Skip navigation

I submitted this OpEd for consideration near the beginning of May 2017, in recognition of National Bike Month. It appeared on-line on May 19th, making it the third such OpEd of mine the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been good enough to publish. Others preceding it were as follows:

2010:  “Help the planet: Ride a bike”

2016: “Bike Month is every month”

A unicyclist crossing Delmar Blvd.                      P-D photo by Robert Cohen.

This latest OpEd (please see below) includes a reference to bicycling-related issues concerning the tracks embedded in the road for the new trolley line installed in the Delmar Loop in University City, which have concerned me.  Can bicyclists coexist with trolley rails? U. City takes a look is a related story, published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on April 28th, featuring the accompanying photo. at right.

National Bike Month: A chance to review bicycle history and challenges

By Martin Pion May 19, 2017

Nick Kasoff shown controlling the curb lane on W. Florissant Ave., Ferguson on October 8th, 2014.                                            Helmet camera photo by Martin Pion

Before automobiles became ubiquitous, leading motorists to view public roads as primarily for them, there was the horse-and-buggy and the velocipede. The latter, more commonly known as the bicycle, remains the most efficient means of personal transportation ever devised.

Today’s motorists don’t realize that we can thank the “Good Roads Movement” for the modern smooth-surfaced road system we all enjoy. The League of American Wheelmen, founded in 1880 and now called the League of American Bicyclists, spearheaded this effort in the 19th century (in the U.S.), propelled by the bicycle’s popularity as an affordable means of independent mobility.

At that time the most popular bicycle was the solid-tired high wheeler, also called the “boneshaker,” because roads were often so rough. (The cobbled streets of Laclede’s Landing in downtown St. Louis provide a modern-day taste.)

Illustration of 1885 Rover “Safety” Bicycle

A major advance in bicycle technology was the Rover Safety Bicycle, invented in England by J.K. Starley in 1885, and similar in many respects to the modern bicycle. It had a simple diamond-shaped frame and two wheels of equal diameter with the rear one being chain-driven. The pneumatic (or air-filled) bicycle tire, invented in 1888 by John Boyd Dunlop, a Scottish veterinary surgeon, was another major invention.

These details are taken from a wonderfully illustrated 53-page book, “The Story of the Bicycle,” by British publisher Ladybird Books Ltd., which is still available from amazon.co.uk (online at tinyurl.com/kjqd7jn). As this book describes, early cyclists faced challenges besides poor roads. Carriage drivers used horsewhips on cyclists daring to pass them, and children enjoyed poking a stick through a bicycle’s spokes, causing a “header” over the handlebars.

Today’s cyclists still face numerous challenges. Increasing motor vehicle usage was accompanied by discriminatory bicycle-related laws. Missouri’s mandatory side path law prohibited a bicyclist from using the road when an adjacent usable path was present. It was repealed in 1995, thanks to the efforts of sponsor Sen. Larry Rohrbach of central Missouri.

Michael Hoeferkamp

The Missouri Bicycle Federation assisted by contacting legislators and presenting testimony showing why bicyclists are compatible users of the roadways. Michael Hoeferkamp, a cyclist and attorney working in Missouri Senate Research in the state Capitol, drafted the legislation, assisted by other board members.

Missouri’s remaining major discriminatory law is the “Far To the Right” law, which requires cyclists to stay as far right as practicable (or safe), with some exceptions. My own city of Ferguson took the lead on this issue by repealing it in 2012, but disappointingly, so far no other municipalities or the state has followed suit.

Bicycling made the front page of the Post-Dispatch on April 28 in a story by reporter Mark Schlinkmann. The story was titled “Can bicyclists coexist with trolley rails? University City will study several options, including a bicycle ban.Sinan Alpaslan, University City’s public works and parks director, was quoted as saying that “a ban on bikes in the Loop was among various ideas his staff would examine.”

Joe Edwards with model tram

Ralph Pfremmer, Trailnet

The suggestion of a ban generated significant opposition, according to the story, including from Joe Edwards, the Delmar Loop entrepreneur who proposed the trolley and now heads a commission that helps oversee it, and Ralph Pfremmer, Trailnet’s chief executive officer, a local bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group.

As a bicycle commuter since 1970, and League of American Bicyclists cycling instructor since 1997, I was concerned by this proposal from the start because of the real crash risk posed by embedded trolley rails, and communicated my concerns early in 2015 to Loop Trolley personnel. Although I received polite replies, my concerns were not resolved. If your bicycle wheel gets caught in a trolley rail line it will result in an instant crash because one cannot steer from side to side to maintain balance. John Forester, the father of modern bicycling science and best practices, called this a “diversionary type fall.”

A potential solution was Alpaslan’s suggestion in the story of applying a rubberized substance in the gap in the rails.

If it works this may be the answer. Prohibiting bicyclists from this important public thoroughfare is not.

Martin Pion of Ferguson is a scientist and cycle commuter,
and a certified League of American Bicyclists cycling instructor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: