Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chilly mornings

It's starting to get nippy in the mornings- I'd guess it was in the high 30's as I headed out the door.  I wore regular heels instead of boots, as I think pretty soon it's going to be all boots all the time.
There are a (pleasantly) surprising number of cyclists still out.  I counted 10 going by in one light cycle on Mass Ave at Sidney last night at 6pm- not bad.  And all except one had a light, and three of them were patiently waiting for the light to change when I arrived...

This morning I saw a a bike with really interesting frame geometry, but couldn't get a photo-  I spoke to the owner briefly as we climbed over the Longfellow-  He said it was a "Semi-Recumbent" .  He had a european (Germanic?) accent, so I asked him if it was an Import, and he said, no, it's from Kansas.   Google led me to RANS bikes (and airplanes!?!)  of Hayes Kansas.  I'm not sure if this is the model he was riding, but it was characteristic of the style-  with a super laid back seat post.  My Dad rides a Vision 'bent, and has flirted with this idea, but he's worried about falling over and breaking a hip or collar bone.  Based on what I could see, it seemed like you were in a much less tippy position than a "regular" recumbent,  and it would be easy to put a foot down.  It also seemed like it would be peppier up hills.  Anyone out there have any experience with them?

I also ran into my co-worker E.  who was biking in a jaunty kilt. (over workout pants) She thinks it may be getting too cold soon for her to keep biking, although she, like I, had shed her outer layer by the time we got close to work.   

It is tough to get out there on chilly mornings,  but you warm up so quickly, even with light layers, that I end up shedding my scarf and usually my coat still. Good gloves are key,  and while the faux shearling ones I'm using are great so far,  I suspect they're reaching the end of their temperature range.

Harvard Sq Dunelt

Unfortunately I did not get my folks on bikes last weekend- my Mom had a really bad toothache, and they had to head home early.  On my way back from seeing them off at the airport, I wandered though Harvard Sq,  picking up toothpaste and other essentials,  and took some photos of this nice Dunalt.
Dunalt is a secondary british brand, kind of like Robin Hood.  I don't think it was part of the Raleigh family, but I'm not completely sure.  They're not very common around here, or at least this is the first one I've seen.

A fairly standard Black British Bike, with a couple of noteworthy features:

the adjustable height basket support. And text heavy headbadge and logo

three speed Coaster Brake:

Maybe a bit anticlimactic after the Swiss Mountain bike, but still a nice vintage bike in really nice shape.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

1944 Swiss Military Bike

I ran out of work just to grab a soda, and found this fabulous bike parked outside!  I ran back upstairs and grabbed my phone to take pictures, hoping it would still be there.   The photos aren't great, but it was such a fabulously unique bike, that I just have to share.   One of my coworkers and I were drooling over all the funky details, when the owner arrived and informed us that it was a 1944 Swiss Military bike (pointing out the cross and date on the seattube..  I'm still kicking myself for not taking pictures of him with the bike, or even a good overall shot of the bike.  I got lots of detail shots, because the bike had all kinds of funky details:  Like this rear reflector with keyhole shaped plate below-  I'm guessing it's for hanging the bike or attaching it to a rack

Or this incredibly cool bag, designed to fit between the seat tube and the fender:

The braking system was, um, ideosyncratic,  with a rear hub brake,  and a front brake that relies on pushing a pad down on the tire!  The owner said it didn't work- just made a burning rubber smell.
The lovely chromed bottle generator (which the owner had supplemented with a flashlight lashed to the handlebars)
An oil port in the BB.  You can see that the crank, the BB lockrings, and most of the other chromed parts had been painted out to create a "Blackout" bike, suitable for using during a bombing blackout. 

The rim has a very unusual spoke hole alignment- not linear, but offset.  I couldn't be certain what size the wheels were, but I think they may have been 28"

A closeup of the seat cluster, shows the Swiss Cross, and the date (and the funky seat post!)

It's a single speed (which would be tough with a 50lb bike in the mountains) and I love the bubbly chain ring!

It's amazing to me that this bike is still in service after all these years, casually locked outside a restaurant where the owner was eating lunch.  We are so lucky in Boston to have so many of these cool bikes around!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A future beyond standards

I found this article by  civil engineer to be very poignant.  Over the last 50 years there's been an asphalt arms race to make it safer and safer to drive faster and faster, at the of neighborhood character and safety for road users who aren't sheathed in steel and swaddled in airbags.   The irony is that the application of supposedly scientifically derived "standards" creates a  vicious cycle wherein wider roads increase speeds and make the roads more dangerous for everyone, so they widen the road again.

