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.