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PORTLAND, ORBill Kingsley is seeing blue. Kingsley, Portland's Director of Bicycle/Pedestrian Planning, is so excited about the city's new "Blue Biker" program that he can hardly contain himself. And apparently for good reason.
|Above: Ten year old Shaneeka Jackson proudly displays her new Blue Biker treatment.|
"Today has been our best day yet," beams Kingsley, grinning from ear to ear as the drone of the city's new mobile fogging station threatens to drown out his words. "We'll be working on that noise level a little for the next one," he laughs.
So far however, while a little noisier than expected, the city's first of a proposed 60 foggers has performed with very few problems. "It's been non-stop since we set up this morning. If things continue at this rate we may have to look into a second unit just to complete the evaluation," Kingsley continues, "You should see things when it really gets busy. The crew has been unbelievable."
Kingsley is excited, and rightly so, about Portland's new "Blue Biker" program that appears destined to complement the city's pioneering Blue Bike Lanes program begun just two years ago.
"Now that we have hit upon the Blue Biker idea, it seems pretty obvious that the concept that drove the Blue Bike Lane program was only the beginning," Kingsley said. "As a ped-bike planner myself, it seems there may be no limit to what paint can do. The new thing is amazing. Now the motorists can see bike riders wherever they are, even if they wander out of their lane."
The "new thing" that Kingsley refers to is the brainchild of Dr. Kevin Seville, a pedestrian and bicycle expert and founder of Seville BikePed Institute of San Diego, CA. Seville got the idea for Blue Bikers after reading about an incident in Detroit involving a carload of teenagers arrested after an evening of firing paintballs at bicycle riders. Says Seville, "I knew that if it involved paint and bicycles the folks at NCBW would be interested." The NCBW that Seville mentions is the National Center for Bicycling & Walking (formerly known as the Bicycle Federation of America).
Seville was right. NCBW was indeed interested in obtaining funding for additional programs and wasted no time enlisting the experts at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Highway Safety Research Center to do so. Working together, the groups obtained funding for full research and a seven phase trial program through a series of grants from the Federal Highway Administration. "It was pretty exciting," grins Seville. "We were covered."
What followed was nearly a year of research and preliminary evaluations conducted throughout Europe. Finally, in late January, Portland, with its large bicycle community and national reputation as a pioneer in finding new ways do distinguish between bicycles and traffic, was a natural and unanimous choice for the first phase of the trials.
The trial period is scheduled to last four months, during which Portland's bicycle riders will be marked using an environmentally friendly and easily removed high-visibility coating from Monsanto called KBL-1711. Additionally, bike riders who volunteer will be tagged with ankle bracelet transmitters that provide tracking information to help researchers better understand the characteristics of bike rider range and movement. Kingsley explains, "Some of these riders seem to be wanting to go places which have not yet been painted. As we find out more about what sorts of places bike riders want to go, we hope to be able to paint ways for them to get there."
Although the program, being conducted as part of the Oregon Department of Transportation Bicycle and Pedestrian Program, began just two weeks ago, Kingsley says the results so far have been nothing short of phenomenal, adding that the program has "generated so much excitement that some of the planners are considering buying bikes themselves."
Just beyond a set of registration tables manned by volunteer pedestrian-bicycle advocates, Kingsley keeps an attentive eye as another biker is directed into the "chamber", a plexiglass enclosure scarcely larger than a phone booth. Even wearing the protective goggles, there is no mistaking the look of apprehension on the biker's face. "Don't be nervous," Kingsley offers, "It will be a bit warm, but actually tickles a little."
The soon-to-be-blue biker is instructed to hold her arms straight above her head, and with a final check of ear plugs, nose clip and the Vaseline-like coating over her lips. The attendant reminds her to hold her mouth tightly shut and closes the door behind her.
There is a sudden increase in the whirring sound of the nearby pumping station. "The door has failsafe atmospheric sealing, and actually draws a very small vacuum to assure that no fumes can escape the fogger,"explains Kingsley, "Now watch, she is about to disappear."
Sure enough, in an instant the booth has filled with an iridescent blue glow that completely hides the biker from view. Then as quickly as she vanished, the fog is gone and she reappears, arms still extended above her. Smiling now, another Blue Biker is ready to take to the bike lanes.
|Director of Bicycle/Pedestrian Planning Bill Kingsley says Portland's Blue Bike Lanes won't actually be removed, as was done here during preliminary testing. Instead, plans are to color both lanes and riders using a newly developed high-visibility polymer coating from Monsanto.|
"Now you tell me, do you think any motorist can miss that glow?" laughs Kingsley, rubbing his eyes in jest. Indeed, the blue glow is almost startling to behold. "Monsanto sort of 'blue' our minds with the glow from that final version of the KBL series," Kingsley adds, groaning at his own pun.
Technically, the coating (Monsanto objects to the term "paint" when referring to KBL) is referred to as "drifted-frequency photo-emissive organic surfactant" and is applied using an electrostatic bonding process that produces a coating with an average thickness of only three molecules. The fogging crew refer to the material simply as "Smurf".
"Less than two grams of Smurf are needed for each rider." Kingsley brags as he holds up a small container with what appears to be only a few drops of black ink."The Smurf starts out black but changes instantly when heated and exposed to oxygen. The glow will last for a month if it isn't washed off."
While Monsanto maintains that testing has shown that the coating can be left on the skin indefinitely without any adverse reactions, it is assumed that cyclists will generally remove the coating and be re-Smurfed on a daily basis. Smurf rinses off easily with no more than hot water and wash cloth," Kingsley adds. "Not only have we had no complaints so far, some of the kids want to be Smurfed even when they aren't riding bikes."
Although the program seems to be going quite well some two weeks into the trial, not all bike riders are sold on the benefits. Many have grown comfortable with the current Blue Bike Lanes program which help both bikers and motorists by keeping bicycles in their lanes where they are both safe and out of the way of traffic. Some fear that the new program might replace the lane painting."Well, yeah, OK, it might like help the cars see us and stuff," remarks bike rider Kristin Lottingham, "but I don't see like how are we supposed to know where to like ride and stuff if it isn't going to be painted blue anymore."
Kingsley knows that with any new program there are likely to be some problems, just as in the early stages of the lane painting program when large numbers of soccer moms clogged blue bike lanes thinking they were handicapped parking. "We recognize that the program will cause some confusion, especially since we chose the same color for both bike lanes and bike riders. We may have to revisit that issue," admits Kingsley, "but we have absolutely no intention of terminating our lane-painting efforts. I'd say it is far more likely that we will find that even more things will need to be painted. But for now, Smurfing seems to be the best thing for the bike problem since the orange safety flag."