Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thinking Multimodal

A few days ago I posted some comments about the various transportation visions for Atlanta. The fundamental difference is whether our transportation planners and engineers believe that there are multiple legitimate modes of transport - or whether they exclusively value the movements of cars and trucks.

If walking, bicycling, and public transport are seen as modes of last resort by these folks (and the government bodies that fund them), then they will become such. They will be underinvested and poorly designed. And when they do become choices of last resort due to lack of investment, then the people who travel by these modes will automatically appear inferior and even suspect. We have been in this position. Things are, actually, getting better. But this realization hasn't really filtered up to the top levels of decision-making.

I recently came across my stash of photos from my first trip to Germany (visiting my uncle in Bonn, a small city along the Rhine in the northwest). Germans certainly love cars as much as Americans do (which does not equate to loving traffic), and they have their Autobahn to match our Interstate highways. But they also have choices.

All modes considered: the Autobahn, the real bahn (train), city streets and sidewalks, tram station, and riverside bicycle path
The train service is spectacular. Any decent-sized town has several passenger trains per hour that will take you to nearby cities in every direction, not to mention commuter trains, regional trains, and so forth. You can take your bicycle on the train in designated cars; some trains even have special racks or spaces for them.

You can also take your bicycle on the ferry. Or just enjoy the intercity bicycle paths.

It's easy to connect to the train or tram by bicycle. At Bad Honnef, the path ran adjacent to the tram, separated by a small hedge. This is how I envision the Atlanta BeltLine.

There is tons of bicycle parking at the train station. They also have indoor parking and a repair shop.

In the city, multimodal traffic is considered in every setting. Sometimes the resulting compromise leaves something to be desired. But it is always addressed. On one-way streets, a two-way cycle track may be provided so that cyclists are not inconvenienced. Bicycle routes are well marked.

And in pedestrian zones at the city center, you must walk or park your bicycle due to large numbers of people walking and shopping on foot.

Bicycle routes are designed to be attractive and pleasant. Important connections are provided, such as the side rail for walking your bicycle up and down the stairs.

We rented bicycles at the train station and had a fantastic day touring nearby towns along the Rhine. I think that's when I finally realized what bicycling could be.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cargo Capacity!

The Beau has helped solve my grocery capacity issue with a new Wald front basket and matching rear rack. Holiday gifts. All shiny and matching. That's a man after my own heart!

The Takara with her new accessories. She likes to coordinate.
I've always had a rear basket, or just a bag over my shoulders. I'm adjusting to the new setup. I don't really deal well with change, so it will take a while for me to get comfortable this way. And of course, front baskets put weight over the front wheel, which makes it handle differently. So, I took her out for a test ride today with the front basket unladen, to get used to it.

We stopped in midtown to visit a friend and enjoy the chilly but beautiful day.

Several other cyclists passed by, including this girl with the faux fur trimmed jacket.

I ended up at the grocery store, where I got more than I meant to, as usual. I put a couple of heavier items on the rear, but others, including a bottle of wine, went in the front basket. Testing time! Honestly, it felt very unwieldy. I could hardly take a hand off the handlebars. I'm sure I'll get used to it, but the first trip was pretty awkward. In addition, items kept trying to bounce out of the basket. I rode for about a block with a can of tuna in my hand, before I had a chance to stash it. Extra bungee cords will be required. Or perhaps some more elegant restraint system. I may also experiment with pannier style bags for the rear, at least for grocery trips. I wrapped up the day by riding home with a friend.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Battle of Atlanta

There seems to be news from all sides. One day, we hear about digging giant highway tunnels under some of the city's most beautiful parks and neighborhoods. The next day, there is an eloquent opinion piece about carfree living, by one of the BeltLine project managers.

