Friday, December 20, 2013

Washington Boulevard and the Bike Lane

(Do you live or work in Stamford? Please take the Stamford Share the Road survey today)

When I heard through People Friendly Stamford that there was an effort underway to get rid of a bike lane in town, my first thought was: "There's a bike lane to get rid of in the first place?"

Yes, in a city that needs to start adding on-street bike lanes by the mile if it has any hope of keeping young people from moving away and any shot at calming traffic, there is a public hearing scheduled on January 7, 2014 on the 4th floor of the Government Center (in the cafeteria). 

Bike parking is available in the Government Center/888 Washington Boulevard garage, just near the entrance (that part wasn't in the public notice - that's just my little FYI).

The picture at the top of this post came from the original Bike Stamford ride in October, which illustrates the bike lane's usual state. 

Apparently, residents at a building at that location have petitioned the city to eliminate the bike lane to allow residential parking by permit. For $10 a resident can buy an annual permit and have six visitor permits to give to guests. 

I sighed when I read that part of the public notice. From time to time, in my neighborhood, this issue is brought up and I come out against it every time. I know people who support the permit mean well, since they mostly want to keep drivers from parking their cars on the street and then walking to the beach, but it would likely be so sporadically enforced it would be more likely to snare my parents when they visit from Mystic or my friends who visit from New Hampshire and forget to hang the permit from the rearview mirror.  

Also, since the bike lane in question is so close to the Transportation Center, I can just imagine friends of residents who work in New York City begging for a guest permit they'll be able to use to avoid paying for parking.

Now I'll admit I don't know all of nuances of the Washington Boulevard permit holder thing but I'm willing to listen to their side of it at the hearing on January 7th. I own a 3,300 pound SUV and with no driveway or garage, I have to park it on the street where I live. My wife and I have arranged our lives as such that we only need that one car between us (I'd like car taxes to change to reward families that do things like that, but that is another story). 

To learn more about the issue, I went off yesterday to park at Exhale, where I take yoga classes (and I urge all men to do so: not only do you get to be in a room full of beautiful women once a week, but I recently changed the faucet in my kitchen with the aid of enhanced flexibility and tightened the cold water valve with the help of a sphinx pose). 

But that's off the subject.

At first glance, I saw eight cars parked along the snow-covered street. Two of the vehicles - one battered, the other with a broken windshield - obviously hadn't been moved in days.  I sometimes don't use my car for days at a time myself, so I didn't judge.

I brought along my Measure Master, which I used when finding out the distance between the Stamford parking garage and the station a few months ago, and decided to see how long the stretch was. From driveway to driveway, the bike lane in question is about 278 feet long, which provides room for about twelve cars.

Dodging traffic, I measured the width of the road as well: almost 38 feet on both sides.

I also noticed a car with Florida tags parked in the lane just near the 'NO PARKING ANY TIME' sign. I'm not defending that behavior, but when you're in a car and you see visual cues of street parking (in this case, outlines of previously-parked vehicles in the snow) you may not know there's a bike lane there at all. 

A problem on multiple levels.

At home, I built as close a scale model as I could of Washington Boulevard. In case you're wondering, the HO models I have are 1:87 scale, so a little bit of arithmetic got me to a layout that hopefully captured all of the nuances of that stretch.

Looking at what the street looks like from the above, I realized there isn't a bike lane on the other side of the street. Stamford truly is the unfinished Death Star of cities - except in this case, all systems are not operational. 

It would be welcome if there were lanes in the other direction, if not sharrows (for those of you who may not know what sharrows are; here's an illustration).

I can only conclude that the hearing on January 7th is going to be interesting. My hope is that the people who are fighting for a parking permit program know what they are getting into and don't attack bicycle infrastructure in the abstract. The city needs more. Just think about what a parking lot looks like when 14 shoppers show up in cars:

Now imagine if space was given for bicycles (on the road and with parking) and four of those people came on bikes instead. 

Bicycle infrastructure is not for the spandex-clad few, it's for the traveling many.