 One of the discussions of the changes to Western Ave in Cambridge, was about the desire to return the neighborhood character and make the street feel less like an extension of the highway it feeds into.  I'm glad that there's a new wave of engineers and planners who believe in models which include other factors than speed and throughput.  And I hope that this column goes viral among civil engineers, and that it gets posted on cubical walls and taped up on engineering professors' doors, as an inspiration for a future beyond "standards"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Sorry I've been AWOL
Between recovering from the crud last week, I've been trying to finish up the "great sewage flood basement remodel of 2010" in preparation for a family visit.   I'm really hoping to get my folks on bikes this weekend- if nothing else when Memorial Drive is closed on Sunday. Thanks to my collecting fetish, I think I actually have enough bikes that we can all ride at once.  Although I lent a saddle out, so we're one short, I'm sure we'll figure it out.

My Dad taught me how to ride a bike -it took a long time and a lot of running pushes on a gently sloping sidewalk at the school across from our house.  More importantly, he showed me by example how a daily commuter rides to work.  We lived 7 miles away from his office, and almost every day he'd ride in on his 70's Fuji,  dressed in screaming neon- the very image of the Bike Commuter Stereotype.    He's retired to a recumbent,  which in his late 60's he managed to ride all the way over Loveland pass (14,000 ish feet)  as part of the 130 mile "Triple Bypass" ride in Colorado.

My Mom,  who used to lug me around on the back of a classic green Schwinn (note to self- check it out when I'm next at home)  has not been on a bike in years. She's in charge of sag wagon support for a lot of events,  but isn't willing to ride on the roads in traffic.  I'm hoping that she'd feel comfortable enough on a closed street with a step over bicycle that she might give it a try.

So many people have tough times dealing with their families over the Thanksgiving holidays.  I can't wait to see my folks, and am so excited to just have a chance to hang out with them for a couple of days.  It's really something to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

virtue of necessity

If you have to use zipties to fasten something to your rack- you might as well make them into a design element:

Like this fringe of multi-colored zipties seen at Trader Joe's

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dutch Perspective

We attended an event last weekend with one of the Scientist's Dutch colleagues, who got a ride back with us, and the conversation turned to biking.  He said that he had heard about the trend for importing Dutch bikes, and he thought it was a bit crazy how expensive the Dutch imports are.  He said, you can come to Amsterdam and get a bike for $300 no problem.  I did point out that a lot of the imports have upgrades like multiple speeds, fancy saddles and fancy lighting systems, and he agreed that the $300 model wouldn't include all those things.   For the record, I remember looking at Italian city bikes and them being in the $2,000 range for "loaded" ones when I lived in Italy, so I know that it's not ALL markup.

His perspective was completely the "bicycle as vacuum cleaner" one- he said it's not unusual to get your bike stolen once a year, so why would you customize and get attached to it.  He thought I was a little silly to have named my bikes, although when I mentioned that I had 4, and that several of them were all the same color it seemed to make a bit more sense.
Vacuum Cleaner Parking

We talked a bit about how the attitude is so much different there- the strict liability to which drivers are held there prevents a lot of the hazards that drivers inflict on bikers here.  Interestingly his pet peeve here wasn't close passing, but people opening their doors carelessly.  He said twice that if someone opened their door in front of a biker in the Netherlands, angry bikers would pull the driver out of the car, and the driver would never do it again (implied some kind of smackdown).  He said that he had had several angry exchanges with drivers here who had almost doored him.  I suspect that if he rode further out in the lane, he'd complain instead about close passes and people honking at him.

He had only a loose concept of US biking laws and said he runs red lights all the time  (so much for the concept that getting more people out on the streets will make them more law abiding).  He doesn't "blow lights"  but he said since he's being environmentally responsible, he feels like the laws shouldn't apply as rigorously.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time before we could talk about separated facilities vs riding on the road.