Multimodal street design in Amsterdam - sidewalk, cycle track, motor vehicle lane, and streetcar track

I don't understand the dogged devotion to new and wider highways. Highway VMT, or vehicle miles traveled, has been steadily decreasing for years. We can't even afford to maintain the roads we have. Their economic development potential was tapped out in the 1980s. They are a massive drain on our society in terms of wasted time, injuries and property damage, and air pollution (including CO2), to name a few. And - libertarian arguments aside - they are more heavily subsidized than any other form of transportation, including public transit. If we could reduce our transportation expenditures, imagine what we could reinvest in education, public safety, city services, and other forms of development or infrastructure. I have sources for all this; just ask.

If you are reading this, you are at least thinking about your transportation options. And there are a lot of options. In 2001, the most recent data available, 19% of non-work trips were less than a mile, and over 40% were under 3 miles. Some of that may involve limited access highways, but many of those trips could easily be taken by bicycle. Almost 60% of work commutes were under 10 miles, a standard bicycle commute distance.

Everyone, no matter where they live and where they go each day, should think about each trip they take. I'm still guilty of driving when it is totally unnecessary, sometimes. The MARTA train usually passes me out of spite on these trips. What impact will your trip have on your community - will it add to traffic and air pollution? What will you miss out on if you drive - a beautiful flower garden, your daily exercise, a chance to meet an interesting (and for you single folks, potentially cute) neighbor?

It's hard to enjoy the beauty of a city sunset at 55 MPH

Commuting can become a social event. Credit Copenhagen Cycle Chic

You can also make note of the things that prevent you from bicycling for a certain trip. Are you uncomfortable about riding with car traffic? You can make the trip by bicycle with some friends, go at a quiet time of day, or take a Confident City Cycling class from the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. Not sure how to carry everything (or everyone) with you? Learn from this and other websites - there are tons of cargo options out there, ways to carry children, and more.

Families can travel easily by cargo bicycle (or tricycle). Credit Copenhagen Cycle Chic

Being Noticed

Like a magpie, I have always been attracted to shiny things, such as the disco bakfiet I saw in Amsterdam...

Ooooohhhh shiny!

Now, the streets of Amsterdam are teeming with bicycles and everyone there, except the tourists, has finely developed multimodal traffic skills. A disco bicycle would get slightly more attention than the average set of wheels. On the streets of Atlanta, bicycles are much less common and traffic skills are rudimentary. Most people rely on strict instructions from signals and signage along with vaguely threatening vehicle language (as opposed to body language). So around here, I tailor my appearance to be highly visible and highly respectable.

I've noticed that motorists are vastly more courteous if I am dressed up. This includes business clothes or fashionable casual outfits. I'm certainly not a fashion hound, but I have my own style and I don't like to look sloppy. I have also noticed that the number of rude or aggressive drivers decreases from rare to nonexistent if I don't wear a helmet (which I usually don't these days. I don't want to kick off the great debate, so I will leave it at that). So I always try to dress nicely when I go out.

This is as casual as I get...note the festive bow

Anyway, from looking at other cyclists while I pedal or drive around, I have formed my own theories about visibility. I believe that the most important factors for a motorist to see and "understand" a bicyclist on the road are shape, contrast, and color in that order. By "understand" I mean that the motorist identifies the object ahead of them as a person operating a bicycle, so they can act accordingly. This is important, and different from simply noticing an object which may or may not require reaction on their part.

Ergo, I opt for classic cuts in solid colors, including some bright colors where possible. I think this gives me a recognizable human silhouette. My upright riding position not only feels safer but also adds to the human-ness of my appearance, from behind and at intersections. When I compare this with images of hunched-over riders covered with logos, I feel like there is a big difference in visibility. Of course, in the scientist world, it doesn't mean anything until we've conducted at least 30 studies and done a meta-analysis. Thoughts?

Perhaps in line with my philosophy, there is talk of having a Bling Ride around here.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Gray Day Around Town

When you are out on a bicycle, you notice so many little things that get overlooked in a car. Yesterday was an overcast, drizzly day, but I had constant glimpses of holiday decorations. They made everything seem cheerful.

