NYC bike lanes

For those of us not lucky enough to live in cities where there is forward thinking transportation policy, we can but dream of things like NYC’s cool bike lanes where they are protected from the traffic by the line of parked cars. Of course this was up in leafy Morningside Heights. Other parts of the city still seem pretty scary to ride around in, but the bike share program is certainly taking off.

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Vélib’ in Paris

Just spent the most satisfying day testing out Paris’s bike hire program. It was fabulous on every level.

Bike stations are everywhere which makes it easy to pick up and drop off. The kiosks are multi lingual and initial rental was relatively painless. If you only have an American credit card, set it up online ahead of time, but with a British chip and pin debit card it was seamless then and there. I

We found the roads only mildly scary, even Boul. St. Michel. There are bike/bus lanes on main routes, although I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for anyone except confident, experienced cyclists. Tealgeen daughter, aged 11, did just fine.

The best part was that we covered way more ground than we ever would have by foot and enjoyed more scenery than being underground on the metro. Our routes were fairly circuitous, stopping to check the map and reorient only occasionally – but that, of course, is half the fun.

You don’t need anything special to ride a bike in Paris – no slinky bike shorts, loud jersey or special shoes. We just wore what we had on (and both Tealgeen daughter and I were both wearing skirts and sandals – it was fine). The seats are hugely adjustable and comfy, there are 3 gears, easy to operate, and a basket for gear.

We all came home convinced that you absolutely could survive without a car in Paris, between the excellent metro system and the bikes, and in a pinch, the electric car share program. More on that tomorrow.

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Traffic-snarled LA goes bike-wild with 1,600 miles of lanes

I love this article on so many levels that I am going to put the entire content of it into my blog rather than just link to it.  Maybe, just maybe, there is hope.

RIDING ONTO THE SUNSET: BY Sarah Goodyear
Traffic-snarled LA goes bike-wild with 1,600 miles of lanes
3 MAR 2011 10:32 AM

The Backbone Bikeway Network proposed by the L.A. Bike Working Group was incorporated into the city’s master plan for 1,680 miles of new bike lanes.

The cab driver who cut off Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa when the mayor was riding his bicycle last year may have done the city a huge favor.

After the incident, in which he fell from his bike and broke his elbow, Villaraigosa started talking a lot more about the importance of bicycles to the city’s future.

And on March 2, he signed a kind of astonishing bicycle master plan, which had been unanimously approved by the city council the day before. It calls for the creation of 1,680 miles of interconnected bike lanes in the city where transport has been defined by the automobile for generations. Significantly, this is a network designed not for recreation, but for actual transportation.

The plan, which was created with significant input from the city’s well-organized bicycling community, would mean 100 miles per year of new lanes over each of the next five years, and 40 miles a year thereafter. Funding will come, in part, from a half-cent sales tax dedicated to transportation upgrades, overwhelmingly approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

Since 1977, the city has built just 377 miles of bike lanes.

As Matthew Fleischer notes on KCET’s SoCal Focus blog, this is just the beginning. NIMBYism and bureaucratic delays could get in the way of the plan’s implementation.

But let’s put doubts aside for a moment. Think about the implications. Los Angeles — the city that has for so long defined, epitomized, and glamorized American car culture — could become a truly great bicycling city. And that could change the way ordinary people and politicians alike think about bicycles as transportation in the United States.

Makes me want to give that cabbie a nice, fat tip.

Sarah Goodyear is Grist’s cities editor. She’s also on Twitter.

Reality setting in

It comes as no surprise to me that now that summer’s over, the reality of how to survive on one car in our active family of 4 is now not quite as rosy as it was over the last few, incredibly dry, school free, summer months.  Thinking about what to do next raises so many issues, I hardly know where to start.  As with so many things in life, in the end it comes down to logistics, priorities, and how hard we are willing to work to make this thing happen.

