Friday, November 3, 2017

Can We Be Enraged When Cyclists Are Killed...All The Time? and other post-NYC questions


Picture I took biking just after the Five Boro Bike Tour, 2014.

A pretty nerdy thing I am proud of is some work I did on the Connecticut Bike & Pedestrian Advisory Board a few years ago. I worked with a small number of people in the state DOT to reword a few things in the driver's ed manual - a document that probably hadn't been updated since before I got my license in the Nutmeg State a long time ago.

Going through the manual with a red pen was kinda gratifying in that I could make edits that would be seen by thousands of Connecticut teens who would, the hope went, learn about driving in more of a share-the-road style. One thing I distinctly remember was a passage in a section about aggressive driving behavior. It started like this: "When a driver, bicyclist or other road user does something to anger you, do not retaliate..." 

My suggestion was to replace the word "to" with "that." My reasoning was that actions that annoy or anger road aren't always done to get that result. For example, the guy who passed me too closely on Market St. in San Jose (he broke the three-foot law as he sped by...only for me to easily pass him at the next traffic light) didn't say when he left work that day: "You know what? I'm gonna piss off a cyclist on the way home."

I thought changing the word "to" to "that" might be a good step in creating a road culture that recognizes that things that anger you are things that are often done unintentionally, and should just be let go. I have no idea if this change works or not, but it is still in the Connecticut Driver's Manual to this day (you can find it on page 25).

Another part of my reasoning was that not matter what I am riding, any kind of a fight between me and a motor vehicle that outweighs me by twenty or thirty times I am going to lose. 

So when I hear people talk about how awful it is that cyclists were mowed down by a truck on a bike path in New York - one that I rode on frequently when I lived out there - I have to ask a few questions.

Have you been standing with us as we've been trying to build safer streets? If not, can you stand with us now?

I've been to many a town hall meeting where motorists gripe when cycling infrastructure of any kind is on the table. The disproportional anger I see is bang-your-head-against-the-wall irritating. In fact, the Mercury News' Mr. Roadshow column just ran a letter from a motorist (one who, no doubt, complains incessantly about car traffic without realizing he is part of the problem by driving) whining about a new $35 million bike and pedestrian bridge being built. Yet this area seems to routinely spend $1 billion or more on one highway interchange and nobody bats an eyelash.


                    View of the Freedom Tower from the bike path in 2013

And that's not even the worst part - the worst part is these massive car-oriented projects do not work. In 2014, NBC ran a story showing that after spending a billion dollars, commute times went up one minute after widening a ten-mile stretch of the 405. Of course, once the public and elected officials realized this, they decided not to build any more highways.

I am, of course, kidding. Just last month I saw the headline: i-405 Improvement Project Aims to Shorten Commute Times. The project, funded by Measure M, is expected to cost about $1 billion. 

The only way to improve highways is to have fewer people driving on them. That happens when big, effective bike/ped/train infrastructure is built and people leave the car and take the bicycle. Even if it doesn't happen overnight, cities and states can change their metrics over to Vehicle Miles Traveled from the outdated, car-friendly Level of Service and build roads as Complete Streets. 

Would your response to the NYC attack be the exact same if the angry person behind the wheel was white and wasn't motivated by ISIS?

Like I wrote in the Connecticut Driver's Manual, people on the road don't always do something intentionally to anger someone. But let's talk about those who do. Not just the terrorist in New York, but the one in the pickup truck in Marin, who, the very same month of the NYC attack,  intentionally rammed cyclists on a charity ride before taking off. He was eventually found and a lot of cycling advocates were at the arraignment

There has been very little coverage of this since then. 


If the driver in Marin wasn't white screamed something in a foreign language while attempting murder, what would the coverage be then? 

You know the answer to that already. 

You also know how angry I can get when journalists do the color-by-numbers coverage of a crash that involves a bike or pedestrian. It's not a sexy, click-baity topic like terrorism. 

