Sunday, November 30, 2014

What would it say to America if McDonalds became "Bike Friendly"?

If you're "bike aware" (and likely you are because you're reading this blog) and have ever visited a fast food restaurant you've undoubtedly seen bikes haphazardly parked to anything secure all around the restaurant site.  A vast majority of these bikes are undoubtedly owned by members of restaurant staff who depend on their bikes to get to their jobs in the restaurant.

A bike parked on a street sign outside the McDonalds on Milltown Road in North Brunswick, NJ.

Knowing that a number of their employees rely on a bike to get to work everyday, one would think that these fast food restaurants would provided some official organized bicycle parking that preferably meets the basic APBP bike parking standards.  Unfortunately this is almost always not the case and the sight of bikes parked to whatever the owner can find is common sight not only in New Jersey but at most fast food and chain sit-down restaurants all across the country.

The above two photos and the one below were all taken at the same time at the
North Brunwick McDonalds. There are three bikes in this photo plus the one bike in the first
photo. Including the author's bicycle (I ate there too), there were five bikes parked at this
McDonalds location at one time, a very high actual demand.  The underutilized lawn
shown here would have made an ideal location for APBP compliant bicycle parking.

And given no official bike parking and left with few other options, owners will often lock their bikes to trees.  Chaining a bike to a tree will damage the bark and eventually kill the tree.  Trees are expensive to replace if they are replaced at all, so the landscaping at the restaurant sites is often left permanently damaged and never given a chance to mature.

This tree shows clear signs of structural damage which was likely caused by bike parking.

So this is why we ask, "What would it say to America if McDonalds became 'Bike Friendly'?"  We are not picking on McDonalds.  Far from it!  We focus on McDonalds because they are clearly the industry leader and we respect them for that.  If McDonalds makes the move to standardize bike parking for their employees and guests, WalkBikeJersey believes that it would send a message across the entire restaurant industry.  Their engineering consultants that do their local site plans would also be educated about proper bike parking design and hopefully the message would get out to the towns that do the site plan review and then possibly even to McDonalds' competition.  There is clearly the potential for a positive feedback loop here.
Employee bicycles locked to the signpost marking the handicapped parking space
at the McDonalds on Route 22 in Somerville NJ.  The signpost is much closer to the
door than the provided bike rack that fails APBP Guidelines.  As such the bicyclists
park on the signpost which could then block wheelchair users from accessing the door.

Also, McDonalds is known for remodeling their restaurants at regular intervals.  Both McDonalds featured in this story were entirely remodeled inside and out within the past 2 years and the North Brunswick location has been remodeled 3 times in the past 15 years.  Their frequent remodeling schedule would allow them quickly implement universal APBP compliant bike parking at large portion of their restaurants.

This APBP non-compliant "wave rack" located at the Somerville NJ McDonalds
was far from the door and not immediately visible.  It was also located too close to
the bushes seen here to be used properly or easily.

Some locations like the Somerville McDonalds have tried to do bike parking but didn't get the details quite right.  This is a good sign but just the beginning.  We hope McDonalds takes the lead here because not only would good bike parking be good for their employees but it would prevent damage to their landscape trees, limit liability when bikes are haphazardly park to signs and it would be good costumer service as well.  And if McDonalds is smart, and we know they are, they could turn this into a great public relations opportunity.

Now if we could only get them to turn the "drive-up window" into a "walk-up window."  We can dream, no?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fall leaves New Jersey cyclists in a leafy situation

New Jersey is blessed with many wonderful treelined neighborhoods.  The massive trees that tower over some New Jersey suburbs add character and beauty, provide shade that keep neighborhoods cool during the summer, all while filtering harmful particulates and sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere.  Trees are wonderful community assets that too often go under-appreciated.

These leaf piles take up much of the parking lane narrowing the usable roadway for cyclists.

That said, it's at this time of the year where we blessed with big trees must pay the piper and rake up all those leaves.  So far so good.  However it is how the leaves are stored at the curb awaiting pickup that can cause a real problem for cyclists. Most communities just have residents pile their leaves at the curb in the street.  In neighborhoods with lots of large trees these piles can get deep and wide.  Not only do the piles block the portion of the road that many cyclists use, the leaves can also be blow around getting onto the rest of the road causing even more hazards for cyclists as our friends at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia discussed earlier this week.

In Westfield, much of the ridable side of Rahway Ave is blocked by leaves forcing
cyclists to ride in the travel lane kept clear by passing cars.  Anyone need a chair?

Leaves blocking the shoulder of NJ 27 in Princeton. Photo - Mark Hommer

Now leaves don't need to be stored this way for pickup.  Other towns have their residents place leaves in biodegradable paper bags and then neatly place those bags at the curb awaiting pickup.  The benefits to this system are obvious.  The side of the roads frequented by cyclists stays clear and clean of leaves, eliminating all of the hazards caused by the other system. There is no reason for cyclists to be exposed to these hazards two-plus months every year when better systems exist.

Leaves neatly awaiting pickup in biodegradable paper bags.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Will a slight uptick in the economy mean a return to sprawl in New Jersey?


Yes suburban sprawl is alive and well once again in New Jersey and it seems destine to destroy our favorite rural cycling roads.  Prior to the Great Recession, the housing bubble was eating into vast swaths of what makes New Jersey the Garden State.  During that time I personally saw many wonderfully charming, quite rural roadways straightened, blown out and widened to modern "safety standards" to accommodate large new car-dependent developments and traffic demands 30 years into the future.  With a slight uptick in the economy my rides have once again been filled with the sight of new housing starts like that seen below.  While the rediscovery of urban centers and urban living have been absorbing much of the housing boom here in New Jersey, old habits still seem to die hard here in our state.  Also the massive amounts of wealth being generated in New York City and the region make the dream of a house out in "the country" (well it was the country till all of you moved here) all too attainable and attractive for those who can still easily afford this style of living.

New "estate homes" being built in an empty field off of wonderfully bikeable and entertaining Burnt Mills Road in
Somerset County.  Much more of this and the traffic volume on Burnt Mills will render the road un-bikable.
BTW - Note the budget bin fiberglass street lamp.  Luxury indeed!

We've talked about the connection between sprawl and the degradation of New Jersey's wonderful rural road cycling before (if you don't understand it, read that old blog article).  Luckily there is something we can all do to slow and hopefully stop New Jersey sprawl once and for all. On this Election Day you can vote YES for Ballot Question #2 which would permanently dedicate a small portion of the state corporate business tax to fund openspace preservation, park maintenance, new trails (!) and new park facilities.  Support is strong for this question in the local New Jersey media.  For details about the question itself see this in the Daily Record.  And here is The New Jersey Conservation Foundation rundown on what voting YES on Ballot Question #2 would mean.

So voting yes on Ballot Question #2 would preserve open space which means preservation of scenic areas we love to cycle, along with the old quirky roads that have so much charm and make cycling in New Jersey so much fun.  It would also provide monies to build and improve trails, parks and park facilities.

A win on Ballot Question #2 is a win for cycling and the overall health of the Garden State.