Dependable Erection

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


City of Durham is trumpeting that we were named a bike friendly city at the Bronze level by the League of American Bicyclists.

My first reaction was that i must be living on the wrong side of town, because i felt far safer cycling in Brooklyn than i ever did in Durham. But i've been chatting with a few of my friends and they tell me that things are definitely getting better on the roads for cyclists, and this designation is well deserved.

So keep up the good work, and share the road, OK?

UPDATE: One of my grouchy friends agrees with my original thoughts, via FB:
It is nice to see slightly more people cycling in Durham, but someone has been hitting the pipe a little too hard if they think Durham is worthy of award and recognition on this front.

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  • If you avoid the main roads it's OK. I'm sure the ATT helped with this designation.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:20 AM  

  • Avoiding the main roads makes it kinda difficult to do things like shopping and stuff.

    When i first moved here, i tried only using my car for commuting, and the bike for everything else. That lasted about a year. Now, i guess, commuting to the Park on a bike is probably the easier thing. I certainly wouldn't take my bike to my current job in Hillsborough along 70.

    By Blogger Barry, at 10:27 AM  

  • I've been biking here since 1991, and probably the only really good thing I can say about biking in Durham is that it's close to Orange County. :-) Actually, I take back the claim of (still) biking here - I quit 5 years ago, after getting run off the road for the third time. There just isn't enough room on our beautiful two-lane roads for my bike and one car passing another. And, you know, not once did any of those drivers stop to see if I was OK after I landed in the ditch. :-)

    More practically: Over the years, my biggest frustration when it came to commuting etc. was the lack of East-West routes in Durham. The city put a damper on my favorite/only back route when they pulled down the bridge over the ATT at Carolina Circle; and Cornwallis is not pleasant when it's only 2 lanes. It's nearly as bad as Old Erwin Road. (I really don't understand the people who ride Old Erwin Road - that's near-suicidal.... And I'm a sympathizer!)

    By Blogger bjv, at 11:49 AM  

  • So, would you say that the Bronze award for bike friendliness was not justified?

    My thought is that it may be as much a reflection on how bad the rest of the country is.

    By Blogger Barry, at 12:01 PM  

  • I think your last sentence in that comment gets it right.

    First of all, like my term "Jim Wiseism" for Durham pessimism that goes well beyond that which is actually deserved, there needs to be a name for people saying, "Durham's not that great... in New York City..." It happens often enough that I wonder if people actually listen to the words coming out of their mouths. You're comparing a rapidly growing small southern city with the nation's largest city and the commercial capital of the globe. Really.

    It's not quite as ridiculous, but "Durham's not that great for bikes -- on this one route I take it's really bad." We have to go through this about every two years on the bikeped list, but the narrow two lane roads have almost, but not quite, nothing whatsoever to do with anything about Durham itself. They're remnants of the "good roads" movement, which built paved two-lane state highways throughout all 100 counties (originally, focusing on connecting every county seat with the seats of counties adjacent). Given that NC was one of the poorest states in the nation at the time, that was quite an achievement, and so we have to forgive them a bit for making the rights of way as narrow as possible while providing two lanes. Because Durham was a pretty small city at the time, many of the major roads running through the majority of what's now the city were state owned, country roads at the time.

    Yes, Durham has a long ways to go, but I'd say that in the past 15 years, Durham has built an enormous amount of off-road trail and striped an impressive number of miles of bicycle lanes. The city government has an actual Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council, and even more impressively, actually listens to it some of the time. Compared to the dominant development trends across the country in that time period, Durham is doing pretty well.

    "Bronze" seems about right to me. As in, not fantastic, but with some real achievements. Calling Orange County fantastic is a joke -- sure Chapel Hill and Carrboro are pretty good, but some of the most terrifying stretches of road that I'd otherwise like to ride are in the area around Hillsborough.

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 4:31 PM  

  • Well, i've certainly had more beer cans thrown at me while on my bike in Durham than in any other place i've ever lived. (Although to be fair, after the last time it happened in 98 or so, i put the bike away, and have hardly ridden since then; so i'm probably not the most up to snuff on current conditions, which is why i'm asking.)

    In private conversation with bike riding friends since this award was announced (and the fact that the award is based on objective criteria which implicitly if not explicitly compares Durham to all of the other cities in the country which applied for the recognition justifies, i think, comparisons which we as individuals might make to other places we've lived; much the same way that being ranked, and putting out press releases about it, first in the nation as a place to retire justifies a conversation among the citizenry as to how Durham would compare to other places we've experienced) i've gotten very mixed feedback about about the deservedness of the Bronze designation.*

    Comparisons to NYC, for example, come easily to me because 1) i lived there for a pretty long time; 2) i rode my bike a lot in both the city and the suburbs; 3) NYC has a reputation as being a dangerous place, especially among Southerners who may never have been.

    That sort of parochialism cuts both ways, i think.

    * Do i win the longest sentence in a comment award?