The reporters often use words that assign blame (such as asking "was he in the crosswalk?" in an accusatory tone) and almost never follow up with the people affected by tragedy. It's long past time to talk about the design of roads and the use of motor vehicles to begin with. 

Cause, you know, we take off our shoes at the airport because of some dolt fifteen years ago and you don't see news stories of someone going on a rampage and running people down on a cargo bike, do you? 

                    View of the Freedom Tower from the bike path, 2013

Are you ready to speak up and ban cars from cities altogether for national security reasons?

This kind of question and conversation that will follow is going to make a lot of people really uncomfortable and possibly angry.

I don't care. It still needs to happen.

We're wading toward it now - and someone more famous and more articulate than me (that is a really big pool) needs to take this up. One kid gets killed by an alligator in Florida and nets go up all around the ponds. A tiny number of lithium batteries burn and talks of banning them from flights engulf us all. Four planes are used as weapons and cockpit doors of thousands and thousands are fortified. 

Can we harness that kind of reaction when cyclists and pedestrians are killed instead of shrugging? And can we do something other than making it illegal to look at a phone in a crosswalk? 


    Avert your eyes, Honolulu (also your ordinance won't make pedestrians safer) 
Cyclists and pedestrians have to share space everyday with machines that weigh thousands of pounds and can do an incredible amount of damage in the wrong hands. This is already in addition to the fact that cars cost a lot, pollute, are bad for our waistlines and take up space in cities that can be better used to build affordable housing. 

The time is now for city engineers to take several steps to not just do more to separate cars from bikes and pedestrians, but separate cars from cities altogether. 

I know these questions may not go anywhere and in a week ADHDmerica may have moved on to something else. I can tell you one thing though. Bicycles were in cities before cars and before terrorists. And we will be in cities after both of those are gone. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Cranksgiving San Jose update -  It is happening on Nov. 18th. Like Cranksgiving San Jose on Facebook and learn how you can help feed hungry Bay Area families this season!












Friday, September 22, 2017

Five Things the Bay Area Should Know for the Weekend

5) Mt. Umunhum is Cool...by Bike


Sept. 21, 2017. Rode Bike Friday (w/ Cranksgiving San Jose trailer in tow) 5.5 miles up to Mt. Umunhum where I listened to Eminem and ate M&Ms. Really.
I took the day off yesterday and rode my Bike Friday up Mt. Umunhum, which just opened a few days back. I would have ridden straight from my house but I opted instead to park my car at Almaden Quicksilver County Park across the road (side note: the Santa Clara County Parks annual parking pass is the best value in the Bay Area) and ride about 5.3 miles. Up.

Five years ago I swapped out a triple chainring on the Bike Friday for a larger double and I remember wondering if I'd regret it later. Half a mile in, I did. 

Still it is a beautiful ride up Mt. Umunhum Road, and when you get to the top you can skip the parking lot on the left and turn right to pedal further to the old radar installation - also know as the rectangular thingy in the Santa Cruz Mountains visible from most highways.



Here at the top there is handicapped car and van parking available BUT there is a bike rack. The views are every bit as great as you'd expect and it is satisfying to get there by bike. 



The #ThirteenWords apply big time: If you have a bike and can ride it safely, please ride it. If you must drive to Mt. Umunhum to see it please fill your car with people, drive slowly both up and down, and give cyclists three feet of space when you pass. I had a few cars cross the line between "annoyingly close" and "dangerously close." 

Be courteous AND thankful, motorists. Because of me, you get an extra parking spot to choose from when you get to the top. And we all get a buffer between now and the inevitable news story from motorists wrongly complaining that there isn't enough parking there. Cars: you're already ruining National Parks. Don't ruin Mt. Umunhum too.

4) Suma CM's Sketching Class is Live


Artist Suma CM, sketching Viva Calle SJ 2017 from a Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM
Suma CM - a Bay Area artist who sketched at the Bay Area Proud blood drive the other day, rode in a Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM for Viva CalleSJ 2017 so she could sketch while I pedaled. It's always fascinating that one doesn't realize how much space is given to cars until that space is given to people.

