Thursday, December 20, 2012

New helmet cover, new helmet

I bought a new helmet cover for my Yakkay while I was in NYC in October, but it took me a couple of weeks to actually get it on.   I like the "bucket hat" Tokyo helmet cover I had before, but it's very colorful, and when added to a colorful jacket it can be a bit much.

I really wanted a "Paris" in Herringbone, because I like the squared off shape, and the B&W goes with everything without being too boring.
 but at Adeline Adeline they thought it had been discontinued (they'd been out of my size for 10 months), so I got the similar "Cambridge" in a neutral check.

When I was removing the old cover and putting on the new one though, the plastic that reinforces the back of head strap snapped on both sides.  I wasn't pulling on it particularly hard- just holding it down while I stretched the elastic over the lip of the helmet, so I was really surprised that it snapped, especially on both sides.
that piece should go straight, not bend-  the plastic inside snapped
That strap appears to screw into the helmet,  so I wrote Yakkay to see if they could send me a replacement of just that part.  They wrote me back promptly, and rather than replace just that part, offered to replace the whole helmet, and I got the new one in just about a week.

The new helmet has a different, and I think better rear stabilizer. (which is probably why they couldn't send me a replacement part).  The old system had a plastic stiffened velcro strap that you could adjust to tighten or release the helmet on the back of your head.

Old system with velcro strap
The new system is adjustable with a little wheel instead of the previous system which relied on a velcro strap (with plastic stiffener that broke) for adjustment.  The new system feels more secure and is much easier to adjust.  The padding at the top was a little different, but otherwise the helmet seems  the same.
New system with ratchet wheel
 So once I got the new helmet, I put the new cover on:

I also incorporated a little loop at the back to hold my light.  Because of the brim on the "Tokyo" style, and the direction of the stripes, on that cover I positioned the loop to hold the light horizontally.  On this helmet, it seemed to work better to put the light vertically, which overall is a better idea, because gravity helps hold the light in place.

I do think that the Tokyo is more convincing as a "hat."  The volume of the brim on all sides helps camouflage the bulk of the helmet. However, I like the color and the style of the Cambridge, and the fact that it's more versatile.  I'm a bit disturbed that the helmet rear strap broke after less than a year in service,  but I was very impressed with Yakkay customer service, and as I said, I think the new system is a better one.

One thing I do like a lot about this one is that they incorporated a subtle reflective stripe on the brim and around the back.  (you can just see it in the last photo above)  I wish more manufacturers would do more like that.   (Nau, are you listening?- hint hint hint!)
A simple piping is easy to add during the manufacturing process, and isn't very noticeable if it follows the seams.  It's also very hard to retrofit- especially on a waterproof garment, or a complicated pattern like the helmet cover.

So far I haven't has as many comments on the new helmet-  I probably got a comment a week on the old one.  Probably because it looks less "hat like"  but I still think it looks unique and definitely not like I took a wrong turn and missed the peloton.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Rough Road

The city of Cambridge has been repairing a water line on Main/ Broadway just before the Longfellow bridge (in an area I had previously reported a water leak/ ice floe).   It's annoying enough that the bike lane is blocked and that the road is narrowed to a single lane, but the water line seems to be right under the bike lane, so the patched area is right in the bike lane.  Sometimes they just fill the trench with gravel, and other times they have a really awful temporary patch.  The patched area was really rough- so rough that when I merged over one day last week my coffee mug went flying when I hit the first bump.   It doesn't help that I'm going pretty fast because I'm in the lane with cars breathing down my neck through the constriction.
Gravel fill

An asphalt patch- possibly worse
I called the city last week to inquire about the schedule of the repairs.  If the super bumpy patch was just temporary, it didn't necessarily make sense for them to fix it,  but if they thought it was "permanent"  it definitely needed to be fixed.  They told me that it was a temporary patch, and that the project would be going on until January, and that the final patch would go down then.   I told them that I was glad that it wasn't a final patch, but I that I was a bit worried that the weather would preclude a final patch before the spring, and that the current patch was dangerous for bikers.

The line seems to be right where the bike lane stripe wa
So today I rode through, and the temporary patch has ben replaced with a nice smooth patch for the portion that is "complete"  I don't know if that was just part of the plan, or if they just needed to be told that the temporary patch was dangerous to bicyclists.  I'm really glad that they fixed it before the project was completely over.  I only hope that they can re-stripe it before the weather gets too cold.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Before it's too late

I've been struggling with what to wear when it's raining, but not very cold.  I love my Nau Shroud of Purrin trench,  but it's  too warm for anything above the low 40's.   I've flirted with the idea of a rain cape for a while but didn't love any of the traditional options.   After much deliberation, for my birthday I bought myself an Iva Jean rain cape.  
Image of Rain Cape
I loved the silvery grey color.  And I was mostly satisfied with the look and fit.  The pullcords did work to free your arms,  and give it more shape than the "giant poncho"  look of traditional capes.   The problem was that it wasn't actually waterproof.   I rode in it a couple of times when I hoped it would rain, without any "luck",  and then I rode in it in the nasty snow-rain wintry mix we had a couple of weeks ago.   And it leaked.  My clothes underneath were quite damp in the 30 minutes it took to get home.   So I decided to return it and start looking for other alternatives.

Coincidently,  later that week Iva Jean announced that they would be making a waterproof version available in the spring,  and currently only available for "purchase"  from Kickstarter.
So for the first time I made a kickstarter pledge, and have reserved a waterproof cape for the spring.
The colors aren't quite as cool (light tan and olive)  but I think the waterproof-ness will make all the difference.   I'm often skeptical about Kickstarter wild and crazy ideas,   but Iva Jean obviously knows how to make these products and has been around long enough that I trust that they know how much it costs to make and deliver things, and that they will fulfill their pledges.

They also have three other new products that people not interested in capes might find intriguing:a blouse, a skirt and a vest.

The blouse is the least interesting to me- I don't think I'd wear it to the office, but it doesn't fit my weekend style either.   The pencil skirt would be more interesting if I liked pencil skirts generally, as that's one of the few styles you really can't wear on a bike.   This skirt has a zip out expansion panel just like the DIY solution that Let's Go Ride a Bike profiled here.  If you like pencil skirts, and don't want to sew your own, this is a great product.

