Thursday, June 7, 2018

Let's All Stop Being Stupid About Scooters (Especially you, San Francisco)

My Spartan Sports FS-101 Electric Scooter (bought Summer 2004)

This is a bike blog but I'm going to deviate from my brand a little bit and talk about scooters. I figure IHOP is changing its name to...IHOB, which can only mean it is branching out from Pancakes to Bed, Bath or Beyond, so I can veer off the cycle path slightly.

Something you may not know about me: I am an urban electric scooter expert. Really. I had an electric scooter and used it frequently in the city of Stamford, Connecticut fourteen years ago.

You heard that right: my expertise in this "new" and "bizarre" form of urban mobility predates Twitter, Tesla, and Bitcoin.

Here's what happened: In June of 2004 I moved from rural New Hampshire to Stamford, Connecticut. It was a big adjustment going from a 800 square foot house 20 miles from the nearest movie theater - and an acre away from the nearest neighbor - to a 400 square foot apartment on the 5th floor of a crowded building on 700 Summer Street.

Part of this adjustment came in the form of me realizing cars were a pain in the butt. In the beginning my job was less than two miles away and the 3,000 pound glass and metal box that had served me so well in New Hampshire felt cumbersome, slow, and unnecessary most of the time.

So in the summer of 2004 I bought an electric scooter: A Spartan Sports FS-101 from Amazon for $199. Two lead acid batteries, small pneumatic tires, and all-steel construction It weighed as much as the Chrysler Building but it folded and was perfect for city life. I'd charge it overnight and scoot to work. Then, as I did most nights back then, I'd scoot to the Metro North station, go to Manhattan, and zip from 42nd' street to my girlfriend's apartment on 32nd between 1st and 2nd. I'd spend the night, then early the next morning I could scoot to Grand Central and, after the 45 minute train trip, could scoot back to my tiny apartment so I could shower and change before returning to work.

The top speed was an advertised 15 miles per hour. Most of the time it felt faster. The range was about ten miles or so - I never really figured it out but discovered one night that running 40 city blocks to get Thai food and bring it back to my girlfriend's apartment killed the battery. 

The scooter beat having to pay cab fare, allowed me to move quickly without dirtying my clothes, and, since it wasn't a bicycle it was permitted on Metro North (which, as you've heard me complain about many times, doesn't allow bikes on trains during peak hours). But when my girlfriend and I finally moved in together in Stamford I didn't need that part of the value-add as much, and about a year later the motor started to fail. Soon it was mothballed and was shoved in my basement for years until I gave it away before driving (with a bike) across the country to California in 2015.

So I am a scooter expert. You'll probably see me one day on CNBC or Bloomberg News talking about something happening in the urban scooter universe and you'll see my name followed by the words "Scooter Expert."

Naturally I was a little amused when, a few months ago in San Jose, electric scooters suddenly began to appear on the sidewalks. I wasn't sure what they were but saw the "$1 to start" signs on them. Then they multiplied. Then they became things that every street has that you almost don't pay attention to like plastic alt weekly newspaper boxes or pay phones that no longer have any phones in them. 

And something happened. People became stupid.  

I am referring to everybody. The scooter users too stupid to not block wheelchair access. The ones too lazy to use the kickstands. The ones who zipped too close to pedestrians for fun. The ones who threw them into San Francisco Bay. 

Lime Bike discarded by some nincompoop in San Francisco
 Not just the customers: the scooter companies who followed the man-this-is-getting-old! Silicon Valley ethos of asking for forgiveness before asking for permission and trading manners for free press. The San Francisco - and other city - government officials who moved quickly to make sure the nightmare of clean, reliable transport would end before anyone had the nerve to question car culture. 

On a dockless Lime scooter in San Francisco. Note the dockless motor vehicles trudging along beside me.
I could hardly log onto Twitter without seeing some stupid person complaining about scooters in some way, shape or form. Yuk-yuk-yuks! of dockless scooters in trees or underwater were frequent. #Scootergate began to trend. What was going on? 

Base of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, May 2018. Note the five empty cars get more safe and secure housing than the guy living in the tent. 

I felt people were losing their minds over the wrong things - as usual (I've talked about the 'disproportionality of fear' all the time). I was finally pushed past my limit last week at the news of a rally in San Francisco where Google's buses were being protested by having several dockless scooters tossed in front of them

I understand the anger and helplessness that comes with being displaced (or having to worry about being displaced) but that was just stupid. What exactly did they want the Google workers in San Francisco to do? Have them all buy cars so they'd have to lobby the city to tear entire city blocks down to build the garages they'd inevitably need to store them all?

I tweeted out the picture above trying to lend sense to the madness - which is something one should never try to do on Twitter.

The reply I got was just something else - and it was delivered by a "group" that seems very common in these parts: NIMBY meanness disguised as compassionate social justice.

My reply to their assertion that density "causes harm" and that "scooters kill" was made several days ago and never returned. And the this I am referring to is the it-would-be-funny-if-it-wasn't-true story of a Tesla crashing into a Starbucks on bike to work day. I reasoned that if that driver had a scooter that day - heck, if more drivers had scooters every day - this kind of crash wouldn't happen. 

You know, car crashes - those filler news stories describing the cars, SUVs and such things that kill over 40,000 of us every year? Those crashes that are a lot less interesting to talk about than a boomer who got scared when a scooter zipped close to him or her while enjoying some free parking.

And as you've probably figured out by now, I have the LimeBike app and have used it a few times (mostly trips in San Francisco where I didn't bring my own bicycle and FordGoBike - for which I have a membership - didn't have a convenient station) but I want to tell you about one trip in particular: that girlfriend I had in New York City that I visited on that Spartan Sports FS-101? She's my wife now and that ridiculous, 14 year-old scooter with a hamster lifespan is part of why we've only owned one car between us for the more than 12 years we've been married. 

A couple of weeks ago I needed to meet her in San Francisco, far from the Caltrain Station, after work one evening. It was an actual, grown-up event that had a start time and everything so I needed to figure out a way to get across the city quickly. 

OH NO! It's a dockless scooter on the move! Hide your children! Warn your neighbors!

So I took a FordGoBike to Diridon, took the Caltrain to San Francisco, unlocked a scooter at 4th and King with the app and hummed the final four miles to my destination. I passed every car on the Embarcadero like it was standing still because most of them were. 

When I got to where I wanted to go I found that my $1 start-up fee and $0.15 per minute was well spent - and it was cheaper, faster and better for the environment than a car would have been. I found a place on the sidewalk that wasn't in anyone's way and deployed the kickstand. SEE HOW HARD THAT WAS?

That's the first antidote to scooter stupidity. Behavior of the end user matters - and this is something that'll be a rude awakening as tech moves further into the Internet of Things. Silicon Valley is long used to federal rules that shield them on the Internet when people who are stupid and mean do things like create mysogynistic chat groups, or a racist Twitter account. But with app-based transportation, you're now in a place where the dolt who leaves a Bird scooter blocking a sidewalk is not protected by free speech. 

The second is to realize that car share - which was the only real alternative for me to get to that part of San Francisco by such-and-such a time - is contributing to car blindness. Ride share services like Lyft and Uber make traffic worse and the same can be said about pollution. Self-driving cars have already killed people and aren't solving the street safety or obesity or suburbia problem either. 

The third antidote to scooter stupidity is to start realizing how much valuable space is given to cars - not just in our cities but in our minds. Start erasing the need for owning your own car - and even the need for riding in others - and nothing but good things can happen in cities. Yes, LimeBike, Bird and others followed the same, tired, Always-Be-Obnoxious playbook when launching these things but if they and we stop being stupid maybe cities will let a few inches of storage space here so scooter users don't have to fight pedestrians on the sidewalk (like cyclists do with pedestrians in Tokyo). If these things were set up to take space away from cars to begin with it would be a much more welcome disruption.

Also please consider parking docks - on the street that take space away from cars! - with solar panels and windmills to give the 'gig workforce' angle a rest and to annoy the Prius Worshippers in San Francisco even further. Hey, I predicted Barnes & Noble would regret trying to split Nook from the rest of the company (correctly) and four years ago I said bike share would eventually create incentives to self-balance fleets (correctly) so maybe I'll be ahead of the curve once again. I may be. I'm a scooter expert. 

