Solving Transportation Needs, Improving Quality of Life

Is your firm interested in collaborating on a bicycle, pedestrian, or transportation demand management project or program?

Or are you dealing with parking issues at your business or organization?  Wondering how to get started (or get your employees started) doing more walking, biking, carpooling, or taking public transit? Or just thinking about your household and owning one less car?

Owned and operated by Sarah Cushman – a transportation planner, educator, consultant and former ASE Master-Certified auto technician – Cushman Transportation Consulting, LLC serves as a source of solid information and help with planning, promotion, and making transportation choices and changes.

Sarah offers:

  • Bicycle, pedestrian, and Transportation Demand Management project and program assistance
  • Exploration of individual and organizational transportation needs and financial impacts
  • Training and consultations for using – and planning for and encouraging the use of – active transportation (biking, carpooling, taking public transit, walking, telecommuting, etc.)
  • Environmentally-responsible and financially savvy car maintenance and driver education

The bad news we all know: heavy financial burdens are being put on businesses and tax-payers for roads and parking, fuel costs are tough to manage, almost 20% of individual income goes to own just one vehicle, obesity rates are soaring, and 40% of local air pollution and climate-changing carbon emissions come from transportation sources.

But the good news is that organizations and individuals have practical transportation options that save money and improve public and environmental health.

 

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October 10, 2008 at 10:34 am

Carpool Love

A version of this column was published in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

Most of us know the benefits of carpooling. Sharing rides cuts our household transportation costs. That’s significant when almost 20% of individual income goes to own just one vehicle. Carpooling also reduces our greenhouse gas and other vehicle emissions. However, the most important benefit may be that carpooling makes us happier: strengthening our human connections, reducing stress and building community resiliency.

My grandmother’s first cousin, Frances Burgess, passed away this summer at age 96; she had a sweet sense of humor and was one of my all-time family favorites. She also was a carpooler.

Frances and her husband raised their family in a small cape in the midst of farmland in Saco. They had one car and worked staggered shifts at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. When Frances headed to work she left her two daughters in the care of her mother and carpooled with a group of neighbors. She was tickled by the friends she made and stories she heard over the years riding together. There were more men in the carpool than women, she explained, and it was a unique opportunity for friendships in an era when time with the opposite gender was rarer.

I talked recently with Ben Connors who lives in Hampden and works in Pittsfield and carpools the hour and a half every day with his colleague Jeff (their photo at right). “We share the cost of the car – the wear and tear and gas – so that’s a direct benefit. But you also get to unwind with your co-worker at the end of the day,” Ben said. “You can talk about what you’re working on and they offer a different perspective on things. By the time you’ve gotten home you’ve gotten all that stuff off your chest.”

I connected with Ben because I met his former rideshare buddy, Rachel Porter, at a work event last fall. Rachel and Ben carpooled to work for three years before she recently moved and she shared similar thoughts about the benefits of ridesharing.

“My new commute still takes half an hour and I would definitely carpool again,” Rachel said in a recent interview. “I also miss it during bad weather – having someone else looking at everything going on around you when you’re concentrating so hard on the road in front of you.”

Carpooling like Frances did and Ben does used to be far more commonplace in Maine and around the country, when most families owned only one car or none at all. It took some Yankee ingenuity to make things work and get where you needed to go.

Maine is primarily a rural state – the most rural in the country according the 2010 U.S. Census, based on the number of communities with populations less than 2500. Many Mainers would like access to public transportation but the spread out-nature of our homes and towns decreases the viability of strong transit networks with frequent service.

Years ago, I remember a staff person from the GO MAINE statewide commuter assistance program showing a WWII era Uncle Sam carpooling propaganda poster and saying, “The best option for public transportation many of us have are the empty seats in our cars.” That’s still right.

Carpooling trends have decreased over time. Households started buying more cars in the 1950 and, by the new millenium, almost half of car-owning families had two or more vehicles and more than 90 percent of American households had at least one.

