Thursday, August 3, 2017

Biking Nations: Chicago, Illinois in the United States of America

                      Finalists for the Mr. & Mrs. Chicago Bike Yoga - spotted on Dearborn  - July 29, 2017

Picture it: Summer, 2016. I'm standing in a room in Manchester, United Kingdom with hundreds of people passionate about pens and ink and I'm waiting to hear where the next Urban Sketching Symposium would be held. There have been eight so far, and I've been to seven. I have never attended as a sketcher, but as a cyclist. My wife Suma is an artist you should follow on Facebook and I went with her to Lisbon, Portugal, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Barcelona, Spain, Paraty, Brazil, Singapore, and, last year, Manchester, UK

It's fun to go to a new city so she can explore her passion and I mine. At the end of the day we meet back up for dinner - often with other artists - and I share stories and pictures of what lies beyond the city they've chosen for their symposium. I've dubbed it #WhileYouWereSketching - and have had enough sketchers tune into my travels for me to be upgraded to an honorary cast member of the Urban Sketching Symposium (or USK).

So I was excited to hear - from the organization that pretty much created my 'Biking Nations' series - where the annual multi-day even would be held and I was a little taken aback when the hosting city would be...Chicago.

Chicago as seen from the 18th St. bike lane.

As some of you know, I went to Chicago four years ago to attend a friend's wedding and was stunned by the dystopian structure of the city - specifically how the traffic moved at rush hour. What happened was I was in the back of a taxi, which  would go a cab-length, stop at a red light that was more than half a block away. While waiting for each light to change, even more cars would spill out of parking garages like M&M's from a torn bag. The light would change green. The cab would inch closer. The light would go red again. I aged about 18 months on the way to dinner that night. 

So not only was I not crazy about going to Chicago I was also thrown off that I'd be riding in a country I had already ridden in. I didn't have to visit the extraordinarily useful web site to figure out how Chicago traffic moves. I didn't have to visit a Travelex to change my American money to Chicago money. I had no language barrier to contend with nor did I need to spend any time apologizing on behalf of my country for Trump and mass shootings like I did in Manchester.

Yeah: traveling to the Windy City was throwing me off my game. But I packed my Bike Friday in the case and after a napless flight we landed in Chicago. 

    Dearborn St., Chicago

Something welled up inside me soon after we began walking from the L station dragging the rolling Bike Friday case. I think it was...encouragement.

While walking to the lovely Hotel Blake I noticed a lovely two-lane protected bike path along Dearborn Street. I've always had mixed feelings about protected bike paths in city centers, in that I want something that discourages cars from getting in my path but not something that keeps me from leaving the path when I want to make a turn or otherwise merge into traffic. This one seems to do the job right. Not only that but the intersections have their own bike traffic signal - like I've seen in Europe. 

Both of the silver cars in this photo ran the light turning left onto Congress St. I would have taken pictures of every car that did this but my iPhone only has so much memory.

I noticed - and The Portland Sketcher (who I learned later - to my delight - brought her own bike with her to Chicago) backed me up on my observation: it appears cyclists in Chicago don't run red lights nearly as much as they do in other U.S. cities. It may be because they have infrastructure that actually is designed for them so they are more likely to respect it. 

On the other side of this, though: Motorists in Chicago seem to run reds more. Part of it, I'm sure, is a volume and impatience thing - but that of course is no excuse. I get that you've been moving through one city block in the time it took me to pedal ten - but you chose a GMC Yukon, a Ford Escape, a Honda Accord, a Toyota Sienna - and so on. You chose the car. Live with it and let me live.

