Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pastry Progressive

Saturday the Scientist and I joined Cris, and a friend of his A.  on a 2nd annual Pastry Ride.  Last year the focus was on chocolate croissants,  this year it was broadened from the start to all kinds of pastries. The idea was to bike from bakery to bakery, sampling the wares, and going on a tour of Boston at the same time.

We started in Davis Square, and headed up up up over the hill to The Danish Pastry House in Medford.  
I started with an almond pastry which was flavorful and flaky, but a bit too sweet.

 We chatted a bit over coffee and then headed to destination two,  Quebrada  Bakery in Arlington.

 Here, I had heard great things about the Chocolate Crossaints, and fortunately there was a "mini" version,  which was important because we could already tell we would need to pace ourselves.  Full of big chocolate chunks,  the Chocolate almost overwhelmed the pastry.  Fortunately I could cut it with a macchiato from  barismo, the boutique roastery across the street.

Then it was off to Cambridge via the minuteman path to Iggy's. Although I'm an Iggy's fan,  this was one of the more disappointing stops, as I opted for a slice of prosciutto pizza for a savory change.  Although all the ingredients were high quality, they didn't seem to work together.  It didn't help that we were sitting outside (no indoor seating) and the wind was strong enough that it was literally blowing toppings off the pizza.  I didn't finish it, and stuck the rest in my basket and we headed off around Fresh Pond.

From there we stayed in Cambridge, heading to Hi-Rise Bakery.  By this point I needed a rest, and hung out while the others got a few things to try.

We chatted about industrial machinery and cycle tracks as we stood on Concord Ave, then headed down Huron to the Cambridge/ Watertown line to pack ourselves into Sofra.  
This was a good chance to get some savories,  and the Scientist and I shared a Spanakopita with a wonderfully savory spinach and feta filling enclosed in layers of flaky filo dough.  By this point the day had warmed up and it was pleasant standing outside in the sun.

Back on the bikes we cut through Watertown and then headed through Allston to Brookline.  Not surprisingly this was the least pleasant part of the ride,  full of aggressive drivers and people double parked in the bike lane.  Finally we got to Clear Flour in Brookline where there was a line out the door. 
Clear Flour's baguette is my favorite in the city, but my stomach was in no mood for buying extra food for later.  We shared a small blackberry- apple tart in the park- split 4 ways it was just enough to get a good balance of fruit and crust.

Heading deeper into Brookline, through a lovely neighborhood of single family houses that I'd never seen before, we stopped at Japonnaise,  a French- Japanese fusion place.  I got a Linzer cookie that was full of almond flavor, but a bit soggy from sitting in the case for a while.  I tried a bit of a Adzuki bean/ cream filled pastry puff too, which was much better than I expected, without the kind of earthy musty flavor I've had in Asian bean flavored desserts before.

We headed down the Fellsway paths along the parks of the Emerald Necklace, and into JP,  where we stopped at Canto 6.  Again I wasn't up for much more than tea,  although we all shared the Scientist's pumpkin cake,  which had an amazing cream cheese frosting,  and was topped with roasted pumpkin seeds- a nice touch.  It was a very pleasant space, although small.

From here we jumped on the Southwest Corridor pathway,  which has been freshly re-paved.  This is an example of a multi-use path with separated ways for pedestrians and bikes.

 Although there were a couple of strays, people mostly seemed to stay in their designated space, and it was a fast pleasant ride to the South End, where we rode through brick rowhouses  with lovely yellow trees.

 There we stopped at Flour,  where I "choked down"  a tasty macaroon.  It was clouding up by this point, although it was warm enough still to sit outside, until it started to sprinkle.

Luckily it stopped as we headed towards Beacon Hill for our last stop, Cafe Vanille.   This was one of the places I was most looking forward to, seduced by the images on their website.  I got a pair of Petit Fours- miniature versions of their full size pastries.  Unfortunately both of them were slightly stale and off a bit, which was really disappointing. Maybe they don't have enough turnover in their petit fours?

By this time we were thoroughly done with flour, sugar and fat!  A quick trip over the Longfellow and through Central Square took us home.  The Scientist had to head into work briefly,  and I got back on the bike for a quick trip to the grocery store for low cal dinner supplies.

We had the perfect restorative dinner after all this excess-  arugula lightly dressed with vinagrette,  topped with seared shrimp and with a side of Moroccan carrot salad- lemony, earthy garlicky- a perfect foil for too much sweetness.  We rode 30 miles or so, which probably helped offset some of the calories, but my body just isn't accustomed to eating that way.  Still it was a great excuse to "steeplechase" through the city, seeing parts of the city that aren't along my normal bike routes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Upcoming Events

A Couple of events of note:

Sunday night is the annual Halloween ride, meets up at Green street station in JP.  I went last year, and it was pretty incredible.  Some people had spent a LOT of time on their costumes,  but you can go even without.  A rolling street party, closer to critical mass than a tweed ride, and a lot of fun.  Best if you can go with a group I think-  I lost my group immediately, and I had a great time even by myself, but having a posse would make it more fun.

Tomorrow night Oct 27 is a "community walk" with the city planners to discuss the upcoming changes to the Western Ave corridor:  more information on the plan and the walk here

This will be followed up by a public meeting Nov 3rd at 7pm at the Cambridge Senior Center in Central square.   I'll confess that I haven't been as dialed into the Western Ave reconstruction as much as the bridges, mostly because I trust the Cambridge city planners to be progressive about cyclist accommodation,  but after some of the snafus at the Main-Broadway reconstruction I'm not so sanguine, and want to check it out in person.

Warm Sticky Rainy

Although I don't mind riding in the cold or heat, I'm actually a bit of a wuss about rain, and will often ditch and take the train when it's actually raining.
I didn't plan on riding in the rain Wednesday morning.  At first I was resigned to taking the T,  and then the rain stopped, and I thought I could probably make it by bike,  so I lingered a little longer with my morning tasks than I should have, and by the time I was ready to go,  I was getting pretty late.  And of course the thing about weather is that if you wait a while it will change, and it had started to rain again.

It wasn't a pouring rain, but it was a bit windy,  but by this point I was going to be hopelessly late if I took the train.  Plus the idea of being crammed together with everyone else in their wet gear in a hot sticky train car wasn't too appealing.  So I dug out the $8 Tyvek poncho that I bought at the hardware store and have been pretending is a "rain cape" and saddled up.

And it was basically fine.  Yes, my feet would have been soaked except my leather boots are pretty damppoof.  And my tights dried fast,  and the hem of my skirt was a little damp, but not much more than if I'd walked 10 blocks each end in the rain under an umbrella.

The Tyvek poncho has the advantages of a rain cape, in that it is open below for more airflow,  but it's not a pretty sight, I'm afraid.    By the time I got halfway up Cambridge street, it was only sprinkling, and I decided to ditch the poncho for the rest of the ride.  I 'm tempted by the thought of a Carradice Duxback, but A) it's awfully expensive for the occasional ride through the rain and B) it's dark green, which doesn't seem like a great choice for visibility. There are rumors of a cape from Brooks for next Spring, but I'm not expecting it to be much cheaper, and it's also dark (although with reflective patches).

I did have a moment of schadenfreude, that in retrospect I'm not proud of.  I was stopped at a light behind a car that I'd been following for some time, and despite driving a fancy sporty car, he was driving very carefully and patiently.  Our light turned green,  and he started, when all of a sudden a guy RAN out it front of him,  literally 3' from him.  The pedestrian hadn't even looked at the light, and there actually isn't a pedestrian crossing there.  I had seen him running down the hill, holding his hood down over his brow, and figured he'd at least stop at the light.  The driver just missed him with a squealing of brakes and probably a lot of adrenaline.
The jaywalker didn't even stop, which was unfortunate for him because he'd dropped his iphone,  and it got run over by both the front and back wheel of the car.   I bet he's wishing he'd waited the 90 seconds for traffic to clear now!


Or, "What would Yehuda wear"
Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery is one of my everyday "must goes" on the interwebs.
Even when the story arcs seem needlessly drawn out sometimes, I tune in every day, either to find out what happens "next" or just to get a slice of life of characters who are all bike crazy, but in very different ways.  There's Yehuda, the slightly preachy and overzealous transportation cyclist,  Joe, the Roadie who's his partner,  Thistle, bakfiets mom and mechanical engineer, Sister Sprocket- Shaker fixie pixie, and a host of other entertaining side characters.

I've been searching for a new pair of glasses. Now that we're getting more grey days and I'm almost always biking home after dark, I don't need sunglasses as often. However there are still a lot of times where I need to wear something to protect my eyes, either from flying crud or from plain old cold air. They need enough ventilation that they don't get all foggy at stoplights too.

If I were a racer, there are all kinds of amber and yellow lenses that I could wear, but I think I would feel silly wearing such sporty things with my regular clothes.

I have thought about buying clear lensed "vanity glasses" but I'm worried that they will scratched too easily. I'm tough on sunglasses, I toss them in the basket, lose them all the time, fatigue the cross pieces etc, Because I'm so tough on them I'd prefer a "dispososable" price point, something that will last the winter but not necessarily much more. $20 or less.

So, What would yehuda wear?   What do you wear to protect your eyes?  What should I look for to get me through the months ahead?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bike about weekend

It was a tough weekend to be in a car in the Harvard square area.  The Head of the Charles Regatta was this weekend, bringing a triple whammy of out of town drivers, closed streets, and even more competition for limited parking than usual.
Although the Scientist will often drive in to lab on Saturday and/ or Sunday depending on how busy he is, and sometimes I'll borrow his car to run errands that are either far away or involve heavy bulky objects, instead this weekend we tried to go everywhere by bicycle

First we biked to the new outpost of Flour bakery near MIT.  This part of Mass Ave has been undergoing a bit of a renaissance, after years of feeling like a forlorn DMZ between the MIT campus and Central Square.   Evidently MIT owns much of it, and hasn't done anything with it for whatever reason.  The new Novartis compound helps, and there are a couple of new stores and restaurants,  which start to make it feel like a real part of the city.  We snagged seats in the window, and not only was the bike rack full, but bikes zipped by on a regular basis- I'd say 20 bikes went by while we enjoyed our french toast.

I then did a small tour of the bike stores of East Cambridge, looking for a dynamo tail light for Minerva. I hit Cambridge Bikes, where someone ignorant started to tell me I'd need a separate dynamo for the rear (A level look and a quick explanation that I'd done it on two other bikes earned me a guy who actually knew what he was talking about, but who didn't have any tail lights.

