Friday, March 30, 2012

Chinese food delivery

A couple of weeks ago  the NY Times published this moving profile of a bicycle deliveryman.  They are much maligned for not obeying traffic laws, and there have been a lot of very punitive laws proposed to try to rein them in.  The irony is that it seems that a lot of the people who complain about them, are also quick to complain if their dinner is delayed by even a few minutes.  Or the time it takes to only go the right way on one way streets and wait at red lights.  I'm not saying that deliverymen are blameless, but perhaps there needs to be a better system that rewards safety and not just speed.   I know that there's a safety program aimed at delivery bikers and their employers, founded by a woman whose husband was killed (by hitting his head) after being struck by a delivery rider.

We don't have much of a bike-food delivery culture in Boston- I guess because it's not quite dense enough.  I know that Bertucci's and Upper Crust both have specialized pizza delivery bikes,  and I think that Redbones does some local bike delivery, but I haven't heard about much else in that vein.  It surprises me a bit that there aren't bike deliveries of Chinese food to the Financial district-  Chinatown is close, but far enough that it's a bit of a long walk, and there aren't really any good asian restaurants in the FD.  For that matter the North end is close too, but too far to walk on a regular basis,  but there could be a lot of business in delivering sandwiches.

Anyway, I was craving Chinese food, so I organized my own bicycle transport.  The ride there is a lot more pleasant now that they've striped bike lanes on the Greenway's surface roads.  I actually mostly get Vietnamese takeout from Chinatown (yeah I know).  But this time I tried a Chinese place, and I think it may be a winner.  Will have to do more "research"

I parked next to this fantastically decrepit  Hudson,  which I had to take pictures of, because I think my Dad had one of these back in the day.   The owner and what I'd guess were his grown sons were taking photos of each other with the car and a restaurant in the background.  I volunteered to take a photo of all of them together.  It seemed like a family tradition or get together to drive into Chinatown and eat together.  I should have asked them, but after looking online I think this might be a Hudson Hornet-  anyone out there know for sure?  

groovy steering wheel

fantastic patina
Although for gas milage reasons it's probably a good thing, they really don't "make them like they used to."   it would be nice to have more detail and character on modern cars to get the best of both worlds.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Disaster relief by bike

I'm not the only one who has mused about the potential bicycles hold for evacuation in an emergency situation.    But the city of Portland is taking it a step beyond, exploring setting up cargo bikes as emergency response vehicles.  And Bike Portland reports on a neighborhood preparedness organization which is testing the concept.
Photo from Bike Portland/ Ethan Jewett
It makes a lot of sense. Obviously a bike can't carry as much weight*  but they're more maneuverable, and if gas is scarce they don't have an issue.  This is part of why bikes were so popular in the 30's and 40's: Gas was expensive/ rationed so people biked every trip they could.   There are a lot of people talking about how high gas costs are "driving" (pun intended) to bikes.  I don't think that at current gas prices there is a strong economic reason to bike vs drive.  However I think that there's the "latte effect"  where people cut out expenditures that they think they can easily see, even if they don't have significant impact on their actual financial situation.   Biking can benefit from people trying it when gas prices go up, and finding that they like it enough to do it even if it doesn't affect their overall financial situation.

In any case, I think that the potential for bikes as part of a disaster response, and not just as part of an individual's preparedness is an interesting concept.  One of the rationales that is often used for over-sizing roads in a way that is not bike and pedestrian friendly is to allow for the passage of "emergency vehicles"  which in turn get bigger and bigger until they won't fit through existing road infrastructure.  Rinse, lather, repeat.    I don't know how viable bikes would be for fire-response, but for a lot of first aid, and the distribution of supplies to displaced or stranded people, they could really be useful in a catastrophe.

*although you read stories like this, and the amount of weight you can carry by bike is pretty incredible.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

27 degrees on the 27th

This morning the temp when I left the house on the 27th of March was 27F.  A dramatic change from the mornings last week that were in the high 40's and low 50's.
Had to put my earpod ear warmers on, and wore a scarf, wool tights, boots and warm gloves in addition to my long Nau coat.  I looked almost like this:
Last week I looked like this- look ma- no sleeves!

I don't think this cold snap is going to do good things to all the flowering trees either.  I miss last week already.