Carpooling peaked in 1980 at the end of the Middle East oil crises. At that time almost 20% of Americans shared rides to work. Now it’s a little less than 10%. About 9% of Mainers carpool. (Of note: people working in construction have some of the highest rideshare rates.)

Many of us don’t carpool because we think it won’t work for us. “I have kids to pick up, I have to run errands after work, I just want some peace and quiet, what if my aging parent suddenly needs me?” Or maybe we tried it once back in 1992 and it didn’t work for one reason or another. If either of these scenarios speak to you, I say give it a(nother) try.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Broach the subject with a co-worker to experiment for a couple weeks. Ask a neighbor who is going your way to try it for one or two days a week instead of every day.

gomaine-logo.jpgIf you don’t know anyone making a similar trip, do the quick sign-up and try out GO MAINE’s recently revamped and state-of-the-art ridematching service. It shows photos and profiles of people who live near you or who commute to near your destination.

“It’s like Match.com for carpoolers,” said Rebecca Grover, the Program Coordinator, during a recent conversation.

GO MAINE also offers rewards to those who log their trips walking to work, bicycling, using public transportation and carpooling. And if you use a smartphone, all this has just become easier with the new GO MAINE app.

One of the best parts of being an active GO MAINE member is the Emergency Ride Home Benefit. It’s a free taxi ride with a registered taxi company or Enterprise Rent-a-Car home in the event there’s a family crisis, you get unscheduled overtime or have another unforeseen workday emergency.

Think about rides in your personal life that you can share, too, if you don’t already. Carpooling with other people’s kids to soccer practice, sharing a ride to a community meeting or your place of worship.

If you’re hosting an event, consider using something like groupcarpool.com to enable folks to share rides. It’s a national app and online service specifically designed for one-time occasions. It’s free for an event with up to 50 participants and charges $10 for an event of up to 500 participants, with no registration or fee required for attendees. That’s an attractive and low-barrier option for people to try. Plus there’s no better ice-breaker for a conference or other occasion than for participants to have already built community before they even arrive.

Enough of the nuts and bolts though. Moral of the column: carpool and live to 96. It’s that simple.

More Suggestions

  • Dip your toe in via October’s Way 2 GO MAINE business-to-business commuter challenge! Businesses and organizations across the state are encouraged to pit their workplace against others for how many of their employees carpool, bicycle, use transit or rail, or walk to work. During this 21-day campaign participating employees log their trips, receive incentives and compete for the most green trips, most new GO MAINE members and most team spirit! Log your trips if you’re already a GO MAINE member or join at org (Full disclosure: I’ve been hired as a consultant to help with the campaign.)
  • For some fun carpool love, check out James Corden’s carpool karaoke videos from The Late Late Show. It’s hard to watch only one!

 

October 3, 2017 at 10:14 am Leave a comment

Freedom for all to ride or walk in the great outdoors

A version of this piece was published as the monthly Treading Lightly column in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

Max - Maine Adaptive - credit Sarah Cushman

Max Michaud takes a break from her training with Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation at the Back Cove Trail in Portland

Walking and biking are not just for the young, fit and able-bodied. And the benefits of these activities extend far beyond merely exercise or recreation – to enhancing the connection we have with our neighbors in our communities. Fortunately, Maine is home to several organizations and programs that help seniors and people with disabilities get outside for a walk or a ride. Before I tell you about a couple of these efforts, let me start with a story that illustrates why they’re so essential.

I met Bangor resident Annie King recently when I taught a MaineDOT-sponsored class in defensive walking (think what you were taught about defensive driving; now apply that idea to walking) at Miller Square on Harlow, a facility for seniors in Bangor where she lives. Annie rolled into the room in a motorized wheelchair and joked that I’d been brought in because of “the crazy adventure” she’d recently gone on with her friends.

Annie and her friends, Diane and Marcia, decided to visit the farmers market one Sunday in June. Annie and Diane use motorized wheelchairs, and Marcia is legally blind and uses a white cane. Annie also has to carry her oxygen tank. “We went down to the market, across from the library, and cruised around,” she said.

“It was a nice day, so we said, ‘Let’s go down the next street,’ ” Annie continued. They turned down Franklin and then stopped at a little park on Kenduskeag Stream, where they sat for a few minutes so Marcia could catch her breath.

“You know, I’ve never been to that bagel place. Let’s go there,” Annie suggested to her friends. They followed the stream to Central Street and, after a snack at Bagel Central, headed home.

Norumbega Parkway-Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor - 2

Norumbega Parkway along the Kenduskeag Stream in downtown Bangor, where Annie King and her friends took a break on their adventure.

“It started to rain on our way home, and we ducked under the portico of one of the buildings while it poured,” Annie said, laughing. They had gone less than a mile.

A full, rich mile.

“It was our little adventure, just being free to get out and be with the rest of the world and not having to answer to anyone,” Annie said. “I don’t think you’re ever too old for an adventure.”

How many times have you done a simple outing like that – to a nearby park or to see a friend or to your downtown or village area to run an errand – and it turned into something that gave you such pleasure?

Which brings me to two Maine programs that help people who need assistance go on their own everyday adventures.

Two weeks ago, I stopped by the Back Cove Trail in Portland with my dog Lola to talk with some folks from Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation, among them Leo Albert. He greeted Lola warmly.

“I’m lucky to live near the Green Belt path in South Portland,” Leo said. “I can’t use this for long periods,” he said, pointing to the four-wheeled walker he was sitting on, “but I use my motorized wheelchair, and I know every dog. Every one of them. I bring treats, and they nuzzle around my chair for them.”

Leo started working with Maine Adaptive this summer to modify the recumbent tricycle he has barely used for the past 13 years, because of a painful leg length discrepancy.

He pointed to one of the tricycles parked nearby and said he was looking forward to riding it. “Riding will make a big difference for my leg circulation and relieve the pain in my legs and back. Plus it’s something I can do anytime from where I live.”

Maxine Michaud was pedaling on the cove, training for the Great Maine Getaway MS Ride on a Maine Adaptive tricycle. Max, as she calls herself, has multiple sclerosis and limited use of one of her legs. To get around, she uses the tricycle as well as an experimental, Maine-designed Afari, which helps her walk over uneven terrain.

“There is no such thing as being unable,” she told me. “It’s being differently abled. That’s all.”

She credited her involvement with Maine Adaptive (she got involved on a dare in 2012) with keeping her in her “happy place, doing everything I do. I don’t need any pain pills, I don’t need any anti-depressants. This is it. This keeps me above the clouds looking ahead. I soar.”

Another program, Portland Wheelers, also helps people get outside and connect, in their case, people who are physically or mentally unable to bike, even with adaptive equipment. The organization offers free recreational rides to people of any age who are living with a significant disability.

Portland Wheelers - credit to Portland Wheelers

Portland Wheelers pilots pedal adaptive cycles for riders, also known as “wheelers”, along the Back Cove Trail in Portland. Photo courtesy of Portland Wheelers

I took a spin with Doug Malcolm, the group’s founder and director. I sat in the “wheeler” seat with Doug, the “pilot,” pedaling just behind me on one of the program’s tricycles, a setup that made for easy conversation. We rode along the Eastern Promenade, soaking up the view.

“We’re yakking all the time when we’re riding,” Doug said. “Wheelers and pilots both love it. As pilots, we get to hear wonderful life stories. And when we’re in a pod of two or three trikes, we’re often laughing it up, because someone always seems to be telling a joke.

“We know from Canadian research, and a study we’re involved in ourselves, that if you get people outside riding in groups on a regular basis, it can dramatically improve levels of depression, appetite, sleep patterns and a sense of connectedness,” he said.

As a sustainable transportation consultant, I’ve come across similar findings, and not surprisingly they always make me eager to get out and walk and bike more. Annie, Leo and Max offer me a glimpse of the future I can feel hopeful about stepping into.

ADAPTIVE CYCLING OPPORTUNITIES

  • If you don’t live in Greater Portland or one of the residential facilities served by Portland Wheelers, the nonprofit offers a Come to Us service. Preregister on their website, portlandwheelers.org, for a Saturday ride time and get transportation to meet the group at Cyclemania in Portland.
  • Every summer, Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation offers its bicycling program in Portland and Bethel. On Sept. 23, Maine Adaptive teams up with Slipping Gears Cycling to hold an adaptive cycling day for people with disabilities ages 4 and up. Bangor City Forest, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Cycles of all types and sizes will be available or riders can bring their own. Preregistration required, email info@maineadaptive.org.

August 28, 2017 at 8:36 am Leave a comment

Can fees at parks and on ferries in Maine be used to encourage cyclists and pedestrians?

Originally published as monthly Treading Lightly column in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

Our family just went to Peaks Island for a friend’s wedding. We pedaled down to the Casco Bay Ferry terminal and locked our bikes, deciding not to pay the extra $6.50 per adult bike and $3.25 per child to bring them with us. It raised the perennial questions I have about whether fees encourage or discourage efficiencies in our transportation system – efficiencies that could reduce the need for more space for cars and more and wider roads.

The ferry offers a valuable public service and every pound we add to the boat affects its fuel economy, so it makes sense to charge something for people to bring their bikes. It’s the fee ratio that seems a little off. The charge for any non-commercial vehicle under 6,000 pounds traveling to Peaks Island varies by day of the week during the summer – so I’ll use the middle-of-the-fee-structure example: $54.95 (that’s after subtracting the driver’s passenger ticket cost).

Arriving on the island, I watched a Chevy Suburban roll toward the ferry dock. A Suburban weighs 5,896 pounds. If cars were charged by weight (they aren’t), the driver would have paid less than one cent per pound to bring it to Peaks. The $6.50 adult bike fee isn’t by weight either. But if it were, my 25-pound bike – a fairly standard weight – would have cost twenty-six cents per pound. (Note: any passenger can purchase discounted weekly or monthly bike fares – and with an annual pass, the bike rides for free.)

That’s weight – what about space? For those headed to Vinalhaven on the State Ferry Service, a critical and valued link to the island with our largest year-round population, it costs $16.50 extra to bring a bike. It costs $49.50 extra for a car. The bicycle is one-third the cost of the vehicle but weighs a tiny fraction of the car and takes up only 1/10th the space.

CarBikePort Rack - Photo Credit to Cyclehoop (2)

Photo credit: Cyclehoop

Another fee structure that doesn’t encourage alternative transportation is that of our beautiful state parks. Our family is hoping to visit Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth soon. If we bike there, we’ll pay $12. If we drive there…we’ll pay $12.

Not everyone can get somewhere like Crescent Beach without a car, but shouldn’t we encourage those who can? And for those who need to drive, couldn’t we set our fees to inspire more of us to carpool? (The state tries to make it equitable by charging every Maine resident the same price. Also, an annual Maine State Parks vehicle pass allows all the occupants of up to a 17-passenger vehicle free day-use.)

Why should we care about this? In a word: parking. In another word: money. Where there are cars, there will be demand for parking. Since on average vehicles are in use only 5 percent of the time, according to three different analyses by transportation policy advisor Paul Barter they spend the rest of their lives parked. And parking costs money – big, big money.

It’s expensive to build a parking space – even in a dirt lot – and to maintain it. Think of excavation, fill, asphalt if it’s paved, sealing, and providing lighting and any curbing and sidewalks. But maintenance, really? Yes: grading for dirt lots, resurfacing every five to ten years for paving, snow removal and sanding, sweeping, landscaping, controlling access (e.g., entrance gates), fee collection, enforcement, insurance, etc.

