, even if it is just around the block.  The more comfortable people feel riding, the more they will do it.

-Eric

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How Will 499 Sheridan Affect Cyclists?

499 Sheridan Block

For those of you who live in Oklahoma City and follow Downtown development, you have probably heard about Devon Energy’s new 499 Sheridan development.  If not, the gist of the situation is that the majority of the historic buildings on the Walker/Sheridan/Hudson/Main block will be razed for a new office tower and parking garages.  There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the development related to historic preservation, parking, urban design, architecture, and traffic flow.  All of these are big issues, but I want to talk about a comment made by attorney David Box at the Downtown Design Review Committee about removing the bike lanes on Walker Ave to help traffic get into and out of the garages.

The proposed design of Devon's new 499 Sheridan tower.

The proposed design of Devon’s new 499 Sheridan tower.

Now, I’m not here to debate the historical significance of the buildings or the architecture, but I do want to talk about how the 499 Sheridan development is going affect cyclists and why all of these garages are going to ruin this section of downtown.  First of all, lets take a look at the block how it currently stands.  It contains a variety of historic properties, most of which have been sitting vacant for the last few years.  On the north side of the block, across Main St. is the City of Oklahoma City’s brand new, 830 space Arts District garage and on the west side of the block, across Walker Ave, is the older Sheridan Walker garage with 1,120 spaces.  And on the south side of the block is the new John Rex Elementary School.  Devon’s plans for the development call for two garages, each across the street from existing garages, with a total of 2,132 spaces.  So within two blocks of each other, across the street from an elementary school, kitty corner from two parks, and in the heart of Downtown, there will be 4,115 parking spaces.  Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an easy way to kill any sort of walkability or pedestrian friendliness in that area.

The 499 Sheridan site as it sits now.  Note the large parking structures to the north and west.

The 499 Sheridan site as it sits now. Note the large existing parking structures to the north and west.

The Walker Ave bike lane is one of the better bike lanes in the city.  It extends about a half mile from Reno Ave to NW 6th St. and provides a safe and comfortable space to ride on this somewhat busy street.  Devon and the developers of 499 Sheridan are now arguing that, because they NEED to build all of this structured parking, the bike lanes will have to be removed due to the increase in traffic volumes.  So we will likely lose the best downtown bike lane, and because of the increased traffic, the street will become an unsafe place to ride, rendering it useless to cyclists.  The Walker Ave bike lanes provide a great connection from Midtown and the north neighborhoods to Downtown, the Oklahoma River Trails, Capitol Hill, and the new Downtown Park.  These bike lanes provide a safe, low stress connection into and out of downtown, and without them, the “interested but concerned” riders are going to leave their bikes at home.  The bike lanes also act as a traffic calmer, as they reduce the width of car lanes and force drivers to slow down and pay attention, which is something we will really need in front of the elementary school.

This great bike lane on Walker Ave will likely be removed because of the new parking garages.

This great bike lane on Walker Ave will likely be removed because of the new parking garages.

This development is practically forcing Devon employees to drive to work, even if they live a mile away.  There is a growing downtown population that would probably bike or walk to work if it is easy, safe, and convenient.  499 Sheridan takes away the convenience and safety of using an alternate mode of transportation by heavily prioritizing cars.  If there is a parking problem, I don’t understand why Devon or the other downtown employers don’t offer incentives for their employees to not drive.  Give a bonus for riding their bike, walking, or taking the bus to work, buy them a transit pass, give incentives for carpooling or living close to work.  Every structured parking space that isn’t built is saving the company $10,000 to $15,000.  These incentives are much cheaper than building two new parking garages and they aren’t going to ruin the fabric of the city.  It’s a funny thing about pedestrians and cyclist using the street, it actually makes your city more attractive.  If the City, the Chamber, and the Mayor want to attract Millennials, they are going to need to change the M.O. for city development.

Here are some renderings of the garages and how they will interact with the street:

The larger of the two garages (1120 spaces) on the corner of Sheridan and Walker.