Monday, March 26, 2012


With the unseasonably warm weather we had last week, it seems like all the trees have exploded into bloom.  Normally there's a slower progression from crocuses to daffodils to hyacinths and then forsythia and magnolias.  This year it all seemed to happen at once!  
Saucer Magnolias in the north end

I don't know what kind of tree this is, but the blooms are spectacular- like fireworks.

Cherry blossoms still in bud (AM ride)


Redbuds (I think)
Cherry Trees PM- some of the buds were already blooming 

Normally all these flowers seem like a sign that you've made it through the long tough winter.  This year the winter was neither long nor tough, but it's still nice to have exuberant blossoms on every streetcorner, and the sweet smells of spring wafting through the air.  It's a great time to ride your bike (and everyone and their dog is out riding)

And then BOOM,  New England spring descends again!  It was cool and overcast and blustery all weekend!  The Scientist was all excited about going on a lovely spring bike ride Saturday morning, so we biked to brunch in the South end- and of course it was cold and windy and overcast.  Monday my ride in wasn't too bad, but the ride home was so cold I wished I had warm gloves and earpods- my fingers and ears were bright red and numb by the time I got home.  Didn't see many of the fresh crop of spring riders on my way home.

It's typical for the weather to shift violently back and forth this time of year, but I hope the needle shifts a bit more towards balmy and bright!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Follow up on Ride on Washington

I posted last week on the sendoff for the Ride on Washington, which I just happened to stumble across.

I just read an article about their arrival in DC, and about the focus of the ride, which I thought was especially interesting given my initial reaction.  My thought at the time was that the kitted group was a little unrepresentative of average cyclists  And I had questions about advocacy which presents only a stereotypical image of cyclists as super fit racers to policy makers who might have complicated reactions to that stereotype.

Interestingly, what I missed from my skimming of the ride's website, was that the idea behind the ride was to try to motivate roadies to have more of an activist voice.  The Bike Portland article makes the point that stereotypically roadie culture tends to be apolitical, and less involved than commuter culture in advocacy for better infrastructure.  Take the fictional example of the divergent views of Joe (roadie) and Yehuda (commuter) at the Kickstand Cyclery cartoon.

Instead of presenting themselves as advocates to the larger public, the point was for the ride to be elite athletes from the sport side of bicycling to raise awareness of advocacy issues within their community.

I wonder why there's such a divide between roadie culture attitudes towards advocacy, and commuter culture attitudes?  Is it about sport/ transport?   Is it a rural-suburban vs urban divide?  Is it about speed and the feeling that high speed long distance biking is independent of bike infrastructure?  Do commuters feel more entitled to demand infrastructure because their ability to do everyday tasks like work and grocery shop is impacted by it?

Anyway, I felt that the article really reframed my perspective, and made me think about some of the opportunities to expand and redefine advocacy.

Dutch Panniers

Full of Dutch Tulips
Not much more cheerful than a pannier full of flowers!

Hope everyone is out enjoying the spring weather!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Two upcoming events

Livable Streets and the "On the Move Coalition" are sponsoring a screening of "Boston Under"   a documentary about what happens at the T between 1:30 and 5am when all the maintenance gets done.
I'm a sucker for this kind of behind the scenes/ how things get done documentary.  Tickets are $6 and it's playing at the Central Square theater 450 Mass Ave, Cambridge.  More info here

Also another panel discussion about activism and creating more livable streets at Harvard with the slightly unwieldy title of "Become a Super Designer!  Redesign a Street, Plan a Neighborhood, Transform a City"
at the GSD (Harvard).  6:30 Monday March 26, at Piper Auditorium.  More info here. 
This is part of the "spring series on progressive urban planning" moderated by Aaron Naparstek who I met in August.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bikey Brunch

I had a great time at the first Women who Bike Brunch on Saturday.  We had 12 grownups and a junior biker,  and the setting at Area IV was perfect for such a group- they have a giant long table that could probably seat 24.   I think that every time I've been in there they've been the perfect amount of busy- full but with one or two seats so that a group of 2 could be seated within 10 minutes.  So many of my favorite restaurants don't take reservations and also have a 45 minute wait,  which is a tough combo on a lot of nights.

