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Coalition Announces Community Spokes Training

By | Coalition News, Featured Posts, How To..., Speak up for Biking

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine is going to be offering its “Community Spokes” training on November 13, 2012.  Would you or someone you know like to join us for a day of fun, learning, and planning for a more bike-and walk-friendly Maine?

Simply put, the Community Spokes are people who are interested in promoting bicycle and pedestrian access and safety in Maine.  They are people who work to create “Active Community Environments”, which encourage physically active lifestyles and stimulate economic vitality. 

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s training seeks to provide community volunteers (and interested professionals) with more knowledge about bike/ped/trail facilities, funding, programming, and processes, as well as with the advocacy techniques that help to mobilize people in support of more walkable and bikeable towns.   The Community Spokes multiply the power of the bike, trail, and pedestrian advocacy movement in Maine by making things happen right down at the grassroots level, town by town.  

The training on November 13 will include information about bike/ped facilities, and will include a bike/ped audit so you can begin developing an idea for what is possible in your community.  It will also include brainstorming on possible projects in your community—and practice developing a message and pitching it to a potential stakeholder. 

If you’d like to become “Community Spoke”, please drop an email to Jim or Nancy and we’ll send you registration form. We will be running a full-day training for our Spokes on November 13 in Augusta.  

Thanks for your interest in and dedication to the bicycle movement!

Bike To Work. Once a Week. For the Planet.

By | How To..., Speak up for Biking

Now that NOAA has officially announced March 2012 the warmest on record, climate change is getting harder and harder to deny. Even skeptics can’t ignore the most obvious evidence of our altered climate: the record-breaking number of extreme weather events in 2011. Last year surpassed all previous years in terms of disaster costs, with ten events costing the country over $1 billion each – hurricane Irene, of course, being the record-breaker.

While we may not be able to pin this record-breaking March or growing number of disasters directly on global warming, the obvious meteorological changes are a wake-up call for many. Whether or not you blame the human race, the climate is warming, a trend that undeniably mirrors our consumption habits, especially when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions.

This can be a daunting realization. But rather than dwelling on the negative, climate change superheroes like Bill McKibbin repeatedly use obvious physical changes, such as this warm winter, as a call to action. “My only real fear,” he states in the preface of his 2010 book Eaarth, “is that the the reality described in this book, and increasingly evident in the world around us, will be for some an excuse to give up. We need just the opposite – increased engagement…We have no other choice.”

This engagement can come in many forms. A term often thrown around when it comes to fighting climate change is “carbon footprint” – the amount of carbon you, as an individual, emit. There are thousands of websites, books, flyers, and people who can tell you ways to reduce your carbon footprint. And this can be overwhelming. But, since this is a bicycle blog, we’ll stick with a simple, do-able challenge. Bike to work once a week.

Changing your mode of transportation, even just one day a week, can make a huge difference. We can do some simple math to find out just how much. Using a commute distance of 5 miles (a 2009 DOT survey found that 50% of trips made in the US are under 3 miles – while many commutes are longer, we’ll use the ride-able average of 5 miles) we can calculate using a simple equation from the website “What’s my Carbon Footprint?”

If you bicycled to work an average of one day per week throughout a year, you would save over 400 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

Considering the average American emits between 11,000 and 21,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year, that’s reducing your emissions by between 2-3%, just by cycling to work once a week. And now imagine increasing that number to twice a week, or convincing a few friends to do the same. You CAN have an impact, and pretty easily.

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine has some great tips for using your bike as transportation, from choosing a durable bike to dressing for the commute. In Maine and all over the world, more and more people are embracing bicycles as a viable mode of transportation. Since 2000, the number of bicycle commuters in the United States has risen over 40% and continues to rise each year. Bicycle commuters tout not only the environmental benefits, but the health, fitness and convenience ones as well – as cycling can often be quicker than driving to work, especially in cities. 

So try it. Start with one day a week, and maybe that will turn into two, or three, or maybe you’ll become a bicycle-commuting convert. Maybe not, but I challenge you to try. Now that the weather is getting nicer, do your part for the planet.

Written by Hannah Orcutt, a 2011.5 Middlebury College graduate, Mainer, and longtime cyclist. Hannah is currently living in Burlington Vermont where she works with the Orton Family Foundation to expand the influence of their work in community-based, small town planning.


A Rant on Risk

By | Equipment, How To..., Stay Safe

I am what I suppose you could call a low level extreme athlete. I like to do sports that involve risk, because I believe that danger is a delicious gravy to life. I paddle whitewater kayaks in ocean surf, I do some rock climbing, and I happily seek out and ski off-piste terrain that most people would consider highly challenging, on non-releasable telemark bindings. And naturally, I ride bikes on trails and roads in all kinds of conditions. I have a pretty high tolerance for risk, but I am not foolhardy. I try to manage the risks I take.

