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.