The other thing I liked about Chicago out of the gate was the complete absence of Beg Buttons (you know - those 'push to cross' buttons you hit multiple times when you're trying to walk home fast to go to the bathroom). The pedestrian walk signals are timed to the red lights and everyone has a chance to go across the street. Of course, about half the time there is a big, stupid car splayed on the crosswalk like the kid who cut in line to sit on Santa's lap - but the thought of a city traffic light engineer who treats walkers and bicyclists as equals to car is what matters.*

After assembling my Bike Friday in the room (first looking lovingly at the note the TSA had left me to let me know they had, as they do 9 times out of ten, opened the case) but before I had a chance to ride it my wife and I headed off to see Hamilton at the PrivateBank Theatre with tickets we had bought six months earlier. Seats Y 121 and Y 122 are as far away from the stage as they sound, but we could still see and hear a show that actually lives up to the hype. It's like the anti-Avatar of musicals. Lin Manual-Miranda: if you're reading this please thank the entire Chicago team for me - and look me up if you're ever in the Bay Area as I'd like to take you on a bike ride. 


As usual, with a first ride in an unfamiliar city, I just rode around aimlessly to give myself the chance to see how the city breathes and how everything fits. I did have a chance to stop at Chicago Union Station where I waited inconspicuously for the bookkeeper. While I was there I noticed a woman struggling to bring a baby buggy up the steps and decided to help.

But I didn't stay long and got back on the road. Rather quickly, I learned that Chicago's bike infrastructure has the same critical flaw that other cities have: the inconsistency. The two-lane protected bike way was great but only lasts just beyond the river before disappearing entirely, and during the entire trip I'd often find myself riding on, say, Michigan Avenue and would merge into the left lane so I could turn left. Every time I did that, I didn't know if I'd hit the Bike Infrastructure Jackpot (the grand prize being a protected, pigmented, bike lane). or come up with a panniers bag full of nothing. 

Day one was short - which was fine by me. What happened was my wife offered to buy me a straight razor shave at Metropolitan Barber Shop - one of those old-school barber shops - so she could sketch it. My appointment to reduce my wind resistance was at four in the afternoon, and a guy named Pierre - who I learned has been a barber for 20 years - did the shave.

  Follow Art by Suma CM on Facebook

My wife captured the details of the shave quite well in her sketch. What she did not capture was the fact that the TV above the mirror was showing the absolutely ridiculous Shark Week special of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps 'racing' a shark (digitally; he wasn't in the water with it). Also the barber and client in the chair next to mine were having the most detailed, profanity-laced, and hysterical conversation of Game of Thrones. It wasn't easy for me to be absolutely still with the hilarious discussion going on three feet from me but every time I was tempted to laugh I remembered there was a very sharp razor to contend with. 

The next morning, with a face that you would have had to touch to believe, I set off along the Lakeshore Bike Path heading north. It was nice to look at Lake Michigan but the wind, even in the morning, was definitely coming in off the water and I hoped it would be with me for the ride back.

That wasn't the case because about ten miles up the trail ended and I had to hit the surface streets. This was fine but I somehow got insanely lost - so much so I ended up going seven miles out of my way (in a great big circle) as I made my way up to my destination in Winnetka, Illinois.

I can feel your envy.

As it turned out, the house that was used in the exterior scenes in the film Home Alone was undergoing renovations - probably to fix the damage done by the Wet Bandits. 

I had gone 26 miles to get there when it should have been 17. Due to this error I opted not to try to find the 'Save Ferris' water tower (I also couldn't get confirmation as to whether it had been repainted).

After lunch in Winnetka I headed to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park. This was about 20 miles to my south and the directions took me along the North Branch Trail for a good chunk of the way.

I didn't take a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio (I'll save it for my next visit when my wife can come with me) so I instead headed to Working Bikes - a bike shop I had looked up before I left that lies a few miles west of downtown Chicago.

I saw this not-for-profit bike shop as a sibling to what Good Karma Bikes in San Jose and the Ohio City Bike Co-Op in Cleveland is: taking used bikes and doing good with them. Working Bikes just made a smile hit my face and stay there. I wandered about, bought an obscure bike part I didn't know I needed, and bought it. If you live in or are visiting Chicago and have a passion for bikes and helping people you're going to want to go there. Check Working Bikes out.

Finally, I headed back to the hotel - having brought my Bike Friday 60 miles with no flats. It was an unusual amount of riding for the second day of a four-day trip...especially considering what I had planned for the next day.

To be continued. 

* Until we get spike strips that pop up along the sides of the crosswalks so they'll be repercussions when cars do that. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

I Hate Your Electric Car

A new electric car is coming out today. Apparently it costs $35,000 - which is considered to be priced "for the masses."

I am not one of those masses. I remember when I bought my SUV in 2006 for about $21,000 I hoped technology would move forward to the point where it would be the last gas-powered car I'd own. But I've spent too many subsequent years sitting in traffic watching the light go from red to green and back again before I have a chance to move through. In that span I also began biking a lot more for day-to-day reasons. I also watched ride sharing apps like Lyft and the one by the sexual harassment guy take off. So I'm hoping this now eleven year old SUV is the last car I own, period. 

Yet California is shoving rebates (also known as tax dollars that would be better spent making streets safer for bikers and walkers) my way to convince me that I should have an electric car that I'd feel good about driving. There is even talk about the incentives getting even bigger because, well, they're not working fast enough.

I've said it so many times it doesn't even sound like words anymore: the goal isn't to get people to convert from gas to electric, but from car to not car

The rebates have only done two things: they give California an alibi for environmental protection when it really just encourages the state to stick with an unsustainable model of sprawl and spread-out living. Millennials, as I've written about before, aren't keen on this model and are one three-hour drive to work before packing it in and leaving the Bay Area. 

That doesn't help Silicon Valley. 

The other thing the rebates have done is simply subsidize cars mostly bought by people who don't need the subsidy. A study from UC Berkeley last year looked at over 98,000 rebate checks and found that 83% of the rebate checks were going to households that had $100,000 in income or more - and mostly to white households. 

A quick shout out to Democrats: Two years from now several of you are going to run for president. At least one of you will be from California* but all of you will talk about how it is bad when tax cut benefits mostly go to the rich. 

When you do that you might want to make sure you have a leg to stand on. 

Before some plug-in e-car fanchild reminds me that the new electric car out today costs ONLY $35,000 (before rebates) I need to add that the program looked at hybrids too, and the sticker prices of those start in the $20,000 range - which is still a lot of money for a lot of families. 

But today is still a big day for high-income households wanting to feel good about the "environmental footprint" - but talk of an environmental footprint must go further than the part of the car the exhaust pipe is normally found. 

A Tesla Model 3 takes up just as much space in a parking spot in Palo Alto as any other car. It can block the box at a Redwood City intersection just like a gas powered car. It can circle a parking lot for ten minutes looking for a space just like a gas powered car. The presence of one and tens of thousands of other electric cars (almost always with one passenger) slows down everyone, which makes commutes take longer - if not additionally making the 'better for the environment' argument a wash.

Now that electric car drivers have gotten used to life alone in the HOV lane, they will be reluctant to give that up. Too bad. They have to. It'll happen sooner or later and I'm hoping a California legislator reading this understands that - or at least takes a look at what happened in Jakarta. When they dumped their HOV lanes average speeds for the entire city dropped big time. 

The lesson from this study is that using HOV lanes as a "Good Dog!" biscuit for wealthy Californians who drive alone is a bad idea that needs to end. 24 hour carpool lanes need to begin. 

Now I'm sure if and when the HOV lane sticker nonsense does end, electric cars will still sell. They'll have to, because for now we're stuck in an environment that forces people to live in one place, have a job in another, and offer little other than using a car to get around. And this coercion is having some pretty terrible consequences since more Americans than ever are going into debt to buy cars. According to a recent study by, the average length of a loan is 69.3 months. But guess what! The average size of a loan, as of last month, is $31,000 which means that the swell new electric car is finally in reach.

The person buying this car may end up in debt to get it, trapped by the payments and stuck in a system that is unsustainable and contributing to a poorer quality of life for everyone. But at least they can still feel good about buying that new electric car.

Thanks for reading and thanks for saying no to Car Culture 2.0

* Don't ask me who.

Friday, June 9, 2017

When We Can Hear Portland Out On Its Bike Tax Idea

From my 2009 trip to Portland, Oregon. I haven't been back to Portland since.
Portland, Oregon is considering a tax on bicycles (presently floated as a 3% tax on new bicycles costing over $500) It has been 'on the table' for a while. We should talk about taxes on bikes since we are road users. But the question is: when should Portland - or any city, for that matter -  talk about taxes for bikes? 

When I am not greeted by inane mixed messages when I go out to buy socks, groceries or get a haircut then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea. 

When I can ride over or through a highway interchange on an expressway without wondering where they'll chain my ghost bike, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea.

When I have seen research that proves driving a car to work instead of riding a bike has extraordinary health and environmental benefits that increase longevity and reduces health care costs, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea.* 

                        Homemade cargo bike (folds so I can take it on VTA)

When I don't have to sit motionless at a left turn only traffic light waiting for a car to pull in behind me so it will set off the green light, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea.

When you convince me that cyclists haven't, in fact, been riding in an incomplete, patchy and dangerous system of roads that kills hundreds of my cycling brothers and sisters every year, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea. 

When you abolish all free parking and get rid of parking minimums that encourage sprawl and discourage cycling, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea. 

    Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM

When the federal government gives me a mileage reimbursement for every mile I ride my bike to scope out suppliers/buy tools for Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM that is equal or greater than the $0.54 per mile I am paid to drive my SUV for business reasons, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea. 

When 97% of global warming scientists concur that the best thing for me to do is to drive a gas powered car, a hybrid car, or an electric car instead of biking, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea. 

When states like yours and California stop using my tax dollars to help some stock grant-laden twentysomething buy a $100,000 Tesla he can afford anyway then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea.

When cars stop putting up to 17,000 times more wear on a road than my cargo bike does, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea.** 

When you look at your books and somehow discover that building, maintaining, and encouraging car ownership is a smart long term financial and ecological thing to do, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea. 

Until these answers are given a bike tax idea will remain the stupidest.


Take this half-asleep, half-baked, full brain-fart off the table where a uncyclist dressed as Darth Vader playing flaming bagpipes can run over it. If not the politicians that leave it on will see my name on the donor list of their opponents before the next election. 

The most obnoxious pro-bike tax politicians can expect to see the donation links of their opponents on the coveted space on the right side of this page - now reserved for Be The Change Yoga - now doing Yoga in St. James Park again - and the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition's August 8 Bike Summit

Do the smart thing, Portland. I hope we can remain friends.

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

    From my 2009 bike trip in Portland, Oregon. I haven't been back since. 

* that does not get discussed nearly, nearly, nearly enough. A lot of municipalities, still paying for ill-advised car-centric roads, is now going to be footing the bill for the unhealthy world they helped create. 

** this doesn't get discussed enough either. Cars put on the wear that causes potholes (and forces roads and parking lots to be as wide and expensive as they are) so if you are a motorist: lobby against the bike tax! Not only will you have more parking spots to choose from when you get to where you are going but fewer road repairs!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What If The Waterslide Kid Had Tied Up Traffic?

Most people are good. But sometimes you are just going to see a horrendous display of humanity made even worse by the everydayness of it. 

I see it several times a week, but it was absolutely turned up to 11 today. What happened was someone climbed up the Bay Bridge in San Francisco and threatened to jump. Here's what NBC Bay Area had to say in a tweet:

The video itself is 20 seconds of traffic moving at a crawl. Nothing you don't see everyday. 

I get it. I've seen traffic reports and traffic reporters work. If you're stuck in traffic for a long time for seemingly no reason you'll want to know why. But the traffic isn't the angle that should be front and center. The question should be who is this person and what can we do to help him? 

But the tragic thing is, we don't. If you are sitting in a car it seems that everything is about you and how best to move you forward. Someone's son/father/daughter/wife is up on a ledge threatening to jump? Dang it! I am late for my Crossfit class and don't have any more podcasts to listen to! Shove this loony over the side so I can get a move on!

If a UFO lands in the Bay Area I expect the headline to look something like this: 

Also an alien has crash-landed in Redwood City blocking the third and fourth lanes on 101. That's a real mess there. 

NBC Bay Area wasn't alone in this traffic-first angle. Man Sitting on Bay Bridge anchorage snarls westbound traffic was KTVU Fox 2's headline (that changed slightly but, as I said a couple weeks ago, they had the picture of the traffic and had the story filed under 'Traffic Stories').

Tomorrow morning we're going to wake up and some of us are going to watch television.  I'm asking everyone reading this to please watch how the context of a story is different when it has an impact on traffic. 

Traffic, which is ONLY caused by too many people driving, is explained away by, among other things, a motorcycle crash on 101, a tractor-trailer rollover on the 87, or construction on highway 85. Red lines on the map signify traffic problems and even though about 80% of Bay Area drivers travel alone and distracted driving is a serious problem NBC Bay Area wants you to join the Bay Area Wazers "to help viewers avoid traffic jams". (Laura Garcia-Cannon: you've said a couple of times after the traffic reports that people should not use their phones while driving and I am appreciative of that.)

So we have to ask ourselves some interesting questions about this car-centric world we live in. What if the waterslide kid had tied up traffic? What if that commuter train crash from years ago didn't have gory footage but instead tied up the commute? Would we be talking about safety issues, interviewing NTSB personnel? Asking why these things aren't better regulated? Car accidents outnumber waterslide issues by the tens of thousands and yet I don't see parents pulling their kids out of driver's ed. 

So please: for those in the media who are reading this please put car accidents on the same footing as the waterslide kid and let's try not to make everything about a more comfortable car commute. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Images of Car Traffic The Go-To Picture to Symbolize Pain, Dysfunction

Note to Editors: Feel free to use this image, copyright free, to accompany any negative headline

Hope my cycling brothers and sisters east of here had a great Bike to Work Day.

I live in Silicon Valley. That means two things: traffic (which is caused ONLY by too many people driving) and that I read The San Jose Mercury News

It's the local newspaper (and if you haven't had the chance to read reporter Ramona Gwargis' live tweets of San Jose City Hall meetings you are truly missing out on some of the finer things the universe has to offer).

I have noticed a few patterns lately - particularly with the headlines I see on the San Jose Mercury News Facebook page: There have been several negative headlines accompanied by a shot of traffic (and not necessarily the ones that are about traffic).

More Bay Area residents say they want to leave. Where do they plan to go?

San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco job markets will cool: forecast

The Bay Area could be in for some nasty gridlock this evening 

Okay the last one is a bit of a no-brainer for use of an image of traffic. But still. 

It doesn't end there. Look at this headline from today: Job losses battered Santa Clara County in April (headline is a bit different on their homepage).

As I wrote not long ago when talking about how the traffic problem and the housing shortage are really symptoms of the same problem instead of separate issues, I got to thinking that the very image of traffic is just such a universally understood symbol of pain, dysfunction and just things-that-are-wrong one could use an image of traffic to accompany any negative news story.

Could be anything. 

Report Indicates Fewer Americans Reading Books

IBM Ending Benefit of Working at Home

That isn't a joke: it is a real headline and a real story. Nice work, IBM! Whatever 'spreadsheet blindness' that led to this decision isn't going to take into account the amount of energy, creativity and time sucked out of people when they drive to work.

Another bad headline:

Yoga Class Is Cancelled

Now on the flipside of this I want you to notice how often images of bicycles are used when the headline (or, as often is the case, an advertisement) wants to convey something positive. I do want a new rule: any company trying to cash in on the greatness of bicycles has to have outstanding bike parking in front. I'm talking to you, Home Depot. I didn't chain my California Cargo Bike to a handicapped parking sign just to walk in and see...

But still: the image of bicycles is positive, and it works with any positive headline - just look:

Kardashian Family Moves to Faraway Country With No Internet Access.

Larry Wilmore Gets New Podcast - Return to Television Inevitable

That's real - and I when I make a list of all the things that went wrong in 2016 The Nightly Show going off the air makes the top ten.

IRS Announces Plan for Mileage Reimbursement For Bicycles

VivaCalleSJ, Scheduled for Sept. 17, Releases Route Information

That last one is real - and pretty awesome. VivaCalleSJ is San Jose's open streets event where streets are closed to cars and you get to rediscover your city without cars. It's a wonderful thing.

So now that we are on the same page see if we can reduce the images of traffic by reducing traffic. Leave the car. Take the bicycle. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Bay Area Bike to Work Day is Tomorrow (May 11)

Sorry this reminder is coming so late - I would have posted yesterday but I misplaced my James Comey figurine. Luckily, I found it where I expected.

So now I would like to thank everyone who showed up at the Silicon Valley Bike Festival on Sunday; I was there with the first complete Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM and loved the feedback I got from everyone who got to try it.

The most pressing news right now is Bay Area Bike to Work Day is tomorrow. Remember the thirteen words: if you have a bike and can ride it safely, please ride it

If you don't have a bike available there is time to go buy one at Good Karma Bikes (which just changed their evening closing hours from 6pm to 7pm, so you have time to pick one up after work. 

Also the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition is having a really cool incentive this year: if you sign their Bike to Work Day Pledge you can enter to win a cycling vacation from Exodus Travels that allows you to bike from Thailand to Vietnam.

I can speak to the transformative power that comes from biking in other countries. It's allows you to look at our current world through the lens of others and also tell great stories.

As of today, including the U.S., I have ridden a bicycle in sixteen. I just added Mexico a couple of weeks ago after a short weekend in San Diego involved biking 20 miles to the Tijuana border and walking my bike through customs - all so I could ride a bike - first bought at a tag sale in New Hampshire for $5 three years ago before being converted into the perfect city bike - for less than a hour in Tijuana.

Biking across a border and marveling at the parking lot/car checkpoint was a treat (I did have my cargo box searched by a fellow at the border crossing, but he mostly wanted to know where to get a bicycle cargo box and how to make one

The other cool part was using Pesos I had brought with me, leftover from a non-biking trip to Mexico I had taken about eight years ago, and buying churros so I'd have something to eat while waiting to cross the border on the way back - made me miss Lorca's churros. 

Anyway: back to Bay Area Bike to Work Day: Please take part in it tomorrow and take the SVBC pledge. Hope to see you on the road tomorrow - and if you DON'T ride: watch for bicycle commuters, do not honk at us, and give 3' of space when you pass. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

The trailer is not for sale, but the new, handmade Box Bike in the photo is. like Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM on Facebook and message me for pricing details (also free delivery anywhere in Santa Clara County, CA).

Saturday, May 6, 2017

See Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM at the Silicon Valley Bikes Festival on Sunday

The 3rd annual Silicon Valley Bikes Festival is coming to History Park in San Jose on Sunday - and not only am I going to be there, but a Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM is coming with me so find my booth

Underneath the booth you should find me, a bike, a table, some of my artwork (both photographs and welded artwork). I'll also have a fun thing like the 2x2 matrix I had for the Cargo Bike Festival last year. 

I will also be taking the time to remind you to like Cranksgiving San Jose on Facebook because we're going to be planning the next one - and we're going to make it bigger. I'll explain later (or at the festival, if you have time).

See you Sunday - Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.