Finally, the vest- which is the first "reflective vest" that actually appeals to me.  The ones from Vespertine are certainly cool and look great over a slinky tank top,  but I think not so great with a collared blouse or a regular outfit.  They're almost too dramatic- it feels like you have to design your outfit to not compete with the vest instead of it being something more like outerwear that plays well with whatever you have on already.  

The Iva Jean one is more like outerwear- in a neutral silver and grey (one side reflective, one side the same material as the original rain cape.  Like the cape, it can be ruched up and shaped different ways, and is reversable for more or less reflectivity.
Image of Two-way Reflective Vest

The original kickstarter goal was reached pretty quickly,  but you still have three days if you're interested in "buying" a cape, skirt, blouse or vest for a slight discount, and the chance to get it sooner.
Kickstarter page can be found here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Not dead yet

Hello gentle reader.  Was looking at the blog and realized I hadn't posted for over a month.   Real life, in the form of work craziness, a bad cold, out of town visitors and emergency boiler repair, has kept me busy and not left me with any mental bandwidth for writing about bikes.  I apologize, and hope that ya'll haven't completely forgotten me.  When it's been such a long time, it's hard to restart- it feels like a big deal and like you have to "SAY SOMETHING,"   which increases the activation energy, and makes it even harder to start.  There is something to that momentum thing, in any endeavor.

So I'm going to start out slow- will try to follow up with more weighty matters.
I went to brunch Sunday with my friend K, who didn't learn to ride a bike as a kid.  She grew up in a very urban neighborhood (picture the south end)  and it was just easier to walk everywhere.  I helped her fix up a 70's 3 speed a while ago, and she learned how to ride it, but it's just easier  and more comfortable for her to take the T or walk most places.  So we met on Newbury St,  where she could take the green line, and I could ride down Mass Ave.

Almost all the way there I was following a woman with really cool fenders.  We actually hit almost all the lights, so I almost didn't have a chance to ask her about them.   She took wood fenders and dried flowers, and then shellacked the flowers onto the fenders- fender decoupage if you will.  It's a nice effect as you can see the texture of the flowers, it's not just 2D.

She also had fun christmas lights on her milk carton (kind of hard to see in the daylight.

Walking down Newbury, I noted this sign in front of the Patagonia store, that they now offer bike delivery. Probably makes a lot of sense for local deliveries of light items like coats,  where parking would be ridiculous and a car cumbersome.

Speaking of bike delivery,  the Scientist had to work late on a tough deadline last Thursday,  and I ordered him and his team cookies from Insomnia cookies.  They delivered them from Harvard sq to MIT by bike deliveryman.    Again, makes a lot of sense.  It's not appreciably faster to drive than bike over that distance, and it's infinitely easier to park.  I didn't realize that they delivered by bike when I ordered them, but it's a definite plus in my book.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The bike alternative

I was biking to work as usual, and was heading through Charles Circle, when I suddenly saw a familiar face-  the Scientist was standing on the traffic island waiting to cross the road!   I didn't actually get to say more than "Hi Handsome"  as I biked pass, but I later got all the info.

He had an an appointment at Mass Eye and Ear, and it was a lovely morning,  so rather than take the T, he drove to work, parked his car, walked across the street and checked out a Hubway, and rode to Charles Circle.     On his way back, he rode to the Kendall station,  walked a block over to get coffee at Voltage,  and then rode back to Stata center.

His report was very positive- he was a happy customer.  He even mentioned that the front rack works surprisingly well to hold a cup of coffee.  It worked well for him not to have to ride his bike all the way in, figuring out how to carry all his stuff, but then to be able to ride a bike a short distance with minimal stuff, and not have to worry about parking.

I bet a lot of people are wishing that the bike share was up and running in storm ravaged NYC- I think it would be booming as the best way to get around by far.   I hear about all the congestion and the problems with busses and wish that they would make a temporary dedicated bus/ bike lane across all the bridges.  It seems insane to make all the people in busses wait for the people in private cars.  And where are all the cars going to go once they arrive?  There just aren't parking spots for all those people.

I understand that Transportation Alternatives and other advocates are setting up "bike convoys" and aid stations along the major routes in and out of Manhattan,  and I hope that a lot of people take this opportunity to realize how pleasant a bike commute can be, especially compared to the alternatives!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Who's afraid of Livable Streets"

Good news- Sandy more or less left us OK-  no basement flooding, and no branches on the house.  The power flickered a bit, but we had it the whole time, which is more than some people can say!   I didn't ride today, partly because I got a flu shot and am feeling pretty cruddy afterwards,  and partly because I wasn't sure how bad the rain/ branches/ wet leaves would be.  I can see sunlight from my office window though, so it's going to be a decent day I think.

There's a good lecture this Wednesday (Halloween)  with Paul Steely White from Transportation Alternatives in NYC, and Aaron Naparstek  at Harvard's Kennedy School.

from the announcement:

Paul White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives and Aaron Naparstek, founder of Streetsblog… “Who’s Afraid of Livable Streets?”   
Wed, Oct 31   Taubman (HKS) 401, 4:30-6:00  [Note: If Sandy causes a cancellation, we will send out an email on Wed.]

Cities around the world are reversing decades of automobile-oriented planning and policy and redesigning streets to prioritize the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders. Yet, despite successful efforts and a growing body of evidence of economic, public health and environmental benefits, political opposition to Livable Streets is deeply entrenched and difficult to overcome. 
For the last ten years, Paul White and Aaron Naparstek have worked to bring transformative change to the streets of New York City. In this Halloween session they will explore the myths and realities of American urban planning and transportation policy and provide advocates with tools to frame the argument, scare away the Livable Streets bogeymen, and create change in their own communities.