Woodruff Park looks festive with lights on the trees

Well, as always, I missed out on some of the best shots, like the two friends riding up Broad Street laughing about something... But I did capture the friendly, if sporty, guy who stopped to ask if I were OK when I pulled over to put on my coat.

Bicycle Traffic on Euclid Ave.

Sure, I was a little chilly, but my coat was also making my rear rack top-heavy. It was actually affecting the way the bicycle handled. I was coming back from the local co-op grocery store, which is on the opposite side of town, of course! With my one little basket, I just had a heavy vertical stack of stuff on the back, with the coat folded and bungeed onto the top. Putting the coat on me, instead, greatly improved the handling and kept the drizzle off.

Maybe I shouldn't have gotten the large bottle of canola oil?

The Beau has solved my storage problem though! He got me a Wald front basket and a sturdier rear rack for the holidays... Can't wait to put them on.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

All You Need is a Bicycle

There was a quote on Copenhagen Cycle Chic the other day that stuck in my mind. It was regarding the role of transportation in climate change mitigation. The gist of it was, while infrastructure is ultimately important to support large numbers of bicycling, at the individual level "all you need is a bicycle."

This is so very true in Atlanta. Despite the dedicated effort and steady progress of many individuals, it will be years - even decades - before we see a meaningful change in the local infrastructure. But bicyclists don't have to wait. The roads are there and all but a handful are legally available to bicycles. If people started cycling in large numbers, the right lane would simply become a de facto bicycle lane.

Sure, this is basically a fantasy right now. And I fully acknowledge that there are many areas in the suburbs where this would still be pretty challenging amongst the high-speed highways, rumble strips, and disconnected subdivisions. But in the city center, it can seem tantalizingly close at times.

Yesterday, I rode out to do some shopping. Shopping by bicycle is super easy here. Many of our best shopping centers are close to MARTA train stations, bicycle routes, or both. Taking your bike on the train is easy and allowed at any time. There is a great website that will help you plan a route by bicycle or bicycle and transit, as well as walking and transit. You can customize it not only by by the distance you are willing to ride, but also by the steepness of the hills and the type of roads!

On the way there, I had one of those moments - I was passing one everyday (non-spandexy) cyclist while another zipped by in the opposite direction. Due to the low-volume holiday week car traffic, we approached about a 50% bicycle mode share for a block or two... At the mall, the Takara felt very lonely.

Can you find the bicycle in this photo? Hint: I had to draw a circle around it!

But as I was leaving, I saw two separate cyclists riding off at the same time, and another bike locked up on the other side of the parking lot. It's a start!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Errands by Bicycle

As a university researcher, I have a two week winter break. Yay! I'll be staying home and working on some major projects from home repair to crocheting. In order to prevent cabin fever I'm spreading my errands out through the week. So instead of a commute today, I had an errand run outfit.

Wool coat, stretchy A-line skirt, knit leggings, Blowfish boots, Outdoor Research insulated wool gloves (children's size - my hands are small, so I can get away with children's gloves, and socks, which are much cheaper!)

I wanted to road test some leggings. They are like thigh-high knee socks (that would be thigh socks, wouldn't it?) that hit about 5 inches above my knee. I wasn't sure if they would be warm and cute, or if they would just leave my thighs freezing and slide down annoyingly. I had some thin tights underneath. The leggings did leave a bit of my thigh exposed to the air when I was pedaling (which was not a problem today, it was in the low 50s). But they stayed nicely in place and did a good job of keeping my legs warm. Good job, leggings!

It was a beautiful Solstice day to be out and about in the distant winter sun. Merry Solstice to all!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Recent Motorist Quotes

"You sure know how to handle that bike. I should ride my bicycle again soon."

"Njak lajfkdann dsau cajjdka bcnjadbh" (I have no idea, it was unintelligible.)