The larger of the two garages (1,447 spaces) on the corner of Sheridan and Walker.

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Smaller of the two garages (685 spaces) at Main St and Hudson

 

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The completed block. The only buildings to remain are the City office building (corner of Main and Walker) and the two small buildings next to it.

 

OKC’s New 3 Foot Rule is Bad For Bikes

bike-passing-richard-masoner

A new ordinance put forward by councilman Pat Ryan (Ward 8) would require bikes to maintain 3 feet between themselves and any motor vehicles traveling in the same direction.  The measure has been approved by the Oklahoma City Traffic Commission and will go before City Council in January.  The law currently states that drivers must provide 3 feet between their cars and cyclists when passing.

In addition to cyclists giving 3 feet to cars, the ordinance has additional language about where they should be riding.  For example, the proposed ordinance states “every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right-hand side of the roadway as is safe”.  This basically negates the signs posted around town allowing cyclists to use the full lane, which is the safer way to ride on street without a bike lane, and forces them to ride in the gutter.  The ordinance also states that “persons riding bicycles shall not ride more than two abreast except on bicycle paths” and “when riding on roadways with designated bicycle lanes, the bicycle operator shall ride within the bicycle lane”.

According to the traffic commission, state statute says that cyclists are currently mandated to give 3 feet to all other vehicles when passing and the point of this ordinance is to align the municipal code with the state law and make it clear to cyclists what the law on passing is. (See the video of the meeting here and the comment at 28:30)  However, I could not find any mention in the state statutes about bikes having to give 3 feet of clearance to automobiles.  The only item in the proposed ordinance that is currently part of state statute is the article about “riding more than two abreast”.

So the commission’s stance that this ordinance is aligning the municipal code to the state law is incorrect.

I think this ordinance does more harm than good, mostly because of the extraneous sections of the law.  Forcing bikes to ride as far to the right as possible and not allowing groups to ride together says that the city thinks bikes do not belong on city streets and that cyclists need to make way for the more important people in their cars.  As if a slow moving cyclist is somehow going to cause all traffic in the city to come to a screeching halt.

gutter riding

Oklahoma City’s new ordinance could force cyclists to ride this close to the curb.

This ordinance may seem harmless in its guise to treat cyclists fairly as road users and clearly lay out the law, but it actually shows where the priorities lie for street users.  If we keep passing laws like this, allowing bike route signage on unsafe streets, and treating those who use alternate modes of transportation as second class citizens, Oklahoma City will forever be an unvibrant, unsustainable, car choked city where it is impossible to get around.

Please consider writing to your councilperson about this issue before the January meeting if you feel strongly about it.  It is a small step that may not have much impact now, but will show the people where the priorities of cyclists lay with the City.

How to Pass Cyclists While Driving

virgil-ave-bike-lanemof-1024x428

Photo:Office of CM Mitch O’Farrell, la.streetsblog.org

Very few drivers I encounter while on my bike understand the proper way to pass a cyclist.  Most driver fall into one of two categories: those who are afraid to pass, either because they are unsure of what to do or are afraid to cross the center line into oncoming traffic, and those who treat cyclists as an inconvenience and accelerate around as fast as they can.  Neither of these techniques are appropriate or helpful for either party.  Here’s why.

Those who wait behind someone on a bike are causing two things to happen.  First they are making the cyclists feel nervous.  As a cyclist, when you have a car driving slowly behind you, it is hard to feel in control of the situation.  I don’t know when the driver is going to go around, or if he’s going to make a move as I’m turning left, or if he is going to run me over while texting before the next intersection.  This also backs up traffic, which makes all of the other drivers annoyed and angry at the slow cyclist.  When drivers are angry they tend to do irrational things that could potentially hurt the biker, other drivers, or themselves.

Sitting

Sitting behind a cyclist is nerve wracking for those on bikes and can cause other drivers to act irrationally.

The drivers who accelerate around cyclists like they’re race car drivers are worse.  Speeding around a slow moving cyclist is unpredictable for the person on the bike and can cause issues with other drivers.  Think of it as being on the highway while traveling speed limit and being passed by a car doing 100 miles per hour.  One second there is nothing behind you, the next there is a sports car in your blind spot while you are trying to change lanes.  It’s frightening for the cyclists and can potentially cause crashes with both bikes and cars in the opposite travel lane.  I have personally witnessed a handful of near head one collisions by impatient drivers accelerating into oncoming traffic to pass.  Many of the drivers I have encountered do not give a lot of space when passing this way either, making it even more scary.  In most cases this is all for naught since I tend to catch up with most of these drivers at the next stoplight.

So, what is the correct way to pass a bike if you’re in a car?  First, do not accelerate like a drag racer and do not sit behind the bike rider (unless there is no where else to go).  If you are stuck behind a bike, keep a safe distance away and pass when it is appropriate.  To pass, drive behind the cyclist, check to see that no one is coming in the other lane, and slowly accelerate around.  Try also to keep your speed under 25 miles per hour.  This allows the driver to stay in more control of their vehicle, reduces the likelihood of serious injury if there is an accident, and makes riding more comfortable for the cyclist.

Next, give a wide berth to the cyclist when passing.  Oklahoma state statute requires drivers to pass with at least 3 feet of room between cyclists and their vehicles.  That being said, if you have more room to pass, please use it.  Again, those on bikes will feel more comfortable and the chance of accidents will be reduced.

Pass at an appropriate speed and give the cyclist plenty of room.

Pass at an appropriate speed and give the cyclist plenty of room.

Finally, be predictable with your actions.  Most cyclists are drivers and understand the rules of the road.  Remember that cyclists are largely unprotected and will be seriously injured, if not killed, by automobiles if they are in an accident.  By driving predictably, passing safely, and being courteous to cyclists, our streets will be safer and more accessible to all users.

Don’t Get Too Excited About Oklahoma City’s New “Bike Lanes”

Plaza

Last week, City Council approved $360,000 in funds for 62 miles of new infrastructure throughout Oklahoma City.  A news story on KOCO aired the next day saying the City would be installing bike lanes, which got a lot of people in the city excited for the prospect of more safe places to ride their bikes in OKC.  However, after looking at the Council agenda in greater detail, it appears that the “bike lanes” that KOCO reported on are actually going to be “on-street bike route improvements”.  This seems to consist of adding “Bike Route” signage and a few street markings to roads in the city.

Map of the approved bike route improvements in Oklahoma City.  Image courtesy of KOCO

Map of the approved bike route improvements in Oklahoma City. Image courtesy of KOCO

Now, this isn’t a bad thing for Oklahoma City.  Any kind of bike infrastructure improvement is better than nothing.  However, I think that Oklahoma City could have done a better job of designating safer streets as bike routes and prioritizing certain streets over others.  Many of these bike routes have been placed on roads that carry lots of car traffic at high speeds.  For example, bike route signage will be added to Classen Blvd, a 6 lane divided arterial, with a speed limit of 40 – 45 miles per hour.  This is not an appropriate road for cyclists to be traveling on.  Portland Ave, Hefner Road, I-235 Service Road, and Lincoln Blvd will also be added to bike route network.  All of these roads carry a high volume of fast moving traffic each day.  However, not all of the approved bike routes are bad.  Many use low-stress neighborhood streets to get across town, which is much safer.

A bike route sign will be added to the Broadway Ext. Service Road.

A bike route sign will be added to the Broadway Ext. Service Road.

Now, instead of spending almost $400,000 on some signage for bike routes in places that bikes probably shouldn’t be, I would have liked to see that money spent on a fewer number of well thought out, safe, and dedicated bike infrastructure projects that connect destinations within the city.  Rather than spending money on signage for streets like I-235 Service Road (above) or Eastern Ave that no one should ever bike on, the City should have picked a few spots where cyclists always ride and add a dedicated bike lane or protected cycle track.  It doesn’t take an expensive data collection system to see where people are riding their bikes, just some quick observations.