Anyway,  the food and service were great, and we had a great time chatting for about 2 hours.  Topics included women-specific bike stores, and whether they could be successful,  the BU bridge bike lanes, the underpasses on River and Western,  family biking and why so many bike shops give such bad advice, and lots and lots of other stuff.

Megan, the co-sponsor, in a very cool vintage cape

Dorea and H from Car free with Kids

Me,  Dorea and H and Bikeyface (Minerva was parked down the block)

almost the whole group

As you can tell from the coats it was still a bit chilly, but the sun came out and it warmed up a lot, and of course Sunday was a fabulous day.  It's supposed to be over 70 every day this week- so lots of great riding weather.  It was great to see everyone, and I look forward to seeing people again on Arpril 21st at 11.  We liked Area IV so much we're going back.  Hope to see you all there!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Bike to Basketball

Since we don't have cable, when we want to watch a sporting event, we often have to go to a bar/ pub/ restaurant that does have cable, and nurse our dinner and drinks as long as we can in order to watch the game. Being a former basketball player, the Scientist is pretty into watching the March Madness games,  so we made plans to have dinner at a local pub/ sports bar the Tavern on the Square.

After a bit of volunteer work downtown, I rode home in what started out as pretty heavy rain, but which fortunately stopped about 1/3 of the way home.  I neglected to check the weather this morning,  so got caught semi-unprepared- in a waist length softshell, instead of my longer Nau trenchcoat. So my skirt got pretty damp, and I got a bit chilly.  I let the dog out and fed him,  and  although my skirt had mostly dried by then, I changed my damp tights out for wool stockings, and then headed back out to meet the Scientist.

I got there first, but he assured me he was leaving the lab then, so I should go ahead and take an available table.  So I sat, and I waited and waited and waited.  Although it was a 5 minute drive, he spent 15 minutes driving around looking for parking, and finally parked in a pay lot.   To me that's one of the #1 reasons to bike in the city- it's almost always easier to find bike parking than car parking around here, even at places where there isn't great bike parking.  We left the pub at the same time, and I was home long before he was too, because I was parked right outside, and could just hop on and and pedal home, whereas he had to walk to the car, deal with the parking lot, and drive home.
Truly convenient parking- I used my seat cover just in case
Despite the chilly and damp weather there were a fair number of bikes out and about at 9pm on a Friday night.  There were two guys riding along the same way as I was, one of whom asked me about my Yakkay helmet, and there were at least 4 passing the other way on my short ride home, and they seemed like they were in pairs riding together  I think it's a good sign of a robust bike culture in a place that people ride their bikes to go out on a Friday night!

So this is my last Utilitaire: 12.12.  Although I wouldn't say the event has altered my behavior in any way, I think it was kind of fun to take on the challenge of documenting it in a more rigorous way.    It's also been really fun to read all the other entries in the contest, and I've discovered some new blogs to read in the process.  I doubt that it's changed the tone of the blog, or that the tone will change much now that I'm no longer doing it,  but it's been something to add excitement to the last dregs of winter!  And I've got to say that reading all of Chasing Mailboxes links has got me thinking about how maybe I can do some longer rides on the Shogun.   I may not be fast enough to be a real Randonneur,  but it wouldn't stop me from doing some centuries.....

Women Who Bike Brunch

Just a reminder- hope to see a bunch of you at Area IV tomorrow at 11!  I'm making a reservation for 16 (14 who responded and a couple of extras just in case) so it should be a decent sized group.

And they're Off!

On my way past Government Center, I saw a bunch of bikers and a couple of team cars, so I took a detour to check out what was going on:

Turns out that this is the start of the Ride on Washington and all these folks were getting ready to start off to DC

Nicole, the Bike czar in orange jacket on left

I like the idea that someone might do the whole ride on a hubway :)
They're raising money for a good cause, but it's not my scene really, and I felt a bit out of place just wandering through.  One of the security guards asked me jokingly  if I were riding with the group.  In my skirt and stockings and upright bike with basket I was obviously not going along.   Although I read that they're going to get a bunch of people on bikeshare bikes to ride along with them for the final miles,  which I personally think is a more effective advocacy message than just a bunch of guys in spandex.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A lecture