I would really like to go see this, but my week is likely to be too crazy for me to leave work early enough to get there for a 4:30 lecture.   It sounds good though, so if you're closer, you should really try to go by.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Beacon St: Volunteers Needed, and express your support

Related to yesterday's post,  Livable Streets Alliance and the Boston Cyclists Union are doing customer surveys on Beacon St Somerville to help determine how people get to Beacon St,  and what they do along that corridor.   We suspect that there are a lot of people who arrive here on bikes and by foot, and that that needs to be acknowledged in the planning process.  In order to do that we need volunteers to stand on the street and ask people to take a very quick survey.

I'm volunteering for both the times this weekend- Saturday from 4PM  to 7PM and Sunday from noon to 3pm.  We really need volunteers for this.  Please contact me at bikinginheels  (at)  yahoo (dot) com  if you can help out.

Unfortunately the businesses in the area where parking will be partially removed are organizing to stop the project.  They are meeting the Director of transportation on Monday night October 29th.  The survey is being pushed forward quickly partly because of the weather (and the possibility of the great winter winnowing)  but also so that we can have results before this meeting on Monday.
Again,  please consider volunteering, as we'd like 8 volunteers, and currently we have 2.  We need a minimum of 4 for continuity of the results.

If you bike down this corridor, and if you stop in the local businesses,  please try to express to them when you stop by that you bike, and that you are their customer just as much as people who arrive by car.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Biking and Business- Part 1

In the last couple of weeks I've been thinking a lot about bicyclists and businesses.

At the rate we're adding bicycle facilities in the Boston/ "Camberville" area, we're going to run out of low-hanging fruit pretty quickly.  We'll add bike lanes where there's plenty of width, and toss sharrows around with abandon,  but soon we'll start to run into places where there's demand for real cycling infrastructure, and to truly make that infrastructure safe there will have to be a reduction in automobile infrastructure.  There is virtually nowhere in this area where the solution is just to add a couple of feet of width to the road.

And increasingly the issue is going to be bicycle space vs car parking spaces.  Parking is at a premium in the Boston region,  especially in the winter, where you regularly hear about fisticuffs breaking out over the poaching of a space laboriously cleared of snow.  Very few urban neighborhoods have much in the way of driveways and garages, and businesses with off-street parking lots are probably a minority, at least in the close-in areas.  Parking garages are expensive, and on-street parking is underpriced,  giving people incentive to circle endlessly looking for a virtually free spot instead of paying $10-$20 or more to park in a garage.  On street car-storage on public streets is a subsidy for automobile drivers,  as each car takes a couple of hundred feet that could dedicated to a wider sidewalk, or a bike lane, or both.  Difficulty in parking does gives people an incentive not to to drive to downtown areas at all,  and a lot of what gives such areas their charm is the pedestrian scale and the hustle and bustle of people in these neighborhoods. When tourists from Dallas come to downtown Boston they're not there to see the parking lots.

But businesses are convinced that parking is an absolute necessity for their survival,  and they will fight anything that potentially limits that parking.  At the meetings I was at for both the Beacon Street reconstruction and the Longwood area/ Brookline Ave bike facilities,  there was a direct tradeoff between parking and bike facilities.  On Brookline Ave, they are taking spots at the Park drive end,  but closer to the hospital, where traffic is worst the bike lane dies away to only sharrows so that there can be 5 parking spots in front of the Dunkin Donuts and the gym.  No matter that my guess is that 95% of the patrons of those businesses arrive there on foot, because they're already in the area.

On Beacon, at rush hour, even without a bike lane, and with crappy cratered pavement, there are as many bicyclists as cars- an amazing statistic.  Beacon is a pipeline between the cheaper residential areas in Somerville and Arlington and the high-tech jobs in Kendall,  and the throughput on that pipeline is enormous.

All those people going down Beacon, whether in cars or bikes, need milk and laundry soap, maybe sometimes a pair of shoes or a birthday card.  They eat dinner in restaurants,  get coffee,  go out for drinks.  Yet we dedicate a huge amount of public space to parking cars near the businesses that provide these things, but very little of that public space to facilities which create a minimum standard of safe access to these businesses for bicyclists.

The question is, how to convince business owners,  in many cases in dense areas, small business owners that reducing street parking is not a negative thing for them?    In Part 2 of this post, I want to address the statistical arguments,  why those arguments are not necessarily helpful,  and open the field to discussion of how bicyclists can be noticed and counted as consumers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Strong towns recap

I went to the Strong Towns lecture on Monday night (even though I had to miss the 2nd Beacon Street meeting),  and found it very interesting.

Charles Marohn is the founder of Strong Towns, and the thesis of his talk was that local government gets into a vicious cycle where road (and utility) construction  is offered as a technique for promoting growth in unimproved areas (often with federal initial investment),  Invariably these projects do not produce enough growth ( he had lots of case studies and scary cost numbers)  and property/sales tax revenue to cover the costs of upkeep and eventual replacement of the infrastructure, and the government is left holding the bag for these ongoing costs.

In the face of vast local financial crises in mid-sized towns throughout the nation he had the following suggestions

1)Stop any new expansion projects, because if you don't have the money to cover your existing liabilities, you don't want to take any new ones on.   Federal and state money often make such projects look more financially appealing than they actually are when you think about the long term costs.

 2)  Take stock of existing liabilities and infrastructure.  He said that it's shocking how many towns have no idea how many miles of road/ pipes/ sidewalks/ lights they have.  If towns were run like businesses, they would know these things and think about the lifecycle costs.  (There has been an increasing movement to government 2.0 which does take these things into consideration, but it may not have trickled down to smaller towns, and it's incompletely applied even in places like Boston and NYC)

3) Do Triage on what you can continue to maintain.   Politically it's difficult to make hard choices, but if you develop a rational system for evaluating what infrastructure you can continue to maintain, and what you have to give up. Detroit is the poster child for this discussion.

A funny detour during this point was his definition of a "Stroad"   A "Stroad"  is a street-road hybrid.  The picture he showed was instantly familiar to me as a child of the midwest,  but similar examples in Boston are Comm Ave from BU to Packards corner,   Huntington through the museum district, and Rt 9 coming into Brookline Village.   A "Stroad"  is a hybrid of Street and Road which does neither job well.  The  infill on both sides,  seems to imply the walkability and density of a traditional street,  but the oversized scale of the road (designed to highway standards for going fast from point A to point B  makes it impossible to easily cross the street, and unpleasant to walk alongside it.