There are roughly 735 parking spaces at Crescent Beach State Park. The average annual cost for a space in a paved suburban surface lot on “free” land, like that owned by the citizens of Maine at Crescent Beach, is $671. That price includes amortizing the construction cost over time ($326/year), plus annual maintenance ($345/year). This according to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization based in British Columbia that is dedicated to practical solutions for transportation problems. That totals $493,185 per year.

The lot was built in the 1960s, so one can question whether the initial cost has been paid off. Also, Crescent Beach’s lot isn’t plowed during the winter, and I’m not sure how often they’re able to sweep and maintain the pavement under all that sand. So let’s say it only costs us a quarter as much? That’s still $123,296. Now think of all the other lots we build and maintain across Maine.

We could price differently. I called nearby states to see what they charge for someone who gets to one of their parks on foot or by bike. Mark Steffen, Press Secretary for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation, seemed a little surprised by my question. “If someone accesses one of your parks as a pedestrian or bicyclist, they are charged a fee?” he asked. “That’s the not case here. We charge a day-use parking fee for vehicles. All our state parks are free for walkers or bicyclists to enter for the day.” I discovered a few more states doing the same, including Montana. Or we could be like Nevada and charge a nominal fee for walkers and bicyclists: $1.

Of course, you may ask whether price actually changes behavior. With parking, the answer is yes.

According to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, Motorists tend to be particularly sensitive to parking price because it is such a direct charge. Compared with other out-of-pocket expenses, parking fees are found to have a greater effect on vehicle trips…For example, a $1 per trip parking charge is likely to cause the same reduction in vehicle travel as a fuel price increase averaging $1.50 to $2.00 per trip.”

None of our fees are easy to change, of course. In the case of Casco Bay Lines, “It can be done, it just requires a good bit of thoughtful public process,” General Manager Hank Berg explained in a recent call. “Then we still need to bring the results of that process to the Public Utilities Commission for vetting and permission to modify the fees.”

Here’s one timely opportunity for us to weigh in. Dwight Doughty, MaineDOT acting manager for the State Ferry Service, said in a telephone interview, “We are currently working with our Advisory Board to revamp rates for passengers, bikes, freight, etc.”

WEIGH IN

ARE THE CHARGES for bicyclists riding on Maine ferries equitable? Do the fees encourage Mainers and visitors to consider alternatives to cars? Weigh-in on the State Ferry fee structure now, while an advisory board is examining the fees. Email your input to rick.dubois@maine.gov by the end of August to have it included in the initial round of feedback.

July 31, 2017 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

Wheels in mind of new transportation columnist go ’round and ’round – usually sustainably

Originally published as monthly Treading Lightly column in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

Denver’s 16th Street transit and pedestrian mall

“Mom, stop taking pictures of that crosswalk!” my 10-year-old daughter begs me as we ride the bus to the library. My phone overflows with photos of streets, sidewalks, trails, road signage, bus shelters and the people who use them. These shots may be embarrassing for my daughter, but they are helpful for my work as a transportation consultant to improve the quality of life for commuters and the livability of communities.

My photo archive is also confirmation of my certified Transportation Geek status – and it can drive my family a little crazy. There was the time my daughter and I visited my sisters in Colorado. When we returned to Maine, my husband asked to see photos. Oops. Instead of family pictures, or maybe mountain scenery, I had endless shots of Denver’s light rail and the city’s pedestrian mall. “Really, that was important to document!” I said in my own defense. “Can you say ‘transportation fetish?’ ” my husband retorted.

A transportation nerd conversation runs constantly in my head. For instance: I’m working on a pilot project with the Maine Department of Transportation to deliver walk safety presentations and high-visibility gear in Bangor and Brewer to especially vulnerable folks, such as seniors and people with disabilities. I am writing this from the Bangor Motel 6, in town to work on the project, and I just sprinted on foot across three lanes of busy U.S. Route 2 to the Shell station to pick up some toiletries.

Want to know what I was thinking about? “Wow, that Park & Ride lot over there is full. How great is all that carpooling! But check out this traffic. This road seems to be designed to encourage speed. Can vehicles even see me? No sidewalk and only a minimal shoulder, so I better walk facing the oncoming cars (it’s the law and statistically is the safest way to go). And could I even walk here this winter if there were snowbanks?”

