Saturday, June 29, 2013

admit that the waters around you have grown

In Denmark they are building additional bicycle infrastructure so that people further out from the cities can bicycle in to work on bicycle "super-highways."  According to the Danish**, this is going to have the result of reducing pollution and reducing health costs because the Danes will be more driving less and be more attractive and fit than ever before.  More Americans are riding their bicycles also, but since our infra sucks ass, any health costs we recover from healthier bicycling Americans will be balanced by the health costs incurred when the SUVs and pick-up trucks and whatever drive over the bicyclists.  Usually I'm just happy for whatever state or country gets good bicycling infastructure but this is so good that I admit to a certain amount of unattractive jealousy.

How serious are Americans about their bicycles?  Not very serious.  Do they take their cars seriously?  Hell yes.  Just ask Florida where driving on the beach is a cherished tradition.  Of course the rules state that you can't drive any faster on the beach than 10mph but this hasn't stopped the police from driving over people sleeping on the beach.  I guess she fell asleep in the middle of the road?  I mean beach?  Not sure what happened here but where I come from, swimming and then sleeping on the beach (for 20 minutes!  o the humanity!) is not a reason to be run over.

Ok so a woman carelessly fell asleep on the beach but we don't have any fatalities so everything is ok.  Except it's not.  Two small children were killed in the space of four months on one beach alone.  Umm, wow.  It's the sort of thing that might make the Danes reconsider their car infra but the locals are unsympathetic.  “The parents should have been watching him,” said Ms. Fletcher, the mother of a 6-year-old. “It was high tide; the beach was packed. It’s like crossing the street.”

Meanwhile, over at Georgia Tech, the brainy people are looking at the soaring rate of bicycle accidents and investigating if it might be possible to lower bicycle deaths.  Note the damn Danes, who I am starting to hate, are well past lowering bicycle deaths.  They're on to how to get bicyclists to work in ever faster and ever sexier style.  Here we're still wondering about how to reduce (not eliminate, one must be reasonable) bicyclist deaths.  How do bicyclists die?  Hmmm.  Hmmm.  Pro-tip:  bicyclists are killed by cars.  Put the cars where they can't smear the bicyclists and you'll reduce bicycle death.  There.  Fixed that for you.  

Which brings me to my wandering point.  Over in San Francisco they are looking at the level of congestion and pollution and planning additional cycling lanes to encourage bicyclists and commuter taxes to discourage cars commuting into the city.  Cambridge, MA was recently rated a gold level bicycling community despite protestations from Margie that there was no room for bicyclists on Massachusetts roads.  Meanwhile there is rioting in the streets of NYC because of the sheer gall demonstrated by the installation of city bicycle racks on various strategic corners.  This one continues to surprise me because the complaining is fresh and unusual.  Instead of hating on the CitiBikes because bicyclists are a threat to old people and children, instead of hating on bicycles because people "bow right through those red lights" instead of any of that the source of the hate is...the racks are not attractive.  The lovely city of New York has been defiled by these blue bicycles and their racks.  I don't mean to harsh unfairly but in a city where the homeless people poop on the sidewalks and in the parks it's difficult to see how a blue bicycle could be an eyesore.

Wow.  I still didn't get to the point.  Sorry.  Long week and all that.

The point is that the number of people and cars has grown and grown.  My father's parents did not have a car.  At all.  Ever.  My mother's mother did not know how to drive.  Now my father owns two cars (one a pick-up and one a sedan and he drives one with each foot) and last I checked my mother owns three.  One for her one for her second husband and one for a back-up.  The amount of cars on the roads is following Moore's Law, the numbers are doubling every two years.  Ok maybe not that exactly but the number of cars is steadily increasing and the roads are filling up fast.  The level of the water is rising all around us and the problem is not the bicyclists.  The problem is not that the bicycle lanes are causing congestion by slowing down the cars (yes I have seen this suggested) and the problem is not that bicycles do a shabby job of obeying traffic lights (whether this is true or not).  The problem is that there are way too many cars and new ones are being born all the time.  The problem is that we have a steadily increasing zerg rush of cars.

To the people who say that the reality is that there are too many cars and that it cannot be safe to have a bicyclist on the road?  You better pray that you're wrong.

Start biycling or you'll sink like a stone.

The bicyclists are not the problem.

The bicyclists are the solution.

**The people of the Scandinavian country.  Not the sugary breakfast treat.

Friday, June 21, 2013

bicyclists of a feather. a tiny hopefully heartwarming story.

Today I am home sick with a cold and so after drinking a bunch of cups of tea I end up here with a yearning to update the bicycling world with an experience that while tiny, still made me very happy.

Two days back I had the same cold but was not sick enough to stay out of work.  The end of the day comes and I get my bicycle from where it is propped up outside of an area cubicle farm, I head down three floors via the elevator, and I go through two locked doors and into the California evening.  It's windy but pretty out.  I get on my bicycle and start pedaling.

Biking when you have a cold may sound dumb (and I dunno, maybe it is dumb) but for me if I am congested in some way, the act of bicycling seems to clear my lungs and at least for an hour or so I get a well deserved reprieve from the sniffling and stuffiness.

Still, I'm a little low energy and the wind slows me further.  I cross the 101 and pass the big box stores and head towards one of the nastier parts of my ride, the segment where I attempt to take the middle lane to go straight but people force themselves past me on the right and the left anyways.  The under the weather feeling I have makes me sag even more as I head towards this piece of road that smells so much like ass.

Ahead of me, two bicyclists pull out of a side street and turn right onto the road I am travelling on.  If I were a dog my ears would have pricked forward but as a human with inadequate ears I just study them carefully.  It's a long red and the two bicyclists slip into place behind several waiting cars.  I come up behind them and hesitate and look at the red light and then instead of waiting behind the car in front of me I slither up between two rows of waiting cars and thunk solidly into place behind the two bicyclists.

One, a guy, is riding a big cargo bike.  He turns and smiles.  The other is a woman, she seems to know the guy, and she is on an upright.  She does not turn around and smile.  Something about her seems nervous.  The guy looks at me.  I look back and attempt a friendly smile which means I probably leer like a sociopath.  He says something I don't catch to his friend.  Then he turns back to me and says, "do you want to get in front of us?"  The horror!  He thinks I'm a shoaler!  I shake my head and mutter "I just don't like this part of the road."

Light dawns and the guy bicyclist laughs and agrees and says "I know!  This part is awful!  With the people on the right and the" at this point the light finally turns green and the three of us draw together to  face the coming battle together.  We start up and fall into a line with the guy in front and his friend behind him and me behind her.  A minivan starts to muscle it's way forward on the left and I hunch over unhappily but cargo bicycle guy moves to the left to block minivan's progression and he gestures (not rudely) with his arm that the minivan needs to wait before it can pass.  The minivan hesitates, almost surprised, and then seems to come to a decision and it backs off and falls back into its place behind me.

We make it to the next intersection where we can peel off into the bicycle lane (what is it with bicycle lanes that start and stop?  what exactly do the civil engineers think we're going to do for those three blocks where we have nothing to ride in?) and the minivan passes us and cargo-bicycle guy waves good-bye to it in a nice way, not all rude and snarky like I would have been.  At the next road cargo-bike and friend turn off and we all wish each other a nice evening and I continue on and I think again that it is so much better to be three of a kind than one of a kind.

The roads are not entirely rife with metal box enemies.  You can make a few friends out there.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

There are things I dislike.

The road leading up to my office is Not My Favorite.  It does not have a bicycle lane.  It's suface is pretty craptastic with lots of loose gravel.  Although there is room, the cars pass me too close because they are determined to get to the parking lot first this despite there being no competition with me for a parking space because I bring my delicate flower of a bicycle into the building in which I work for safe-keeping.

For them it is a pretty anonymous experience, buzzing some old lady on a bicycle and then haw-hawing the rest of the way up the hill but between you me and the internet I memorize license plate make and model (also loopback addresses, but I digress) faster than a goathead gives you a flat.  I see the same cars and I notice that the ones who are a jerk one day will probably be a jerk the next day.  The reddish Prius with license plate frame "Proud Dad To [redacted]"?  That guy is such a wanker.  He should hope that if his kid is ever on a bicycle she encounters drivers who are less proud and more responsible.

That was the situation up until recently.  A two direction road with no bicycle lanes and some agro cars.  Nothing new, nothing to see here, just steady-state for a bicycle commuter.  Then the road got ripped up.  One side got this long deep ditch thing dug into it.  Fine.  Detours.  Maybe a slight delay but hardly   anything to get your panties in a bunch over.  I went around and waited for road workers to cross and the day arrived when the work was complete.  Tada.

Did you guess that they put in a bicycle lane with a barrier to keep cars from crossing over into it?  Ho-ho-ho.  You must be new here.  No bicycle lane was added.

Instead of a bicycle lane, instead even of re-paving the road with something smooth and fun to ride on, instead of even restoring the road to it's previous uninspired but vaguely functional state they created a bicycle trap along almost the entire ride side of the road.

Where the bicycles ride (the shoulder, essentially) there is a shallow long skinny ditch cut into the road and dotted with loose gravel.  It is maybe 36" across and is where a bicycle would try and ride to be out of the way of the speeding cars.  At places it is flush with the road.  At other places it has a lip on either side that can be as high as 4 inches.  Riding in it or next to it feels awful.  I ride next to it because I am sadly panty-waisted when it comes to my skinny tires and uneven pavement.  The cars find this aggravating.  Sure they can still get past me but they have to think about it a little if they don't want to be slowed down by a screaming greasy torn up mother of two.

What do the cars say?  They say "get over into that bicycle lane!"  Yeah but here is the thing, cars.  THAT IS NOT A A BICYCLE LANE.  IT IS A GUTTER.  I know, shocking.  The cars have modest simple minds and when they see some differentiation to the pavement on the right side of the road, no matter how skinny or torn up, their brain screams "bicycle lane" and follows up immediately with "why is there bicycle still in front of me?  Why he no get into that thing on side of the road?"

Because., Thag, that thing is not a bicycle lane.  It is a gutter.  Pro-tip:  if there is no white paint shaped like a bicycle, it's a gutter.  If it's a gutter with a steep edge and tons of broken glass and gravel the bicycle may not want to ride in it.