Go to the Plaza District any night of the week and you will always find more than a couple bikes locked up along 16th St.  Go to the Paseo, Midtown, Automobile Alley, Capitol Hill, Western Ave, or Classen Curve on a pleasant evening and there will be bikes riding by or locked up at businesses. Throughout the day, people will be riding on the trails along the Oklahoma River, Lake Hefner, or Lake Overholser.  Instead of arbitrarily placing bike route signs on busy arterial streets, Oklahoma City should try to connect our existing bike infrastructure (trails, bike lanes, sharrow lanes) to the districts where people are riding using dedicated lanes and trails.  Not only does this improve the safety of those riding, but they give people a destination to ride to, can encourage more people to ride, and can help boost profits for local businesses.  With more people riding, investments elsewhere in the city will start to make more sense.

Louies

Louie’s in Midtown on a random Tuesday night.

In the case of bike infrastructure, I believe it is more about quality over quantity.  Yes, bike routes are good for the City and its residents, but does it really do much to improve the safety of those who are riding, especially on the busier roads?  In my experience, on busy streets, drivers don’t notice signage and are very impatient with slow moving bicycles.  Oklahoma City should be trying to connect the areas where people are already riding to create a network of safe streets for all forms of transportation.  Only with this type of thinking will Oklahoma City become a great place to ride a bike.

Can Oklahoma City Be a Great Cycling City?

Open Streets bike

Oklahoma City, despite the overwhelming lack of cycling infrastructure compared to other cities, is actually set up great for cyclists.  Try riding around town on a Sunday afternoon or after 7 pm and you’ll notice that the when the streets are empty, biking is quite enjoyable.  I am not saying that OKC is a great biking city now, but in the area in and around downtown, you can get places by bike.  And that’s a start.

I say that Oklahoma City has the potential to become a good city for biking because of a few things.  First, our wide, overbuilt roads are too big for the speed and volume of car traffic in the city.  The majority of the streets, especially Downtown and in the neighborhoods, have 11 -12  foot wide lanes and cars don’t really need more than 9 feet per lane.  Some of that extra space could be used for bike lanes.  By reducing the width of the driving lanes, drivers will instinctively slow down making it much safer for cyclists and pedestrians alike.

Many other streets in the city simply have too many lanes for the amount of traffic per day on the road.  Many of these streets may be busy for 15 – 30 minutes per day, but the rest of the time they are empty.  Reducing 4 lane streets to 3 lanes (or even 2 lanes) can help traffic flow more efficiently and frees up space for cycling infrastructure.  Streets like NW 10th St, Hudson Ave, and Shartel Ave. could all lose a lane to make way for bike lanes or protected cycle tracks.  We have already seen a “road diet” like this take effect and the result is a wonderful buffered bike lane on NW 39th St.

39th st pre bike lane

NW 39th St prior to a road diet and the creation of a buffered bike lane.

Cycle track

NW 39th after taking out two lanes of traffic and creating a buffered bike lane.

Oklahoma City’s gridded street system is another advantage for a great biking city.  The grid does a great job of distributing traffic evenly throughout the system.  Consider leaving Downtown at 5 pm and heading north to your home.  There are at least 7 different north-south routes that extend  out of downtown and continue to a variety of different neighborhoods.  The same is true going east or west.  The grid is a great way for cyclists to travel because they can avoid streets with more traffic or faster moving vehicles and opt for the quieter streets.  It works well for cyclists trying to access streets like Broadway Ave, Classen Blvd, or NW 23rd St since cyclists are able to safely ride on the neighborhood streets on either side of those busy thoroughfares.

Oklahoma City is generally a flat city, with a few small hills throughout the city.  When compared to some other large bike-friendly cities, like Seattle, San Francisco, or Portland, OKC is flat as a pancake.  This is a great advantage to have since it makes riding that much easier and it isn’t as daunting for new riders who may not have the strength or endurance to ride up hills.  And when the temperature starts to rise, any extra effort from having to climb large hills could lead to an uncomfortable and sweaty situation.