More true confessions: I’m the kind of person who gets a thrill out of putting my bike on the Concord Coach bus, loaded with oversized exhibit materials, like I did last month to get from Portland to the Bangor Senior Expo. That was a treat, to catch up on email, nap and finish prepping a document while someone else drove. Then I could scoot around Bangor by bike, coming to know the city a little better by experiencing it at a slower speed – I loved the Webster Avenue walk and bike tunnel under Interstate-395!

My transportation heart and consulting work come from a melding of jobs and interests over the past 25 years. In high school, I signed up for the automotive program at the Bath Regional Vocational Center. The instructors were excellent and encouraging and, through our work on cars, physics came alive for me for the first time. My interest in people led me on to college and a degree in political science. Afterward, I spent five years as a community organizer in Maryland – amazing and intense work with groups and public planning and advocacy efforts.

When burnout hit, I pivoted to recuperate, working as an auto mechanic at a nearby garage in the heart of Baltimore. Over the next five years, as I fixed cars in Maryland and then back home in Maine, I slowly grew tired of how unprepared/unable many people are to spend the necessary money to maintain and fix vehicles and how many dirty cars I had to put back on the street – leaking fluids or exhaust or with check engine lights still on with an emissions failure. I started teaching fiscally and environmentally responsible car ownership through Portland Adult Education and encouraged my students and customers to consider how many vehicles they really needed. I asked them to explore other ways of getting around. My consulting work grew from there.

Let’s be clear, I’m no purist. My family has a car – it’s outside in the Motel 6 parking lot right now. And to be frank, if a second vehicle were available in our driveway, I’d be the first one to use it. I’m glad to be nudged – forced, really – to travel by bus, on foot, by bike, and sharing rides. Of course, we know these ways of moving around are good for us. They save us money, they’re better for the planet, they’re healthier for our overweight American bodies.

However, the things that motivate my work most are less tangible and somehow more powerful. They are the bits of Yankee ingenuity and magic involved when we walk, bike, take the bus and carpool. The world is simply more real – warts and beauty – all of it. For instance:

  • With some quick planning, you share a ride with friends to an event – catching up or maybe laughing so hard at some point that your face hurts.
  • I walk down the street headed to get groceries and smell the salty tang of fog. I smell the sewage treatment plant. I notice the first day lilies appearing in a neighbor’s yard.
  • After working inside all day, you stand at the bus stop and feel the late afternoon sun on your face for the first time. So good, that moment!
  • I jump on my bike on a cold, rainy day, moaning about how much it stinks that my husband has the car and I have to get to a meeting. And then within five minutes – I swear – I’m warmed up and grinning into the spray for the sheer joy of being outside and using my body and embracing the elements.

We are awake when these things happen. We connect – with people around us; with the tiny, unique details of the places in our community; and with the natural world that sustains our daily lives. We renew ourselves in these moments and at the same time knit our communities tighter together. That feeds me the most.

I look forward to learning and sharing more about the myriad ways we all get around. In the meantime, if you find yourself in desperate of need a photo of a Portland crosswalk, or Bangor’s bike/pedestrian tunnel, or Chicago’s bike share, you know where to find me.

July 3, 2017 at 7:14 am Leave a comment

Whether you’re a new or experienced cyclist, CyclingSavvy classes can teach you confidence

Originally published as monthly Treading Lightly column in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

CyclingSavvy instructors help guide participants at the parking lot bike handling skills session.

With more drivers, and more distracted drivers than ever, riding a bicycle in traffic can be frightening. So here’s my plug: getting around town on a bike is possible in almost any setting, especially with good safety training. And there’s no better resource for building the confidence and skills of riders – both experienced and less-experienced – than CyclingSavvy, a three-part national course that’s offered in southern Maine during the warmer months.