I suppose I could have doubled up on more of the categories for the Utilitaire, but I wanted to add a bit more variety, so I looked for a lecture I could go to this week, and ultimately settled on a MIT Architecture public lecture about "L.E.F.T." Architects.   This firm, a pair of Lebanese-American architects based in NYC is kind of a classic "ART-chitecture firm.  They teach at places like Yale and Columbia, and they do very theoretical exercises that win a lot of prizes.   The one real project that they've built so far on their own (they've done some collaborations)  is very lovely,  and they have a real gift for form.
However, as an architect immersed in practice instead of academia, I have to wonder, why the creation of beautiful form is only considered legitimate if it has a dense (obtuse) intellectual narrative about politics and identity and conflict to go along with it.  Is beauty alone not enough?  I guess people think that beauty is too subjective in the modern era.   But intellectual narratives are subjective too.  So round and round we go.

I have a lot of thoughts about this, and the ambivalence I feel about academic architecture is why I don't make the effort to go to many lectures.    But I went.  By bike.   I got to ride on the Vassar street cycletracks, which is a pleasure.

I passed the ghost bike of the MIT grad who was killed at the intersection of Mass Ave and Vassar,  apparently waiting at a light to make a left turn when a wide turning semi ran him down. Very sad.
I took photos of some lovely details of the main MIT "rotunda" building. The kind of details that aren't fashionable anymore.  They've been replaced with dense narratives and intellectual determinations.

They sure are lovely though.

And I mostly enjoyed the lecture.  I think I should make more of an effort to go to lectures that might be more of my "thing" instead of lectures that fit into a prescribed time frame.   That realization alone was worth the trip, and I think will inspire me to go to more lectures.

Perfect timing

I wasn't feeling well last night and decided to take the T home,  which of course meant I had to take the T in this morning.   I was coming up at South Station, ready to walk the half mile to work, when I remembered- Hubway is back!

So it was that I took my first hubway ride of the season!  To my mind riding from the T to work is exactly what Hubway is best at.  Hop on,  ride 1/2 mile,  hop off and in to work!
Now if we can just get it in Cambridge......

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bikes are the new cars

According to this story from Transportation Nation (a public radio collaboration about transportation)  tech workers commute to work by alternative means at a much higher rate than other industries.

Now some of this might be correlation- a lot of high tech companies are in places that might already be attractive for riding (Palo Alto not known for frigid winters).  Or there might be other demographic forces at work.  But it's still interesting that there's a correlation between people who work in info-tech and biking

Thought this video produced by Google about their own commuter programs was interesting.

Some key points-  40% of the staff at the mountain view campus  arrives by means other than private car.  They provide very very very cute "Gbikes"for transportation within the campus

( I want!)
Another part of the transportation puzzle which I think they've got nicely figured out is that sometimes you need to run an errand during the day or at lunch. If you work downtown that's pretty easy because there are lots of services in a dense area. If you work in a suburb, and you take a bus, or ride a bike, you might not be able to do that easily, so you might be tempted to drive to make that possible.  Google has a private car sharing system so that you can use a company car for errands during the day.

I know that locally there's a transportation organization the "Charles River Transportation Management Association"  which not only does a shuttle service from the Kendall T stop to various locations in East Cambridge, but they also provide (free) emergency cab rides if you or a kid get sick during the day, or if you have to work late and miss your bus/train home.  I think that this is a good alternative for companies that aren't big enough to have their own dedicated transportation program like Google does.

Edit,  I'm going to add this article on the criticism Apple is receiving for their anti-urban new compound:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Western and River Street Bridges Meetings

Tuesday the 13th and Thursday the 15th there will be meetings on the proposed reconstruction/ redesign of the Western Ave and River Street Bridges.   These bridges are particularly gnarly right now because of the nasty intersections on each side and the links to the Mass Pike entrance/ exit.

There's a story, which may or may not be apocryphal,  that there was a conference going on at Genzyme, at one side of the Cambridge street/ Storrow/ Mass Pike intersection,  and the attendees were staying at the hotel on the other side of this intersection.   The conference organizers rented buses to shuttle participants all the way across the river on River street, across to Western Ave, back across the river and to the Genzyme campus,  because it was deemed so unsafe to walk across this intersection to go directly the one block from A to B.  Whether this story is true or not, it's definitely true that this is a meatgrinder of an intersection even if you're in a car, and it's particularly daunting if you're trying to cross by foot or on a bike.

There are a lot of tough connections here, and it's an uphill battle to convince Mass DOT that this is still a city street, not just an extension of two highways (Storrow and the Pike).  Boston and Cambridge are in the process of creating much better bike facilities on both ends of the Western Ave bridge, and on Cambridge street from and towards Allston.  The consultants are proposing a pair of cycletracks and a better connection and better signage,  but they're going to need support for providing this off-street cycling facility, and support for the idea that this needs to be an intersection that allows people not in cars to cross it safely.

Please consider coming to voice your support for safer bike facilities at either the Cambridge meeting Tuesday (tomorrow)  March 13th at 7pm,  at Morse Elementary School, 40 Granite St,   or the Allston meeting Thursday March 15th  at the Honan-Allston Library,  300 N. Harvard St, Allston.

Mass DOT's pages on the project can be found here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Riding in circles

Today felt a bit like I was riding in circles,  on different bikes, to different destinations, but making the same loops over and over.  Fortunately it was a gorgeous day to be out on a bike, so it wasn't much of a hardship to be out riding around and around.

My first trip was ostensibly to meet Utilitaire 12.8,  "to the Bike Shop."  I had hoped to bike out to Harris, but the time change and other things got in the way, so I decided to hit Cambridge Bicycle,  which is just barely far enough away to qualify.  I am almost out of chain lube,  and after reading some glowing reviews wanted to try Chain-L.  I headed out on Minerva,  taking a somewhat roundabout route so that I could drop off compost,  and followed my normal weekday commute up to the point where I hit the edge of MIT,  and instead of hanging my normal left, I turned right and then doubled back on Mass Ave to Cambridge Bicycle.

Unfortunately they were out of Chain-L, but I bought some other lube which I've used before with good results. I'm fairly undemanding on chain lube since I have chaincases on most of my bikes, but it's never bad to have more.

They had replacement helmet liners for Bern helmets, which I haven't seen for sale anywhere else.  If you had a normal Bern helmet these would be a good way to winterize your helmet (next year, as I think the days of needing that kind of extra warmth are over for the year).

This antique relation of Minerva's was in the window.

I thought I was badly out of season taking Minerva's Christmas lights off last week:

I headed back on the shortest route, down Mass Ave, because the Scientist called and wanted me to pick him up at lab.  I normally try to avoid this area because it's like a live-action game of Frogger, but it wasn't bad on a Sunday afternoon.  Lots of people out enjoying the warm weather, on foot and by bike, and even the drivers seemed mellowed out  a bit.

I got in the car, drove to MIT (pretty much following the route I'd just taken)  and giving him his car, got Gilbert out of his office's basement garage.   Gilbert had been hanging out there since  I abandoned my ride home Thursday because I was being blown sideways out of the bike lane!

We had a brief conference about dinner, and I headed home, passing Cambridge bicycle again, and stopping off at the grocery store,  where I saw a Paper Bicycle.

 I'm not sure if that meant Velouria was around somewhere (Star market 4pm Sunday)  or if there's someone else with a Paper Bicycle in the Cambridge area.   I didn't see her in the store, despite doing an extra lap looking for her.

Cool Kickstand!

Looking at the Paper Bike in person, I think they're missing an opportunity to incorporate a light in the headtube/downtube connection.

Home again, I started pressure canning some pinto beans and was getting ready to make dinner, only to realize I was missing a crucial ingredient.  So back to the store (Whole foods where I dropped the compost earlier today) again.

Dinner was a special occasion because I bought the Scientist a Meyer Lemon tree for his birthday in June.  It's been hanging out in his office by a sunny window, and we finally have the first fruits from it- four gorgeously fragrant lemons!

To showcase them we decided to make lemon risotto and trout with lemon sauce.
We made a fairly standard risotto recipe, adding a chopped whole lemon about halfway through.

The trout filets we dredged in milk then flour, browning them in butter 3 minutes a side.  After they were golden, we added thin slices of lemon to the butter and pan juices and cooked them 2 or 3 minutes until they were browned and falling apart, then topped the fish with them.   Very yummy, and we have two more lemons to do something fun with.

So:  Utilitare 12.8 "Bike shop"  approx 2.3 miles RT for that loop.  Plus another 2 or 3 miles  of retracing my steps.