Tuesday, August 29, 2017

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Thanks for Googling and thanks for riding. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

How Stamford and Honolulu Are Making Streets Less Safe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

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

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Biking Nations: Chicago, Illinois in the United States of America

                      Finalists for the Mr. & Mrs. Chicago Bike Yoga - spotted on Dearborn  - July 29, 2017

Picture it: Summer, 2016. I'm standing in a room in Manchester, United Kingdom with hundreds of people passionate about pens and ink and I'm waiting to hear where the next Urban Sketching Symposium would be held. There have been eight so far, and I've been to seven. I have never attended as a sketcher, but as a cyclist. My wife Suma is an artist you should follow on Facebook and I went with her to Lisbon, Portugal, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Barcelona, Spain, Paraty, Brazil, Singapore, and, last year, Manchester, UK

It's fun to go to a new city so she can explore her passion and I mine. At the end of the day we meet back up for dinner - often with other artists - and I share stories and pictures of what lies beyond the city they've chosen for their symposium. I've dubbed it #WhileYouWereSketching - and have had enough sketchers tune into my travels for me to be upgraded to an honorary cast member of the Urban Sketching Symposium (or USK).

So I was excited to hear - from the organization that pretty much created my 'Biking Nations' series - where the annual multi-day even would be held and I was a little taken aback when the hosting city would be...Chicago.

Chicago as seen from the 18th St. bike lane.

As some of you know, I went to Chicago four years ago to attend a friend's wedding and was stunned by the dystopian structure of the city - specifically how the traffic moved at rush hour. What happened was I was in the back of a taxi, which  would go a cab-length, stop at a red light that was more than half a block away. While waiting for each light to change, even more cars would spill out of parking garages like M&M's from a torn bag. The light would change green. The cab would inch closer. The light would go red again. I aged about 18 months on the way to dinner that night. 

So not only was I not crazy about going to Chicago I was also thrown off that I'd be riding in a country I had already ridden in. I didn't have to visit the extraordinarily useful web site WhatSideofTheRoad.com to figure out how Chicago traffic moves. I didn't have to visit a Travelex to change my American money to Chicago money. I had no language barrier to contend with nor did I need to spend any time apologizing on behalf of my country for Trump and mass shootings like I did in Manchester.

Yeah: traveling to the Windy City was throwing me off my game. But I packed my Bike Friday in the case and after a napless flight we landed in Chicago. 

    Dearborn St., Chicago

Something welled up inside me soon after we began walking from the L station dragging the rolling Bike Friday case. I think it was...encouragement.

While walking to the lovely Hotel Blake I noticed a lovely two-lane protected bike path along Dearborn Street. I've always had mixed feelings about protected bike paths in city centers, in that I want something that discourages cars from getting in my path but not something that keeps me from leaving the path when I want to make a turn or otherwise merge into traffic. This one seems to do the job right. Not only that but the intersections have their own bike traffic signal - like I've seen in Europe. 

Both of the silver cars in this photo ran the light turning left onto Congress St. I would have taken pictures of every car that did this but my iPhone only has so much memory.

I noticed - and The Portland Sketcher (who I learned later - to my delight - brought her own bike with her to Chicago) backed me up on my observation: it appears cyclists in Chicago don't run red lights nearly as much as they do in other U.S. cities. It may be because they have infrastructure that actually is designed for them so they are more likely to respect it. 

On the other side of this, though: Motorists in Chicago seem to run reds more. Part of it, I'm sure, is a volume and impatience thing - but that of course is no excuse. I get that you've been moving through one city block in the time it took me to pedal ten - but you chose a GMC Yukon, a Ford Escape, a Honda Accord, a Toyota Sienna - and so on. You chose the car. Live with it and let me live.