 4) Commit only to new projects that actually add value.  He had lots of interesting examples of both boondoggles ( most publicly financed sports stadiums)  and of the financial advantages of density.  Lots of new-urbanist stuff about the value of streets and how good armature creates dense neighborhoods with high value development.
His most famous example (which is discussed in great detail on the website) is that developments which have reached the "end" of their lifecycle,  cannot depreciate any further, and therefore they are actually a good source of value relative to new shiny  projects.  I.e.  a crappy old 1950's strip mall isn't going to get any worse, so it's actually more valuable to leave it and keep collecting low property taxes than to tear it down and create a new lower density development that requires tax subsidy.  It's the "never buy a new car" approach.

5) Re-evaluate priorities and Systems.  Again with the government 2.0,  with an emphasis on smart systems, and a de-emphasis on huge projects with a zillion consultants.  There's a catch 22 that infrastructure is so big and permanent that no-one wants to make a mistake,  and therefore no-one wants to take a risk, and projects get bloated with consultants and process.   He had an interesting example of DIY infrastructure in Memphis
and a very interesting idea of a "Land Tax"  instead of a "property tax".   A land tax would be on the value of the land, not on the improvements to it.  Depending on where you set the land values highest (he would obviously do so in downtown areas), there would be no penalty for adding value to the land, and a significant cost for letting land in dense areas lie fallow.

After the lecture J-- (one of our Women who Brunch)  asked a question about the politics of public input on projects, specifically about the public opposition to maintenance of Bowker/ Mc Grath, and the Mass DOT insistence on going forward. Mr Marohn said that this speaks to point #5.  The current system is not set up to consider the relative costs of dynamite and a new at-grade road vs the incremental costs of upkeep, and is not in tune with the value in the density of a neighborhood like that around McGrath.   The system is equal parts about a pipeline of status-quo and expansion projects, and a crisis response to emergency maintenance,  and that things will not really get better until the system is re-thought.

His area of expertise is small mid-western towns that leveraged a dense city center into a sprawling suburban infrastructure.   Many of those towns are in severe financial crisis, and reading between the lines, he feels that out of the crisis, a completely new approach to public infrastructure will arise.  It's not completely parallel to what we see here in Boston,  but it's interesting to think of in this context where Mass DOT is clearly not responding to the will of the community.

A very interesting lecture, and I highly recommend a visit to,  where there's a really interesting "curbside chat"  of talking points about the economics of  "the suburban experiment" and the financial sense of traditional dense downtown development.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Strong Towns at MIT

A bit of a last minute warning, but Charles Marohn from the excellent organization "Strong Towns"  is speaking at MIT at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning Monday night at 6PM
Information can be found here.

If you're not familiar with Strong Towns, you should really check it out.  It approaches "livable streets" through a development and economic lens.  It's also largely focused on a kind of town-  one with a pre-war center, but which has increasingly become dominated by automobile infrastructure- in which many people despair of creating livable streets.  The tone of the site is aimed at civic leaders and city planners, and I believe that Mr Marohn is a civil engineer, and I believe that he has experience from the "other side" of the table.

In Boston, the density creates a lot of easy arguments for non- automotive transportation. It will be interesting to see the rational arguments (as opposed to the sentimental ones of the new urbanist movement) for density in a more suburban/ small town context.  Aaron Naparastek will be moderating a discussion after the talk, and I think it will be a very interesting conversation.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Catching up

So it's been over a week, and I realized that I never reported on the Bike for Life.
I was planning to ride out to the start in West Newton, about 10 miles from my house.  But when I woke up at 7am, it was raining pretty hard, so I'm afraid I rolled over and went back to sleep, and got the Scientist to drive me out to the start.  Thanks to the quick release front wheel, the Shogun is much easier to take in the car than my other city bikes, which makes it easier.

Unfortunately the best way to describe the ride was wet.   The weather ranged from drizzly and damp, to pretty steady rain.   I wore a normal pair of unpadded shorts and a tunic-dress with a hip-length rainjacket, but the bottoms of my shorts and tunic got pretty wet over time.

I only did the 20 mile ride, and I was pretty glad, because I was getting cold by the end.  The route took us from West Newton, through Weston, and up into Lexington and back down to Weston.  It was pretty, but it was hard to focus on the scenery because of the rain.  I rode along with a group for a while, but I needed to go a little faster to keep warm.  The Shogun is so much lighter than my ordinary bikes-it's amazing how much faster it can go.

At the finish the organizers had brought in hot drinks- which was a great help.  I had a dry pair of wool tights and changed into them, and put on a mid-layer fleece under my rain jacket.   The wool tights made all the difference, and I was warm, even though I wasn't moving any more.

I stayed at the BBQ for a half an hour or so, enjoying food provided by Trader Joe's, and chatting with other Livable Streets volunteers and riders.  

I did ride home, despite the ongoing drizzle.  I took the route along the Charles river path, and I had it all to myself thanks to the weather.  30 miles under my belt, a hot shower, dry clothes and some hot tea later, I was happy and warm and felt like I'd accomplished something with my day.

I want to thank the readers who sponsored me, and let people know that it's still possible to donate to livable streets using the button below until October 17th -my birthday if you're looking for something to get me :) .

Monday, October 1, 2012

Important meeting Thursday

"traffic" on Longwood Ave c. 1920

I've had to bike to Brookline/ Longwood Medical area a couple of times in the last months.  I'm a confident, experienced biker, and even for me it's an unpleasant experience.  Traffic is bad, busses are weaving in and out, there's no bike lane, and drivers frustrated by the traffic do stupid, unpredictable things.   I can't imagine anyone who wasn't a fairly confident biker being able to ride in that area.  

But they badly need to increase transportation options   It's very difficult to drive there, the Green line barely keeps up with demand,  and the Masco busses can only do so much.
They could bring a lot more people in and out of the area with safer bike facilities which would encourage more people to at least explore the option.

