Monday, January 19, 2015

Live in Stamford? Take the Stamford Share the Road Survey 2015!

Any Stamford Connecticut people reading this blog should immediately click on the link below and take the Stamford Share the Road survey 2015:

Right now, there are exactly 48 respondents….in a city of over 120,000. I think more people in Stamford did the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge last summer. Doing this survey only takes a little bit longer than pouring ice water on yourself but you won’t even have to change you clothes when you’re done. 

This survey has already gotten some attention on the Stamford Advocate’s blog and (not to tread into this-is-what-it’s-all-about territory too much here) the more people who sound off about dangerous roads in the city and bike/ped priorities for the future, the louder are voices are - and the more influence we have. 

Please take the survey today and tell your other Stamford friends to do the same. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Rippowam Labs: The Makerspace in Stamford You Have to Go To

NOTE: If you live in Stamford and haven’t yet taken the 2015 Stamford Share the Road survey please take it before Saturday by clicking here. Sound off about what you want to see happen for bikes and pedestrians (and review Mayor David Martin’s efforts)!

So last week I was invited by a guy I met randomly while I was riding to work 18 months ago to check out Rippowam Labs in Stamford; a makerspace that started a while back as a Meetup group but now, as of November 2014, has its own digs at 482 Summer Street. 

It sounded good to me. Working at home coupled with the Hothlike conditions of Stamford meant I was cooped up. I also wanted a diversion from little irritations -  like my iPhone 5 suddenly deciding it didn’t want to play with its charger cable anymore. It got so bad that I began to wonder what a “Weird Al” song about the phenomenon would sound like.  

Whatcha gonna do wit dat big old phone?

Jiggle. Jiggle.

Meh meh meh. MEH! MEH! MEEEEEEH!

(I’ve found writing “Weird Al” songs in my head is a good coping mechanism for stress. But I’m getting off the subject).

On Tuesday, with temperatures about 20 degrees and falling and my iPhone’s battery life at 20% and falling, I decided to #choosethebike and safely ride at night to Rippowam Labs. Since a bike is a lot faster than a car and I didn’t have to wait for my cheap city bike to warm up, I got there so quickly I had time to stop at Lorca to buy some alfajore cookies to go. I figure I’d come out even on the calorie counts due to the pedaling and shivering.

Soon after, I located Rippowam Labs on Summer Street. I know that part of the block well since it houses Eos - an outstanding Greek restaurant that probably pays six months of property taxes with the amount my wife and I spent regularly on take-out dinners there. 

After locking the bike to a lamppost (Dear Board of Finance: What do I have to do to get bike racks built around here? Sincerely, Mike) I entered the building and walked up to Suite No. 4 - and was immediately inspired by what I saw around me. It wasn’t a crowded space but there were a lot of random items in the cubbies by the door - and the sight of what I was sure was parts of an underwater scooter made me wonder if someone here was working on Duckymoto-like technology. It made me want to know more. 

The random cyclist I had met a year and a half ago who helped build the makerspace is named John, and he and I sat at a table that had a sewing machine and a soldering iron sitting within inches of each other. I also saw something a little unusual yet somehow right at home in a makerspace. 

Ah, I thought. Arduino. 

That’s about all I can say about Arduino - and I subscribed to Make Magazine for a year, bought a book about Arduino, and attended a Maker Faire in Queens. But I still am not completely sure what Arduino is. Something about making your computer talk to different items and getting them to do different things using motors, lights, sensors - whatever you can imagine. Like many things, it is above my intellectual pay grade, but I want to know more. 

John also showed me a 3-D printer under construction. It’s not a whole lot to look at now, but this is Luke-building-his-own-lightsaber cool and it too made me want to know more. 

He also showed me some of the works of Chandni Thawani, one of the makers who is presently teaching sewing classes on Sundays this month. She’s also working on a variety of things including - according to the Rippowam Labs web site - a turn signal bike jacket. 

Hmmm, I thought. I want to know more. 

John explained more about the makerspace and its mission - and it just seemed like a great way for people to learn things (and teach things) outside of their normal orbit. Like Arduino. Or sewing. Or building a voice-changer as part of the Spymaster Series. And there will be something bike related soon, I'm sure.  