The other thing I liked about Chicago out of the gate was the complete absence of Beg Buttons (you know - those 'push to cross' buttons you hit multiple times when you're trying to walk home fast to go to the bathroom). The pedestrian walk signals are timed to the red lights and everyone has a chance to go across the street. Of course, about half the time there is a big, stupid car splayed on the crosswalk like the kid who cut in line to sit on Santa's lap - but the thought of a city traffic light engineer who treats walkers and bicyclists as equals to car is what matters.*

After assembling my Bike Friday in the room (first looking lovingly at the note the TSA had left me to let me know they had, as they do 9 times out of ten, opened the case) but before I had a chance to ride it my wife and I headed off to see Hamilton at the PrivateBank Theatre with tickets we had bought six months earlier. Seats Y 121 and Y 122 are as far away from the stage as they sound, but we could still see and hear a show that actually lives up to the hype. It's like the anti-Avatar of musicals. Lin Manual-Miranda: if you're reading this please thank the entire Chicago team for me - and look me up if you're ever in the Bay Area as I'd like to take you on a bike ride. 


As usual, with a first ride in an unfamiliar city, I just rode around aimlessly to give myself the chance to see how the city breathes and how everything fits. I did have a chance to stop at Chicago Union Station where I waited inconspicuously for the bookkeeper. While I was there I noticed a woman struggling to bring a baby buggy up the steps and decided to help.

But I didn't stay long and got back on the road. Rather quickly, I learned that Chicago's bike infrastructure has the same critical flaw that other cities have: the inconsistency. The two-lane protected bike way was great but only lasts just beyond the river before disappearing entirely, and during the entire trip I'd often find myself riding on, say, Michigan Avenue and would merge into the left lane so I could turn left. Every time I did that, I didn't know if I'd hit the Bike Infrastructure Jackpot (the grand prize being a protected, pigmented, bike lane). or come up with a panniers bag full of nothing. 

Day one was short - which was fine by me. What happened was my wife offered to buy me a straight razor shave at Metropolitan Barber Shop - one of those old-school barber shops - so she could sketch it. My appointment to reduce my wind resistance was at four in the afternoon, and a guy named Pierre - who I learned has been a barber for 20 years - did the shave.

  Follow Art by Suma CM on Facebook

My wife captured the details of the shave quite well in her sketch. What she did not capture was the fact that the TV above the mirror was showing the absolutely ridiculous Shark Week special of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps 'racing' a shark (digitally; he wasn't in the water with it). Also the barber and client in the chair next to mine were having the most detailed, profanity-laced, and hysterical conversation of Game of Thrones. It wasn't easy for me to be absolutely still with the hilarious discussion going on three feet from me but every time I was tempted to laugh I remembered there was a very sharp razor to contend with. 

The next morning, with a face that you would have had to touch to believe, I set off along the Lakeshore Bike Path heading north. It was nice to look at Lake Michigan but the wind, even in the morning, was definitely coming in off the water and I hoped it would be with me for the ride back.

That wasn't the case because about ten miles up the trail ended and I had to hit the surface streets. This was fine but I somehow got insanely lost - so much so I ended up going seven miles out of my way (in a great big circle) as I made my way up to my destination in Winnetka, Illinois.

I can feel your envy.

As it turned out, the house that was used in the exterior scenes in the film Home Alone was undergoing renovations - probably to fix the damage done by the Wet Bandits. 

I had gone 26 miles to get there when it should have been 17. Due to this error I opted not to try to find the 'Save Ferris' water tower (I also couldn't get confirmation as to whether it had been repainted).

After lunch in Winnetka I headed to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park. This was about 20 miles to my south and the directions took me along the North Branch Trail for a good chunk of the way.

I didn't take a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio (I'll save it for my next visit when my wife can come with me) so I instead headed to Working Bikes - a bike shop I had looked up before I left that lies a few miles west of downtown Chicago.

I saw this not-for-profit bike shop as a sibling to what Good Karma Bikes in San Jose and the Ohio City Bike Co-Op in Cleveland is: taking used bikes and doing good with them. Working Bikes just made a smile hit my face and stay there. I wandered about, bought an obscure bike part I didn't know I needed, and bought it. If you live in or are visiting Chicago and have a passion for bikes and helping people you're going to want to go there. Check Working Bikes out.

Finally, I headed back to the hotel - having brought my Bike Friday 60 miles with no flats. It was an unusual amount of riding for the second day of a four-day trip...especially considering what I had planned for the next day.

To be continued. 

* Until we get spike strips that pop up along the sides of the crosswalks so they'll be repercussions when cars do that.