Boston is having a meeting to discuss adding bike lanes to Brookline Ave, one of the one ways in and out of LMA.  This would require removing a number of car parking spots,  which means that some people will oppose it as a knee jerk reflex.   Boston Bikes has asked bikers to turn out and support the lanes to demonstrate that the needs of the many bicyclists who use this public space outweigh the desires of a handful of people to have parking spots.

The meeting will be Thursday October 4, from 6pm to 8Pm in room 306 of Dana Farber's "Yawkey Center"  450 Brookline Ave.  Some more info here
If you bike or would like to bike to the LMA, please consider attending and adding your voice to those asking for safer streets.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Getting there

The other night on a quick trip to the grocery store I saw the following:

A man in bright red-orange pants, curly hair flopping in the breeze, riding a step through bike with coat guards.

Two men arriving at the store with new bikes which looked like they came with dynamo lighting as a standard feature.

A grandmotherly looking woman riding down a residential street, helmetless.

A 20 something guy riding with a young lady sitting sideways on his bike rack.

So Cambridge is not Amsterdam yet,  but I'm seeing lots of the things you see there,  which makes me very very happy.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why I support Livable Streets

As astute readers may have noticed,  I'm signed up to participate in the Bike for Life ride next weekend to raise money for the Livable Streets Alliance.
I started getting interested in bicycle advocacy about three years ago after two years of commuting in Boston.  At that time, I felt like the viewpoints of slow(er) transportation bikers or women weren't necessarily being represented in the public planning process. When I first started going to public meetings, it felt like there were lots of men in dayglo gortex, and a lot of them felt that riding in the lane was a fine solution for everyone.  They couldn't really understand that a slower rider wouldn't feel comfortable riding in fast moving traffic, and they thought that I was being impractical and unsafe by riding in a dress or heels.

After a while, I found my way to the Livable Streets Alliance as an organization which seemed like a good match to my advocacy goals.   Livable Streets are streets that are safe and comfortable for 8 year olds and for 80 year olds.  They are comfortable for people walking, driving or riding bicycles, parents with strollers, joggers and flauneurs.   They are good for local businesses, and create dense and vibrant urban communities.  I volunteer as a member of their Advocacy committee- a group of freelance advocates who email each other and get together to share ideas and resources.  I spend evenings going to meetings (often summarized on this blog), write letters, and canvass for signatures to further these goals.

 LSA was founded by a transportation engineer who believed that streets were public spaces that shouldn't necessarily be ceded to the purpose of moving cars as quickly as possible.  It has created a coalition of bicyclists, walkers, people with physical disabilities and transit users; public health officials environmentalists, social justice advocates and progressive engineers and planners, all who believe that streets and cities are about people, not just cars.

 We believe that cities and regions need to turn away from the outmoded view that cars are the only real form of transportation, and consider all the ways that people get around in making planning decisions.  Livable Streets Alliance takes a unique approach of trying to work cooperatively with local and regional governments.  Many advocates have an adversarial relationship with their official counterparts, following successful campaigns with more strident demands instead of thanks and encouragement.  LSA strives to provide resources, technical advice and common sense solutions to help governments provide the best and most balanced streets possible.

Livable Streets Alliance has had some notable successes so far-  the bike lanes on the BU bridge, and the planned bike lanes on the Museum Bridge are highlights.   We've helped in the planning of bike lanes on Anderson and Longfellow bridge, and hope to achieve cycletracks on Western and River Street bridges.   We're also working to repair communities damaged by urban freeways.   We, along with many others lobbied for the Casey overpass to be removed in favor of an at-grade solution with better bike-ped connections to the Emerald Necklace.  We're pushing to begin the process of removing the McCarthy Overpass which slashes through Somerville, and the Bowker Overpass which divides Back Bay.  We're also working to convince the legislature to establish a more secure financial future for the MBTA, which provides mobility for the entire region.

Livable Streets Alliance relies on dedicated volunteers.  However we need funding for a small fulltime staff, equipment, office space and fliers and informational materials.   Donations raised through the Bike for Life fundraiser will help us do more to promote the interests of active transportation and public transportation in upcoming years.

I hope that you'll consider supporting me, or becoming a member of LSA, or both.   The button at the lower right of this page takes you to my fund raising page.  If you support the ideas of Livable Streets and the work they do going to meetings, contacting town engineers, and elected officials, I hope you'll consider making a donation.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Women who Bike Brunch-September

Just a reminder, the Women who Bike Brunch will be a special event this month.  By special request we have set up a mini-maintenance clinic with Emily of Hub Bicycle.   Clinic will be this Saturday Sept 22 at 11 AM at Hub Bicycle, 1064 Cambridge Street, Cambridge.  Emily will take us through a couple of basic maintenance tasks, and maybe give tire changing tips.

Afterwards we'll regroup for brunch, probably at City Girl Cafe if they can accommodate us.
If you're not on the email list for this, and would like to be added, please email me at,  or just RSVP in the comments.   Even if you can't make it, please pass it along to friends who you think might be interested.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In her own words

I first heard about Emily Finch from Bike Portland a couple of months ago.  She's a mother of 6 kids, who gave up the giant SUV and got a Bakfiets (and a host of accessories for carrying kids and stuff). Her story is amazing, and it's gone viral all over the world, but mostly as a human curiosity story I'm afraid, as many people can't empathize with even riding a bike with one kid, let alone 6. This video is a presentation she gave at the Bike-Walk summit in California last week.

While at this point in my life I'm never going to have 6 kids,  I think she's a kindred spirit, in that she looks at the giant rolling stepstool and says "why not"  and then figures out how to get it strapped into the bike and home.   Giant package of fireworks? No problem!   Nine kids?  We'll figure it out!

I also love that she admits that it's not always smiley faces and cheerful kids.  But then again kids have temper tantrums in Suburbans every day across the nation, and there's no reason for that to be an argument for or against biking with kids.  But the overall message is that she's happier on the bike than without one, and that her kids are learning important lessons about self sufficiency.

Family Folder

I've seen this guy riding around a couple of times (I counted him going both ways on the Longfellow when I did my bike count)  but I'd never seen him with his passenger.