    By Blogger Barry, at 4:45 PM  

  • I mention Orange County not as a good place to ride my bike to get somewhere, but as a good place to go out for a nice 50-mile ride and go nowhere. :-)

    Riding in central Durham is maybe OK; but trying to get anywhere more than a couple of miles away will almost always lead you to some sort of bottleneck that's just no fun to ride through.

    Not that I'll get back on my bike and start commuting again, but here's a challenge: What's a good way to get across Durham, say from Old Erwin Road in the west to either RTP or Brier Creek in the east? During rush hour? :-) Just wonderin'....

    By Blogger bjv, at 5:27 PM  

  • Durham could certainly be in the running for a "most improved" award in terms of cycling friendliness... but overall comes nowhere close to being deemed a bicycle friendly community.

    It seems if the city/county govt. was serious about being a bicycle friendly city a few of the following would be happening...

    Roll out the street sweepers!
    Regularly move the gravel, glass, and trash out of the outer right portion of the lane where cyclists often ride. (intersections too)

    Do not allow the DOT to show plans for roads with wide outer lanes/paved shoulders, then scrub said outer lane width/paved shoulder when it comes time to building the road. Budget cuts are not a good reason to scrub the bike friendly portions of new roads/road re-surfacing.

    Enforce speed limits by drivers. Seriously will this ever happen in this town? This would probably be the biggest issue keeping those that are thinking about cycling from doing it.

    Write tickets to people who turn without a turn signal.

    Write tickets to people running red lights.

    Eliminate those one way speedzones (Duke, Gregson, Roxboro, Mangum, Vickers, etc) by restoring two way travel. This will not only restore connectivity for drivers and bicyclists alike but will naturally allow for safer "share the road" conditions. Biking on these roads is not as safe as it should be. These are key roads for short mileage, high frequency rides (errand running, commuting, going out at night, etc) in and across town.

    Instead of just creating things like a master greenways plan... actually carry them out. Establish priorities, budget for the consturction, and maintain funding for executing the steps in an efficient manner.

    Imagine how many more people would ride if the city and county governments, and DOT took on some of the above steps?

    Right now the majority of the people cycling are the ones who are going to be riding no matter what.

    If some of the above steps were taken I think numbers would skyrocket as people who are just thinking about riding, or are only riding on greenway, would venture out on the roads.

    to close on a positive note...
    Thanks to Alan Dippy (and others on the bike and ped commission), Bill Bussey (and all of the Triangle Rails to Trails), Dale McKeel and others (bike co-op) who have been pressing the issues for a long time and been a part of creating the improvements to date. No small feat. It is nice to see slightly more people cycling in Durham despite minimal help from transporation infrastructure policies at the city, county, and DOT level.

    my two cents,

    aforementioned grouchy friend

    P.S. so when is that ATT bridge and last greenway leg gonna be done?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:52 PM  

  • Riding in central Durham is maybe OK;

    When i look at the streets that i am on most frequently (Roxboro/Mangum; Roxboro north of I-85; Markham; Duke/Gregson; Avondale; Hillsborough) i am simply not tempted to get on my bike.

    There is not a single bike lane in my neighborhood, and i'm pretty sure there isn't one in Old North Durham either. Washington Street is more than wide enough to build sidewalks on both sides of the street out from the curb, and stripe bike lanes. Last night i heard that the sidewalk installation on Washington, which was supposed to start Real Soon Now®, probably won't happen until 2012 at best. Hopefully they'll use that extra time to redesign the installation to use the sidewalks to narrow the roadway, rather than putting them in people's yards as the original plan called for.

    Not that they couldn't stripe some bike lanes in the interim.

    By Blogger Barry, at 5:52 PM  

  • I do need to point out again that the award said we were in the lowest tier worth mentioning. There was Silver, Gold, and Platinum for us to reach for. (Carrboro at Silver also seems about right. It's probably about 50-60% bikeable, but has some really treacherous stretches along major roads.)

    Regarding NYC, well, I guess there's still some people who think of it as dangerous, but it's been a long time since I met one of them. Most people I know now who don't like it simply because it's too crowded, or has bad traffic, or is cold in the winter. Given that I adore the place, I'm probably the wrong southerner to ask about that, though. But on the subject of bikes, it's also a very dense city, which generally leads to being more bike friendly.

    In response to bjv's question, Brier Creek is a loaded challenge because it a) unquestionably sucks for bicycles, and b) isn't even in Durham.

    However, for your Old Erwin challenge, it depends on where on Old Erwin you are. You can either ride in to 751, where you get an all-but-official bike lane, or take Cornwallis, which is narrow but generally civilized. Cornwallis will actually take you all the way to RTP if you want, but you may not want to do the jog on Fayetteville, not for safety, but just because it's a noxious intersection. If you take 751, you can take it on to Hope Valley, then pick up the bike lanes on MLK Pkwy., which will then intersect Cornwallis again, but at a point where you have bike lanes all the way into RTP (where you can pick up the somewhat-poorly-done-but-there bike path system through the Park). PS. I've ridden all these roads at rush hour. :)

    Finally, Barry, you're in a neighborhood with shitty bike access getting immediately out of there. I've ridden Markham through there plenty of times, although yes, rather than going through the Jog of Death, I'd generally wind up on Knox or Lynch for the crossing. But yes, I would think four or five times before getting on Avondale or Roxboro going north.