Finally, our historic growth pattern of lower density development in the region makes it hard for Oklahoma City to be a walkable community.  However, the somewhat sprawling downtown and urban core of OKC are well suited to biking because cyclists can generally travel 3 times faster than a pedestrian.  A two mile bike ride takes about 15 minutes, while a two mile walk takes about 40.  A two mile drive downtown also takes about 15 minutes, as well as added time needed to find a parking spot.  With all the downtown development we have seen lately and an increased interest in higher density, infill development, will help to make more bikeable places outside of downtown.

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail where great urban design helps facilitate cycling.

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail where great urban design helps facilitate cycling.

Here in Oklahoma City we have the backbones of a great cycling city and with a few improvements we could see an increased number of cyclists.  More bike infrastructure with connections to existing trails and bike lanes is obviously needed for people to feel safe while riding.  This is something the city is actively working on and trying to improve.   Another crucial part to making OKC more bike friendly is changing our current development style and patterns.  People will be more likely to bike for transportation if their destination follows the principles of good urban design.  Business districts should feature complete streets with street frontage buildings, wide sidewalks, ample bike parking, local attractions, and no large parking lots.  Increasing the density of housing, retail, and businesses within the urban core that follow these design guidelines will help attract people by bike.  Finally, getting out on a bike or encouraging friends to bike will help improve cycling in OKC.  With more people riding their bikes, safety will increase, local businesses will see more profits, and your city will be happier.

 

BikeOKC’s Guide to Biking in the Summer

Bikes

Summers in Oklahoma City can be pretty brutal, especially when we get into July and August when the heat dome gets settled in.  But just because the temperature is over 100 degrees, doesn’t mean you have to stop riding your bike.  Cycling can actually be more pleasant that walking during the summer.  Here are some tips and tricks to staying comfortable while riding this summer.

Change At The Office

If you have ever ridden your bike to work in the summer, you know it can be challenge to keep your freshly pressed dress shirt from becoming a sweat soaked rag.  Instead of wearing a shirt and tie on your bike, wear a t-shirt or a moisture wicking “tech shirt” and change into your shirt once you get to the office.  To reduce wrinkling your dress shirt, carefully roll the shirt and put it in your bag.  If you have a longer commute wear a pair of shorts and use the same rolling technique to pack your pants in your bag.  Keep a washcloth or towel in your desk to wipe off a light layer of sweat that may accumulate on your ride.  Keep a deodorant stick handy and reapply some when changing into your work shirt.

Use Panniers Instead of a Backpack

pannier

Backpacks are notorious for causing massive amounts of back sweat because they don’t allow air to flow across your back.  Instead of using a backpack to carry your work shirt and lunch, get a rear pannier.  They cost about the same as a nice backpack but reduce the sweat build up during the hot months.  They also have a shape more conducive to carrying cargo.  It is much easier to put a load of groceries or a 6 pack of beer in a pannier than in your backpack.  Panniers also take the load off of your back which will lead to a more comfortable ride.

Take It Slow

Try to reduce your average speed by a few miles per hour on your next commute.  You will be surprised how much easier it is and how much less you sweat.  Most bike trips are taken to locations 3-5 miles away and reducing your speed by 2 miles per hour only lengthens your commute time by 2-3 minutes.  You may even enjoy your ride more!

Avoid Riding During the Hottest Periods

Occasionally riding at the peak temperature of the day is inevitable, but sometimes you can work around it.  Between 3 and 5 pm is usually the hottest time of the day in the summer in Oklahoma City, so try adjusting your work hours to 9 – 6.  You will be able to ride in the morning before the temperature has risen too high and in the evening when the sun starts to go down and isn’t so harsh.  Its amazing how much nicer it feels to ride when the sun is not beating down on your back.

Embrace the Sweat

If you’re not going to work, throw on a tank top and some shorts and enjoy the summer.  Sure you may sweat and that’s ok, it’s summertime.  Just try not to go anywhere formal with a sweat soaked shirt.

If you have any other tips for riding in the summer, let us know in the comments section below.