What you can't see from the picture is that this is a folding tandem specially designed to take a kid on the back- the Bike Friday Family Traveller
I can't actually tell how it folds from the photos,  but it claims to fit in a suitcase. 
I don't know if it would be simple enough to fold on a daily basis, but if it were, it could be a good solution for someone looking for a kid bike with a tiny apartment.   Longtails aren't much worse than a normal bike to store, but Bakfiets and cargo bikes are not easy to fit in a city apartment.
It claims that the stoker can be from 3'6" to 6'3"  so it would be useful for a long time.

This is clearly their daily child transport bike, as I see the father riding with the empty bike (presumably after drop off) quite often.  I think it's an interesting option that you don't often see for kid transport.

Oh,  and one of the things I noticed during the bike count was the surprising (to me) number of folders.  I didn't track it exactly, but I suspect that it was 10%, which is pretty high.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Shogun goes for Tea

I hadn't seen my friend Silent q recently as she's missed a couple of Women who bike brunches, and since she was also going to miss the next one, we made plans to go for tea together.

Since it was likely to be a lovely Indian summer day, we biked out to The Tea Leaf in Waltham.
We rode along the river path almost all the way to Waltham center, and then cut across to the end of Moody street where the shop is located.   Since she was riding her brand new Surly Cross Check, and I wanted to keep up, I rode the Shogun.
After a bit of rain this morning, the weather turned lovely- crisp and just warm enough to be pleasant, and it was a gorgeous ride once we cleared the heavy traffic part of the path near Harvard sq.

We were starving by the time we got there, and we dove right into the finger sandwiches and sweets before I had a chance to take a photo:
The aftermath of our assault on the tea plate
While we were "in the neighborhood"  we swung by Harris Cyclery, where she had bought the bike for a bit of a mini-tuneup.
I treated the Shogun to a Radbot 1000 rear light, partly because I've been wanting to try one, and partly because I lost one of my planet bike superflashes, and a needed a dedicated light for this bike in case I get caught out after the ever-earlier arriving darkness :(

There was a cool old Raleigh, almost but not quite a mixtie.  It actually has almost an identical frame to a Betty Foy (there was one sitting right next to it)

It had a really cool old school water bottle cage on it:
The cage has a spring-loaded hasp to hold the bottle tightly:
They've improved the Brooks display area since the last time I was there- the oriental carpet seems slightly out of place in a bike shop, but it does definitely set that area apart.

I love the the Rivendell headbadges-  would love to have taken this Atlantis for a spin, but it was closing time, so it'll have to wait for another trip.

At that point we hit the roads, taking Watertown street into Watertown sq, then following the river path on the Boston/Newton side all the way back into Cambridge
Crossing back into Cambridge as the sun sets
When we stopped to part ways,  I was amazed at the honeysuckle growing along the river.  I don't think I've ever noticed honeysuckle along there, and now it's growing on everything-creating an undulating carpet of silver blooms.  It might be an invasive weed, but it sure smells heavenly.

It was a lovely 18 mile ride (according to Silent q's computer,  and the Shogun was very comfortable for that distance. I may finally be breaking in the saddle I think.  I feel more like I'm settling into the saddle and less like I'm perched on top of it, sliding around.  I might start to look for some gloves if I'm riding much further though, as the combination of the skinnier tires/ more vibration and having more weight on my hands makes me really feel the ride in my hands.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


There's a good series of lectures at the Harvard Kennedy school about Public infrastructure called "Planes, Trains and Automobiles (and Bikes).  Last year they were all in the middle of the afternoon, so it was tough for me to get there from downtown,  but this year they've moved them all to 4:30-6PM, so I might be able to make it to a few.
The schedule:

·         September 19     Seth Moulton, Managing Director-Lone Star High-Speed Rail (Taubman 401, 4:00-5:30)
·         September 26     Carl Dietrich, CEO/CTO and Co-Founder-Terrafugia (Taubman 401, 4:30-6:00) [to be confirmed]
·         October 3              Gerry Mooney, general manager, IBM Global Smarter Cities-IBM (Taubman 401, 4:30-6:00)
·         October 10            Josh Robin,  Director of Innovation at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority  (Taubman 401, 4:30-6:00)
·         October 15            John Pucher, professor of planning and public policy-Rutgers University, and author of City Cycling (MIT Press 2012) (Room TBA, 4:30-6:00)
·         October 17            Steve Poftak, Executive Director-The Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston (Taubman-Allison Dining Room/5th floor, 4:30-6:00)
·         October 24            Carl Allen, Director of Transportation, Boston Public Schools (Taubman-Allison Dining Room/5th floor, 4:30-6:00)
·         October 31            Aaron Naparstek, founder-Streetsblog, and Paul White, Executive Director-Transportation Alternatives  (Taubman 401, 4:30-6:00)
·         November  7        Rachel Kaprielian, Registrar of Motor Vehicles-Massachusetts Department of Transportation (Taubman 401, 4:30-6:00)
·         November 14       Mark Joseph,  Chief Executive Officer-Veolia Transportation (Taubman 401, 4:30-6:00)

If you are interested in participating and/or would like more information, contact John Foote at For up to date information see the "events" section of the Taubman Center website-

Monday, September 10, 2012

Scul Mission: Spokesfest Civilian Escort

I wasn't able to go to Spokesfest 2012 on Saturday, because as an anniversary present, the Scientist took me out to see a play at the American Repertory Theater, which was happening at the same time.  We've been saying we need to go check out the ART for years, and finally we made it happen, but it was too bad that there was a conflict.

The part of Spokesfest that I was really bummed about missing ride with Scul,  since I'm too vanilla to feel confident showing up at one of their regular "missions"   But if I showed up as part of the "civilians"  at Spokes, I thought I could maybe sneak my utilitarian retro-grouch bike in with all the cool bikes without being too obviously out of place.

It turns out that I did get to see the "mission" go by, as we were just getting home as they hit Harvard Sq.   It also started to pour just as they were arriving, so the video is from my front porch, which isn't quite as close up as I'd like, but it's still fun to see the fun bikes go by.   I did see a fair number of "civilians"  although the ranks may have been thinned by the rain.