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 11:11 PM  

  • BPAC had considered applying a few years ago, but decided not to for fear that being deemed a bike friendly community would give a false impression, or allow the city to rest on its laurels. Since then we realized that it was a good idea to submit an application, as it would trigger an independent outside organization to compare Durham to national standards, and to provide observations/recommendations on improving cycling in the city. In the coming weeks LAB will provide its 'gradecard' and I'm keen to see what they recommend for achieving a silver. We plan on presenting this to city council in tandem with an update on the state of the Bike Plan.

    By Blogger Dan, at 9:56 AM  

  • Sorry, meant to add that we should not view this designation not as an end, but as confirmation that we are on the right path.

    Dan Clever

    By Blogger Dan, at 9:59 AM  

  • Thanks, Dan. Glad to hear that.

    I get the impression often that, upon being named "Best place to . . . " whatever, that much of Durham's leadership thinks the work is done. Glad to hear otherwise.

    @Michael - a point i've made in conversation, and maybe on the blog, can't really remember, is that there's more than one Durham.Perceptions of the city vary greatly, depending on which Durham you live in. Even more confusing, the multiple Durhams out there don't have any tangible boundaries.

    By Blogger Barry, at 10:05 AM  

  • Dan. Thanks for all your work on BPAC and with cycling issues! I should have included your name in my lil callout of folks long doing important work and heavy lifting. kudos. will be interesting to see what the LAB recommends and how far Durham can go in meeting new goals.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:35 AM  

  • Lots of good feedback here, thanks. I just posted some comments on why I think Durham is a bike friendly community, you can read them at .

    @Dave (I trust that's you, horseandbuggypress) - You've made some good points, but I have a few comments. The city does routinely clean bike lanes and wide lanes. There's a big challenge in perception, though, as debris gets pushed out of motorists lanes pretty easily, so those lanes will always be cleaner. Your point isn't wrong, I just want you to know that the city does clean them.

    Your thought of "do not allow DOT..." is good, and I've seen that battle fought many times by BPAC and by city staff. But at the end of the day, many of our roads are state owned and DOT makes the final decision. You simply can't "not allow DOT to..." do something on their own roads. That said, I hope things get better with the DOT's newly adopted Complete Streets policy.

    With regard to enforcement, you are absolutely right. In fact, that was specifically flagged in the BFC application as one of the top three areas in which Durham really needs to improve to become more bike friendly.

    And, to a certain extent, you're right about implementing the comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian plans. That, too, was noted in the application - we're behind. But, please give the city and county credit for making the investment in identifying, and documenting the needs of the community such that when funding is available, there is a clear plan forward. And also know that compliance with these plans is codified and enforced with every new development plan submitted to the city and county (and BPAC does some of the enforcing).

    And, @Barry, I'm glad you noted how long its been since you've biked in Durham, and I am glad that you're soliciting comments due to the length of time. I am pretty sure the application was based on conditions today rather than 12 beer bottle throwing years ago. :-)

    Lastly, to my fellow Durham cyclists, thanks for riding. You contribute to and improve Durham's bike culture every single day.


    By Blogger Jack, at 2:28 PM  

  • Jack - i'll accept that things are getting better, and my sincere thanks to everyone whose hard work is making that happen.

    i've been flogging the enforcement horse for 5 or 6 years now, so though it's good to know it's on someone else's radar, i know you'll forgive me when i say i'll believe it when i see it.

    Yeah, i put the bike away 10 or 12 years ago. But whenever i think about getting back on it, i look at the streets that i spend most of my time on, and get back in the car.

    Just sayin'.

    By Blogger Barry, at 2:34 PM  

  • @Jack: thanks for sharing your thoughts and great to hear all the specific areas you and others of the BPAC are continuing to focus on. I do think local govt leaders higher up could do significantly more when it comes to pressing the issues with the DOT. (ditto about higher ups getting serious and finding financing for plans). You are right, much has improved though!

    @Barry: git on your damn bike, man. It is a helluva lot more fun than driving which ultimately I think is most people's reason for praying at the church of two wheels. Join the party.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:33 PM  

  • Just my two cents on biking...I grew up in Chapel Hill and Carrboro and rarely rode my bike; the bus was just easier. Here in Durham I work downtown one afternoon a week, and the short jaunt from Markham down Glendale through Old North Durham to Washington, and then taking that straight in to Morgan Street is actually very easy, and I've found motorists to be very bike friendly, even more so than in Carrboro. I see Durham as helping me come out of my scared-to-bike-on-main-roads shell. Sure, it's not a far distance, and sure Durham could definitely see improvement, but the increasing confidence I've found doing this is another one of the things I love about Durham.

    By Blogger Aspen, at 8:59 AM  

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