"Use a bike route!" (After she made a u-turn from stopped position on the right side of the street.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bicycling to Work Part 3: The Drought is Over

I woke up to hear rain falling outside my window. It's been ages since I rode to work in the rain. We had a serious drought here for over a year, and rain was an anomaly. Then, in May, the Takara needed some repairs so I started riding my Raleigh ("Cecil"), which has chrome rims and thus does not stop in the rain. So, I avoided riding on rainy days. Pretty simple. It's easy to take the train, and there are never more than one or two rainy days per week.

But now Cecil is getting serviced (a.k.a. sitting in the living room with parts detached) and I have no excuse to avoid the rain. Except for the wet aspect of it. But as I mentioned earlier this week, I now have the Giant Orange monstrosity shaped somewhat like a rain poncho. So today was the real test.

I wore stockings and some fairly quick-drying shoes. It was only in the upper 30s so I wasn't too worried about staying warm. I did layer some matching legwarmers (yes, actual legwarmers) over it all, and that was perfect. Then I had a sweater, jacket, and the poncho.

I topped it off with a wool felt cap that sheds water. It even has a brim to keep raindrops out of my eyes. I was feeling pretty clever for about a block, until a gust of wind whipped it off of my head and into a rushing gutter. A little comic scene ensued as I chased it down the street, pushing the bike with one hand and trying to reach into the flowing water with the other. Ha ha.

I managed to recover the hat, now soaked, and stuffed it into my basket. For my head I switched to a knit hat I had brought just-in-case.

The whole situation was made more difficult by my decision to hook the poncho hand loops over my handlebars. This makes it a lot easier to shift, signal, and generally use my hands for things. But it means I am attached to the bike, at least temporarily. It also means that the front of the poncho hangs over the handlebars and covers my handlebar-mounted headlight. This would be a problem at night. But for the daylight morning commute, I felt sure that the Giant Orangeness was more effective than any headlight.

The actual commute was fine, mostly. My feet did get soaked but that's about it. I figured out that the two straps hanging down inside the poncho are intended for tying around one's waist to prevent the poncho from flapping around in the wind. Because it was very windy. Or gusty rather. In the more exposed stretches of my commute, it felt like riding through a wall of cold molasses.

Still, aside from the giant puddles in the road that soaked my feet when I had to stop in them, and the wind that slowed me to a crawl, it was the usual uneventful trip. And of course, there was the well-intentioned but insulting sympathy from one of my colleagues when I got to the office. No, I don't want a ride in your car. Thanks.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Love it, Keep it

I would say that Atlanta has a relatively unsophisticated culture of thievery. Common crimes here are generally the brute force type - home invasions and carjackings - as well as the random break-in. What we don't have much of is the low-level street crime such as muggings and pickpockets. And we definitely don't have experienced bicycle thieves.

These Bicycles Are Staying Put

Here quick-release components are fair game. So is a bicycle locked in a relatively secluded location with just a cable lock. Items left unlocked on a bicycle (such as a headlight) may disappear.

But that's about it. Bolted on items are secure. A single U-lock will keep your bicycle where you left it. And there are plenty of bicycles (or parts of bicycles) that don't get locked up properly, but stay with their rightful owner. The Schwinn in the photo above has quick-release wheels that are never locked up, here at the office, and so far so good for them.

Hopefully I haven't jinxed myself by writing this! And if you do cycle around Atlanta, be sure to use a U-lock or a heavy chain (Amsterdam style) and to secure any bits and pieces.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bicycling as Exercise or Transportation?

As a public health professional, I think a lot about the health benefits of cycling. Cleaner air, lower greenhouse gas emissions, lower injury rates, and more social interaction can be achieved with more cycling and less driving.

The most well-known health benefit of cycling is physical activity. Many Americans ride a bicycle almost exclusively for exercise, and countries with large numbers of cyclists generally have lower rates of obesity and other health problems.