I knew it was for me as soon as I read this on the website before my first class a few years ago:

I run into plenty of people, including experienced cyclists, who like to bike but only in locations that are almost or completely separated from cars, say mountain biking on rugged off-road trails, the early Sunday morning spandex crew racing along back roads before anyone else is up, or riders of all ages – seniors and their friends, families with children and young hipsters – who stick to a local bike path.

“Some people think of bicycling on roads as a kind of ‘war’ between cyclists and motorists. This is driven by stories of conflict that we all hear, and sometimes tell, both as cyclists and motorists, and it’s reinforced by media stories – leading to fear and alienation,” John Brooking, a nationally trained CyclingSavvy instructor who lives in Westbrook, told me recently.

CyclingSavvy can help cyclists overcome their fear of riding in traffic, so that they can be comfortable riding to all the vibrant places in their communities that require taking roads and streets to reach. For me, these are the ordinary but essential places like my daughter’s school, a meetup at a coffee shop across town, the park, the homes of friends, the hardware store, our Quaker meeting, Portland’s monthly First Friday Art Walks.

“At CyclingSavvy, we prefer the metaphor of riding in traffic as ‘a dance’ the bicyclist must lead,” Brooking said. “Driving any kind of vehicle in traffic involves negotiation, ideally according to consistent rules that everyone follows. Bicycling is basically safe, even in traffic; imagine how many crashes don’t happen every day despite bad bicyclist behavior. With legal and predictable cyclist behavior and communicating with motorists, it’s even safer.”

Dianne Ballon, a sound artist who lives in Portland, can attest to the effectiveness of the course. “What I absolutely loved was the confidence CyclingSavvy gave me to ride in the city with lots of cars,” she said.

Ballon sold her bike when she moved from the Belgrade Lakes region to the city in 2012, thinking there was no way she could ride on busy urban streets. She missed riding though, so decided to check out CyclingSavvy.

Ballon said she appreciated the classroom session that used science and geometry to explain safe and legal ways to operate a bike in traffic and enjoyed the bike-handling skills session held in an empty parking lot. “I loved learning how to maneuver my own body and bike and think fast and handle things like potholes in the road,” Ballon said.

The third and final session, aimed at putting everything together, is called, a little tongue-in-cheek, the Tour de Portland. Instructors lead students on a bike tour of the city’s streets that intentionally includes challenges that typically intimidate cyclists, such as intersections, interchanges and bridges. The instructors and students ride as a group, stopping to look at each new stretch. After discussing the best strategy for safe, easy passage, the students ride through individually, then regroup with an instructor on the other side to review their experience.

“There was one point where we came to a really busy intersection,” Ballon said, “and I didn’t have the courage at the time to take the lane and make the turn myself. So one of the instructors came with me. That’s the beauty of it: they are thoughtful and will work with you so that you gain the confidence to be able to do this on your own.”

If you’re already biking on city streets without having taken the class, how much more can you really learn? After I finished my first session, I was amazed at how much it turned out I didn’t know, even though I’d taken another safety class some years before and I commute regularly by bike.

Portland resident Craig Bramley participated in the course with his two daughters, ages 16 and 12, at the beginning of last summer. “I was comfortable riding in traffic, and I also mountain bike, which is good bike-handling training,” Bramley said, “but the class definitely empowered me to take control of my own safety where I hadn’t before.”

All three Bramleys completed the parking lot practice session. “It was great for the girls,” Bramley said. “Clear instruction and an ability to work up to a higher level as the class progressed. They’ll use those techniques for a lifetime.”

Bramley and his older daughter also took the classroom portion. “As a high school student, she really got a sense for how cars and bikes should interact on the road, with clearer explanations of complex situations than I could come up with as a parent,” Bramley said.

After they’d finished the classes, Bramley and his older daughter rode together many times over the summer. “I was a lot more comfortable riding with her on the street, because we had done this,” he said. “She was, too.”

