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.

Awwww, it's so cute!

Was riding in Kendall Sq this evening, when I spied this very cute and colorful bike!

I may have freaked out the guy who was riding it a bit when I asked him if it was a Google bike,  and then asked if he'd "liberated it" (thinking Cambridge is a long way from the Googleplex in CA).   He wanted to know if I worked for Google, and I had to confess I was just a bike geek :)

Backing up slightly,  I knew that Google had these special bikes made for getting around their complex in California.  What I didn't know is that Google has two buildings at opposite ends of Kendall sq, and has therefore brought in some of the special bikes for employees to use to get from building A to B.

The rider said that they're in a bike cage in the parking area, and you unlock the cage with your ID and just take one.  He said that there were two at the building he just left when he left,  don't know how many total they have.

Anyway,  good to see one "in the wild"  and gosh if it isn't the cutest thing I've seen all week-  Makes you want to smile just looking at those mis-matched colorful tires and happy red fenders!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August Women who Bike Brunch

It's that time- after a brief hiatus, when everyone was on vacation, This Sunday we're having another Women Who Bike Brunch.   We're going across the river this time, to the Allston Diner, 431 Cambridge Street between the pike and Brighton Ave.  Thanks to J for the suggestion- I am never over there for brunch, and while I'm happy to go, I just don't have many go-to spots.  We're going to move it up to 10am to avoid the worst of the Sunday brunch crowd.

I have been collecting emails into a mailing list at previous meetups, but if you're not on it, please let me know if you're coming in the comments, or at bikinginheels (at) yahoo(dot) com.  I'm not sure if reservations will be required, but if we get to be too big a group I may try to make them.

I also want to remind people that we have an especially exciting brunch shaping up for September 22nd, with a clinic at Hub Bicycle in Inman sq.   Mark your calendars for that too, and hope to see you soon!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Harvard Sq Lane Diet

Looks like the city of Cambridge is putting Mt Auburn Street on a diet-  a lane diet.

I'm just guessing, but I suspect that there are too many tour busses trying to park in too few spaces, which ends up with them just parking half in the bike lane and half in the travel lane.  I suspect they're going to enlongate the tour bus parking area, and take the road down to one bike lane and one car lane.

I'm a bit ambivalent about this.  One one hand, I think that one car lane is probably enough and it might slow traffic down a bit.  On the other, I am always nervous about riding next to tour busses- afraid that they'll pull out suddenly without checking their blind spots.  They also are not terribly careful about parking close to the curb, so even if they have a dedicated lane, they may park partially in the bike lane. Ideally, they'd make the bike lane wider to allow some buffer space if they're taking away a travel lane.
I don't feel bad about taking a lane when there are two lanes, but if it's down to one, it may become more uncomfortable.

They've progressed beyond these photos and ground out some of the old thermoplastic, but not put new paint/ thermoplastic down.  Am looking forward to a bit more clarity when they get the new markings in- at the moment its a bit confusing.  Although I think confusing isn't all bad- it slows people down as they have to actually think about where they're going!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

'Tis the season

Summer time, and there's lots of produce on counters- baskets of peaches, bowls of tomatoes, and piles of cucumbers. And where there's summer's bounty, unfortunately there are fruit flies.

To prevent your kitchen becoming an infested zone, I'm passing along a tip from the Scientist.
Unless you too are a scientist, you may not know that fruit flies are a very common experimental animal, and most major research facilities have at least a few "fly labs." The Scientist is actually more of a "worm guy," but there are fly labs on his floor, and there are always a few escapees.   He brought home a great trick, which they employ in lab to snag any escaped flies that might be buzzing around where they don't belong.  It turns out that fruit flies  are genetically programmed to crawl upward almost exclusively.  So if you can lure them into a trap with a tiny entrance at a low point, they'll crawl up to the (sealed) top and futilely attempt to find the way out until they die of exhaustion.

To make your own kitchen fruit fly trap, you will need:
A drinking glass (small),  A piece of paper, tape, and bait.
I usually use a splash of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of sugar for the bait.  Sometimes the tail end of a bottle of wine, or a bit of lemon juice.  In the labs I think they use yeast in the brew.  I'm sure you could make it of any fruit juice you had around.  Basically any fruity/alcoholic/vingar-ey brew you could throw together in 30 seconds of perusing your kitchen.

Put the bait in the bottom of the glass.  Form a cone with the paper that will rest in the glass and which has a bottom opening about 1/8" diameter.  You want a bit of space between the bait and the bottom of the cone.

Tape the cone together, and tape the outer edge of the cone to the glass.  It doesn't work if the flies crawl up the outside of the cone, and up out of the glass.
Leave on the countertop, near your fruit bowl, or wherever you're having a problem. You'll need to replace it every week or so when the bait dries out,  but it's amazingly effective in reducing the number of flies buzzing around your kitchen

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cyclovia Sunday

Cyclovias- closing large streets to cars and making them available to pedestrians and bicyclists have been all the rage lately with cities from LA to NY hosting them. 

Boston is having its first official summer of them, and this Sunday from 10-1 the Greenway will be open for non-motorized transportation and recreation with all kinds of events going on. Info  here 

In Cambridge, we tend to take our "Cyclovia" completely for granted- it's been going on for probably 20 years (or more?)  and nobody really pays attention any more.  Memorial Drive is just always closed on Sunday from sometime in April to sometime in November, from 11 to 6 or so.  There's not really any publicity or fuss,  it just happens every week in the summer.  Cars deal with it, people take advantage of it, or don't, depending on the weather and their plans for the day.  There aren't really any formal activities planned, although there always seem to be skaters with cones doing tricks, and lots of people have picnics, and recently there have been a lot more food trucks parked on the suddenly dead end side streets.  

I think it's great that Boston, and other cities are getting in on the open streets bandwagon.   I do hope that the idea that streets can be used for things other than cars is the beginning of a transition in some people's brains.  I'm just not sure how influential this will be in creating safety for people using the streets when they're not closed off for some "special" "recreational"  event.