"Exercise" in Amsterdam
Occasionally, I wind up in a debate with the exercise and recreation cyclists. I want to avoid sweat, dirt, and major exertion. They seek them out. I want to get to my destination as quickly as possible, in everyday clothes, while keeping my outfit in good condition. They want to wear athletic gear and work up a sweat. These differences lead to disagreements over bicycle routes, parking, and design of the bicycle itself. I just had to explain the purpose of a chain case to someone.

I visited Amsterdam with the Beau last spring. These people were not sweating, straining, or getting dirty. They did not have 50 gears to choose from and spandex to wear. They had well equipped city bikes, cargo bikes and bakfiets, and their daily lives to live. They went to the restaurant, opera house, office, etc. How can I help Atlantans imagine their city like this?

A Cargo Trike in Amsterdam

Bicycle parking at the Opera House (Concertgebouw). It was overflowing during concerts.

By the way, there are plenty of stylish bicyclists in Atlanta, but I rarely get a shot of them due to traffic conditions, lighting, or just slow reflexes. For instance, the chap on Marietta Street this morning with the military cap, red bike with chrome fenders, and hands stuffed in his pockets while he waited for the light. Fabulous. And not a chance of a photo as I was in heavy traffic.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ahhh Rain

I was about halfway home when it started raining in earnest last night. Time to bring out the poncho! I've tried it once before, but it's just sorta intimidating. This is not your basic poncho with a hole for the head and then a big drapey thing. Oh no. This is a technical poncho.

First a history. I never meant to own the poncho at all. I bought it as a gift for a friend...but she wound up not needing it and it eventually reverted to me. This is why it is orange. It comes in a lovely red color that would make me so much happier. But no, it's orange, bright orange, blinding orange that you could wear in the woods during hunting season. It is a durable rubberized nylon with zippers and a zip-away hood and reflective striping and lots of loops and snaps. It's made by Agu, a company located in the Netherlands, and I bought it on a UK (Petra Cycles, I think) website for about £35. No, I have not received any money for reviewing it (regrettably).

Photos were taken indoors 'cause, you know, it was dark and rainy.

The Ghastly Orangeness

It kept me very dry. The ride home was absolutely comfortable with only my ankles and feet getting wet at all. You can really get lost in this thing, though. It has these loops that are either supposed to go over your hands or over your handlebars. I don't like having them over the handlebars since I am then "attached" to the bicycle, which seems unsafe. But if I put them over my hands, then the poncho flaps all around every time I shift (shifter is on my stem). And I have to take my hand out of the loop to signal turns properly. Any suggestions? Well, maybe I just have to get used to it. I couldn't even get it positioned quickly enough to satisfy the camera self-timer...hence the kickstand still down in this photo.

From the side (stopped position)

Details on the poncho

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Misty Moisty Morning

It is a rare foggy day in Atlanta, one that makes me miss living near the ocean where fog is more frequent. It is drizzling on and off, but held off for my commute. I have a high-tech rain jacket and also a giant orange poncho that hooks onto my hands and can cover all the stuff in my rear basket, too. I brought the poncho along today in case the rain picked up.

But for the commute, a vintage leather coat and wool cap was sufficient. Under the coat, I wore a medium weight sweater, cordouroy skirt, tights, and loafers. Cap, scarf, and gloves were all removed during the ride. I think the temperature was in the 40s. My hair, which was damp when I left the house, did not benefit at all from the misty air!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Party Season

Our neighbors threw a fantastic holiday party last night! It was a total blast, and a great mix of friends, neighbors, and new people to meet. It was black tie optional - a great excuse for everyone to break out the tuxedos and evening gowns! They even had a professional bartender for the evening. I got to hang out with my friend Stephanie and some of my other favorite folks. And thus it gives me an excuse to post this photo of Stephanie with her tandem bike. She looked a lot fancier at the party in her floor-length gown.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Regional Variation

A student uses a milk crate to carry books to campus

The running joke in Atlanta is that everyone who lives here is from somewhere else. It isn't true at all; I know tons of people who grew up in the Atlanta area. But in spite of this perception (or maybe because of it), the area is exceedingly hostile towards outside ideas. The local citizenry doesn't want to do things the way they are done in Boston or NYC or Europe. Maybe we will take a few leads from Charlotte, Houston, or other southern cities.