So I’m always a little amazed at the unnecessary risks that I see people taking when they ride their bikes.

One cannot really remove risk from activities like bicycle riding, but one can be educated about managing risk. From an operational perspective, managing risk on a bike begins with following basic rules of the road, and doing things like riding with traffic and stopping at stop signs and lights. But one see cyclists with an alarming frequency riding against traffic, despite the fact that it is both illegal and statistically one of the riskiest things one can do on a bike. Likewise, one sees cyclists treating stop signs and stop lights like decorations that do not have to be obeyed.

Crashes that happen as a result of these behaviors are not “accidents.” They are the result of bad operational decisions. And besides the physical danger one puts oneself in by choosing to disobey traffic law, a bicyclist also increases their legal risk by doing so. Violating traffic law means you will probably lose in court if a crash does happen. Breaking the rules of safe operation is actually taking on extra, unnecessary risk. I am always baffled by such behavior, which seems gratuitously dangerous and rude.

Operational considerations aside, there also are a number of decisions a bicyclist makes before they start riding that can increase or decrease their risk. And again, I’m astounded by how willing some folks are to make decisions that unnecessarily expose themselves to easily avoided risks.

One such decision concerns wearing a helmet. Yes, if you operate safely, you may not crash. But if you do crash, and you don’t wear a helmet, you greatly increase your likelihood of suffering a brain injury. Even worse, not wearing a helmet could, again, jeopardize your legal rights if another vehicle or insurance company lawyers are involved. Not wearing a helmet can sometimes be considered “culpable negligence”, meaning that you were negligent in failing to protect yourself as much as you could have. As with obeying traffic law when you ride, wearing a helmet helps manage both physical, and legal, risks.

Another decision concerns your clothing choice. In our education classes, we tell folks to dress “bright and tight”, which means that you should dress for visibility and so you don’t get tangled in your bike. What you wear while you ride is a two second choice that can make a huge difference in how you’ve managed the risks of road riding.

The decision to be visible is even more significant for nighttime riding. You can be following all the rules of the road, wearing your helmet, using signals, but if drivers can’t see you, you’re toast.

I am always astounded when I see folks riding their bikes after dark without bright and reflective clothing or lights on their bikes. I personally run two headlights and taillights, and wear the most hideously bright neon clothing I own when I ride after dark. And my commuter bike (which is the bike I’m most often on after dark) is covered with reflective tape. I’m not afraid of traffic. I’m just trying to manage some of the extra risks inherent in nighttime riding by making it easy for other traffic to see me.

The League of American Bicyclists website mentions these “Five Steps to Riding Better : 1. Follow the Rules of the Road, 2. Be Visible, 3. Be Predictable 4. Anticipate Conflicts, 5. Wear a Helmet.

The League’s Traffic Skills 101 Curriculum also mentions these five, which do overlap a bit: 1. Know how to Control Your Bike, 2. Obey the Rules, 3. Choose the Right Lane Position 4. Learn Hazard Avoidance Moves and 5. Wear a Helmet.

I think that these points are a recipe for sensible risk management on a bicycle.

Jim Tasse, Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s Education Director



Crashes with Cars: Before the Crash

By | How To..., Stay Safe

This article is adapted from the Winter 2012 “Ask the Experts” column of BCM’s newsletter, “Maine Cyclist”. In this first part of a two-part series about crashes with cars, we discuss preventative measures, both to avoid having a crash at all, as well as making sure you are not limiting your options should you get into on.

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine frequently fields questions from cyclists who have been in a collision with a car. Since it’s obviously preferable not to have a crash in the first place, let’s focus first on proactively minimizing your physical and liability risk, followed by what to do if you get into a crash.

(A quick note on terminology: We prefer to use the word “crash” or “collision”, not “accident”. Although according to the dictionary, accident is actually appropriate when there is a lack of intent, or when the incident was through no fault of the injured person, common everyday usage also often implies a lack of cause or avoidability. “It was just an accident” sometimes implies that it was no one’s fault, not just that it was unintentional. However, almost all crashes are the result of one or both drivers either doing something illegal or at least with inappropriate caution. Accordingly, they almost always could have been avoided by one or both parties. So to avoid this confusion, even though “accident” may be correct according to the dictionary, we still prefer to use “crash” or “collision”.)

When riding on roads, driving your bike largely as you would drive a car is the best way to stay safe. Follow the rules of the road; that keeps you visible and predictable. Drivers will know better what to expect from you, especially at intersections where most crashes happen.