I hope to see every Stamford cyclist at the hearing, and in the meantime, please take the Stamford Share the Road survey and tell your friends in town to do the same. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Increasing Supply vs. Reducing Demand

This morning I wanted to write a very long, heartfelt post about the need for every adult who lives and/or works in Stamford to take the Stamford Share the Road Survey, which is something I developed with People Friendly Stamford to get feedback on a number of proposed bike lane and sharrow projects around the city. (If you are one of my readers from Stamford, please click here to take the survey and forward the link to another Stamford resident or worker you know).

But instead of that post, I am writing this one - as a bit of a response to the report I just read.

The 2013 Connecticut Transportation Survey, just released by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association is important. The perspective from businesses in this state on transportation issues is vital and they must have a seat at the table when we talk about how to make Connecticut work better. 

But where they lose me has to do with one of the findings.

What I'm talking about is found on page 7 and probably getting the most coverage in the press. It shows a ranking of the 'most beneficial transportation project for the state and its businesses' chosen by the survey respondents. 

The big winner: 'Expand highway capacity/improve highways' - cited by 55%. And as you would expect, I-95 (which affects every decision I make when trying to decide when to leave Stamford to visit my parents in Mystic, Connecticut) was named specifically in the report. 

Adding capacity probably means adding a lane, and I thought it would be helpful to readers unfamiliar with I-95 to see a rendering of what the highway currently looks like with three lanes:

That was a photograph. It could have been a short video. Things move quite slowly a lot of the time on that particular highway. 

And now, just in case you can't use your imagination: here is what the same highway might look like with four lanes. 

Now I don't normally get all militant/crunchy granola/Prius-with-a-'Save-the-Planet'-bumper-sticker-on-it with this kind of matter, but let's ask ourselves something: don't  motor vehicles just expand to take up the amount of space that is given to them? 

I am not mocking the CBIA, nor the businesses who took the survey and were among the 55% that named 'highway expansion.'  In the context of a multiple-choice question, it may have been the choice that made the most sense for people to select (the question did have a  'write-in' space if available choices didn't contain the respondent's answer, and 'other', according to the survey, was named by 6% of respondents). 

But we have to wonder if expanding the highway is really the best course of action even though we all agree action does need to be taken. A theme throughout the CBIA report is that congestion costs

The truck in the photo may have stuff in it that needs to get to a store somewhere, and the longer that truck stays on the road, the most expensive that stuff will be when it finally arrives. Whether the business takes that cost from their bottom line or from the consumer is a real problem, but if we all take a laser-like focus on increasing highway capacity, we'll probably have a long wait for a solution that probably won't solve very much at all. 

What if there was an option on the CBIA survey question that looked like this: coaxing people who do not need to be on the highway to stay off of it. How many respondents would have clicked on that choice?

Come to think of it, what if that point is discussed more in general?

Instead of increasing the supply of lanes, that's about reducing demand on them- and I'll bet that's easier and cheaper than anything that involves placing orange cones on I-95. 

The next time you're on that highway, look for people who hop on it just to get off after one exit. Me, I have lost track of the number of people I know who tell me they'd ride their bikes to work if there were bike lanes and other things that would make the activity safer. What if a couple - only a couple - of those one-exit people disappeared and showed up on bikes? 

I also often wonder how much it would cost this state to put a bike lane the entire length of Route 1, which goes near the coast a lot and passes near a massive number of small businesses. I'm guessing a move along those lines may bring up the number of people who use a bike to get to work (according to the CBIA survey - 91% of business leaders believes their workforce use a personal vehicle to get to work) and reduce strain on the highway, thus giving more room for the truckers and the long-distance drivers. 

So when we talk about transportation upgrades, a big part of the discussion has to be about making biking easier and safer. If we are going to talk about what more we can build, it's probably a better idea to start there and with any idea that gives more public transportation options to people who need to get from one place to another. It makes more sense than adding road capacity, which enables the reliance of single-occupancy vehicles that have gotten us in trouble in the first place.

In closing, please read the CBIA report and, if you live or work in Stamford, take the Stamford Share the Road survey - if we want  to talk about what we should use our tax dollars to build, let's start with paint before pavement. It'll be cheaper, less disruptive, and will probably go further to bring the people and businesses in this state to a better place. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Things To Do In Cleveland When It's Gross Outside

I'm lucky I went to London this year, but even luckier I went to Cleveland twice. 