Those who do move here from somewhere else often wonder why the transit service is so limited and the roads so dangerous. Most shrug and just start driving everywhere. A few start or join advocacy groups, or just find a way to buck the trend.

An Atlanta cyclist prepares to cross a four-lane thorougfare

Another rumor is that Atlantans love their cars. In my experience, Atlanta residents don't really enjoy driving at all, they are just afraid of the alternative. They are afraid of crime and traffic and taking too long to get anywhere and getting stranded. Of course, fewer motorists and more pedestrians and cyclists would make the streets safer. We do need more transit options, more street connections, and more conveniently located development to make it ideal.

But a lot of people are just getting out of their cars and going places anyway. And as they do, Atlanta is starting to evolve a pedestrian culture and a bicycle culture. So far, it is almost a subculture. But as the trends continue, it is likely that we will develop local styles and customs. How will Atlanta's culture, climate, history, and geographical character be expressed through bicycling?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Inspiration from All Directions

There's some good stuff going on. First of all, rumor has it that David Byrne (musician, former Talking Heads member, bicycle rack designer, and author of Bicycle Diaries) will be speaking at the Congress for the New Urbanism conference, which will be held in Atlanta in May, 2010. The conference theme is "New Urbanism: Rx for Healthy Places."

This conference is shaping up to be spectacular anyway; this puts it over the top. There is also interest in having a 'ciclovia' during the conference - a day during which entire streets are closed to motor vehicle traffic and travelers are encouraged to walk and bicycle instead. Ciclovias are named after a program in Bogotá, Colombia, which demotorizes many major streets every Sunday. Route suggestions and volunteers are welcome!

And from around the U.S., we have a 'bike bus' created by high school students in Orlando, FL; a new "Cities for Cycling" initiative which counts Atlanta among its member cities; and some favorable commentary on a recent road diet project in Atlanta. As the song used in the 'bike bus' video says, times are changing.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers

[If you didn't know, that is a line from the Tennessee Williams play, "A Streetcar Named Desire," which addressed the tenuous position of Southern hospitality in the new industrial era.]

Atlanta privatized its parking enforcement a few months ago, and I have to say that the new contractor is much more effective than the City had been. You see their crews out everywhere, trolling the streets, writing tickets, and collecting parking meter coins. And lucky for me they do.

So today I was cycling in to work. I was about halfway here when one of the ParkAtlanta guys pulled up next to me in his mini-truck and held out my glove! Apparently it fell out of my basket somewhere and he had scooped it up. It's a nice pair of gloves, one of the few cycling-specific items I own, and I would have been highly dismayed to lose it. It would have been the fourth glove in a year.

I don't think I thanked the guy enough; I was kind of startled. So, thank you, Mr. parking man!

Glove Love

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


The title of this blog is "I Dream of Bicycling." I was struggling to capture many concepts in one short phrase... Urban transport cycling, the infancy of cycling in Atlanta, the isolation of being a bicycle commuter here, and finally, the spirit of Atlanta (expressed, for instance, in Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech) which will face insurmountable odds in order to promote justice, equality, and people's rights to basic things like safety, mobility, health, and opportunity.

Usually, I am a lone cyclist in an ocean of cars. I'm okay with that. I'm used to being different. If I need someone to understand me, I have my boyfriend, friends, and the lovely bloggers of the global city cycling scene. But I hope it won't be that way forever.

Me and the motorists...
I envision Atlanta as being a city where any person can travel by any mode of transportation - walking, bicycling, private car, public transportation...anything except zipline, I suppose. Right now, access to private car travel is, for many parts of the Atlanta region, the difference between 'haves' and 'have nots.' And there are many people who spend more money than they reasonably should in order to have a car - money that comes out of their household budget for food, housing, education, savings, etc.