It's also fun to ride a cargo bike and look down to see Suma's hat.




Having her sketch in the bike was cool - but what is even more cool is that she is now teaching a sketching class on Craftsy called Urban Sketching in 15 Minutes a Day. So if you have ever wanted to learn how to draw or learn how to improve your drawing technique you should take her class.


3) Yoga Teacher Training in San Jose SimaSutra.com


Yoga instructor Sima Chomicz Velez at St. James Park just after teaching a class.

All of the yoga teachers at Be The Change Yoga & Wellness are amazing people but the instructor I've known the longest is going to start yoga teacher training in a couple weeks. If you live in San Jose (or anywhere in the Bay Area, for that matter) and want to be a yoga instructor visit www.simasutra.com to learn more about this 200 hour class. 


As most of you know I've been a big fan of yoga for years and am convinced yoga has made me a better cyclist - and some days I am convinced I'd be in Nerf Hilton without it. 

You can sign up for classes at BTC on their site and if you want to be the person in the front of the class with the calm expression and the soothing voice, now is your chance: visit www.simasutra.com and sign up. 

2) Cranksgiving San Jose is Coming!



Another reason to love Be the Change Yoga & Wellness is they are one of the sponsors of Cranksgiving San Jose this year. Speaking of Cranksgiving...

By now you have probably seen the NBC Bay Area news story on Cranksgiving San Jose last year so you know what it is about. It is coming back on Nov. 18 this year, and we want to get even more riders together and collect even more food for Second Harvest Food Bank. Remember: If you can ride a bike and can feed yourself, you can ride a bike and feed others in need. Please like Cranksgiving San Jose on Facebook and help spread the word in the South Bay!

1) Speak Out Against Banning Cell Phones While Walking
I recently wrote about how terrible it is that Honolulu and my original home city of Stamford, Connecticut are seriously thinking of passing ordinances so pedestrians can't use cell phones while crossing the street.   can absorb more blame when they are hit by cars.

Mr. Roadshow (Gary Richards) of the San Jose Mercury News has taken a letter or two from entitled motorists who are annoyed pedestrians don't stop what they are doing to worship at the alter of Tesla and GMC when crossing the street. In this column, Mr. Roadshow has opened the conversation about banning cell phone use while walking giving motorists an extra tool in the blame-assignment utility belt so please let him know if you don't support a ban on texting and walking. His contact information is at the bottom of his column and, as always when I ask you to do this: no foul language and stay polite. 

That's all I got for now (not that this is of interest in the Bay Area but David Martin's Cycling With Candidates ride in Stamford was postponed this week because of the rain - more on the new time/date later).

Today is the day summer spills into fall (apparently this is happening at exactly 1:02 pm) so make it count. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.




Thursday, September 14, 2017

Cycling With Candidates update - Stamford: Thanks, Barry Michelson!

Republican Candidate for mayor of Stamford, Barry Michelson, Sept. 14, 2017. Photo by Ronald Morse

Note: I am typing all of this with a big grin on my face

I need to give a big thanks to Ronald Morse of Speakerbike for leading the first #CyclingWithCandidates ride with Republican Barry Michelson - and of course thank Barry for taking part in the ride (and a shout-out to Pacific Cycling & Triathlon on High Ridge Road in Stamford for outfitting Barry with a Specialized bike).

I knew the ride was taking place at 8:00 this morning at the Bedford Street Diner in Stamford. 2,983 miles away, at 5:00 in the morning At precisely the same moment, I was sitting outside my home in San Jose, in the dark, waiting for sunrise, sipping coffee and listening for screech owls* while wondering what was going on. 

As it turned out the ride took place as it was scheduled and photojournalist Michael Cummo of the Stamford Advocate was also there and took some great photographs - please check out Michael's photos - plus one from Ronald's iPhone! - and share the Stamford Advocate story below:

http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/local/article/Stamford-mayoral-challenger-participates-in-12198354.php

There will be more to come on this - and David Martin's ride will be coming up soon so keep watching this space. Remember that #CyclingWithCandidates can be done in your home city and that no one (it helps to say this in Bryan Cranston intonation) should run for mayor anywhere without addressing cyclists or cycling issues. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

*My morning routine has changed since moving to California.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Cycling With Candidates - the 2017 Mayor Election in Stamford



I promised not too long ago I'd have something to say about Cycling with Candidates - a campaign I started in 2013 to go biking with mayoral candidates in the city Stamford. 

I live in San Jose, California now but what goes on in Stamford matters a great deal to me. I still have friends I love and business I adore out there and even though I haven't ridden a bicycle in Stamford since May 1, 2015 I'm not ruling out a return someday.

So I decided to hand off the Stamford edition of Cycling with Candidates to Ron Morse - you may know him from his excellent cycling creation Speakerbike and from the Bike Party Stamford rides - and by the way, if you live in Stamford there is a Bike Party Stamford Ride tonight and you should bring a bike and go. 

That's my whole message at the moment: Ron is doing Cycling With Candidates and the two candidates for mayor (incumbent David Martin and challenger Barry Michelson) have already agreed to do the rides. As I write this they are coordinating schedules with Ron to do them. If you are a member of the press and want to know when the rides will be please let Ron know.

Rather than explain things further I'll share with you the email I sent to both the David Martin and Barry Michelson campaigns the other day. If anyone out there also believes that no one should run for mayor in your town without speaking about bike and complete streets issues, please crib whatever you want and start #CyclingWithCandidates in your town - and watch this site as I'll publish a Cycling With Candidates Tool Kit soon. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

----

Dear (campaign contact),

(this very same message has been sent or will be sent within a minute of this one to your candidate's opponent)

Thank you and thank (David Martin/Barry Michelson) for agreeing to do a Cycling for Candidates ride! A good friend of mine, Ron Morse, who lives and works in Stamford, is cc'd on this message and he will be your contact for scheduling your ride, which, like last time, will start at the Bedford Street Diner and go right on Bedford, left on Oak, left on Summer, right on Broad and a left on Washington to end at the government center. 

Ron will be writing about the ride for DIYBIKING.COM. Before or after the ride Ron may ask about any plans or issues you may have in regards to bike/transportation issues in the city and your record on this, if applicable. He also has a spare bicycle handy if you need one (let him know beforehand if it is necessary) but I do ask that you bring your own properly fitted helmet and understand you are riding at your own risk. 

Please feel free to have any of your own campaign staff on hand for your own photos/social media fodder if you wish but I do ask that you do not have any volunteers or staffers ride with the candidate and Ron - but please feel free to have anyone along the route or at the government center to take your own pictures if you like. 

An announcement will be made on DIYBIKING.COM Tuesday, Sept. 5 that Cycling with Candidates is back in Stamford. The intent is not to announce when the rides are taking place at that point in case you need more time to schedule one, but I will link to you and your opponent's literature about bike and transit issues if you have pertinent pieces on your web site. If you have published material on this subject on your campaign site by noon on Tuesday, Sept. 4, please send the links my way and I'll be happy to put them up.

This probably goes without saying but the rides will not be scheduled for the same day at the same time (the morning rush is best) and just like last time if anything physically embarrassing happens it will not be covered by DIYBIKING.COM. You will also not be judged on the kind of equipment you ride or the attire you choose to wear. 

I've let a few folks in media know about the rides - you can call them too if you like/when you schedule your ride. 

I would like to thank you personally, regardless of the election outcome, for taking part in Cycling with Candidates. The link to the first one done in Stamford in 2013 is below and some of that years' press coverage is on the Press page of my site. It is not along the route but please have an alfajore cookie for me at Lorca on 125 Bedford.

Sincerely yours,


Michael

----

Link to first Cycling with Candidates Ride: 


------

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Ten Things I Want Google to Google Before They Build in San Jose

Google bought a lot of property - and I do mean a lot - in downtown San Jose. If you want detailed, quality journalism about what is going on with this city-changing event - read the San Jose Mercury News

If you want to know what a guy currently wearing faded Pearl Izumi socks with the 'On Your Left' sock on his right foot wants Google to Google before they start building, you've come to the right place. 


10)


Extra Context: If you want to build something in any given city that is 'x' square feet it must have 'y' number of parking spaces. This is why there is a huge amount of land lying around busy urban areas for unoccupied motor vehicles. Google has the muscle to talk the city into making the best possible use of their space - and space for cities going forward. Besides, their Waymo cars won't need to park (they just must never be found in the bike lane and must follow the 3' law).

9)


Extra Context:  The Bay Area is going to collapse under its own weight if home prices keep climbing the way they do and thus pushing barbers, teachers, non-profit workers, wait staff, clerks, drivers and everyone else out. Market forces are making it happen but the free market doesn't do anyone any good if massive numbers of people can't participate in it. There are several organizations like Housing Trust Silicon Valley that help people afford a home, but the problem is just massive. I hope Google Googles this and finds the answers - and I hope the city of San Jose, when they meet today at 4pm, avoids trying to look like part 1 of a six-part HBO mini-series of the housing crisis and will say yes to tiny homes for the homeless


8)



Extra Context: Transit works better than cars to get around if - and only if - a person lives close to transit and needs to get to a place close to transit. As I said in the Bay Area News Group story about Hacking Your Commute, a bicycle combined with mass transit is very powerful (and remains, to this day, one of the things that impressed me the most about California when I first moved here). Right now how we humans get from one place to another is stacked in favor of cars, and a big-ass tech titan headquartered in Mountain View could help change that. 

7)


Extra Context: Small coffee shops and restaurants are part of what makes a neighborhood what it is. They are landmarks. They are verbal shortcuts. They also have specialties. If I fancy waffles I go to Hub's Coffee. If I want to meet a friend to talk about Cranksgiving San Jose I go to Chromatic. If I want a mint mojito (or if my sister is in town) I go to Philz. I haven't hit all the little coffee shops in San Jose yet but I like the promise that I know I can do that. That's part of what makes the city what it is. So do a lot of people who work and live here. Let's find ways to make the coffee shops and restaurants stay and flourish. A good way to do that would be to allow workers to have restaurant vouchers instead of a cafeteria so the offices are not islands.


6)


Extra Context: This is an easy one. You're not going to use a bike every time you need to move something - you might use a car or a van. But the more you use a bike to get stuff from one place to another, the less car traffic there will be. And as everyone knows from reading about it San Jose residents are rightfully worried about traffic. The G-Bikes in Mountain View for employees to get around the campus is phase one. Cowgirl Bike Courier can help you start phase two. 

5)


Extra Context: Bikes are too important a tool to be left to weekend use by people who lash them to their Porsche Cayennes. They need to use them to get around - and a lot of people can only count on a bike to get around because they don't own a car. Places like Good Karma Bikes and San Jose Bike Clinic sell good bikes at good prices - and that's the least of what they do and what a bike does. Know who they are. 


4) 


Extra Context: You don't need extra context for this one. 

3)


Extra Context: What's a better investment? A two-bedroom, one-bed ranch tucked next to a noisy highway on-ramp or the same house that shares a yard with a quiet, walkable park? 

2)



Extra Context: See the rest of this blog and/or rent a Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM to see what I'm talking about. 

1)


Extra Context: I'm not going to compare Google's upcoming office with the giant bike tire lying on its side in Cupertino. But what I will say two things: small gyms and yoga studios should be packed with employees in the middle of the day (and one of the great yoga instructors from Be the Change Yoga is going to start training new yoga teachers beginning in October, so if any Googlers or non-Googlers need a career change visit her web site).  And the second thing to say is this: if you design everything right, the city is your fitness center.

Thanks for Googling and thanks for riding. 







Wednesday, August 23, 2017

How Stamford and Honolulu Are Making Streets Less Safe

Intersection of Hoyt & Summer Stree in Stamford - Summer 2014. A pedestrian in the crosswalk was killed there shortly before I took this photo.
Motorists in Honolulu - and, sadly, in the city of Stamford - are being given a new tool in their utility belt of Blame Assignment.  

I'm talking about banning the use of cell phones while walking. "Distracted texting" or "distracted walking" as it is sometimes called. We've all probably seen the footage of a distracted pedestrian or two walking into an open manhole or the like and there are cases of a person distracted by a phone and walking into the path of a car - but the practice of banning the use of a cell phone while walking is not the way to make streets safer.

In fact, if I wanted to kill as many pedestrians or cyclists with motor vehicles as possible I'd push for such a law, and push hard.


From Summer 2014. Is the intersection any safer?
Here's why: the balance of power on the street is in the favor of cars to begin with. If I'm walking or biking and a car hits me at 40 miles an hour, chances are excellent I am going to the morgue. The driver - as long as he or she is "remaining at the scene and cooperating" - is going to Maaco. 

Power is also in the hands of the motorist because of the implicit bias in way too many news articles about cars hitting pedestrians. A few years ago, in an article for the Stamford Patch, I pointed out that almost every piece about a car hitting a pedestrian talked about whether or not the person struck was in a crosswalk - and that people want the answer to that question to assign blame to the pedestrian. 

Very, very soon, "Was he/she holding a cell phone?" will augment the old "Was he/she in the crosswalk?" question. Just another way to shift blame away from the motorist and toward the pedestrian. 

Here's my prediction: Streets in Stamford and Honolulu will not see fewer pedestrian deaths. They'll see more because it'll be all the easier for a driver to face little if any repercussions from striking someone. 

Do I think pedestrians and cyclists should take more ownership over their safety - following the rules of the road and looking both ways? Of course I do. But when I put one foot on the street to cross and the approaching driver is going too fast to stop that is a problem with the speed of the motorist - not whether or not I am holding a cell phone in my hand.

That is yet another important thing to remember: even if you follow the ordinance and cross with the phone in your hand - at your side and away from your eyes - that isn't going to matter if you are hit. The driver will be conscious and will be able to give his or her statement to the police that you were holding a cell phone which will be found at the scene. Because you - the unconscious, bleeding pedestrian - can't give your statement to the police that you weren't using the phone, the deck is stacked against you once again. 

It's also a bit unnerving to see a city in Connecticut essentially create an ordinance that chips away at a state law that says drivers must yield to pedestrians who are at a crosswalk. The no-cell-phones-while-walking-rule essentially turns that around. This is motorists - many of whom are also using their phones - saying: you stop what you are doing and you yield to us. 

If you agree and live in Stamford, politely call or email Stamford's Board of Representatives - especially John Zelinsky, an architect of this ordinance - and tell them not to enact this. Do not be rude in any way or use swear words. I am not kidding.  

I know I live in San Jose now, but I miss Stamford. I miss Lorca. I miss Rippowam Labs. I miss Exhale. I miss the art scene and I really want to go to Danger Gallery. I miss free plastic grocery bags. I miss being in the same time zone as 98% of my family. I miss living close to Indian, Greek and Mexican restaurants that deliver. I miss rappelling Santa.*

What I don't miss is the 1970s-style pro-car bias that clings to some people like a disease in the Constitution State. Every road user matters and I have zero interest in telling someone that their much-loved wife, husband, sister, brother, dad, mom or friend isn't coming home because, well, we want drivers to get to where they are going one light faster. 


The aftermath of a bike crashing into a car never, ever looks like this.

By the way, Stamford: I know there is a mayor's race coming up - and friends who still live there know it too. If you are running for mayor (or, running for re-election) I have four words: please check your inbox. Cycling with Candidates is returning. More on this in a few days. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

*In Stamford, that is A Thing - and it is a wonderful Thing. Check out the Stamford Advocate coverage



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 WhatSideofTheRoad.com 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.

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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.