Let’s start with logistics.  In the spring when we started, a close friend of ours was driving daily by the T stop that would drop my husband near the door of his office, so if I felt I needed the car for the day, help was just a phone call away.  In a way, it almost felt like cheating because I wasn’t really living without the car at my end, just needed to plan for it.  No real hardship there – just a need for foresight, queuing up errands more efficiently and being aware of my schedule and my husband’s, which weirdly has made us generally more aware of each other’s lives which has its good points too.  Sadly (more so for our friend than us), the catch-a-ride-with-a-friend-to-work option is gone.  So life in the new school year is considerably more complicated than it was at the end of last year’s.
The last few weeks have left me feeling fairly preoccupied with trying to figure out how to continue as we have.  But emotionally, it’s been downhill as it is seeming harder and harder as we face a new round of activities and pending colder, wetter, darker weather.  Thinking carefully, I have stacked the kids’ schedule to put activities where I really do need the car (darned cello is so big; amazing piano teacher lives just a little too far away) all on the same day.  This took some doing, but it’s done.  Other in-town activities are bike-able for the moment.  I haven’t really addressed the reality of our very cold, snowy New England winters.

But what’s really been on my mind in the last few weeks are the other two elements in this equation, priorities and how hard we are willing to work to make this happen.  Let’s start with priorities.  Before my car died in the flooding of March 2010 (see post here), we were a 2 car family and happily so.  Our approach was to simply use them efficiently by always using the smaller, better mpg car first and minimizing car use for short journeys, the bulk of which have something to do with child rearing and living in the suburbs.   To achieve this, my husband and I have spent the last 8 years teaching our children the rules of the road, safety, independence, common sense and street smarts.  We have spent hours walking and riding with them whenever possible, and also by modeling that we, too, can make our short journeys under our own foot or pedal powered steam.  I hasten to add that as part of this effort, we have set as a priority investing in really good equipment for the whole family including bikes, hefty locks, the helmet of choice, regardless of cost (they’re more likely to wear it if they like it), front and rear lights (not just reflectors) and cargo racks to help transport school, athletic and musical gear (excluding the cello of course; but a flute and a clarinet we can do).  Of this list, the one most parents seem to forget is the lights, either because it doesn’t occur to them (most suburban parents may never have had occasion to ride in the dusk or dark, only ever having cycled for recreation), or because they swear their kids will never be somewhere when they need them.  The bottom line is better safe than sorry – dusk comes awfully early in November.  So back to priorities.  We’re well on our way to achieving the goal of self sufficiency for the kids in their own local transportation.  We as a family understand conservation and practice sustainable transportation, whether or not there is a second car in the the driveway.  The challenge is whether we will continue to achieve this if we decide to get a second car out of the feeling that a New England winter without a car is a step too far in a town with no public transportation.

Which brings me on to the third element: how hard we are willing to try. I guess the appeal at the start of this experiment was that in having only one car, it really forced us to live our values (OK, I’ll be honest, my values).  If the car’s not sitting there in the garage taunting you with its ease and flexibility, there’s no arguing with the kids about whether or not you’re going to give them a lift somewhere.  It has been liberating to some extent to see that we can do it, but within this experiment, I have also been keenly aware of avoiding the mistake of turning this into a crusade that makes my family (read my kids) miserable.  Whereas for my 12 year old son, self sufficiency has translated to freedom, for my daughter, it still feels overwhelming a lot of the time.  Some of it is personality, but some of it too is sheer size, ability and stamina.  And of this I am keenly aware as the youngest sibling in my own family.  So in thinking about where to go next, it’s not a straightforward equation of whether I think I can manage to carry on as we are.  It’s all muddled up with the whole issue of decision making as a family, parenting and balance.  My conclusion at the moment is that realistically we will move  back into the realms of a 2 car family in the near future.  I don’t think I have the stomach to torture my kids that much and the reality is that at the moment our family feels the need for a little more flexibility, especially in the winter months, than just the one car affords.