Every now and then, I see Atlanta differently. There is a glimpse where it looks like a real multi-modal city. Cyclists are passing by in the traffic, people are walking along an ample sidewalk, businesses are open and lining the streets, friends are walking side-by-side. Sometimes I can snap a photo of the moment.

In the evening, a student walks his bicycle while talking to a friend

I dream of bicycling. I dream of transportation justice.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Precipitation Near Miss

Some friends, the Beau, and I went up to the Georgia mountains for the weekend. We were kind of excited when the weather forecasts started predicting snow on Saturday. What could be better than a beautiful snowfall in a secluded mountain valley? Of course, with a warm cabin and crackling fire waiting for you...

It was a lovely, relaxing trip, but no snow. We were a little disappointed. It seems to snow at least once a year in north Georgia. Not enough for me to get my snow fix (I grew up in Maine) but fun for a day. And I always end up bicycling in it.

This is what happened last year. It was on a Sunday, and one of my favorite pubs had been advertising a special Sunday brunch. So we had to go...right? Riding on snow is not hard at all, but you definitely need to bundle up and take it easy.

The Beau in the snow
This year, I'll keep hoping for snow. You northerners can feel free to send some down to us!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Notable Bicycle Quotes

"Everytime I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race." - H. G. Wells

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.  Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle. 
-- Ernest Hemingway

"I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can't get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood." - Susan B. Anthony

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bicycling to Work - Part 2 (What to Wear)

Skirt In Motion

Wear anything.

Well almost anything. Bicycling has had a subtle influence on my wardrobe. Pencil skirts are dead to me, unless they have a serious slit up the side or back. Definitely not the front. I love skirts like the red one I wore today, that is fitted at the top and then flares out. This allows it to flow in the wind while remaining modest from the mid-thigh up. It's not so long that I would need a skirt guard or anything. I do have a few skirts that are simply too revealing, but only a few.

 I wear high heels more often, now that I don't have to walk very far in them. But I seek out shoes that have rubber soles rather than slick bottoms. If they don't have grippy soles and I still want them, I just stick some adhesive non-slip pads on the bottom - you can get them at most drugstores and the shoe store.

If cycling in your everyday clothes, especially skirts and dresses, is new to you, the winter is a good time to start. You can wear stockings underneath while you find out if any of your skirts are inclined to misbehave.

Then just add your normal top, sweater, jacket, gloves, scarf, hat, etc. that you would wear to walk around. Make sure scarves aren't dangling down so far that they could get caught in your chain or wheels. I like to layer, so I can remove things as I warm up.

Outfit for Mid-40's, Overcast Commute
Hat: gift. Scarf: hand-me-down from friend. Jacket: H&M Berlin. Gloves: REI. Skirt: Goodwill. Boots: Rag-O-Rama thrift shop.

That's about it! And then it's in to work.

Bicycling to Work - Part 1

We have a pretty low rate of bicycle commuting here in Atlanta. I think it's less than 1%. And I have a really hard time understanding why. This article helps explain, a little.

Where is everybody?

For the past 3 years, I have bicycled to work 3 or 4 days out of the week. The other days, I ride the MARTA rail system, which is pretty convenient to my home and work. Occasionally, I take my bicycle on the train if I am not feeling well or if the weather is really horrible. It's nice to have that option.

My bicycle commute couldn't be easier. I get up (that's the hardest part!), put on my work clothes, put my lunch and repair kit in my basket, and roll my bicycle out the front door. It's a little over 4 miles to work.

Here in Georgia, the most unpleasant weather occurs in the summer. It rarely snows in winter, and almost always gets above freezing during the daytime. The only trick for bicycling is to layer properly, so that I can take things off (hats, scarves, jackets - don't get excited!) when I start to warm up. I tend to ride at higher speeds so I do get quite warm. In summer, it is more challenging. My best strategy is to wear a spaghetti-strap tank top, wipe off any sweat when I get to my destination, and then pull something more respectable on over it.