I thanked John for the tour and headed home - certain I’d come back (I may do so when Rippowam Labs is hosting a Fix-It Night on February 7th, where they are inviting anyone with a broken appliance to come to Rippowam Labs from 7:00pm to 9:00pm and see if it can be fixed right there on the spot. However: remember that there are stairs, so don't bring freezer cases, water heaters, or anything else that's hard to carry). 

The next morning, feeling smarter, I dug out the plastic bacteria colony/toothpick from my imitation Swiss Army Knife and poked it into my iPhone’s port. I pulled out enough lint to stuff a throw pillow, and when I couldn’t pull out any more with that I cut a piece of electrical tape narrow enough so I could poke the sticky side into the port and pull out even more lint. 

I plugged the phone in. It immediately began taking a charge. Just one thirty minute visit to Rippowam Labs and I was already smarter.  Make sure you check them out, take a class, go to their Fix-It Night on February 7, or otherwise get involved. Rare is the place that inspires and makes you want to know more. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Inaugural Address: Five Ways Malloy Talked About Bike Infrastructure Without Talking About Bike Infrastructure

Yesterday in Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy took the oath of office for a second time. Before the event, the media was already buzzing about what he was going to say about transportation. 
As many of you know I was disappointed with the governor’s answer about parking at train stations at a transportation forum a few months ago. But in yesterday's inaugural address (published here by NBC Connecticut) I counted five times when he spoke about the value of cycling:
1) "We all want our streets and neighborhoods to be safe places to work and to live…”
You can tell how unsafe your neighborhood is by conducting a simple test: watch somebody cross a street in the middle of the day. If they glance back and forth several times before running across the street like they’re avoiding sniper fire, it’s not a safe place to live. 
Days after a woman was killed at this intersection in Stamford in the summer of 2014, I went out there to watch how cars treated the corner between Summer and Hoyt Streets. 
Another test: the number of passionate cycling neighbors you have who won’t ride their bikes unless they’ve attached them to their Yakima racks and driven across several area codes to get away from car traffic. 
Neighborhoods aren’t made safer by adding cars or making it easier to chose a car to go somewhere. When state roads and town roads simply reduce the amount of space a car can drive on (say, reducing the width of a travel lane from twelve feet to 11 and adding a bike lane) it’s a low cost way to make a neighborhood safer.
2)"We all want cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable energy for our citizens and for our businesses."

Let me tell you something about my City Bike (the vintage Diamondback road bike I paid $5 for at a New Hampshire tag sale in July. Hundreds of miles logged with it (including in Cleveland!) and the ‘check engine’ light never came on. Not only that but I never had to spend $507 dollars for a mechanic to investigate a mysterious noise. 
A run to the Stamford Goodwill in 2014 with the trailer I made the year before. The bike is so much easier to maneuver in the tiny parking lot I try to avoid driving there at all times.
It doesn’t get cheaper, cleaner or more reliable than a bike. And if you do things that make bikes easier to use (add bike lanes, secure bike parking, and so on) it eases off the throttle of gasoline demand a bit - which will make motorists happy. 
3) "And we all want roads, highways, buses, trains, ports, and airports that work for every city and town, for every business, and for every person in our state."
If you’re driving by your favorite coffee shop and won’t make it to work on time if you stop (since you’d have to wait for a parking spot to open up) the coffee shop loses a sale. 

But if the roads leading up to the coffee shop were built for cyclists and the parking lot was designed for bicycles it might make it a lot easier for everyone to stop.

One thing that drives me nuts when people talk about transportation ‘systems’ is when they leave out just how mind-bogglingly flawed a car-only system is. Think about this: it only takes one or two cars blocking the box at an intersection to tie up traffic for dozens of motor vehicles. 

A way around this is to build boxes that open up briefly when all lights go red so as to remove the box blocking miscreants.

But it’s probably cheaper and more humane to build bike infrastructure. Probably. 
Also remember this: a one-car accident on I-95 delays hundreds and hundreds of cars for hours. That’s the ‘transportation system’ I’m talking about: one car represents a point of failure in a complicated system. And bikes, trains and cars are all connected and can’t be thought about in silos, either. 

4)" one party or one policy maker holds a monopoly on good ideas. We might not always agree on the details, but we can agree that we want our children to inherit a better Connecticut than we were given."
Taking bike rides with the mayoral candidates in Stamford back in 2013 (two Democrats and Republican Michael Fedele) reminded me of what Malloy said yesterday. Nobody owns the voting cycling bloc but everybody needs to get from one place to another. I hope Republican cyclists heading to Cleveland in 2016 encourage their friends to go riding with them.
5)"We can build a transportation system that better connects us to one another and to the rest of the world."
Let’s start with the first part of that sentence where he says connects us to one another. How many times in a car have you driven by somebody you know and honked the horn and waved while still going by? 
Our fellow humans deserve more than that. 
While on a bike, I recognized and stopped to chat with Congressman Jim Himes on Bedford Street. My yoga instructor from Exhale in Cove. A fellow cycling fanatic walking on a sidewalk by the Stamford Town Center. Another friend I had meant to email but instead stopped to have a real conversation with. 
It’s easier to talk to a fellow traveler on the road (and easier to listen to a fellow traveler) when on a bike. As for the rest of the world comment…

My house is about a mile and 3/4 from the Stamford Metro North station. It’s also, of course, an Amtrak stop. I’ve biked to the station to get on a train to get on a plane to fly somewhere. In doing so, I gave a parking space at the transportation center to someone who really needed it, didn’t add traffic to I-95, and didn’t wear out my car. A bike can do more than take you as far as your legs will take you. When done right, a transportation network can allow you to use your bike to go anywhere in the world.
So please join me in congratulating Dan Malloy on his victory and make sure he works toward what he suggested in his inaugural address. In 2014 the Connecticut Department of Transportation adopted a Complete Streets policy, so 2015 is the year for implementation. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Bikes on Trains, Trains on Bikes - and Christmas

It is Christmas Eve, so that means I am going to be setting up a decades-old (still has the 'Made in West Germany label on the bottom of the locomotive) LGB train at my parent’s house. Trains going around Christmas trees are a big thing in my family. In fact, there’s no tree that can’t be improved by a train. 

You’ve probably seen this train at the Rowayton Arts Center’s Holiday Gift Show - and if you haven’t: they are open today from 10:00am to 2:00pm so I recommend you go there and pick up a last-minute Christmas gift for the cyclist in your life. Like, say…I don’t know….a nice framed photograph from a local artist. 

One of my photographs sold at the show (hence the empty spot on the wall) so I replaced it with another…and you’ll have to see which one it is when you go there.

But you’ll also see the LGB train going around the tree and probably ask yourself: “Well, how did it get there?”

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. 

This is a Landrider that was waiting for the ‘metal only’ bin behind a bike shop before I picked it up. This bike is known for two things: the informercials that seemed to market cycling toward the Metamucil generation…and for its complex automatic transmission. 

The way it worked was as such: the wheel would turn and make a special mechanism on the derailleur spin, and the centrifugal force would pull the derailleur away from the bike and make it shift. 

Not easy to photograph when in motion.

When I picked up the bike the rubber band that made the thing on the derailleur spin was missing (probably part of why the bike was being given away) so I replaced it with a large rubber O-ring from the hardware store for $4.49.

The reason the Landrider got all mixed up in the train set I loaned to the Rowayton Arts Center for Christmas is because (long story) I had to borrow that particular train back for a day in early December. But I didn’t want the show to be without the train for too long, so the very next morning I decided to ride the six miles to RAC with the train, so I packed it carefully in a city box pannier I never use and put it in a basket on a bike I’ve never ridden. 

I discovered something on this ride: the world is not ready for an automatic transmission. At least not this one. Sure, when you’re accelerating the bike shifts up but when at speed it would often shift up or down without warning, causing a distraction or my feet to slip off the pedals. Also my thumbs were constantly pushing for shifters that weren’t there. I had experienced a similar phenomenon when I went from my Jeep Wrangler (1995 - 2006), which had a manual transmission, to my Honda Element, which doesn’t. 

Part of the reason bikes are great is that they do what your body tells them to do. On the Landrider, the natural order of things is reversed.


The other thing I discovered on this ride is that if you come across one of those Ridiculous Car Antlers that has fallen off some Suburban, you can attach it to your bike and create your own Instant 3 Foot Law Reminder. 

The Landrider and I continued on. As my legs burned I wondered how much of my energy was being wasted in the centrifugal clutch. I was tempted to abandon the antler to cut down on wind resistance, but before I could do such a thing I arrived at the Rowayton Arts Center.

I returned the train (it was undamaged!) and rode back to Stamford. Because I realized how few Sundays were left in the year where I’d be able to ride about, I took side trips to Lorca and Pacific Swim Bike Run so I could write my #GiftsForCyclists series - thus leaving this dreadful bike (which will probably not be in my possession very soon) in the foreground of the shots I took. 

When I finally got home I discovered the antler bounced off somewhere on my journey - thus returning to the streets from whence it came (unbelievably, while out a couple of days later on my city bike, I found another antler in the road. Mind your tacky car decorations, citizens).

I can honestly say I will never ride this Landrider again.  But still, I got to ride a bike - and I got to bring a train on a bike instead of the other way around. Since today is the last day of the Rowayton Arts Center Holiday Gift Show, I hope all last minute Christmas shoppers enjoy it even more now that they know the origin story.  

And don’t forget: you can still buy raffle tickets for the BikePort Co-Op’s BPT-ONE if you can’t make it to Rowayton and are still short some stocking stuffers. I’m Mike from DIYBIKING.COM wishing you all a Merry Christmas. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

7:00pm Tonight in Stamford: Support Complete Streets

If you live in Stamford and don’t read this post all the way through I’m okay with that - provided you attend tonight’s public meeting (7:00pm at 888 Washington Boulevard) of the Board of Reps or otherwise show support for Stamford’s Complete Streets Ordinance. Write a letter to the editor of the Stamford Advocate, shout from the rooftops, borrow Speakerbike - whatever you need to do to be heard.

As you probably guessed, I’ve been riding the Bikeducken lately - you know, that cargo bike I welded last year from the parts of eight discarded bicycles. Two photos taken with my phone really capture everything anyone needs to know about a city that’s been shaped by cars:

This is my bike pausing at the parking lot at Ridgeway last Friday. As you can see there are a lot of cars searching for an elusive parking spot. Some of the motorists - both in and out of this parking lot - were staring at me; presumably because the Bikeducken looks strange. But you know what? I was staring at them because what they chose to get to where they’re going was a lot more odd than what I chose.

As you can see, I had no trouble finding a parking space at Ridgeway. But going forward: I want trouble. 

I’ve long ago lost count of the number of passionate cyclists I know that won’t bike through the heart of Stamford because they are too afraid - hence the empty bike rack. Anything this city can do to reduce that fear - including bike lanes - needs to be the big priority in 2015. Hand in hand with that has to be actions - including blanketing the city with usable bike parking that encourages people to not drive their cars into or through the city. Bikes take up less space, and that means motorists have fewer cars to compete with when searching for parking on their own. 

Adopting and aggressively implementing a complete streets policy - which will save lives, by the way - is the only direction this city can travel in. 

You don’t even have to take my word for it: gas is cheaper now than it has been in years and AAA cited that as part of why we’ll see more traffic on the roads this holiday. The National Bureau of Economic Research also published a report five years ago that concluded that increasing the provision of roads would do nothing to relieve congestion

And what was just discovered in California isn’t just a final nail in the car culture coffin, but it is a financial disaster: $1 billion was spent to widen a mere ten miles of the 405 freeway and traffic commute times increased by one minute after it was completed

A shorter way to say we've spent a lot of money on a problem only to make it worse is known as ‘induced demand’: We’ve thrown gobs of money at cars and all it has done is encourage people to drive more. Now is the time to encourage people to drive less. 

Please attend tonight’s hearing, take action to support Stamford’s complete streets ordinance, or both. We’ve already killed four pedestrians on our roads this year. Let’s try for none next year. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

#GiftsForCyclists Part III: From Pacific Swim Bike Run: The Gift of Wrench Smarts

Just as I said a few days ago when you saw it in front of Lorca: that awful-looking bike parked in front of Pacific Swim Bike Run deserves an explanation. But you’ll have to wait. This is still DIYBIKING.COM’s #GiftsForCyclists special and it can’t be slowed down.

On 575 Pacific Street in Stamford, you’ll find Pacific Swim Bike Run (the same shop that created the Hot Chocolate Classic to benefit The Pacific House Shelter for the Homeless a few weeks ago). On paper, it’s supposed to be a shop I’d normally avoid. It specializes in bikes that are fast that are bought by people who want to go faster and after riding argue with their friends over who was the fastest. 

But it’s not that. It’s a fun, non-intimidating place to shop or take a class. Even though I have mostly skinny tire bikes in this shot they also have a well curated selection of children’s bicycles and gear. And they carry a few bikes that would cause any cyclist’s eyes to light up on Christmas morning. 

This got my attention walking in the door. Like the beautiful custom bike that BikePort is raffling off it is just an outstanding color. Don’t you just want to hang it on your tree? 

Now you can buy this or any other bike here for a cyclist this Christmas. Because the shop is less than a ten minute walk from the Stamford railway station, New York City friends reading this can make an easy trip here to do a little Christmas shopping - possibly for themselves. 

But if you are shopping for the cyclist who has everything, I recommend you visit PSBR and get him or her a private class with a bike mechanic. For $89 an hour, a PSBR mechanic will teach one or two people (there’s a gift for the cyclist power couple in your life) any topic related to bike repair. Think about it: it’s like Batman hiring out Lucius Fox.*

What’s taught in this period of time is up to the cyclist: it can be as simple as fixing a flat, replacing a bottom bracket, brakes and drivetrain adjustments - any wisdom a cyclist wished they had before they had ruined a perfectly good shifter when building a mountain bike. 

So if the cyclist you’re shopping for is long on toys but short on how to maintain them, visit Pacific Swim Bike Run and give the gift of Wrench Smarts. Ask about getting this at the PSBR front desk or contact them at or 203-504-8960. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

* or James Bond hiring out Q, if you prefer. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

#GiftsForCyclists - Part II: BikePort Co-Op Raffle Tickets for BPT ONE Custom Bike

“Do you have a dollar?” I asked.

My friend at BPT Creates in Bridgeport didn’t hesitate. He pulled out his wallet and began to hand me one as he said: “Yeah. Do you need to feed the meter?”

“No,” I said, recalling a much-loved line from Richard Dreyfus’ character in Jaws:  “I need something in the foreground to give the tire some scale.”

What I was doing was taking pictures of a custom bike made by the Bikeport Co-Op in Bridgeport. Most custom made bikes are beautiful just by default because I appreciate how someone decided they wanted a bike and went about getting one the hard way. 

This one’s in another class by itself: the frame is simple, elegant and bears a fascinating paint job. The seat is big, the ape hanger handle bars are gloriously over the top and the 4” wide tires have to be seen to be believed. 

Few bikes look like they should sit in an art gallery and cruise city streets at the same time, but this one is. Even though there is only one (it is called the BPT-ONE) there is a chance for all to own it - which is one of the two reasons it goes on this #GiftsForCyclists special.

The Bikeport Co-op is selling raffle tickets for the BPT-ONE through next week. One ticket is $7.00 but you can also buy in quantities and get an even better deal: Three tickets cost $18, Five cost $25, Ten cost $50.00 and 25 tickets sell for $100. 

At these prices, raffle tickets for BPT-ONE make the perfect stocking stuffer. And you can buy them easily: simply click on this link and in less than a minute you have the best stocking stuffer for any cyclist anywhere. The raffle ticket number gets emailed to you and you can deliver that ticket number any way you want. Print it out on holiday paper, write it in a card - give it to them over the phone. 

Not only will the receiver wait with anticipation over the drawing (which takes place on Dec. 27th) but here’s where the money raised from the raffle goes: it helps the BikePort Co-Op make Bridgeport a better place to bike. This organization has only been around since May and they’ve been able to, among other things, provide a dozen kids helmets, gloves, locks and complete bicycles through their Earn-A-Bike initiative (which is similar to the fantastic Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op in Cleveland). The BikePort Co-Op also organizes regular group rides and is set to open bike clubs at three Bridgeport high schools and two elementary schools. 

So buy these stocking stuffers today and like the Bikeport Co-Op on Facebook. Not only will you make a cyclist you know smile, but whether you buy the Golden Ticket or not, you’ll make a lot of young cyclists you don’t know smile too. I also strongly encourage celebrities (Taylor Swift: are you reading this?) traveling through the state to stop by BPT Creates to take a selfie on the BPT-ONE to help get the word out. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.