Does this feel like failure if we go down that road?  Well, yes and (a qualified) no.  Yes because I know we could live with one car.  It would simply take more compromises and perhaps some unpopular decisions, like limiting particular after school activities or spending more time on my part shuffling my husband to the train station if I feel I need the car myself.  So the feeling of failure is that we would be choosing to avoid those compromises.  So how do I reconcile myself to this?   Well, to start with, in the car I choose, about which, a lot more later.  But ultimately, in thinking carefully about how we choose to use the resources we have, and on that, there will be no change.  Whenever possible, feet and bikes will always come first, with a car a distant third.

Biking IS transportation people

You have to love summer.  Lots of amazing weather conducive to car free living.  I’ve clocked over 500 miles on my bike since April, and it’s mostly 5 miles here, 5 miles there, running errands around town and the children to and fro. Having my little odometer on the bike has made me much more aware of how things around town are mostly closer than you think and very doable by bike with a little planning.  On the other hand, by the end of the day, just the rounds of the post office, the pool, a dentist appointment and nipping down to get milk can add up to ten to fifteen miles in 2 mile increments, the worst possible kind of driving from an efficiency standpoint.  So knowing I’ve done it by bike not car is a pretty good feeling for lots of reasons – health, use of time, financial, environmental.

Which brings me to the title of this post.  Why is it that biking as TRANSPORTATION is such a problem in this area?  I can’t speak for other areas, but I am still constantly surprised at the hostility I encounter as a cyclist.  And as it’s summer, instead of just a honked horn or an unnecessarily revved engine, today I actually got to hear the kvetching about bikes thanks to an open car window.  As I sat at a RED light ahead of some hulking SUV (sorry, not trying to pick on them, but it was), I heard the driver say, sotto voce, why can’t you just ride on the sidewalk?  Well, hulking SUV driver, I often do, when I am riding at 8 miles per hour and with my kids, in no particular hurry.  But today, I was on my own, running an errand, and in rather a hurry.  So I felt I wanted to ride at my usual 15 to 20 mph in order to get where I needed to be before next Tuesday.  It is in fact legal to ride on sidewalks outside of urban districts in Massachusetts, but with the caveat, rightfully so, that pedestrians have right of way.  I tend to use the sidewalk sparingly for just this reason (we have a lot of dog walkers and parents with strollers) and because, honestly, the sidewalks often aren’t really that suitable for bikes.  They tend to have a fair amount of debris from lawn mowing and trees that doesn’t get cleared which slows you down and can be unpleasant to ride on.  I suppose I could badger the town to do more sidewalk cleaning and improvement so they’d be more suitable for bikes, but I suspect said SUV driver would not vote for the tax burden to do so.

So you see, cyclists are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.  Pedestrians are wary of us because they are afraid we will run them down on the sidewalk and many motorists don’t like us, I assume because they feel that we are slowing down traffic and are unpredictable.  I get this.  I drive too and hold my head  and groan when I see cyclists doing stupid or illegal things.  In fact, there are good bike laws out there that most people are unaware of, (see http://www.massbike.org/resourcesnew/bike-law/bike-law-update/) and a fairly recent update to those laws to increase safety for both drivers and cyclists.  This is good news and a step in the right direction.  But until there’s some sort of major readjustment of attitude towards biking where the general public recognize that bikes can be transportation as well as recreation, it’s going to be a continuing battle of animosity between cars and bikes where some drivers continue with the attitude that we should get off the road and go play somewhere else.

P.S. I did a little back of the envelope calculation, just for fun.  I figure in our town, the speed limit is usually about 35 mph.  At this speed, a half a mile takes you about 52 seconds.  When you are stuck behind me on my bike at 15 mph, that same half a mile would take you about 2 minutes.  So, if it were to take you half a mile to get past me, we’re talking about adding an extra 68 seconds to your journey.  That’s just over a minute people.  Is the hostility really worth a minute, or can we just live and let live?

3 Months, 4 people, 1 car in Suburbia

So three months in, the one car challenge is going pretty well.  Here’s the thing.  Mentally, most people assume when I say we are living with only one car that it means no car for me as my hubby must take the car to work.  I guess the reason we are able to do this is because we have figured out how to share it, for real.  Oh, and it’s now summer and our friends and family are good enough to book lavish vacations while we stay home manning the farm as it were, and donate their car to our family whilst they are away.  Really.  It’s incredible how generous people are.  But the more important point is the realization that there is so much surplus capacity out there and we are the happy beneficiaries of it.

This morning, I drove hubby to the Lincoln train station as I need the car for a cello lesson this afternoon (still haven’t figured out how to do that one on a bike).  It’s about a 40 minute round trip for me, including a quick stop at the supermarket for a few staples we needed anyway, saving me a trip out later today.  So yet again, having just the one has made me more efficient.  What is it my Sophomore social studies teacher always said – laziness is the mother of invention.  OK, for me, not invention, but organization.  If I only have the car occasionally, you can bet I make the most of it when I have it.

Serendipity

The thing I love most about people powered transport is that it builds community.  You see your friends and neighbors, and even meet new people without really having to try.   Many people have discovered this phenomenon through owning dogs, which is wonderful.  Case in point, this morning we ran into my son’s gym teacher, with whom I had exchanged many emails over the year with regards to organizing a walk to school day, but who I had never actually met.  We had a chance to chat for 10 minutes and really connect which was great.  She is taking a sabbatical during the next school year to do an exercise across America tour (bike, walk, run etc) to raise awareness for exercise and fighting childhood obesity.  This 10 minute conversation with her has fired me up with a zillion ideas on how to promote her program and help her out and made an important connection in my life.  Don’t get me wrong, I love email, but that chance meeting was priceless and no doubt you will be hearing more about this in posts to come.

Please don’t honk at me

To the cars who honk at me while I’m riding my bike, I have one question: what exactly are you trying to achieve when you honk?  Do you think that I am going to go away when you honk at me?  Do you think that I am going to move over to the right, into the crumbling pavement, pot holes and degrading drains?  Are you hoping that tomorrow I won’t ride my bike on the same route so you don’t have to pass me?

OK, so that’s several question.  So here’s my answer to you.  When you honk at me, you make me jump and you scare me; if that’s your intention, then we probably don’t have a lot to say to each other.  But maybe you don’t realize how scary that can be.  When I ride, I am in a constant state of heightened senses.  I am very aware that you are driving 2 tons of steel and I am riding 25 pounds of steel, aluminum and carbon fiber.    Yes, I know it can be hard to pass at times and that can be frustrating.  I do drive a car too, and I have been the frustrated driver in a hurry.  But how much longer did it really take you to have to slow down to pass me?  And look at it this way, I wasn’t another car ahead of you at the traffic light or taking your parking space somewhere.  And I’m a good person really.  I don’t ride my bike to annoy you.  I don’t even just ride my bike to please myself.  Believe it or not, it’s actually my transportation – as in, instead of my car.  And I do all the right things:  I follow traffic laws, I pull over when I can, I wear bright colors, I have a helmet, I never listen to my ipod, I pay my taxes, I even floss most days.

I wonder if you see my presence as a judgment somehow.  Well, I don’t love big SUVs and pickup trucks, mostly because they can be a little scary as they drive by, but mostly I just want to be able to ride my bike in peace, for pleasure or function, without feeling hostility on the road.  If you honk just to let me know you’re there, take it from me – I know.  If I haven’t pulled in, there’s a reason (have you notice that the edge of the road isn’t all that smooth sometimes)??  There may be cyclists who are road hogs and people who ride who don’t follow traffic rules, but these are the exceptions rather than the rule.  Just like with drivers, it takes all types and if people don’t follow the rules, they should be taken to task for it.  Did you know that traffic infractions on your bike can be put against your driver’s license.  As more and more people take to the road on other types of transport, we are going to have learn to share the road.  As times go on, hopefully we will see more bike lanes will go in, but the reality in the ‘burbs where I am, we are just going to have to learn to share.  Just like your mom and kindergarten teacher taught you.