My handy cupholder allows me to bring a frosty iced coffee on hot days, or a warm drink when it's cold out.

Sunshine and Sipping

By the way, I am working on getting better photos. I've had to figure out how to *not* drop my camera but still have it handy for interesting shots...

Happy travels.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Which Way Lies the Future?

Atlanta finally has a new mayor and city council, following the runoff elections yesterday. Several candidates which I had supported due to their progressive views on transportation and urban development have been defeated. The election really focused on two issues: crime and balancing the city budget. Naturally, I can connect both of these to transportation...

Affordable, safe, multimodal transportation helps people get to education, jobs, and stores and services. It allows them to spend less on their daily transportation so they can spend more on food, housing, and utilities. It reduces demand for police and other emergency services by reducing traffic crashes and injuries. And it leads to lively, self-policing streets instead of vacant highway corridors.

Some of the policies that may be discussed in the coming term will be a parking tax that could fund the Connect Atlanta transportation plan, and policies regarding development or redevelopment, affordable housing, and the like.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran this timely editorial yesterday. Perhaps it will point the new administration in the right direction.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The good, the bad, and the overgrown

The standard Atlanta bicycle lane is a wonderful thing. 10 to 12 feet wide, well marked, and pretty well maintained.

It is a comfortable size to ride with a friend and to allow a safe passing distance for motor vehicles. Sure, motorists occasionally get offended that they can't use it as a right-side passing lane for a few seconds, but this is a minor detail.

Seriously, though. Atlanta has an amazing amount of excess capacity on its roads. There are a few bottlenecks or high volume roads, mostly due to disruptions or interruptions in the street network. These disruptions are created by highway or stadium projects that have led to abandoned streets, and by the suburban cul-de-sac mindset that governed the design of many of our post-1930's intown neighborhoods. Just look up an internet map of the Peachtree Road-Collier Road junction, or the Piedmont-Cheshire Bridge-Lavista Road area, or, well, many others... You see, Atlanta started as some intersecting railroad tracks. The streets evolved around them, mostly following a grid system but twisting and turning to follow the rail lines. Around WWII, as the automobile came to dominate, the grid was replaced by a street hierarchy of arterials, collector streets, and looping local streets with only a few connection points in order to reduce through traffic.

Disclaimer: I am not a planner, I just play one at work. If you think any of my statements are incorrect please tell me.

In ensuing years, much of the growth moved far outside of the center city, and the city tried to lure prosperity back by "fixing" its existing layout. This involved widening roads, adding limited access highways, and generally trying to make it easier to drive around. These projects seem to have been implemented somewhat haphazardly, or maybe they just weren't ever finished. Whatever the case, not a lot of people wanted to live here or drive here. And now, when more people are moving back to the city, many of them don't want to drive if they don't have to.

What does this mean for bicyclists? Well, it means that there are extra lanes all over the place. Some roads start out as two lanes, widen to four or five lanes (all in the same travel direction), and later narrow down to three, two, or one lane. That's a lot of room for little ol' me and my bicycle to use. Plenty of room for cars to pass if they need to. My own bicycle lane, 12 feet wide.

No wonder I'm disappointed by the few designated bicycle lanes we have. They rarely meet AASHTO standards (for example, they are too narrow and/or are located in the door zone next to parked cars), are poorly maintained, and may be located in the wrong place relative to right-turn lanes or bus-only lanes. Not to mention the parked cars, signs, and other temporary obstructions. Here is the designated bicycle lane on Ralph David Abernathy Blvd.

Signs in the Bicycle Lane

Overgrown Vegetation in Bicycle Lane

Bottom Line:
A well designed bicycle lane or cycle track is a wonderful thing. But until Atlanta gets them right, I'll take a general purpose lane, please!