Not a cyclist? CyclingSavvy is useful for motorists, too. “As a driver I am much more aware of bicyclists now,” Ballon said, “and understand better what they are doing to operate legally and safely.” (And keep in mind that most cyclists also drive cars.)

That understanding goes both ways. “I work in Lewiston looking over Canal Street, which is one-way, and see cyclists riding against traffic,” Bramley said. “It’s terrifying.”

Everyone I interviewed for this story recommended that anyone who rides a bike should take the course. I’ve been doing my CyclingSavvy classes in installments and haven’t yet completed the city tour ride. Each session I’ve done has only improved my riding and made me feel safer out on the road. Now is my chance to graduate – I hope to see you in class.

LEARNING TO BE A SAVVY CYCLER

PEOPLE come from all across New England to take these classes. It’s worth the trip.

JUNE 3: Truths & Techniques classroom session, 9 a.m.-noon, 34 Preble St., Portland. Train Your Bike parking lot session, 1-4 p.m., 150 Waterman St., South Portland.

JUNE 4: Tour, 1-4:30 p.m., 150 Waterman St., South Portland.

YOU MUST complete the classroom and parking lot sessions before you can take the final on-road session. The Train Your Bike and Tour classes require that you have both a bike and a helmet.

TO REGISTER go to “Northern New England” at cyclingsavvy.org.

 

May 22, 2017 at 6:09 pm Leave a comment

April 29, June 3 & 4: Your Chance to Feel Confident Riding a Bike in Traffic!

Cycling Savvy courses offered in Maine for riders of all abilities are NOT to be missed! Here are more on offerings this spring and early summer. The initial classroom session, Truths & Techniques of Traffic Riding, is scheduled for Saturday April 29, from 9 AM to Noon. The full course (all 3 sessions) is also scheduled for Saturday, June 3 and Sunday afternoon June 4. Register now.

Here’s more perspective on the 3-part course from the fabulous John Brooking:

Do you like the idea of biking more for transportation, but are scared of traffic? You’re not alone!

Many people would like to ride more, but cite traffic as their #1 concern. How can riding in traffic be safe?

CyclingSavvy is a course designed to help cyclists understand how to make safe riding possible. Through knowledge and guided practice, we can turn anyone who knows how to stay upright on a bike into a savvy bicyclist who can operate in any traffic situation with confidence.

Our classroom session includes:

  • The foundational principles of traffic movement
  • What the law allows and doesn’t allow for bicyclists
  • Common crash types and how to avoid them
  • Strategies for common and less common situations

All this in just 3 hours of classroom instruction, costing $45. No bike required.

Are your bike handling skills a little shaky?

Next, we progress to a parking-lot based session, where you can practice such skills as using your brakes and gears, “training your bike” to give you more confidence in its physical operation. This is a useful session even if you are only interesting in riding on off-road paths. You may take this session whether or not you’ve already taken the classroom.

This session is also 3 hours and $45.

Putting It All Together

Once you have taken both the classroom and skills sessions, we put everything together in a group bike Tour of Portland. You get to practice what you’ve learned in a series of real-world locations, with your instructor’s guidance, and your new friends cheering you on. It is not a test, there are no grades; just you proving to yourself that you got this!

If you sign up for all 3 sessions together — classroom, skills, and Tour — you get everything for $95, $40 savings from 3 individual sessions.

Questions? Send them to johnbrooking4@gmail.com. Register here.

April 21, 2017 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

Thanks to Maine Cyclist for Feature on Family Bicycling Sabbatical

Many thanks to Frank Gallagher and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine crew for featuring our family cross-country bicycling sabbatical in the Spring 2017 edition of  Maine Cyclist magazine. Hard to believe we were just starting out this month a year ago! Actually, it still feels a bit surreal that we did it.

Just as the article shares, I still have such gratitude for the gift of those months on the bike. Physically imprinting our country’s landscapes and having the time to meet and talk with (and have our family cared for by) so many different people. Such a breadth of life and place in our country…

April 17, 2017 at 7:17 am Leave a comment

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