My favorites are the guy with the Disco ball at about 0:16 and the last guy.  Unfortunately I didn't manage to record sound (or probably had my finger on the microphone).  It's unfortunate because that's a big part of the Scul experience- thumping disco that you can hear from blocks away.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Watching the Pedestrians

One of the things about traveling on a bike, is that you spend a lot of time studying the way the city works.   I started doing it out of self-preservation, because noting  infrastructure and patterns helped me ride more safely.  But I've become a self professed traffic geek in the process, endlessly studying Streetsblog and Strongtowns and Bike Portland, for the latest ideas and theories about livable streets.

All that studying causes me to draw conclusions about the ways that infrastructure influences the way that people behave in the city.   For most drivers, the infrastructure works well most of the time, and it's fairly easy to get from point A to point B  (there are many parts of Boston where this is not completely true, but mostly the right of way is clear and defined, and you just follow the signs and signals and uninterrupted lanes to where you're going.   Biking has gotten better in that respect: there are more and more bike lanes, and drivers in Boston are more and more aware of bikes and better about acknowledging their right of way or "sharing the road" with them.  But there are still lots of places where bike infrastructure disappears at critical points, or lights don't trigger unless there's a car, or places where the best way to get from A to B is either unclear or feels unsafe.

And then there's the pedestrian experience.   The Boston area is a great place to walk, for many of the same reasons it's a good place to bike: density, interconnectivity, good transit.  On a bike you instinctively interact more with pedestrians than drivers do- they're on eye level with you, you can communicate easily with them, and there's a sense of traveling through the same shared space.

In my "studies" I've noticed a huge difference between how pedestrians behave in Cambridge and  in Boston, and I've been wondering what explains it.  In Cambridge, there's a fair bit of jaywalking, but mostly it's the kind that doesn't cause problems for anyone else: i.e. it doesn't get in the way of the person who legally has the right of way.  As soon as I get into Boston though, pedestrians start to walk out from between cars mid-block,  and there's a lot more jaywalking in front of you just as you get a green light.  It's not like the people are any different, the density of streets and buildings is similar, and the numbers of pedestrians isn't much different.

I've been observing this for 6 years now, and I think I have a conclusion about why this happens- it's not like the populations of the two sides of the river are any different.  But the approach that Cambridge and Boston have taken to accommodating pedestrians has been very different.  In Cambridge, the city has had a policy for a long time of concurrent walk signals,  so pedestrians have a right of way every time the cars going parallel have a light, so there's never much of a wait. There are regularly spaced crosswalks in areas without closely spaced lights, and where those crosswalks are on high speed roads, there are lights with "on demand" buttons. The signalized crossings controlled by the city of Cambridge (for example the ones around Fresh Pond)  operate almost immediately after pushing, with only 30 seconds or so of delay to safely slow and stop traffic. In most places, especially pedestrian dense areas, there are countdown timers too, so that the pedestrian knows exactly how long they have until the light will actually turn.

In contrast, Boston had a longtime policy* of "scramble signals"  where there would be two cycles of traffic,  and then a four way pedestrian signal, which doubles  the amount of time you have to wait for walk signal.  For a pedestrian-heavy city, they had way too many intersections where pedestrian signals were only "on demand"  and after you pushed the button you'd have to wait sometimes through a full cycle of both directions before you got a crossing sign.   That's particularly awful if you have to do that twice to get diagonally across an intersection.   Countdown timers are in the minority, and infuriatingly a lot of the walk signals end long before the parallel light turns yellow, without any explanation of why you can't walk even though the parallel car traffic has the right of way. This is my pet peeve, because people stop when they lose the "walk" signal, but then they realize that the perpendicular traffic doesn't have a green light, so they decide they may as well walk, and they get halfway through the crosswalk when the light changes.   Finally, although drivers in Boston are better than in most places, they're still not great about stopping for crosswalks, and I don't know of any Boston controlled signalized crosswalks.  (The DCR controlled ones on the parkways are pretty bad, often requiring peds to wait 2 cycles before they get a light)

My theory is that when pedestrians feel that the rules aren't fair to them, or create unnecessary hardship for them, they ignore the rules and do what is simplest and easiest for them.  By making things clear and easy for pedestrians, Cambridge has created a place where pedestrians are happy to obey the "rules" and generally don't interfere with other modes' right of way.  In Boston, where pedestrians are forced to wait too long for their "turn,"  are given signals that don't seem to make sense, and aren't given enough legal places to cross, they take the law into their own hands.

There's an obvious parallel to bicyclist behavior here.   If bicyclists are given comprehensive infrastructure that's of equal quality to car infrastructure,  and the system seems fair and logical, I think that they will understand why standard traffic laws should apply to bikes as well as cars, and  you'd get "buy-in" and much better compliance.  More importantly I think you'd get bicyclists to be more like the "polite" jaywalkers of Cambridge, breaking the laws only when they aren't going to endanger or inconvenience anyone else.

*I believe that Boston has revised its policy and in the future, concurrent signals will be typical, but I don't know what their policy is for going back and retiming lights with the old scramble signals.

Updated:  Just to clarify,  I don't have a problem with jaywalking necessarily, just as I don't have a problem with the Idaho Stop- I think that they're parallel situations.  My problem is mostly at lights when people charge into traffic right in front of people who have the right of way.   It's really kindergarten level stuff- taking turns and being fair.  And I think that if the infrastructure is fair, people will remember those primary school lessons and share the public space safely.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Bike Counters needed

Boston Bikes is looking for volunteers to count bikes during rush hours this September.
Bike counts are very important because it's easy for transportation engineers to count cars, and then focus on designing for the car traffic that they have numbers on.  It's harder to count bikes, because it requires a real life person, not just a pneumatic tube*,  and if that data doesn't exist, it's easier for the planners to imagine that bikes aren't a big part of traffic.  How many times have you seen a stupid comment from a driver about "I never see any bikes in the new bike lanes" in the comments section of an article?  We need data to be able to counter that kind of windshield blindness.