I stopped at the hardware store to get some paint, then hit up Hub Bicycles, which I'd never been in before.  They couldn't help me with the tail light, but I browsed a bit, looking for something that I did need.  I didn't see anything, but they were very friendly and I wish them well.  They have a great location right on the bike lane down Cambridge.  I bet they get a lot of neighborhood traffic needing mechanical help.  Unlike most bike stores, they didn't appear to be selling any bikes,  so they're making it on wrenching and accessories alone. One thing that I noticed that seemed like a great idea "bike pyjamas"  a tyvek or similar cover for if you have to lock your bike on the street in inclement weather.

Finally, I swung past Broadway bikes, hoping that since they identify as a transportation cycling-oriented shop they would have something,  but nope.  They could special order it, but so could I,  and  partly I wanted to actually look at them and see how bright the different ones were, as I've heard some people (MDI) voice concerns that the standlights are pretty weak on the B&M rack mounted lights.  My fender mounted light is at least 90% of its full brightness on standlight setting, so if the tail lights are significantly dimmer, I'll get a fender light.

I did see this pretty cool Swedish Kronan military bike.  It has unusual geometry- it seemed really long for its height- as a comparison here's a photo of it next to Minerva, who is extra long.

At my last stop, at the Grocery store, I locked up next to a bike with this sticker:

I then shifted into painting mode, and finished painting the front fence and the front steps.  I still have a little bit of touchup, but it's mostly done, which is a good thing since I'm running out of weather warm enough to paint in.  Next weekend will be raking and clearning gutters, and then I'll probably be shifting into inside project mode for the winter!

After an afternoon of painting, we went to a dinner party to welcome some new faculty to MIT.  We still didn't want to drive, so we set off on bikes to North Cambridge.  A quick jaunt down Mass Ave, and we were there.  It honestly was faster and easier than driving and searching for parking would have been, and it was a lovely crisp night.   The Scientist was kind of shocked by how fast I can move on Gilbert in traffic- we don't ride vehicularly together very often. 

Sunday was grey and damp, and I was glad that I wasn't a rower.  We did finally break out the car to take the dog out to the Fresh Pond resevoir-  he needed a bit more exercise than a walk around the block.  Someone immediately took our parking spot, and we ended up parking 4 or 5 blocks away when we came back,  rather than try to find a closer spot.  The rest of the day was laundry and cooking for the week, with a quick trip by bike to Whole foods by bike to get some salsa.  Inspired by a dish I had at a restaurant, I made buttermilk biscuits from scratch, and we head them with home-made spicy red pepper jelly and prosciutto.  YUM.  Biscuits were a perfect thing for a grey day-  they're fast, they're delicious, and they make the whole house smell good!

Friday, October 22, 2010


I must say that just reading the lede, I thought that this program that offer biking for the blind (as the stoker on a tandem with a sighted captain) was a bit silly,  especially since for me bicycling is so much about indepenence.   But then I thought about how much richness my senses bring to my rides.  The smells of what's for dinner as I ride through a residential neighborhood;  the warm and cool air currents as I bike through microclimates at the top of a hill or past a body of water;  the sounds of traffic and how I use them to create a 3D picture in my head of my surroundings.

And more importantly, the people who take advantage of the program seem to love it,  and after reflection I can understand why.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

O Ye who are heavy laden

I've been listening to the Messiah at work, so excuse the slightly biblical title.
Generally every couple of weeks, I borrow the Scientist's car and do a run to the mainstream grocery store for big bulky things like dog food, soda, paper towels etc.
I can do these things by bike, but only a couple of things at a time.
It's been a while since I had one of those weekends, and the dog was down to sorrowful scrapings of the bottom of the bin.  So I headed to the big grocery store and loaded up my cart:  20lbs of dogfood,  two 6 packs of soda, a loaf of bread, two pounds of chicken thighs,  cilantro, ginger, and a 3 pack of gladware.
What it looked like in the carriage:

What it looked like loaded up on Gilbert:  Can I put in another plug for how fantastic flat rack straps are?  This would not have been possible without them:

Now 99% of people would be content to wobble home, but I decided that there were a couple of things I also needed from Trader Joe's.  So I slowly biked down to the river, and picked up some capers, cotija cheese and coconut milk (all the C's) Finally, I headed down the river bike path, I was not terribly stable, but it was fine.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I missed a tweed ride!
I had added the tweed "blog" to my "following" list so that I wouldn't miss any, because I was really looking forward to riding my really really old bike in something low key and parade-y  like a tweed ride.  But I still missed it.  Damn.

Instead the Scientist and I headed out to Concord to peep at some leaves, and take Minerva's new brake setup for another test ride. I shortened the cable, to the point where it grabbed a lot more at the maximum pull on the levers.

 Time got away from us, so we ended up putting the bikes in the back of the Scientist's car, and drove out to Concord, then did a 13 mile loop, oohing and awwwing at the lovely foliage as we went.

It was good that the light setup works, because we needed lights by the time we got back to the car.

The countryside: lovely,  the light 100%,  the truing, much much better,  the braking,  OK, but still needs work.  I'd say that the front brake is at 80% of where I want it to be.  I'm afraid that if I take any more slack out of the cable, I'll be riding with the brakes permanently "on".  So I may have to work out a way of increasing the mechanical advantage of the brake lever travel somehow.  More tinkering is in order.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A different kind of fall color

I like to keep a planter by our front door with seasonal annuals in it- pansies in the spring, begonias in the summer,  mums in the fall.  Somehow this year I was too busy to swap out the summer stuff, and the pansies are looking really bedraggled.

This year I got an ornamental kale,  which is much more purple than it seems in the photo.  It will resist a bit of frost and give me something spiky and interesting to look at for the next month or two while I climb the stairs

So proud

Now that we've turned on the heat for the season, I was going around last week closing up the house for the fall (sigh) by making sure that all the storms were firmly closed and the sash of the double hungs tightly drawn closed.
I noticed that on one of the windows the sash cord had broken, probably a while ago, and needed to be replaced.  This is not terribly hard, but is kind of dirty and fiddly.  First you have to pry off the stop bead, which in this case had been well and truly painted on, then you remove the sash from the opening, and there's a little side access panel where you get to the weights.  You thread the new cord down over the pulley,  tie it to the weight, and then cut it to the right length and tie a knot in the end, which you feed into the corresponding notch in the side of the sash.  Put it all back together and "voila",working window.
This took me about 40 minutes,  and the thing that I'm "proud" of myself for,  is that I was tempted, but did not get sucked into scraping off the old paint, re-puttying it, re-painting it etc.  I was almost out the door to the hardware store to get glazing putty, when I decided: NO,  I have too many other projects,  this window is OK as it is,  and will not get any worse if i don't fix it today.

Yes, someday it would be great to spend a couple of weeks fixing up these great old windows, making them smooth to operate and more energy efficient.  But today is not that day,  and I'm proud that I was able to walk away....

Friday, October 15, 2010

So sad

There was a beautiful house there once,  one whose builder cared enough to give it a lovely patterned slate roof.

Of course that was before vinyl siding and fake stone and glue on brick  (they call it "brickmastah" in these parts)  came along.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

SO cute

Ok, so you can link to this directly through the blogroll over there to the right, but you really really need to check out LEGO Transportation Alternatives-  a campaign commercial for Miss Sarah's (of Girls and Bicycles) husband's campaign.  So incredibly great to see a world of lego bikes, scooters,  light rail and one car families!  I wish I could have helped put together the "set".

I also like the way the narration presents transportation alternatives as an infrastructure improvement that has real economic benefits for the average user (the savings of having only 1 car per household alone can be thousands of dollars.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tarte Tatin

This is my favorite use of apples!
Tarte Tatin,  AKA French up-side down apple pie:

You caramelize the apples in a pan with butter and sugar,  put a pie crust on top, slide it all into the oven, then tip it out when the crust is done.

I over caramelized a bit, and didn't unmold it until it had already cooled too much, so it's a bit ragged around the edges.
But boy, with a dollop of whipped creme fraiche (or whipping cream with a dollop of sour cream),  there's not much better on a cool fall evening!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Not particularly bike- related

One of the things I hope to avoid through active transportation is heart disease.  However there are lots of people out there who for whatever reason (inactivity,  genetic predisposition)  will suffer sudden cardiac arrest.
Like many people, I had to study CPR in 10th grade gym class, with the scary "recussa- Annie"  dummies, but I 'm not sure I'd really feel comfortable trying it on a real person.  So I was interested to learn that there's a new "modern" approach to CPR  called CCR (continuous chest compression) that's targeted more to laypeople than trained responders.
 I'm going to pass this along- take five minutes, learn a valid reason to get "Staying Alive" stuck in your head, and if you ever need to, you can be a Good Samaritan without having to recall those days in the high school gym.

Over the river and through the student ghetto

I headed over the river to my dentist yesterday.  I mention this, because basically the only time I ride over to that part of the world, is every 6  months to get my teeth cleaned.  It used to be an awful route to even drive-  a road in a need of a diet: a lane and a half that encouraged double parking and stupid driver tricks.
Riding it so infrequently makes it really noticeable how it's changed over time.  There was only 1 double parked car in the bike lane,  down from 4+ last time I rode it (that could be chance), and I felt relaxed and comfortable the entire way across Brighton (the student ghetto)  and into Brookline.

On the way into work from Brookline, I got to see first hand the new-ish bike boxes on Comm Ave.  They seemed to work pretty well.  I actually used one where Comm ave hits the public garden, and all the lanes turn right, but through traffic needs to be a lane or two over from the far left.  No issues, people seemed to understand that bikes belonged all along the way.   I think that the bike lanes on the pike overpass leading into Kenmore square are especially nice.  They give you some breathing room up a pretty steep hill, and create a bit more structure on what is otherwise a way too wide road when it's not lined with Fenway parking (which alas it will not be until the spring!).

It seems to me that Nicole Freedman has been very strategic in the way she's used limited funds to create a backbone for connecting Brookline and Brighton to downtown.   I know that there's some concern about the facilities connecting Dorchester and Roxbury,  but it seems like they're trying to create a corridor down Dot Ave, which seems like another backbone to help connect people into the city.  I had to drive down to Hyde Park for a baby shower on Sunday (I contemplated riding all the way, but I had to carry at 30 pound "Pack N Play and it was 12 unfamiliar miles through a couple of rough neighborhoods,  and I decided that it was a bit too much.)   There was actually  a fairly lengthy parkway with nice bike lane for much of the way through Mattapan, Milton and Hyde Park- the tail end of the "Emerald Necklace" of parks connected by greenways that was conceived by Frederick Law Olmstead.
I would like to tour that area by bike some day, but preferrably not by myself, and even more preferrably not with a large unwieldy baby accessory on my rack.  It seems like that series of parkways could be a real opportunity to create a bike "highway"  all up the length of Boston- it just needs some vital connections between the links of the necklace.  A goal for the next couple of years.

Instant Carma

This morning about two blocks from my house,  I was stopped at a stop sign.  There was traffic coming down the one-way street I was trying to to turn left onto,  so I was waiting,  in the middle of my traffic lane, for the cars to pass.  There isn't great visibility, because of parked cars, but I could see a couple of cars coming.  There was a tiny break in the traffic, not enough to take, but the guy behind me at the stop sign must have gotten tired of the 30 second wait, because he swerved around to my left (in the oncoming traffic lane of our two way street) in order to turn.  Of course at this point, there was a car visible coming down the street and he lurched to a stop as they honked at him.  I yelled "Hey,  There's cars coming!"  as he swerved around me,  because at the moment, I was worried more about him getting T boned than the stupid thing he was doing.    Of course after he managed to complete his turn,  he immediately had to stop at the light 200 feet down the road.   I was pulling up next to him on the driver side, saying "Good Morning! exactly what did you think that move back there gained you?"  when I saw a police officer stepping up to the driver's side window.  He gave me a little "I've got it" nod,   and asked the guy "Are you paying attention to your surroundings?  Because you almost hit that woman on the bike"  Which wasn't exactly true.   It was a HUPD (harvard)  foot patrolman,  so I didn't think he was going to ticket him,  so I headed off,  but still it was nice to have such instant backup when someone did something stupid around me because I was "just riding a bike."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

On cycle tracks

I'm a bit surprised at the vehemence of the comments against the cycler track.
I'm going to continue to disagree with the general theme of the comments though.  I have actually never had problems with the Vassar paths  I find them a pleasure to ride on, and go out of my way sometimes to ride them.  I'm not going terribly fast, and I've never had a pedestrian conflict that wasn't simply resolved with a ding of the bell.  They've also been pretty well plowed when I've been over there in the winter.  I understand that turning traffic is a problem, but to my mind it's just as much a problem with a bike lane as it is a cycle track,  and the cycle track even seems like it would be better, since it's grade separated, and they're going to have to go up and over it, which would slow them down much as a speed bump would.

I understand the normal arguments about the danger of "sidewalk" cycling,  but this to me seems very different- it's just an extension of the street, not separated by trees or yard or parked cars like a normal sidewalk.  Therefore, I think that the cars are going to be just as aware of you as they would be if you were on the same level as they are.  

I know that Cambridge owns a special narrow snow plow that they use on facilities at Fresh pond, and I see no reason why not to expect them to plow this facility as well as they plow that- which in my experience is pretty well.  I suspect it would be much better than a bicycle lane, because it won't get mounded full of snow at the edge of the road.  It's our job as cyclists to help remind them of its importance if they forget.  I bet we can train them pretty quick to clear it in a timely manner.

No, a cycle track will not allow you to stop thinking about cars.  Yes, you will still need to pay attention at intersections and turning points.  But you won't have to worry about people carelessly drifting into you as they talk on the phone, or try to squeeze around a turning car.  And you won't feel like your choices are to either allow people to pass in the lane perilously closely, or to take the lane and go as fast as you possibly can so that people don't get pissed off at you taking up so much of "their" road.

I can do the latter, but there sure are days when I don't want to, and wish I didn't have to.   For all the people who can't physically or emotionally do the latter, I think that the cycle track is a good option.
If you really feel that it slows you down too much and miss the excitement of playing in traffic, Cambridge has no bike lane use requirement, so if you're young and strong of leg and mind, I'm sure you can continue to practice vehicular cycling in the traffic lane.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Thoughts after the Bridge

After the Longfellow bridge meeting, I shared a T ride home with Renata von Tscharner,  the founder of the Charles River Conservancy, a member of the "stakeholders" group that put together this meeting, and an incredibly admirable and elegant force of nature. We've met a couple of times at events like this, and I'm sure she didn't know my name, but remembered me enough to chat on the T.

 She had three interesting comments.  Firstly, she noted that I was the only woman who spoke up as a year round cyclist.  I didn't really think about it, but I guess it made some impact.
Secondly, she said that she had seen data that indicated that 80% of the drivers who crossed the Longfellow, made the trip from less than 5 miles away.  I would credit that, as practically the only time I drive it is when I'm heading to 93 North from Cambridge.  That seems like an incredibly potent argument for better facilities.  5 miles is nothing on a bike,  and if the facilities made people feel safe and comfortable, I could imagine a lot of people would ditch the hassles of a car or the T to bike into Boston.

 Finally, and I hope this isn't confidential,  but  we were discussing bike routes in and around Harvard Sq,  and she said that the City of Cambridge wants to put in more cycle tracks (specifically on Concord Ave) but that Mass Bike has been fighting them.  That is really disturbing to me if it's true.  Cycle tracks seem like the apogee of cycle-forward design-  of acknowledging that bikes really do deserve their own infrastructure, and to oppose them (on some VC  principle) seems reactionary to me.  If bicycling is really to become a commonplace means of transportation- not limited to the fit and the brave, and dare I say it, the majority male,  I really believe that we need more and better infrastructure.  Wide bike lanes, separated cycle tracks, space to go at the speed of bike, without having to constantly be evaluating and worrying and feeling pressured to keep up with the inhuman speeds of automobiles.
Maybe it's a dream to hope for those kinds of facilities for bikes.  But it's that kind of dream that lured me from the Car-centric lands of my youth (Houston Texas) to the Boston area, and specifically Cambridge.   I hope that someday it will be a dream completely fulfilled.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Longfellow Meeting

There was a pretty good turnout at the Longfellow bridge task force meeting Wednesday night.
First of all,  so much appreciation for all the reps who went to seven three hour "stakeholder" meetings in preparation for this report.

I was kind of shocked to hear just how bad the conditions are in the existing scheme. According to their diagrams, currently there's a 15' wide car lane on the boston bound side, and the bike lane is only 3' wide.  I ride this bridge practically every day, and I still didn't realize how skewed to "car is king" old school transportation design it was.  Although after riding it the next morning, I think that someone has re-striped it to be at least 4'.

I think that the thing that everyone can agree on is that the pedestrian routes over the bridge HAVE to be improved.  It also seemed like there was real consensus about reducing the Cambridge bound traffic to one lane, which based on my experience is completely reasonable.  Since there's no nasty intersection creating a bottleneck, and the traffic is reasonably light every time I ever go through, I think that's pretty much a no-brainer.    I'm a little less convinced about reducing to one lane on the Boston bound side.  I think for now, they need to prioritize the pedestrian pathway, because once they get the guardrail in, it's not changing for another 100 years.  Re-striping is (relatively) easy,  crash barriers are forever.

The options on the inbound (Aka boston bound) side are:

A) Have two slightly 11' lanes for cars, a 8' sidewalk and a 5' bike lane.

A' )  two 10'6" car lanes, a 9' sidewalk and a 5' bike lane.

B)  reduce to one auto lane,  have 12' bike lane (some of which would be buffer zone) and 13' sidewalk.  Go to 2 car lanes in the last 400 feet before Charles Circle.   I would love this, but I do think that it would tend to back up cars.  Not so much because of the volume of  bridge traffic as because the intersection at Charles Circle is such a disaster and there's really no way to improve the signal timing.

C) the combo platter,  would have one lane of traffic and the wider bike lane and sidewalk on the uphill  (slow biker) side of the bridge,  which would then shift to two lanes of traffic and a more constrained sidewalk and bike path on the boston end.

I haven't made up my mind on this.   On one hand, I heard that the engineers say that 80% of the people who drive over the Longfellow into Boston do it from less than 5 miles away- a perfect distance for them to bike instead :)!  Also, when they went down a lane during construction, the delay was all of about 5 minutes, so it hardly seems onerous.  I understand that the evening rush is different, but still....
On the other hand,  we don't want the bridge to fill with idling traffic all the time (cough, cough wheeze)

A kind of a throwaway idea posited by the head of Mass bike, was wondering if it was possible to remove some of the traffic through Charles circle by providing alternate exits from Storrow that serve the Medical center North of the bridge via Blossom street.  Dunno if it's possible, but it's definitely intriguing.

A major consideration is that they need to maintain a 24' paved width for emergency access and evacuation  of the city.  On one hand a very wide bike lane would meet those requirements,  and would provide for ambulance access to Mass General Hospital, even if auto traffic was stalled.  Bikes can become very small if they need to pull over and out of the way.  On the other hand,  a very wide bike lane is an invitation for scofflaw drivers to drive, and even park (!) on it.  perhaps there could be a subtle grade variation (6")  enough to deter the average driver, but not enough to stop an ambulance.

I'll not go into the details of the pinch points at the existing towers and the abuttment at the Boston side. If you've ever walked across the upstram side, you know this all too well. It seems likely that they'll remove the existing abuttment at the Charles Circle end, in the interest of more pedestrian space, which is fine- it's not historic, and frankly, is ugly.  Technically there are "Parkland" issues there, but the area that would be encroached upon is a no man's land feral space which only attracts vagrants and dunkin' donuts cups at the moment.  Speaking of butt-ugly, there's also the potential for folding into the project the replacement of the cruddy existing pedestrian bridge there with a new one with better and more accessible connections to the bridge and to the esplanade. I don't know that the proposal is developed enough to respond to, but seems like a not-bad idea.

One thing that I noted with interest-  There were a couple of eloquent speakers from various Beacon Hill organizations.  They really want to calm Charles Circle,  and a lot of them walk a lot, including across the bridge.  They are really vocal about  improving the human scale and livability of this connection over the river.  They're almost more radical than the bike advocates about wanting to reduce the number of inbound lanes, and not giving a damn about the consequences for cars.  I'm working on a rennovation in Beacon Hill right now, and that gives me a real sense of the compromises that people make in their personal spaces to be able to enjoy such an urban culture,  and how seriously they take automotive assaults to that culture.  

Overall- I was pleased at the general support for bicycling and pedestrian facilities (SUCH a change from the past MassDot attitude).
Although it scares the pragmatist in me, after a day of reflection, I think  that we need to go big here, and build it so that people will come.  Boston is a city of pedestrians,  and we want it to be a city of bikers,  and we as a community need to put our will behind it,  and I really do believe that people will respond and fill those bike lanes.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bike Safety summit follow up

I apologize for the delay in reporting about the Bike Safety Summit Follow up last week.
The first great thing about this summit is that it happened.  So often it seems like city leaders will convene some kind of "feel your pain" meeting after a tragedy like the death of  Eric Hunt in April.  Upset people rant, leaders look serious, and nothing ever happens.

So it was a real sign of progress that this meeting even happened.

Reports were given by the BPD,  theBoston EMS, Mass DOT, and MBTA.  There was a representative from the Boston transportation department, who spoke thoughtfully in the comments period, but who did not make a progress report.

Both BPD and the EMS  have modified their intake/ ticket forms to track incidents involving cyclists separately.  Previously every party to a collision or incident was either a "Vehicle" or a "pedestrian"  and there was no way to track bike specific incidents.

The BPD has appointed a bike liason, Captain Danilecki, who was the former head of the "Tactical bicycle team".  Given some of stunts I've seen bike cops pull, I'm not completely reassured by that, but at least he understands what's involved in riding a bike on city streets.   One "throwaway" that I thought was very significant is that not only will all police academy cadets get training on bike law, they will actually have to do some training as bike cops.  I'm not sure how extensive this is, but if every police officer had to do a rotation as a bike cop, I bet they'd have a much different perspective on bike law.  There was a bit of discussion of the recent "enforcement action" of red light running at the BU bridge,  and several people spoke up in favor of it,  and the head of Mass bike spoke up against it,  or questioning why they weren't ticketing speeding cars.  I  get his point, but I really support tactical bike law enforcement (at the beginning of the school year, in a student heavy area, in a really dangerous intersection).

There were two MBTA people there, and the presentation was mainly bus-specific.    They talked about ways that they're including more bike specific training for bus drivers, especially by including bike scenarios in the training simulator which is used for new drivers, continuing ed of existing drivers, and targeted re-training of drivers who have had complaints. They're using the great video from Chicago about busses and bikes to help train drivers.  Now if we could just get all the bikers to see it too!  They also plan to have bike racks on 100% of busses by 2012. 

The MBTA rep and the BPD rep kept repeating how incredibly important it was that they get people to report problems instead of just stewing and being upset.  One reason that it's important to report even minor crashes is that that data is very important in securing funding for improvements- money goes first to the most dangerous areas.     Similarly, if you get buzzed by a bus, or yelled at by a bust driver,  the MBTA guy practically begged us to call the complaint number, because after they get a certain number of  complaints they get tagged for re-education. Whip out your phones and add this number to your contacts:  617-222-3200.  Note the 4 digit code on the back of the bus when calling in, as that's how they ID the driver.
Nichole Freedman talked about how she's taking the data from EMS and BPD and mapping and processing it.  She's also been doing self-reported crash stats through Bike Boston.  I think that this, along with the bike route mapping are inspired ideas, I just wish that they were better reported. I consider myself reasonably plugged into boston bike culture, but I never heard about the accident reporting thing.

She's also trying to push education.  They've gotten permission to steal the best ads from the "LOOK" campaign that NYC did.  And they're going to put a flyer about bike rights in all the car- excise tax bills, which seems like a good idea.
She talked a bit about lighting programs and the need to do more outreach on that.
A woman representing the Health department talked about low-cost and free helmet programs.  I personally think that low-cost and free lighting programs would be even more effective in reducing accidents,  especially if they were distributed in an educational context (the dangers of riding ninja, riding on sidewalks, riding salmon).

So,  if you ride a bus route,  put the contact # in your phone.  If you have an accident, call the police, even if you feel it isn't an "emergency".  For the rest, draw your own conclusions, and hope that we have another follow up meeting next spring that isn't precipitated by a tragedy.

Speak now

Just a reminder about the meeting tonight about the Longfellow Bridge.

6:30 at the Shriners Childrens' Hospital Auditorium at MGH (conveniently located near the Longfellow!)

Come and speak up about the various options for reconfiguring the bridge, or lose your right to complain about what happens forever (or until the next time they reconfigure the bridge- in  2060)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fine soft evening

The weather today couldn't decide if it was a strong mist, a drizzle or really rain.
It was clear when I came to work, although it had rained overnight enough to wet the pavements.

Then I rode to a site meeting (I love doing jobs in the city!)  and it was picking up,  enough that I got some drips off my helmet brim, but my raincoat was plenty of protection and I was just as dry as if I'd walked.

By the time I headed home, it was a bit stronger still, but not enough to be the kind of down the back of the neck rain that drives you indoors.

So, I decided to take a detour into western Brighton to the Martignetti liquor store to try some wine that had been recommended to me.  I rode out via Western ave from Central Square,  which other than the  tough bit  over the bridge was actually perfectly fine.  On the Cambridge side there's a bike lane, and beyond the bridge, it's a road in need of a diet,  as there was not quite enough room for two lanes, but plenty of space for a "virtual" bike lane.  Traffic was light, and I pedaled along, damp but happy.  The problem was that this store is on Soldier's Field road which is essentially a freeway, with people going 50 mph and not expecting a cyclist.  So I came around the back, became a pedestrian,  took Gilbert "off road" down an embankment, and got into the parking lot from the back side.

On the way home  I rode  the freeway part on the narrow little excuse for a sidewalk (with posts in the middle of it every 20 feet) and then did a little more VC to get through a massive interchange and then back on Western Ave, home.

By this point I was damp around the edges (my tights, the hem of my skirt, my shoulders where my raincoat wasn't quite up to its task). Time to warm up with a nice glass of wine and radicchio-prosciutto polenta.  Perfect for a cool damp fall evening.

Small progress

I didn't make it to the bike swap because I got engrossed in trying to install Minerva's new front wheel.

I got it in, and the good news is,  It rolls and makes light.

The bad news is that it completely came out of true on the first ride, and the front brake doesn't work very well-  I think it just needs to be tightened way up,  but didn't have time to experiment with the parameters
It  was just a trial run, and I think I have a lot of ideas about how to improve it, but it's going to take some serious fiddling and fussing.

Thought I'd share pictures if anyone is interested.  I cut the brake cable that came with the hub short, and installed it using a compression nut through a hole on the rod brake stirrup.

My camera battery was dying, so I didn't take a lot of detail shots.
I will have to do a lot of fiddling with it this next weekend, and will post more photos soon,  I just knew there were others interested in the same procedure, so I thought I'd post the progress shots

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Apple Picking by bike

After all the rain and wind and mucky humidity last week, Saturday dawned clear and cool.
I met with my group in Arlington Center at 10 at the mouth of the main section of the minuteman trail, and after a brief stop for caffeinated beverages and pastries, we headed off.
The minuteman trail is really a wonderful thing.  Although it was fairly crowded,  it's much much easier to ride as a group and have conversations with your companions when you can ride two abreast.

After we left the bike trail, we continued for about an hour and a half (maybe a bit more) on busy country roads.   I've gotten accustomed to traffic on city streets, but it's still unnerving for me to be riding on a tiny shoulder while cars race by at 50 MPH.  Most cars were actually pretty good about passing with half a lane of space, and it got better as I got used to it,  but I was glad to be in a group, and there were still a couple of moments where my heart was in my mouth.
Three of our group were pretty hard core long distance cyclists, and three of us were not.  The long distance people did a good job of trying to slow their pace for us who were on more commuting bikes,  but it was definitely a struggle for them to remember to slow, and a struggle for us to keep up.

I was reasonably comfortable the whole time though- I could more or less keep up without too much strain,  and the albatross bars were absolutely fine-  I actually had much less shoulder and neck pain than I have had in the past riding long distances with road bars.  I think that being able to straighten up, holding the bars by their very ends let me stretch my neck and shoulders so that I was really quite comfortable.  I  wore unpadded "workout shorts"  which are cotton with just enough lycra for stretch,  and knee length, under a smock like cotton dress.  I didn't have any chafing issues although I was tired of sitting on the saddle by the end of it.
I did notice a pain in my knee, which got worse on the ride home, and I am quite sore in that knee this morning,  but it's getting better as I walk around and loosen up.

We stopped just shy of Nashoba valley winery (where we were picking) to grab some lunch at a less crowded venue,  and I took some detailed shots of one of the bikes in the group- the owner had constructed a home-made dual LED headlight that ran off his generator front wheel.  Very cool.  Of course he had built the bike himself (!)  so making his own light is probably a lesser feat,  but I was very impressed with both.

At the winery/ orchard,  we met a group who had arrived by car.  We wandered around the orchards to find a couple of types of apples.  It was such lovely weather- cool, sunny- perfect fall weather for such a fall activity.

Loaded up with 10 pounds of apples and a couple of bottles of hard apple cider in a single pannier,  Gilbert was a bit unbalanced,  but fortunately the ride home was a net elevation loss.

  The slowest member of our party elected to ride home with one of the carloads,  so I do think we made a bit better time back.  We stopped in Lexington at the Ride Cafe,  which I had heard about but never visited.  It's a combination of very high end bike shop (Seven, Cervelo, and Public bikes, Rapha clothes)  and coffee bar.  Coffee was very welcome by this point (about 6:00pm)   By the time we headed back for the last leg home it was getting quite chilly and was almost dark.  I was glad that the dress (smock really) that I had worn over my bike shorts had long sleeves that I could roll down to keep a little warmer.
Home just in the nick of time, I met with my neighbors about their house rennovations, made some comfort cauliflower , canned a batch of marinated roasted peppers  ( I had roasted them in the morning before the ride, and just had to peel them, stuff them in jars, top them with vinegar and spices and process them for 10 minutes).  I fell into bed around 10, and was asleep not long after, dreaming of tarte tatin!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bike fun this weekend

Assuming that my basement doesn't flood again, I'm looking forward to a lot of bike fun this weekend.
Saturday I'm joining a group going apple picking by bike, which sounds wonderful,  and the weather is supposed to be lovely for it.  However it's 60 miles, which is a long trip on Gilbert, which makes me a little nervous.
Sunday I expect to be recovering, but there's a Bow Tie ride- celebrating the shape of Cambridge, rather than the neckwear (although such neckware is encouraged)  info here.

I might drag myself off the couch to make it to the Bike swap meet, at which ANT Bike Mike promises to liquidate the contents of the back corners of his garage.  I probably shouldn't share, as I don't want more competition, but hey, it's already been posted on Boston Biker.  If nothing else, it will be a reason to go to Union square and get a coffee at Bloc 11.

Stay dry people, and happy biking!