I'm feeling better, but still a bit weak and slow,  and I was longing for separated infrastructure (or any infrastructure) as I biked home at rush-hour this evening.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Anderson Bridge Meeting tonight

I'm sick, and won't make it, but there's a meeting on the Anderson Bridge reconstruction in Allston tonight:
It sounds like a compromise has been reached that will allow both the current wide sidewalks, and a dedicated bike lane each way.  They're going to shrink the car space to three lanes, with one lane entering each side, and then a switch at the midpoint of the bridge so that there is a place for traffic to stack on each end of the bridge to wait for the light to get off the bridge.
The city of Cambridge has also made a commitment to reducing the traffic lanes on JFK  to three in order  create a bike lane each way from the river to the square.  Hooray!

Find out more and make sure that people who travel across the river by bike are represented by showing up at the meeting tonight at the Allston-Brighton library at 6:30.
Ok, back to bed with more grapefruit juice


Monday, November 15, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fall foliage shots

There's still a surprising amount of fall color still on the trees.
I don't know if it's the relatively mild fall, or if it's always this way.

Some shots I've taken in the last couple of days

Of course, all this leafy splendor reminded me that fall color is followed by raking!
I rode to Home Depot for a pannier full of stuff and 4 packs of yard waste paper bags (the kind that the city will pick up for composting),  then followed that with a stop at the grocery store to fill up the other pannier with groceries.

It was a slow and wobbly ride home.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Soggy Phoenix

A Chinese Phoenix brand bike, parked outside Kendall Station.  Looks like a pretty generic copy of a Raliegh sports,  but the headbadge and seattube art are pretty cool.

Unfortunately only had my phone camera, because it was pretty rainy,  but here are the snaps I managed to get:

Anyone read chinese well enough to decipher the text on the chain guard?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Changes to onramp of Longfellow

 I made a special detour to go see what's going on on the Cambridge side of Longfellow this morning, because I've been biking via cambridgeport and the river the last couple of days, but heard from a couple of people asking what was going on there.  Basically, they turned the right lane of Broadway into a right turn only lane, in order to provide a dedicated lane for people coming off Mem drive onto the bridge.
Looking towards Cambridge
Looking towards Boston

My best guess is that it's an attempt to streamline diverted traffic from the Craigie bridge closure, which means it  may only be in place for a month while Craigie is closed.
They were anticipating a huge volume of traffic coming off of mem drive and trying to cross into Boston, and they wanted them to be able to merge onto the bridge faster.  I don't see that volume of traffic, so  it seems like overkill to me, and kind of a mess for bikers.  I don't mind the bike lane zig zagging, but there's so much visual clutter, that I'm worried that people entering the lane won't see bikers coming, what with the giant sign, the bollards and so on.  
I sent photos to someone who has better contacts at Mass DOT to ask what's going on, but that's my best guess.

Do you ride there?  What do you think they should do there? Anything?  Or does it seem clear now that you've passed through it a couple of times?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Only if you love it

I went to the Livable streets talk- I was a little late, but I think I caught most of it.  I'm so glad I went, because even if the whole talk had been a bust, I found this on the way home:

It's the PERFECT size for my 2 YO nephew- he will be SO excited!  It was a bit of an awkward fit on the back of the bike, but less awkward than wheeling it along.  I'm tempted to drag it to the post office tomorrow, but I suspect it will have more impact as a Christmas present.

The talk was not a dud in any case, so the wheelbarrow was just a bonus.  I actually had lunch with Steve Miller, who was one of the speakers, and we had talked a bit about how advocacy walks a line between protest and lobbying.  On one hand, you have to be an insider to get your ideas put forward, but on the other, you have to hold out the threat of protest to stop ideas that you think are bad.  It's a tough way to get really progressive ideas moved forward,  but it's a good way to improve the status quo.  I think as a long term strategy it's really important to influence who the decision makers are.  Steve told me an interesting story about how Mayor Menino learned how much fun bicycling was after he had an injury that prevented him from walking long distances. The fact that we have separated bike lanes today on Western ave is the way, way downstream result of one of his staffers giving him a  BSO while he recuperated.

There was a watershed moment here about 2 years ago at a meeting about the Craigie Dam Bridge reconstruction (work that is happening right now), where cyclists turned out in large numbers and insisted on being heard by the car- centric planners of DCR.  The redesign of BU to have bike lanes,  the possibility for cycletracks on Longfellow, the almost certainty that there will be bike lanes on Anderson, River and Western:  all these things stem from the overwhelming cyclist response that day to the  DCR planning department ( who were really baffled by the idea that there could be alternate goals to the bridge other than maximum throughput of cars).  We actually forced them to go back and redesign, through protest, and ended up with a much better solution through lobbying.  More importantly it lead to a better public process that involves bikers (as much as they show up at the meetings) in the decisions that are being made for infrastructure for our lifetimes.

After the talk I ran into an acquaintance, R.,  who said that she was biking to work regularly.  We talked a bit about biking in the winter, and dress strategies for that.
I could post about the best way to dress for cold weather (and probably will as the weather gets colder),  but really R.  and anyone else should go look at Let's Go Ride a Bike, because Dottie has it all figured out- how to be warm in Chicago in January and cute as a button.

But more important than any advice on the how to's and details,  I'll  tell  R. and anyone else that's starting bike commuting and getting a little nervous about the whole cold-wet-after dark thing the  REAL secret to winter commuting:


 This, at least in my eyes, does not make you one jot less of a biker.  Biking should be fun- something you enjoy,  something that adds independence and freedom to your life, not obligation and a sense of dread.  So take a day off if it looks nasty out!  Or if you didn't sleep well, or have too much stuff to carry.  Hell, take a couple of months off (although I think in Boston it doesn't really get nasty until January  when everyone- not just bike commuters wants to move to Florida).
I didn't bike through the winter until I'd been doing it for three years, and it was so habitual to hop on my bike before I even had coffee that I just never stopped.  I still don't bike every day.  Trying to keep up a streak is a recipe for burnout and OCD.

By biking just when you enjoy it, you will love it.  And my prediction is that you will get addicted and find that you're happier when you do it every day, even if it's cold/ rainy/ dark.  But the key is letting yourself only do it when you love it, never forcing it.

As I was rattling off my strategies for Charles Circle, and seeing the dumbfoundment in R's eyes,  I had a  "how did I get here" moment.   I think that a side effect of successful life choices, is that in retrospect they seem obvious.   For me, biking is that way.  I can't really remember how I got here,  I can't really imagine my life without it,  and it just feels like the right thing to do.  Not because I have to, but because I love it.

Better Bridges Talk Tonight

I should have posted this earlier- sorry didn't get around to it!

There's a talk at Livable Streets Alliance tonight about bridges in general-history, great bridges of the world, new developments in bridge technology etc- and the process of sausagemaking advocacy that is going into the planning on the Longfellow in specific.

I'm enough of an architecture geek that the first part appeals to me, and as a regular user of the longfellow, the 2nd part has a big impact on my life.

7pm, livable streets alliance,  Sidney street Kendall area
Sorry for the late post- hope you can still make it, if it's interesting to you.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In celebration of Daylight Savings Time

In celebration of daylight savings, I have done absolutely nothing to increase the visibility of my bike.

Because I already count on being visible 365 days a year.  My bike is my primary transportation, and I can't be bothered with transportation that I can only use during the day.  November,  January, July,  I ride in the dark and need to be seen.

I personally don't go in much for reflective clothing.  I am a firm believer in reflective tire sidewalls however.  Nothing transmits "bicycle" faster to the brainstem than two circles of light.  I do have a retroreflective sash that I wear if it's raining, I'm wearing head to toe black, or it's Friday or Saturday night and I want just a little extra edge.  I bought it at a running store, and like it because it's easy to stuff in my bag for an instant transformation into an ordinary person.  It's also easy to shed if I'm trying to de-layer at a stop sign.

For maximum effectiveness, your lights need to actually be, you know, visible. Lights clipped to the top of your backpack so that they're pointing at the moon when you're bent over the handlebars, or on your seatpost hidden by the tail of your coat or the stuff  on your rack aren't actually doing anyone any good, except possibly battery manufacturers.   It's not a bad idea to have someone else either ride your bike while you follow them, or have them follow you when you're riding every so often to make sure everything is as visible as you think it is.

I like a combo of fixed and flashing lights.  Flashing lights are eye catching, but can be harder to track when someone is trying to figure out how fast you're going (like before they pull out in front of you).  A lot of people have rear blinkies because they're worried about being seen by cars from behind, but neglect front lights.  Front lights not only help you see obstacles in front of you but they keep cars from turning in front of you, and help pedestrians and other bikers know you're approaching.

 If you're a regular reader of this blog, you too probably have a lighting strategy in place, whether it gets dark at 4pm or 9pm.  What's your favorite light, and why?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Breaking news

In an interesting follow up to the Cambridge plans for reconstruction of Western ave, the city of Boston just announced a new plan for a separated on grade cycle track for Western ave on the other side of the river.
This could be a huge development for people commuting from Allston to Cambridge!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Customer Service!

So I'm a bit embarrassed to admit, that I was too lazy to get myself out to Harris Cyclery last week, and placed an order BY MAIL from my LBS!  It arrived less than 48 hours later,  and the small amount of shipping was totally worth not having to find time to get myself out there- because I'd still be waiting for my new lights..

As the evenings get dark earlier, I've been wanting a blinking light to supplement Gilbert's fender mounted generator light.  My fender light  ( A B&M Secu-light Plus) is very bright, and it's never impeded by any of my luggage, but I'd like something mounted slightly higher and with some flash. Since most, if not all generator lights come only in steady mode (supposedly a consequence of German bike law requirements)  it would have to be battery powered.  I have a planet bike Superflash hooked onto my bag, but it's a little tenuous, and I  wanted to mount it horizontally at the back of my rack, which didn't seem to work with the Superflash.  So I picked up a Cateye LD610.  I've seen a couple of other people who have them, and they are eye catching, if not as blinding as the Superflash.

After some fumbling with the Flex-Tight bracket ( had to get instructions on Google, as the package directions were too cryptic for me, I attached it Saturday morning before the Pastry Ride.   Unfortunately about 5 minutes into the ride, I hit a rough patch of road at speed, and the light fell off and under the wheels of the car right behind me  (the reason I was going at speed over rough pavement).  Remarkably, the LED's were still flashing, despite the lens being shattered into a hundred pieces.

I was mad that it hadn't even made it through one stinking ride,  so I emailed Cateye, asking them what they could do about it.  First I got a boilerplate response about returning it for covered warranty service.
I emailed back saying that I was disinclined to pay money to send it off, only to be told that hitting the pavement and being run over by a car, was not covered by the warranty.  I got another email back shortly saying "what I meant to say is,  send it back, we'll replace it."  YEA!

Thanks Cateye for getting back to me so quickly ( less than 24 hours), and having such a customer friendly policy!   When it comes back, I'm going to epoxy it into the damn bracket, and not rely on friction and the bracket detent alone to hold the light over urban pavement.   I don't leave Gilbert out in the rain or even ride in the rain enough that I'm worried about it failing from weather,   although I will have to check the battery replacement process.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cyclist vs cyclists

Edited twice- seems I couldn't get anyone's names right Wednesday night:
Steve Miller from Livable Streets,  John Allen VC bicycle advocate- sorry for the confusion.

I was a little bit late to the Western Ave reconstruction meeting, but I don't think I missed much- the speaker  when I arrived was the "wastewater" (aka sewage) guy.  I did learn that they're going to do something interesting in the stormwater management.  Right now, as I know ALL TOO WELL,  the storm and sanitary sewer are combined in Cambridge, and when they are over capacity, the foul brew ends up in the Charles (or my basement).    The new plan, is to take the first 10 minutes (or probably X gallons)  of stormwater and put that into the sanitary sewer.  This is the water that washes the dead squirrels,  gum wrappers, antifreze drips, etc. into the drains.    After the "first flush" the water is relatively clean,  and can go into detention ponds and into the Charles without much actual pollution fouling the river.

But this is a bike blog not a wastewater blog (thank God!),  so let's cut to the chase.  The city planner (Jeff Rosenblum, whose exact title I don't know)  presented the traffic calming, bus stop improving, pedestrian safety expediting goals.  He then went through a description of the public outreach and community advisory committee and all the methodology to try to make this an inclusive process (they don't call Cambridge the People's republic for nothing).  He want through the basic outlines of the plan (one traffic lane plus on grade bike lane from Mass Ave to Franklin (just past the little park-the park itself grows by the width of the traffic lane).  The connection from Pleasant street (which evidently has a lot of heavy truck traffic) is going to be made more of a 90 degree turn, which is safer than the current acute angle. From here to about Putnam, it's two lanes of traffic, two lanes of parking, and a cycle track on the outboard side of the parked cars on the right side of the street.  After Putnam, it's four lanes of traffic, no parking, and a grade separated cycle track to the river.

If you really want to see the details, they're online here.  And when I say "details"  they're still working on those, and those are going to be important.  merges, bike boxes, dedicated signal timing, etc etc.  If you have thoughts about the specifics, they'd love to hear from you.

So they wanted to have a brief "questions" period, followed by small group caucusing around large scale plans in the back of the room with design team members,  followed by reconvening into a general session for "comments."
However the "questions"  quickly devolved to comments,   with a couple of comments about snow removal at bus stops, and a really really rambling comment from a guy who lives on Western Ave whose comment I couldn't really hear.  There wasn't anyone speaking up for drivers, or worried about congestion on the street as an impact of these changes.

Then the vehicular cyclists began their attack.
One guy asked if they would salt as well as plow the track, since there wouldn't be car traffic to keep it clear.  Another asked if there would be sharrows in the lanes in addition to the track, for those who chose not to use the track.
Yet another asked "Do you believe that bikes don't make left turns?"  Which lead to some confusion because no one could hear him,  which lead to the moderator saying "Yes?"  and waiting for the rest of the question.   Fortunately in MA, we don't have a law that requires that use of bike facilities, so I'm not sure why these people who hate the track can't just continue to enjoy the "pleasures" of riding in the street.  And FWIW,  I rode a lot last winter on the plowed but not salted Charles river path (Thank you again New Balance!!),  and it was absolutely fine.  Yes, it was icy in spots.  I slowed down.  And I bet if we had a constant flow of bikes, it would be just as clear as the road.  More importantly, I don't worry about a 2,000 lb vehicle sliding on the ice into me.

I counted 5 attacks all from middle aged male vehicular cylists, and four statements of approval, mostly from the "interested but concerned" segment- people who would like to ride, but don't because they're scared, or they want to ride with their kids.   Steve Miller from Livable streets spoke affectingly about how he was fine riding on busy streets, his daughter and his wife weren't.
It's a little sad how this comes down so much along gender lines (see yesterday's post).
Anyway,  I decided to speak up before one of the VC's got his second  (or third) chance to speak.
I said basically what I posted yesterday, that I know how to ride in a commanding position,  I have the experience to ride in fast moving traffic, and the legs to push even my 35 lb bike at mostly traffic speeds.
But it sucks!  I don't want to have to do that to go to the store!   I don't want to have to do it after a long hard day, or when I'm fighting off a cold, or just want to think about dinner instead of worrying about the potentially homicidal driver behind me.

Shortly afterwards we broke for small group discussion, and I came under attack from the VC meister himself Paul Schimek.*  (John Allen was there, but he left early and  didn't make a statement).
He asked me in a tone of astonishment,  "you would actually ride on this"  and I said "Sure!"
He asked "how fast?"  I said,  maybe 10 mph?  (which I think floored him, because he was going to make an argument about how slow it would be- but obviously when you ride a 35lb steel upright bike in a dress, speed is not your priority).  He then switched to an argument about the connections and left turns.  I opined that I thought that that particular place would be a good location for a bike box, and said that I was willing to deal with the intersections in order to be separated from the traffic moving 50 Mph.  He really jumped on this,  saying that it was supposed to be a 35 MPH street.  I think he mis-understood that right now, it's a racecourse, and I wouldn't be surprised if people reached 50.  But of course, the road diet, should reduce speeds to closer to the posted 35.   I still would rather ride on a separated lane.   I told him that I rode VC regularly one a 35 MPH road very similar to this- Cambridge street in Boston,  and that it sucked.
I just kept smiling and answering his questions with  slow bike answers,  and it finally frustrated him and he went off to pester someone else.

 I did have a couple of people, come up to me and say how they thought my comment was really moving, which was nice to hear.  It was heartfelt, anyway.  We never did make it into a general session,  but I did get to talk to one of the planning consultants, and stress to him the need for bike boxes and adequate merging space (and possibly separate signals) to allow left turns at Howard and Putnam.

To me the bottom line is: you can't get on the cycle track and assume it's a magic carpet that will carry you effortlessly to your destination.  You still have to be careful at intersections.  You still have to watch for pedestrians.  But to me, it ramps the drama down a notch, because you're not doing these things in the context of simultaneously fighting for a scrap of pavement with 2,000 pound steel vehicles going 35 MPH.  One guy was worried about getting doored by passenger side doors.  I pointed out to him.  At least if you get doored by a passenger (unlikely as there's a 3.5' buffer)  you're not going to land under a bus.
I don't mind going slower, I don't mind paying attention at intersections.  I just want to get there with some space to daydream, and a little less excitement.

*I did a bit of research on him after I left the meeting. I'd heard his name, but hadn't put the pieces together.  Evidently this guy is responsible for Boston's complete lack of bike facilities until recently.  He was the bike commissioner  before Nicole Friedman, and ensured that there were no bike lanes in the major reconstruction of Cambridge Street (the main route from Cambridge  to Downtown).  He also fought bike facilities on the Greenway that replaced the freeway after the Big Dig.
Just thinking about the damage he did to Boston's bicycle culture makes me so angry- it's probably a good thing I didn't know this when I was talking to him before- it would have been hard for me to be civil and polite when he was getting in my grill about how I couldn't possibly support this. 

Cue the dueling banjos

Not one but TWO public meetings tonight vying for your attention:

Western Ave reconstruction meeting at the Cambridge Senior Center (in central sq),  7pm to 9pm with open house before to familiarize yourself with the project.

and in the other corner:

Mass DOT Anderson Memorial bridge meeting, 7PM,  MLK School on Putnam more info here.
There will be another meeting on this bridge Nov 16th,  so I'm going to the Western Ave meeting, even though I "trust" MassDOT less.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In the way

Often in civil service offices, next to school secretaries' desks, and places like that you'll see a mimeographed sign that says:  "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part."  I'll admit it's a bit hard boiled, especially when "planning" on the petitioner's end includes 6 forms of ID, a notorized form and 6 months of receipts.  However it has a real corollary in bicycling, which is "Your desire to get to your destination (or the next red light) 30 seconds faster, does not constitute an obligation on my part to ride in a door zone or in such a way as to allow you to pass me closely at speed.

Through either nature or nurture, women are inclined to care what other people think and feel, especially about  them.  This makes them better at forming and preserving relationships, compromising and building teams, etc.  Holding your ground when someone is breathing down your neck- not so much.  I particularly stress myself out when I feel someone is waiting on me.  This is one reason that I'm glad that the Scientist and I don't carpool together much anymore.  I never seem to have trouble finding my keys when it's just me that's getting out the door :).

For me this is the "hard part" of vehicular cycling, such as I practice it.  It's tough to always feel like you're "in the way",  to be constantly self- justifying that this is the right thing, the safe thing, to do.  To remember to act like I'm leading the parade,  head high, back straight,  holding my line, smiling.   It's a mental struggle more than a physical one on many days.  Not really knowing what's happening with the car coming up behind you at speed,  not knowing if the guy gunning his engine is angry and frustrated, or just has an idle setting too low and is trying not to stall out.  Sometimes I feel a bit like a bobblehead doll,  swivelling my head back and forth to shoulder check on both sides.  (neck was really sore today from sleeping on it wrong, which made shoulder checks problematic).

The fact that I've been safely commuting for 3 years, with only one minor accident (I rode myself up into a right hook) makes it clear to me that bike commuting in the city is neither unsafe nor an extreme sport.  I derive so many benefits from it: the stress relief of daily exercise; the visceral sense of my surroundings and the climate; relative indifference to the size of my serving of tarte tatin, etc.   However, I still long for bicycle infrastructure that will allow me to get where I'm going without constantly feeling like I have to deliberately put myself "in the way" and hold that position despite what  faster steel clad traffic wants me to do.
 And that's the perspective of someone who's been regularly bike commuting since I was 16-  that would be over 20 years now!  I can only imagine how hard it must be for someone who is just starting up for the first time as an adult, with a full sense of the consequences and how frail our bodies are (a sense dulled by youth, adrenaline and perhaps testosterone).    I am hopeful though every time I see an adult on a bicycle, that more infrastructure is on the way,  and that we will see a virtuous cycle of more cyclists, more respect, more infrastructure, and more cyclists.

Monday, November 1, 2010


While we were waiting in line at Clear Flour bakery during the Pastry Progressive,  the Scientist alerted me to an exchange that was going on over near my bike.  A man was crouching down next to Gilbert with his two daughters, explaining the different parts of the bike.

I was too far away to hear all of it, but I did catch "this is a chain guard- it protects your clothes from dirt and oil and keeps dirt out of the chain"  They were doing a thorough overview of the different parts- including my still flashing generator- pedals.  Those girls are well on their way towards an appreciation of practical  but stylish city bikes.