One recent result of a bike count was that the city was able to make the case for removing parking and adding bikes lanes on Mass Ave after counts indicated that bikes made up 10-15% of traffic on Mass Ave during rush hour.

Signup via Survey monkey with times and places that would work for you- they're focusing on 7-9AM and 4-7PM.   More information, and the link to the signup here.

*It is possible to buy specialized pneumatic tubes that are calibrated to measure bikes passing over them, but most cities/ states don't bother to buy them, and I don't believe that it's possible to calibrate a tube to sense both bikes and cars- the pressure of a 200lb bike vs a 5,000 lb truck is too different.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Biking for Berries

I've been falling behind on my canning this summer- mostly doing the odd batch of beans, as I deplete the pantry.  I made so much jam last summer and it felt like we weren't using up at the same pace, so I skipped both strawberry and blueberry season (although I suppose the last isn't completely done)  and missed sour cherry season because I was traveling.   So this leaves me peaches, raspberries and figs (although the figs aren't local, they're more of a fall season thing).

I decided I'd try to pick the raspberries myself, and to add some fun to the proceedings, that I'd bike out to the farm.   Thanks to the folks on the Chowhound Boston board, I got directed to Wright-Locke Farm in Winchester (just a few blocks from the Arlington line),  although they also warned me it was up a massive hill.

Partly because of the hill warning, but partly just because I thought it would be fun, I decided to take the Shogun,  which hasn't gotten ridden as much as I'd like because of a series of flat tires.   I wanted to pick a LOT of raspberries, so I wanted some serious carrying capacity, so I spent the morning installing a rack that I bought for it last winter.  I didn't want a huge dutch style rack like my city bikes have, just enough to fasten a small set of panniers.   The petite VO Constructeur rack seemed like the perfect choice.

The installation was fairly straightforward, but I'm not crazy about the system- I think that they may not have been crazy about the system either, because they may have changed it.

The rack I have, had two holes already drilled in the end of the struts.  The idea was that you picked the set of holes that positioned the rack as close to the fender as possible, cutting off the extra length if you picked the higher set of holes.   I believe that they may have changed it since I bought this one, to have no holes so that you can adjust it exactly to the right height, because their online installation instructions start by having you drill your own holes.

As it was, the rack sat about 3/16" too high above the fender, which was too close to drill a new hole really.  I suppose I could have turned the existing hole into a slot and pushed it down,  but instead I just used some rubber spacers between the top of the fender and the bottom of the rack.

The rack has bosses, into which you screw nuts up from under the fender.  This is slightly a pain, because you have to remove the wheel to get the screws in and up.  Not such a big deal to do once, but after the third round of adjustments, not so much fun.

Unfortunately the heads of the supplied machine screws were big allen key sockets, and the tire clearance on the fender wasn't enough for the head to clear the tire.  I tried it out on a quick trip to the compost drop off, and it caused a nasty whining noise. Short term, I cured the problem by partially deflating the tire, but that wasn't a permanent solution.

I detoured to the hardware store on the way home, picking up machine screws with a pan head, although they aren't stainless, so probably I'll redo it at some point.  Although since I don't anticipate riding this bike for long periods in rain, and it lives inside, maybe it won't be a problem.

I was clearly anticipating picking a LOT of berries
Anyway, after too much time fussing with the rack, I was off, and I was a bit worried about time.   It was 2pm, and the field closed at 4pm, so I was running late.   I headed out Mass Ave, and instead of detouring to catch the bike path through Alewife, decided just to bike all the way out to Arlington center and pick up the path there.   The hill ended up not being so bad, although I did make use of the smaller chainring, it was perfectly manageable.

Got to the farm around 2:45, and started picking, but found that through a combination of it being early in the season and late in the picking day, the bushes were kind of picked over.   After over an hour of picking I had a bit more than a quart, but that was all I was going to get.  So much for needing both the panniers and the saddlebag!

I headed back, taking the minuteman all the way, and running into Velouria on the way home.  She was glad to see the Shogun in use, I think, and wondered if having weight on the back made it handle strangely.  At that point there wasn't much weight on it, but there was later, and I didn't really notice any major issues.  It's supposed to be a "touring" frame I think, so you would hope that it could carry a decent load.  Velouria was headed out to Ride Studio cafe for the randonneuring "end of season" party, and invited me to come along.  Unfortunately by this point, I'd was pretty tired, and needed to let the dog out, so I just headed home,  stopping at Whole foods to buy a few more raspberries to supplement my sad PYO.  By the time I got home, I had managed to completely fill the saddlebags, and was glad I'd added the saddle bag as well.  My personal stuff (wallet, keys, camera, lock, extra water) went in the saddlebag, and everything else filled the panniers.

Raspberries have a lot of pectin, so I made cooked jam without anything added- 8c raspberries, 4 cups sugar, a squeeze of lemon and 15 minutes or so of a low boil.  I followed this recipe, although I think she's a bit cavalier about the processing, and did a full 10 minute boiling water canning processing.

The results:

I am looking forward to enjoying them in the colder months on toast, or vanilla ice cream.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bikey Sunday

Had a lot of fun at the brunch on Sunday-  It was a small-ish group, but we took over a booth and had a great time chatting about the latest in various bike projects around town.  You know you're a transpo geek when you pull out your phone to look up on the map the intersections people are discussing, and when people then make suggestions for best routes from point to point.

After brunch, we stood around and chatted about bikes:

 L--  has a cool light-string setup that wraps around the frame and adds extra visibility to the bike from the side.   It looks cool, but I'm afraid messing with the batteries would be too much work for me, so I'll stick with the reflective sidewalls and flashing pedals.

Rode back with A---  and she showed me a new route out of Allston, which if I've taken before, it's been so long that I forgot about it,  which was on Everett Street over the pike, which was perfect as I was headed to Watertown, but would also be pretty good for heading back into Harvard Sq.

On the way back into Cambridge I took the river path, and the street closure "cyclovia" was in full swing:

In a change from normal, there were lawn games, sponsored I think by the Charles River Conservancy

They weren't getting a ton of attention, but it was a little cool and overcast, and it was around lunchtime, so it might have been more busy later.