Positively Cleveland: there's your pull-quote for the next map.

However, this does mean I get to experience Cleveland in less than ideal weather conditions. My first trip to Cleveland was mostly beautiful, while the second trip saw some cold weather. The third trip, which allowed me to give a stranger my Bike to Work Month Challenge bike, had some rain the day I was at the Cleveland Zoo, but I still got a long ride in the sunshine.

This trip, made just before Thanksgiving, wasn't terribly cold but it rained often. London often. The set from 'Se7en' often. It was a the kind of rain that, when you're not accumulating yawns or napping, puts cyclists in ponchos that make them look like Elliot and E.T. all rolled into one. 

But I knew about the rain ahead of time and planned accordingly. As a cyclist, the first thing you should plan on doing when you get to Cleveland and find it is gross outside is to ride anyway. 

You all recognize South Norwalk, which I recently outfitted with new, tougher rims and a coaster brake. Here it is outside of the West Side Market, and it was one of the two bikes I brought with me on the long drive. 

Upon arrival, we checked in at the Aloft Hotel, a place I've stayed at before and will again. The coffee is good, the staff is very friendly, and there are at least a couple of great restaurants on the same block. However, the Aloft does have a few design quirks we don't care for. For instance, my wife, who is 4' 6" tall and a Starwood Preferred Guest member, has to contend with the following.

So Starwood: if you can move the closet hooks closer to the floor - and possibly team up with Park Tool to offer a 'Cyclist's Suite' featuring access to tools and a Deluxe Wall Mount Repair Stand set up near the TV - you'll have some exceptionally happy guests on your hands. 

But anyway: back to Cleveland in the rain. 

So, I had South Norwalk, a folding bike so small it can be easily brought into a fine establishment, such as Erie Island Coffee Co. on East 4th street - just across from the outstanding Greenhouse Tavern. Sitting in a good shop sipping coffee is a great thing to do on a rainy day. 

On this trip I also swung by The Bike Rack, which is the bicycle parking, locker and shower facility I covered on an earlier Cleveland trip. I got to see their Christmas tree going up and learn that it is busier than ever with 65 regular members. 

Pay attention, Stamford. Look at me when I'm talking to you. 

Another good thing to do in Cleveland - whether it is raining or not - is to plan your visit to the Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op, which I had the pleasure of volunteering at last summer. The first thing I did, which was during hours the Co-Op wasn't open, is plan my route since I wanted to know of any dangers or challenges while it was still daylight. Lucky for me, the work-in-progress that is Cleveland smiled on me: if you recall, last summer I had a bone-jarring ride on the road that leads to the Co-Op since it was under construction.

That's what the road looked like this past summer. Below is what it looks like now. 

It nearly brought a tear to my eye: smooth pavement and sharrows as far as the eye can see. 

You're not lookin' at me, Stamford!

Anyway, I was disappointed to realize my schedule wouldn't allow volunteer time at the Co-Op, but the day before setting off from Connecticut, I learned of the Bike Art and Fashion Expo the Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op was running on December 7th. 

Of course, I wouldn't be there for the show on December 7th, but I did have a chance to submit artwork. Limited to what I had on hand and could fit in the car, I brought along two things, which I was able to fit in an IKEA bag sealed with duct tape to protect them from the rain. 

With a hotel shower cap stretched over my helmet, a rain jacket on, and front and rear flashing lights, I pedaled off to the Co-Op in the dark where I dropped off my submissions:

Photo paper, tools and time. I think I named it "Bike Tool Selfie" or something along those lines (I created it but since it was just something I hung in my home office it didn't occur to me to give it a name until I dropped it off).

The next submission made the guy behind the counter at the Co-Op grin widely and take a picture with his own cell phone camera.

Now I snuck a picture of this in during DIYBIKING.COM's Cargo Bike Salute, which occurred after I carried 30 rolls of toilet paper on a cargo bike I welded myself. I had created this out of bits left over from the Fuji Espree - the parts that weren't used for the bigger welding project - and assembled it in such a way that welding wasn't involved. 

A share of the proceeds from the sale of these and the other submitted works go to a great cause - helping the Co-Op - so if you live in Cleveland or plan to be in the area, please visit The Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op Winter Bike-Art & Fashion show on December 7th

With that settled, I thanked the folks at the Co-op and returned to the hotel. 

The next day, with the rain still quite bothersome, I got into the car and headed off to Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park

Up to this point, I had only heard rumors and legend about Ray's. Now I had stopped by briefly during my second visit to Cleveland but was too tired from riding the recumbent to get my money's worth out of a day pass. Knowing I'd be back in Cleveland, I put it off for another visit. 

This time, I was rested, ready, and had brought my homemade mountain bike

Like everyone who wants to buy a pass (I purchased the weekday pass for a little over $20 and unfortunately am not in Cleveland enough to take advantage of the $349.99 season pass), I had to sign here, here, here, here, initial here, here, here and here before they let me sign the rest of the waivers. 

After that, I paid for my day pass and the pleasant person behind the counter handed me a map. In keeping with the tradition of DIYBIKING.COM, I didn't use the map the whole time. 

I was just too eager to head into the park. 

Now I was initially worried because I wasn't going to be able to stay more than a couple of hours on my day pass, but the first twenty minutes alone were worth the price. 

You just have the doomed X-Wing fighter moment when you say to yourself: 'look at the size of this place.' The unbelievable size of the building is pleasantly overwhelming and I spent most of my time on the yellow and green XC loops - just happily riding about in dry shorts and a dry jersey while the rain continued outside. 

Riding about also introduced me to the different areas in the park, which include a sport section, street park, different novice sections, and a jump room that even features a foam pit. I paused on the trail (stepping off to the side to make sure I wouldn't be in the way of any rider) to watch in awe but I didn't have my camera out in time. I elected to say to myself in Iron Man/Terrence Howard intonation: 'Next time, baby.'

There was also an expert section, which features several wooden paths that intersect with each other as they rise and fall. I decided to try it and had a exhilarating run over the first trail. It was so much fun I thought, 'I'm going to do that again.'

And that's where things went wrong. 

Here's what happened: I didn't realize how tired I was until about a third of a second before I fell: riding too slowly, my front tire pitched off the left edge, sending my right side onto the track. Then I fell onto my left side.

Lucky for me, my face broke my fall (no lasting damage but for days afterward I looked like I had been in a fight).

I then put my finger on the dangerous thing about this park. It's not the trails - they are intelligently laid out - and it isn't the jumps or the expert course. It's that as a happy cyclist, you have no frame of reference about how long you've been riding and it isn't easy to know when to take a break. You're not looking at your watch, you can't see the sun move across the sky, you can't count mosquito bites and, since Garmin bike GPS devices are useless indoors, you have no idea how many miles you've gone. If you go to Ray's - or rather, when you go to Ray's - take frequent breaks.

I was fortunate not to be badly hurt and the bike got through unscathed, so after more euphoric riding, I called it a day and headed back to the hotel - first stopping at Joy Machines to buy some titanium tire levers as a stocking stuffer for myself. 

The next morning was the Saturday before Thanksgiving - Food Bank Biking Day. Unable to join my fellow cyclists in Stamford, I pedaled off on South Norwalk and loaded some non-perishable foods into my backpack before dropping it off at St. Augustine - which I had learned about that morning from Fox 8 Cleveland

I later found out eight cyclists in Stamford got together in the chilly weather to bring 47 pounds of food to the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County. I was glad I had done what I had done in Cleveland but I did truly wish I could have been in two places at once. 

Finally, after a trip with my wife to the Cleveland Flea (another fun indoor thing in town) and a productive trip to Fridrich's we were forced to call it a trip and head for home. I could see my mountain bike in the rearview mirror, mounted comfortably on the interior bike rack I built, and I knew we would have to go back to Ray's once again. How I wish they'd build one in Bridgeport…

So in closing, if you are in Cleveland and it is raining outside, fear not. As a cyclist, there is still plenty of places for you to go and things for you to do. If you can't bring a mountain bike to Ray's you can always rent one. No matter your machine: take a lot of breaks. And visit/support the Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op and be sure to attend the Bike Art & Fashion Expo this Friday - and check out both my works and the works of people far more talented than me. 

And as a final note: today is Giving Tuesday, so a trip to a charity in Cleveland or to a place like Person-to-Person in Darien should be in order. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.