So everyone, please: stop being stupid about scooters. Blame on the rollout and aftermath is everywhere but that is no reason we shouldn't figure out a way to work this into transportation and take more space away from cars. If you're in San Jose go to the DOT meeting on June 21st and provide input (read: drown out the voices of any 'Footloose' town elders who want to use cities as car storage facilities. 

That's all I've got.  I'm going back to writing about bikes. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.  

The summary of all of the arguments I've ever hears against electric scooters.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Why San Jose Cyclists Must Vote No on Measure B

Around this time three years ago I moved to California from Connecticut. Every warning I got from friends about how problematic the housing situation was true or was too limiting in its scope in describing the madness. There are too many jobs being created here and too few homes to fit all the workers, so people move two hours away or further or crammed with a ton of roommates.

Oh, sorry: I forgot I'm in Silicon Valley. Instead of "crammed with a ton of roommates" I meant to say "co-living."

Worse than that: the tight demand for apartments is raising rents faster than incomes, so teachers, restaurant workers and even small business owners have to move farther from the homes they grew up in. 

The need for affordable housing is severe but we have to break down the words "affordable" and "housing" to understand what's really going on here. The median sale price for a home in San Jose is around $1 million and the median rent is north of $2,500 a month. If you add a thousand - two thousand or event five thousand units it won't add to the supply enough to bring the rents down. 

So if you add, say, 900 homes, it's not enough to bring the rent or sale prices down. 

So the proposed addition of 900 homes in the Evergreen neighborhood in San Jose - which the Measure B San Jose ballot initiative wants to do - won't bring prices down. In order for housing to be affordable, homes that are for sale or rent have to only be available to those who make below a certain income level. 

These 900 homes will not be - and even if they were it does not speak to a bigger problem.

San Jose had a bunch of annexations in the 1960s that made it not grow up, but out. This city is huge, and with suburban homes everywhere cars were (and still are) the preferred way to get around. Frequently, my wife and I - who have successfully gotten away with owning only one car between us for the nearly thirteen years we've been married - feel environmentally coerced into getting another one. It's the same old story: there aren't enough trains, not enough buses, where-I-need-to-go-isn't-walkable-or-bikeable. Using a car is almost always easier and cheaper even though their wear on the environment is harder and more expensive than most drivers know. 

That brings me to my next beef with Measure B. Look at Evergreen on a map. Then look at downtown San Jose. 

More of the same environmental coercion. 

In other words, building 900 homes far from transit with a garage and a Tesla flanked by a GMC Suburban in every driveway is a bad idea on multiple fronts: as I've said before if you enable cars, you get traffic, you get pollution, you get road deaths, you get local governments going insolvent trying to pay for all the infrastructure. 

So when some rich goofballs want to build a new suburban land mass on the outer edge of a city we have to say no. Not only is none of this "affordable" but we have to get used to the idea of not calling the suburbs housing. Suburbia is something San Jose experimented with and is failing at - just like any other city. 

San Jose's own housing plan isn't perfect as it is (why I'm also recommending Yes on Measure C) but giving a green light to developers to build a replica of "The Real Housewives of Orange County" neighborhood isn't the way out of a housing crisis. Homes that are part of multifamily structures that do not require the need for the occupant to own a car is the only way this city can move forward. 

And it isn't just me who's saying this: The Bay Area Council (I know, I know: I gave them some heat last year for talking about housing and traffic as though they were separate issues) recommends building dense housing near transit. Since we do have to "build our way out of" the housing crisis let's not force tens of thousands of dollars a millennial can't afford anyway into car-related infrastructure they'd rather not use.

The Bay Area Council has also found, again in their survey, that the number of people who want to leave the Bay Area has gone up once again this year. Not only that, but outgoing governor Jerry Brown is starting to put permanent water conservation rules in place - hardly the time to build places that involve the water-suck and time-suck of a lawn.

And the final reason to give Measure B a big thumbs down: as much as the backers yammer on about "senior" housing and "preference for seniors" we have to recognize the long-term dangers of that. Sure, a home out in the suburbs might be nice for someone in his or her sixties, but what happens when they push up against their eighties and can't drive anymore? The organization Strong Towns probably put it best in a piece they wrote last year: car-based living isolates the seniors living in car-based places - and worse than that: the streets themselves become scary, pedestrian and wheelchair-user unfriendly places that can't be navigated easily even if they could. 

So this is what you need to do by or on June 5: Vote no on Measure B - not because it is for billionaires (it is) and not because the backers are cynically using the need for affordable housing in the most irresponsible way imaginable: but because it wants to keep San Jose in a backwards place: with a car wash next to every train station, a boatload of car loan debt on every adult, and a two-hour car commute for everyone who commits the sin of earning less than six figures a year. 

To hell with that and to hell with them. Vote for our future. Vote no on Measure B and Yes on Measure C. 

P.S. - Also vote yes on Regional Measure 3.

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding - especially if you're in San Jose. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

What Is It this Time, California? An Earth Day Post

What is it this time, California? 

It's the plastic straws, isn't it? Or is it the woodburning fireplaces? Let me guess: it is something - anything - but your own personal motor vehicle. 

Yes, I am disgusted that SB827 - a measure designed to build more housing near transit in CA - died in committee last week. But I shouldn't be surprised. California puts on a good show but it is really a red state disguised as a blue one in that it preserves the suburbs as though they were an endangered owl or a giant redwood. The fact that this state, which does so many things well (up to and including allowing bikes on trains) is so far behind the curve when it comes to building a car-lite world is really disheartening. 

So in the lead up to Earth Day 2018 I tried to think to myself - what would it take Californians to see just how absurd the car culture is? 

I went to work with my miniatures - first showing a place where unused motor vehicles are stored (it's important because around 25% or more of a city's land is used for storage of an unused motor vehicle and it should be easier to house a human being than it is to store a machine).

Eagle-eyes followers will note I have upped my game: yesterday I rode a cargo bike to Staples to buy black poster board and a white paint pen (as a habit I take a photo of my bike, no matter what I'm riding or where I'm riding it to, so that if it is stolen I have a most recent shot).

That is the rack I used.  I should point out that when this photo was taken I was returning a Rug Doctor I had rented from the nearby grocery store. I picked it up and returned it by bike because you don't have to make the air dirty if you want your carpets clean. Both ways I was transporting it I wanted to catch up with a Stanley Steemer van at a red light and pull the Robert DeNiro "I-am-watching-you-move" from Meet the Parents but no such luck. 

But back to the minatures. With the garage door open I made my streetscapes completely to scale in the hopes that California motorists (and street designers, government officials - Hi, Jerry Brown! - pretend environmentalists, etc.) would actually see their world - which causes about 1/3 of pollution in this state - for the first time. 

"A car rack? I think if you go around the corner of the building you'll find one on the sidewalk next to a sign that says 'Cars Not Allowed on Sidewalk'. You're brave to be driving a car here! Be careful!"

"Dammit! There's always a bike parked in the car lane!"

"Officers he just came out of nowhere. I don't know what he was doing driving at night. He and his car should have been painted a brighter color!"

"Don't worry, sir. He's dead but it's totally not your fault. No charges will be filed. You're free to go."

"Dang. I keep forgetting what side of the bike the gas cap is on."

"I have bad news. The little plastic wire tie that holds the brake cables together has come loose. It'll cost $1,200 to fix it but you can pick it up Friday. Next Thursday at the latest."

"Officer it was so horrible! He just accelerated his bicycle and plowed right through the crowd! All I could hear was screaming! Why would anyone do anything like this?"

"Terrorists use bicycles as weapons all the time, ma'am. But the cyclist was elderly and I think he just got the brake lever mixed up with the pedals. It happens all the time.*"

"Yes, I'll have a Double Double with fries and a Diet Coke. And extra onions."

The last one was a bonus to anyone following me on Twitter - I posted several of these yesterday under the hashtag #IfCarsWereBikes since that was when the mood struck.

So anyway, California: please let me know if I am getting through to you at all because this whole thing of keeping people living in one place and making them drive to another place for work is quite tiresome. Acknowledge that the young people living in crummy rented rooms and trapped in a car-centric system are going to want this state when you draw your last breath (and thanks to the fact the Bay Area now has the sixth worst air in the country every breath you take between now and then may feel a bit more labored than usual). 

Hope everyone had a good Earth Day. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

*This is actually a point that has to be talked about more. When people age in a car-centric system they age out of being able to care for and transport themselves. We owe it to ourselves and to every generation (even the Boomers) to endure some short-term disruption of the world - like what SB827 would have done - to get some long-term benefits.

Friday, February 9, 2018

"We need another Bay Bridge"? 1970 Called. It Wants Its Column Back.

At I read an opinion piece that made me feel like I had traveled back in time. The days of leaded gasoline. Nixon was in the White House. Elvis was alive. 

The headline was enough to conjure images of time travel: "Time to face reality: We need another bay bridge."

It was written by Roumen V. Mladjov, who's byline only said he is a structural and professional engineer. A quick look on The Google shows he's also a contributing writer at Structure (not surprising since it is a well-written piece) and he has over 50 years of experience in engineering.  

It's the last part that made me wince. 

Mr. Mladjov, if you're reading this: I do not insult your profession, age, or experience. If anyone needed a bridge built, your five decades of wisdom would be of incredible use. 

My problem with a Baby Boomer writing about this (and yes, I am going to have to Go There) is the lens from which they view the problem - and by lens I mean windshield

Where to start: the column begins with a complaint about Bay Area traffic and then he asks us to "consider the statistics" in that the region's population has risen by 27.5% since 1990. It's a compelling argument but it quickly turns to Structural Engineer Fan Fiction when he leans on projections, saying the "300,000 vehicles per day (on the bridge) will increase to 363,000 vehicles by 2040." 

It won't. 

As I said in the video I posted the other day: one parking space is 168 square feet. If 63,000 additional vehicles cross the bridge we'll need over ten million square feet on the other side. Where are the cars going to park?

That's not a bridge builder's problem. It's yours.

The bigger issue I have with the casual projection is it ONLY talks about car travel. As though the are NO other alternatives on the horizon and NOTHING will change about how we get around. As though Millennials are just as crazy about cars as their Boomer parents and grandparents were. They aren't.

As if to bolster the "let's-give-a-new-bridge-to-cars! Yay!!!" argument the piece includes some statistics about how people currently get to work. His stats are probably right (though cyclists are, confusingly, completely absent) but I just want to scream like I do at the horror movie where the person goes upstairs to escape the killer: OF COURSE MOST PEOPLE USE CARS! THE WORLD WAS MADE FOR THEM! IF I LEFT 99 TWINKIES AND ONE SALAD IN A ROOM OF 100 PEOPLE, I WOULDN'T CONCLUDE THAT TWINKIES ARE THE MOST PREFERRED FOOD!

Now that I've taken a deep breath and have removed CAPS-LOCK I will say this as well: not only are younger people not as interested in owning cars as the Boomers, but they also don't have any...what's that Why? Because they are crushed by student loans and spending a lot of money in the Bay Area on rent. 

And that is the most damning problem with this piece. It makes no mention of housing, which, as I've written about before, is part of the of the same transportation and traffic problem. Build entities far away from work with no transit options (and with dangerous, bike and pedestrian unfriendly roads) people will get in cars and drive. Throwing money at a bridge in the Bay Area without thinking about housing in the Bay Area is criminally wrongheaded thinking.

Mr. Mladjov - and I say this with respect and only guessing your living situation - not everyone had the opportunity to buy a house in San Francisco before Prop 13 took effect which can now be sold for millions. Most people around here spend $2,500 a month or more on rent and are frozen out of buying. The inventory of homes is insanely low and the prices just keep rising. With so much out of pocket costs for housing there is little money left for Millennials to build any kind of wealth.

CalTrain. We need more of these. 

We're fine with the bridges we have. All we need to do is reallocate space from single-occupancy motor vehicles and people will get to where they need to go faster. 

All we need to do is reallocate space from single-occupancy motor vehicles and people will get to where they need to go faster.*

Between biking, walking, trains, zoning changes that encourage walkable places, smarter buses and (sigh) self-driving transport down the line there will be fewer cars and more room for housing - which would be a better place for the $3 billion Mr. Mladjov suggests would be needed for a new bridge to go.

We have played this game far too long. We dump billions into car infrastructure, and the traffic gets worse.  If building more infrastructure for cars was going to work, we would have seen the results long ago. A lot of great things need to be built and are going to be built - but not all of them will have a huge ribbon and giant scissors for the unveiling. That's fine. It's what we need. 

What we don't need is a 50 year old answer to a 50 year old problem. Don't build a new bridge. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

*That wasn't a mistake: I put that sentence in there twice to make sure it would be read.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

All About Parking

Here's a short film about parking and about space. Not space in the cool Neil DeGrasse Tyson context - space, on this planet - and especially in cities. Give it a look and a share. Thanks for watching and thanks for riding. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Biking (Again!!!) In New York City

New York City, Dec. 22, 2017

"This is the year we spend Christmas alone at a Denny's in Witchita, Kansas.

This is what I tell myself every time the trip from California to Connecticut begins. There are so many interconnected stages of the journey barely holding on to one another that if just ONE thing goes wrong it can be chaotic - and if that one thing is the flight, that's it. 

In the span of 25 hours, I took one overnight cross country flight, three Lyft rides, three New York City cabs, a Metro North Railroad trip, a two-hour Amtrak trip, and two car rides from friends and family just to get from San Jose to a small house in Mystic, Connecticut where my parents live. This is where I learned how to kayak when I was a kid. 

Worth the trip. 

But as I started to tell you in my last post my relationship with Christmas has changed since I moved to the Bay Area. If you host a Christmas gathering at your house your relationship with Christmas - when does everyone arrive? Where do they sleep? What do we eat? - is the same no matter what happens to your guests before. But if you have to spend two hours in late November trying to figure out how to travel two hours of a 25 hour journey, your relationship with Christmas is going to be affected.

Mine sure was, and I was feeling it as I was groggily wandering New York City around ten in the morning on Friday, December 22nd. 

Because of the way the day was structured, about two hours after the plane landed (In New York and not Wichita! Woo-hoo!) I had about two hours to myself near the corner of 8th Avenue and 16th Street. It was cold and I was wearing a wool coat I had mashed into my carry-on and a hat with matching gloves that only sees action when I visit the East Coast. 

After a long red-eye flight all I wanted to do really was sleep. But as I wandered up 8th Avenue I soon came to a CitiBike bike share rack. 

I normally dislike biking without a helmet (like the talented writer Karen Kefauver, I believe one should bike in the world we have, not the world we wish we had) but I looked at 8th Avenue. It had a protected bike lane that stretched as far as the eye could see. 

My jet-lag addled brain hatched a plan: I'd get a bike, ride up to NYCeWheels (a bike shop I used to blog for that specializes in folding bikes and urban scooters) and do some shopping.

As you know by the white paper I wrote a few years ago about Bike Share in London, I'm well versed in how to use a bike share bike when you don't have a membership: stick in a credit card, follow a few dodgy prompts, and unlock a bike. It's easier than I remembered, and unlike London I knew where I was going. 

At least I thought I did. NYCeWheels had changed locations since I had last been there - they are now on 58th St. between 1st and 2nd. A little closer than I thought but still over three miles away. 

So I pedaled north.

It was the longest period of time I've spent on a protected bike lane, and this was a pretty good one. I've never liked bike lanes that keep me corralled in such a way I can't get back into traffic easily (like when I want to make a left turn) but this one worked pretty well.

I also enjoyed being outside in a city I still feel more at home in than I do now in San Jose. I briefly thought of the ten Five Boro Bike Tours I had done and wondered if there'd ever be an eleventh. 

Never mind. 

I made it to NYCeWheels a little after 11 in the morning. Lucky for me their new location was easy to find. And the little ramp they had outside leading into the shop seemed inviting. 

With no docking station nearby I simply rolled the bike inside where I got to see NYCeWheels' new digs. 

They had definitely moved up. Their old location was tiny and this one had the room for plenty of Bromptons and quite a few accessories. I've admired these bikes for years - and my admiration only went up when I got to tour the Brompton factory in London a few years ago. 

I bought about $200 worth of stuff that I couldn't find in the Bay Area - and I reasoned it was worth having to carry this stuff the rest of the entire Christmas journey.

First I needed to bring it back to 16th and 8th. Luckily I easily latched my complimentary plastic bag* to the front rack. I checked my watch. I could just about make it if I hurried. 

Sufficiently warmed up at this point I definitely pedaled faster to get back. Not in the relative safety of the bike lane for a chunk of the way I shared the road with cars and felt the kind of pleasant, Premium Rush-ish "I'm home" feeling I hadn't felt in a while. Almost no electric cars, no Access OK stickers. Just potholed streets, ornery drivers, mysterious vapors rising from the street. New York delivered a cycling experience that only New York can - and I was thrilled to be a part of it. 

I returned the bike to the docking station and walked briskly to the meeting point at 16th and 8th with minutes to spare, holiding my bright green plastic bag. I ended up stuffing the contents into a suitcase and later made it up to Level 5 of Luggage Tetris to make everything fit to go home. 

Now this may just sound like a nice story, or a good way to pass time, but I like to think it's more than that.

You see, The New York Post recently published a column by Steve Couzzo titled This is the Single Biggest Threat to Progress in NYC. Couzzo correctly cited traffic as a huge problem facing the city but, like so many others who defend cars, is pounding nails into his own forehead and blaming others for the headache.

Read his piece (as well as the other cringeworthy article from the Post editorial board bashing congestion pricing). 

Cities have outgrown cars. We need people to drive them less. Our lungs, bodies and financial solvency depend on it. 

Congestion is caused by car traffic and productivity is lost. Part of how to combat that is by creating safe bike lanes (like the one I enjoyed) and giving people more opportunities to use a bike in the first place (like bike share). 

Think for a moment: $200 went to a small retailer in New York City I never would have gone to since a taxi or Lyft would have been too expensive and slow. But the city provided infrastructure and means for me to stimulate the economy. 

Couzzo and those like him probably just defend cars out of habit - or because they drive one themselves and just want to get to where they are going faster. So they peer out of their windshields and make checklists of things that should go away to enable them to do that. But nature abhors a vacuum, and cars will take up any space that we give to them. So taking away bike lanes will only make car traffic worse. 

The city is moving in the right direction. Yours might be too. Some streets are being taken away from cars altogether, which is what needs to happen more often, not less often, going forward. We also can't deny congestion pricing will help NYC even more. 

So keep moving forward, New York City and other cities. Ignore the naysayers who don't understand the concept of induced demand. Take more from cars, give to cyclists and pedestrians. And I will make damn sure I'll visit more shops again even when busy travelers like me only have a narrow window of time to shop in New York. 

I have no ending for this, so I will show you a picture of where I biked on the West Coast on New Year's Day: Fort Ord.

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

*you can't get that so easily in California. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Five Ways To Feel the Holiday Spirit

Something I haven't told that many people: I have a really hard time feeling the Christmas spirit like I used to. 

It's been like that a few years, actually: the last time I really felt the buy-me-the-biggest-goose-in-all-of-London! feeling was the morning I took the bike ride I took to different toy stores on December 14, 2012.

And on the way back I found out about the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary.

One of the twenty pictures I posted a few days later - one for each of the child victims - this one summed up the feeling of Christmas in Connecticut at the time.

The following year the division I led at my then-workplace which studied consumer books was closed and I was laid off in the most unceremonious and maddeningly polite way imaginable. Today I do take some comfort knowing I was right when I predicted the resilience of print books and independent bookstores and I predicted the disaster that would ensue if Barnes & Noble tried to separate their e-book business from the rest of the company. 

But still, it stung.

My point is it can take a while to move past the derailments that can sometimes take place around the holidays - or you just aren't feeling the Christmas vibe. Either way, I got a few suggestions at ways to try and feel the holiday spirit.  

Here goes: 

5) Watch the Cranksgiving San Jose video shot by Tanner Marcoida

Yeah it has been a while since I've written, hasn't it? Cranksgiving San Jose took place on Nov. 18th. It was harder to do this year since I was running it - and I'm not just referring to my painful lack of leadership skills but my inability to drum up volunteers to replace the ones who moved out - or were priced out - of San Jose between the first Cranksgiving San Jose in 2016 and this one. 

Still I'm incredibly happy with what was done: we had 61 riders gather 891 pounds of food to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank. And the other day Tanner released the video and it is really difficult to watch without smiling. 

4) Donate to Housing Trust Silicon Valley

If you've got year-end charitable contributions you want to make before the year comes to an end, please donate to Housing Trust Silicon Valley. They do a lot of great stuff to help people who are impacted by the cartoonishly high home and rent prices out here: financing affordable homes, down payment assistance for buyers, programs to help homeless move into a place they can afford. They do important work, and as of two months ago, I am happy to say I help them do it.

3) Take a Yoga Class and donate a class at Be The Change Yoga & Wellness

Three days before Cranksgiving I was in for a shock: TechShop closed suddenly. While my anger at their Chapter 7 filing and sadness that it couldn't stay open in an area revered for its innovation is still with me, it was a reminder that in order to support local organizations you have to pull out your wallet. 

When I started doing yoga a few years ago I looked at it as a chance to be in a room full of beautiful women once a week while gaining the flexibility necessary to repair a kitchen sink with the aid of a spinx pose. But it's turned into more, and I felt a lot less unanchored in San Jose when I found Be The Change Yoga & Wellness

This is a very well organized pile of clothes and supplies Be The Change gathered in order to help the homeless. They allow students to take something if they can give it to a homeless person they know but I think they'll be eventually giving them out at St. James Park (which was the starting point of Cranksgiving San Jose this year). 

So when you donate to them and support BTC by taking a class as a student this is the kind of thing you're supporting. They just rock. Support them and, even better, also take a class since it's a great way to de-stress this time of year. They also have a tree right now that you can decorate by writing something you like about yourself and hanging it on a branch.

2) Volunteer

That's me with my new creation: a towable bike workstand made from the skeleton of the child's bike trailer someone in my neighborhood was throwing away. It made its motion debut at the Turning Wheels for Kids Big Bike Build that took place on December 2nd. 

Thousands of bikes were assembled by hundreds of volunteers. I put together eight of them. I wasn't in the most Christmasy mood at the start. "Ugh!" I said to myself more than once, "If they play Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas is You song again she'd better show up with an apron and a spanner to help!"

But something happened during the day. I started smiling more - and it wasn't just because strangers kept coming up to me to admire the workstand. I began to realize that little kids will grow up into adults and will always remember the Christmas morning where they came into to the living room and saw it near the tree. 

The bikes were all built with incredible speed. By the time everyone left mid-afternoon I was in a better mood. I even caught myself mumbling/singing "I don't care about the pres-ents under-neath the Chris-mas tree" to myself quietly on the way out. 

Find a place you believe in and donate money, time or both.

1) Ride a bike at night

Before you take a ride at night make sure you take ownership over your safety and get a light yourself - a Blaze Laserlight if you can.

There's not a lot of time toward the end of the year for leisure rides, but you can take miniature bikeations around your own neighborhood at night and look at all the Christmas lights. I did this a lot more in Shippan Point in Stamford and am just starting to get back in the habit of doing it again out here. It's a good way to absorb some Christmas through your rods and cones - and silently criticize the decor of others, if you choose. 

So that's what I've got. If you are a long-distance holiday traveler, I feel your pain. If you are welcoming a long-distance holiday traveler: they just want to see you and everything else is just details. No matter what, enjoy your time with family and friends. Ride together if you can but make it a no-drop ride with an asterisk: drop grudges, drop attitudes, drop regrets, drop stress and drop the general extracurricular ridiculousness. Enjoy the holidays. And if you don't feel the the-goose-that-is-as-big-as-me?! excitement rest easy. You'll get there. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Riding the Ferris Wheel at Christmas in the Park in downtown San Jose.