Another important reason to ride legally is your liability should you get into a crash. If you were not riding legally at the time of the crash, you almost certainly will be assigned the blame. You will have little chance of recovering any money from the motorist’s insurance company, and you may find yourself sued for his or her damages! (See this column for more about insurance and liability

Here is a quick summary of your legal responsibilities as a bicyclist:

  • Follow all rules of the road for vehicles, especially riding on the right side, obeying all traffic signs and signals and using the appropriate intersection lane.
  • Maintain working brakes.
  • Signal your turns and stops.
  • Do not ride in pedestrian facilities.
  •  At night, use lights and reflectors.
  •  Do not carry passengers or cargo in ways the bicycle is not designed for.

 In addition to those legal requirements, we also strongly advise you to:

  •  Wear a helmet even if you are an adult. (Maine law says children under 16 must wear helmets.)
  •  Wear bright, visible clothing, or
  •  Use more than the bare legal minimum of lighting.

Although this last set are not legally required, law enforcement and insurance companies may consider your failure to do any of the above as “contributory negligence.” A lawyer may be less willing to take your case because of the decreased chance of success. Unfortunate, but true.

Next time: What if, despite your bests precautions, you are hit?

Cyclist Insurance

By | How To...

This article was originally printed in the Summer 2011 “Ask the Experts” column of BCM’s newsletter, “Maine Cyclist”.

A reader requested that we explain insurance for cyclists. This can be a very complicated subject, and we cannot do more than scratch the surface in this article. You need to talk with your insurance agent(s) and possibly a lawyer to know all the details of your situation. Also note that this article focuses on Maine laws and policies; other states may differ.

Currently, there is no such thing as comprehensive “cycling insurance” in this country. Depending on the circumstances, cyclists may use a variety of policies: homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, health insurance, auto insurance (yours, or the motorist’s if you crash with a car) and “umbrella” or “excess” insurance.

Damage to your bike from causes other than crashing with a motor vehicle generally is covered by a personal liability clause in a homeowner’s or renter’s policy. Check to make sure bikes are covered. If someone else caused the damage, you can try to get it from their personal liability coverage, if they have it. If you are injured, you should talk to your health insurance company. If the injury was due to someone else’s actions, your company may negotiate with their company (if they have health insurance).

Theft usually is covered with homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Additionally, if your bike was stolen while locked with a high quality lock, the lock company may provide coverage against theft.

Guard against loss ahead of time by keeping your bike’s bill of sale with the serial number, and take photos of the bike. If possible, register your bicycle; some communities such as Portland have voluntary bike registries through the police department.

If your bicycle is stolen, report it to the police and keep a copy of the police report. What if you crash with a motor vehicle? In the “best” case, the motorist who hit you is found at fault, and he or she has insurance. Most insurance companies, if they accept assignment of blame to their customer, will simply pay out to the other party, regardless of whether you were in a car, on your bike or even on foot. (Unfortunately, we have been told that some insurers will deny medical claims from bicyclists, though they pay for pedestrians.)

There are a variety of other, less ideal situations that may present problems to the cyclist colliding with a car.

The motorist at fault may be uninsured, or underinsured relative to your expenses. In this case, if you have automobile insurance, your own Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM) coverage may be used to pay you, even if you were on your bike (or walking) at the time. (Even if you don’t personally own a car, this applies as long as you are a driver on a family member’s policy.)

For this reason, bicycle law experts recommend that cyclists purchase the maximum amount of UM/UIM coverage available, especially since most states have very low minimum liability limits. (Maine’s minimum is $50,000/$100,000 for bodily injury, and $1,000 for medical payments, according to Personal injury protection also may help.

Those who do not own a car may buy a “non-owner auto insurance policy,” intended primarily to provide liability coverage. Such a policy can include UM/UIM, Personal Injury Protection or medical payment coverage. Unfortunately, these policies can be expensive. If you are found at fault for the collision, you have a problem even if you have an automobile policy, because the liability coverage only applies when you’re operating the insured motor vehicle.

Your homeowner’s or renter’s policy may cover the bike damage. For medical bills, your health insurance, if you have it, will be needed. As for the motorist’s damages, in the best case he could simply use his own UM/UIM coverage. But worst case, you are legally liable for his damages, and he could sue you to recover them from you. This is a very good reason to make sure you always ride legally!

Some insurers offer “excess” or “umbrella” policies, with very high limits that come into play when other options are exhausted. Although rarely needed, this can be invaluable in particularly catastrophic crashes.

Be sure that you consult your insurance agent or lawyer if you have questions about your situation, both before and especially after you are in a crash with a motor vehicle. It is also important that you investigate all options before you accept any settlement offers.

For more information, refer to: