Sunday, February 28, 2010

Field Trip: Columbus, GA

For my friend's birthday, a group of us took a day trip to Columbus, Georgia, home of Fort Benning and the RiverWalk along the Chattahoochee River. In addition to the scenery and barbecue, I also noted quite a few people bicycling (not always in compliance with the rules of the road). Just before leaving, we visited Ride On Bikes, a super-friendly and well stocked bicycle shop. They rent bikes too, so you can go down for the day and ride the entire RiverWalk route.
Girl on a hot pink mixte
This couple appeared to be testing or renting their bikes
14th Street Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge over the Chattahoochee
A couple rides the RiverWalk on the Georgia side of the river
An American soldier rides toward the bridge
Another soldier gets his exercise along the river

Some of the wares at Ride On Bikes

Friday, February 26, 2010

Greased Lightning

Traffic was ridiculous on Thursday, almost gridlocked. There must have been an event at the Georgia Dome or something.

Normally I'm pretty mellow on the bicycle. I set off a radar sign the other day - I was only going 16 MPH and shortly thereafter I was passed by a guy on a mountain bike with knobby tires. Although, in my defense, he was really exerting himself. But faced with lots of cars going slower than me, the spirit of competition kicked in. I threaded my way (carefully) through at least half a mile of gridlock. It felt great to be the only one on the road capable of forward movement. Of course, pedestrians were in good shape too. And after I got through it all, my reward was car-free streets! They were all stuck behind me somewhere.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Excuse me, got a light?

As you ride around the city, you will frequently encounter traffic signals that only activate when a vehicle is present. You can often see sensors embedded in the pavement. Urban legend has it that these detect a vehicle's weight - this is false. They actually use electrical currents to detect the presence of an iron-based (ferric, if you want to get all technical) substance, such as the steel frame of a car.
Embedded wire sensor
This means that a steel-framed bicycle has a good chance of triggering one if it's in the right place. It also depends on how your local public works department has set the sensitivity, which can be adjusted from the controller box. Atlanta, I've noticed, sets theirs so it does detect bicycles most of the time. Well, at least, my bicycle. I don't know about the aluminum and carbon fiber folks. There are a few frustrating exceptions, especially where I need to trigger a left-turn signal. And DeKalb County is hopeless. I simply have to run the light.

From what I understand, this is legal - a traffic light that is supposed to change when a vehicle is present, and fails to, is "malfunctioning" and malfunctioning lights should be treated like an all-way stop sign. Of course, the cars on the cross street don't realize it is "malfunctioning" so I wait for them to clear. If traffic is heavy, the light usually will get triggered by a car behind me, as long as I pull forward far enough.

Hopefully, our traffic engineers will become more sensitive to the needs of bicycle traffic and other lightweight vehicles, and start to adjust the sensors accordingly.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Happy Colors

As another gray day dawned, I felt the need for some bright, cheerful, highly visible wardrobe choices. Rather than my usual black and brown coats, I grabbed a lightweight white trench coat. I topped it off with purple gloves, a burgundy scarf, and hot pink hat. See me!! It didn't stop a delivery truck from trying to make a U-turn in front of me, but I can yell loudly too.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Year of the Bicycle

Some local bicycle advocates have wistfully named 2010 the "Year of the Bicycle" in Atlanta. They may be right. I have been astounded at the amount of bicycle traffic on the streets, now that the weather is warming up. There are smart, everyday cyclists everywhere. A few people are running lights or riding on sidewalks (not good), but most are just riding like they've always been a part of Atlanta traffic. I'm thrilled!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Saturday in the Park

Today was in the 60s and sunny. I had one thought on my mind: Piedmont Park! Well, okay, it was curb market, lunch, park, but whatever. Everyone else apparently had the same thought. We cruised up Piedmont Avenue in light traffic and found a good people-watching spot near one of the main (non-motorized) roads through the park. Here are some of the people I watched...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Where are the children?

There are at least 3 children who travel to school by bicycle in the Atlanta area - I know because I have seen them! My morning schedule took me past the bicycle path in Decatur. First two young boys pedaled by, talking happily. Then a slightly older boy rode past, looking relaxed. The age range was maybe from 7 or 8 up to age 12. I didn't have a chance to take any photos.

You rarely see children bicycling by themselves, for transportation, in Atlanta. You may see them riding around the neighborhood or occasionally on a group ride with their parents. Bicycle infrastructure seems to be particularly important for children. While an experienced adult cyclist may be comfortable riding in traffic, children (and their parents) may not be. But riding a bike is how kids can grow up healthy, confident, and independent. This is the biggest argument for a network of well-designed bicycle lanes, tracks, and paths.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Beautiful Bike Lanes

There are two places in Atlanta I find particularly inspiring. One is Tech Square, which I see pretty frequently. The other is Edgewood Avenue. I had a beautiful ride down Edgewood the other evening. The temps were in the 50s and bicycle traffic was up. Bicycle headlights twinkled up and down the street.

Unfortunately, none of my photos from that night came out, so you will have to settle for a more recent afternoon. The lane is wide, stays clean and fairly free of hazards, and only suffers from parked cars in one or two spots. It's a great view as you approach downtown. The main drawback is that the lane ends about half a mile before you actually reach downtown. Silly.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Strict Liability

I'm feeling a little cynical today. The morning started with a news report on NPR about backlash against red light cameras in Arizona. That reminded me of an article I read recently about a study of bicycle collisions in Fort Collins, CO, and the insensitive comments that readers made about it. The readers (most of whom had obviously forgotten how to travel without their car) had two points in common:
1. They seemed to be in favor of bicycle infrastructure
2. They seemed to think that the burden of crash prevention fell entirely to cyclists, since bicyclists were more likely to suffer injuries.

There is an ongoing debate over the justification for bicycle infrastructure. Many motorists are in favor of completely separated bicycle paths. They think that this would reduce "delays" for motor vehicle traffic. In truth, it probably wouldn't, unless it were a really lousy system. In a sense, it would double the number of intersections, and might lead to right-on-red restrictions where there are leading bicycle traffic signals. Some cycling advocates fear that over-reliance on separated facilities could lead to bicycles being banned from public streets. Such a system would be a far cry from the celebrated infrastructure of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where bicycles not only have their own infrastructure, they are also exempt from many motor vehicle restrictions such as plazas and one-way streets.

But Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and many of their neighbors have success with bicycle traffic, and safety, for another reason: Strict Liability. This policy holds that the motorist is almost always at fault if they are involved in a collision with a bicycle, pedestrian, or other unarmored traveler. The assumption is that, if we, as a society, are going to permit you to operate a powerful piece of machinery in public, we can at least expect you to do so with the utmost level of caution. Really, where else in your life will you be given such lethal power to exercise around your fellow citizens on a daily basis? When we drive, shouldn't we behave as though we're holding a loaded gun?

But we don't. I think we are all collectively suffering from "freeway-itis". This is the belief that the world outside is just a hostile expanse of almost-lawless pavement, where other people are willing to kill you just to beat you to the exit ramp. In this "Mad Max" world, the logical response is to armor your vehicle and leave home with a defensive, competitive mindset. Other road users are just opponents, and civility is abandoned.

It may take a long time to really overcome this. It will take more than adding bicycle paths to the existing semi-functional system. We actually have to redesign the entire system to reintroduce humanity into every mode of transportation. We need to take traffic violations seriously, as an intentional threat to human life and public safety, with the penalties to match. We need to think of our streets as indicators of public culture. Are our children safe there? Are the elderly at liberty to travel and take part in daily life? Are the streets a place for people and life, or a source of stress, fear, and frustration?

Sorry for the ranting... I try to limit myself to no more than one rant every few weeks. I'll be shiny and happy again tomorrow, I promise!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Here are a few photos I took around dusk the other day. Downtown Atlanta looks so pretty with the sunset reflecting on everything and the lights just coming on... And I love old men on bicycles. I would love old women on bicycles, too, but I never see any. Gives me hope for my own future, I guess!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Stopping is Good

The worse the weather gets, the more useful it is to have your bicycle running properly. I usually have a few wonky things going on...a kickstand that I have to nudge back into place after riding over a bump, a shift lever that needs to be retightened every few months. I'm sure there are people who would spare no expense and effort fixing these things immediately, but they don't really bother me. I can work around it.

So, when my rear brake line started freezing up earlier this winter, I just used the front brake. It's not the safest thing to do, but not really a problem on dry pavement and moderate speeds. Then came the ice and snow. Riding with compromised traction AND compromised brake management was not okay.

Fortunately, I had just read an explanation of frozen brake cables and how to repair them, courtesy of Bakfiets en Meer. "Blue Belle" was particularly susceptible to this problem due to her brake cable setup: an exposed cable which uses short lengths of cable housing to route around curves. The cable gracefully follows the step-through frame, requiring an extra turn where the top tube meets the seat tube (see photo!). 
This looks neat and keeps the cable from snagging me. But it also creates a low point which collects water - hence the freezing problem. (Please ignore my scratched paint...)

I ordered new brake cables on (for 70 cents each!) since the old one was rusty and frayed at the end. I unscrewed the clamp at the rear brake, which allowed me to pull the cable all the way out, through all of the cable housing bits and finally out of the brake lever. As it came out of the low point section of housing, rusty water poured out. Yuck yuck yuck! I took all of the housing bits and squirted WD-40 oil through them until it ran clear. Then I reassembled it with a new cable. Hopefully the remaining oil inside the housing (and maybe a plastic bag in heavy rainstorms) will keep it from happening again. For now, I am frost-free and good to go.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The City Transformed

 Another rare snow event in Georgia. Several inches fell, cloaking trees, lawns, everything in white velvet. Bicyclists rode home carefully, or just walked their bikes.
Car traffic became horribly snarled as the white stuff started to fall, then disappeared as the storm progressed. Everything looked strange and beautiful.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hello Cello!

Dottie's recent post about bicycling to her guitar lessons reminded me to post this photo, taken last spring in Amsterdam. In addition to the large musical instrument, please note the wide bike lane (technically a cycle track since it is separated by curbing) which is routed behind the bus stop to reduce bus-bicycle conflicts.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Windy Weather

Well, we aren't experiencing "Snowpocalypse" or "Snowmageddon" or whatever you want to call it (although snow days and group snowball fights kind of sound like fun). But the weather still discouraged me from cycling to work today. The temperature is a little below freezing and winds are 25 MPH, with gusts up to 40 MPH. A few crystalline flakes of snow drifted in the air as I walked to the train station, and the thin sunlight only contained the idea of warmth.

Personally, I think windy days are the worst sort of weather for bicycling. A stiff wind can nearly bring you to a standstill, no matter how hard you pedal, even downhill! And the gusts feel like they might blow you right over, or off the side of the road. Now, on a humid, shadeless day in late summer, I might feel differently. But right now I'm voting: Down with wind!
A flag whips in the high wind

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

One Cyclist at a Time

As I rode to an early morning meeting, I was delighted to pull alongside Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. Rebecca is now living car-free in Atlanta, winning grants and organizing bicycle events, and explaining how and why Atlanta should be a bicycling city.

It turned out that she was headed to the same meeting, to make a presentation on bicycling and health. She covered all the important points - physical activity, clean air, community interaction. She added that, through their property taxes, cyclists overpay for their use of the road while subsidizing drivers.  She also pointed out the enormous safety benefits. As more people ride bicycles:
  • the rate of traffic injuries for bicyclists drops.
  • the volume of car traffic drops.
  • it is perceived as a safer and more common mode of travel.
 In spite of her inspirational talk and encouraging photos, and certainly in spite of the handful of women in the room who regularly commute and run errands by bike, she fielded skeptical questions from the audience. One man thought Atlanta was only designed for car travel. A woman, who walks regularly, said she had no idea how to get her family of five to a nearby restaurant by bicycle.

Keep talking, Rebecca. One by one, people will be inspired by you, by a friend, by a photograph, by their own dissatisfaction with life confined to a car. And that person will inspire a friend or neighbor... It's already happening. As Rebecca told us, ABC's biannual bicycle counts show more people riding every year.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Grocery Shopping by Bicycle

I came across an article in the Transportation Research Record journal today. It was called "Explaining Gender Difference in Bicycling Behavior". The researchers conducted a survey among men and women in 6 towns on the west coast. One of the questions they asked was whether the person thought it was possible to transport children or go grocery shopping by bicycle. Over 30% did not think it was possible to shop for groceries by bicycle.

It is possible. I'm sure there are lots of suburban and rural locations where it would be more difficult. But here in Atlanta, it's pretty simple: Put some sort of racks on your bike, whatever works for you. Ride to the store. Use a basket rather than a shopping cart, at least until you figure out how much you can carry safely. Secure bags to bicycle. Ride home.

Apparently, a group in Portland, Oregon offers a class in bicycle grocery shopping. Do we need one here?
A one-bag shopping trip

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Weekend Interludes

So, once again, another weekend has gone by. And once again, I have been too busy with errands, social engagements, and such to write a post. The sad truth is that I don't get to bicycle much on the weekends. Sometimes I am home working on a project or baking all day, sometimes I am running major errands for which I have to use a car...things come up. By the end of the weekend, I really feel like something is missing.

One strategy has been to stash my old mountain bike over at the Beau's house. Now, if I go over there for dinner or en route to meet friends that live over his way, I can arrive by train or car and still have something to ride! I tried it out this weekend. Much better. If we want to run out to the pub or visit friends, I'm not forced to go in a car, nor limited to walking distance. It's not particularly comfortable to ride and it has this flashy, sporty aesthetic that I really dislike, but least I'm under pedal power.
Your local pub - more fun when you enjoy fresh air and starry skies on the way...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Gee Shucks

Sometimes I really regret it when I don't ride. Wednesday was a lovely day this week, a warm and sunny respite from the rain. For some reason, I left my bicycle at home and took the train. The day turned out to be gorgeous, and some errands and meetings came up. As I got to a meeting, 20 minutes later than if I had cycled there, I was really kicking myself. And then, just to top it off, I spotted this breathtaking 50s-style bicycle parked outside the meeting. I can't tell if it is new or a restoration. Anyway, Blue Belle would have loved to park next to this lovely guy.

PS - Kudos to Christa from Bike by the Sea, for her "Map of the Cycle Chic Network".

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

And Justice For All

I love to talk about the joy of bicycling, all the little ways I have upgraded my ride, and how I integrated it into my personal style and daily activities. I talk about traffic skills and the finer points of traffic law.

But I would like to point out that there are many people who are out there riding a bicycle every day, or most days, who don't have such luxuries. In my mixed-income neighborhood, the bicycle mode share is probably at 5 or 10 percent - high for Atlanta. Many folks rely on their bicycle as their only transportation option for getting to work, to the store, etc. While the neighborhood's interior streets are good for riding, we are bordered by fairly intimidating, high-speed, multilane roads on 3 sides. Miraculously, one of those does have a bicycle lane although it is not in great condition. Connections are few due to train tracks, large industrial properties, and misaligned street grids, so travel along the busier streets is necessary, at least for a few hundred feet.
One of the few places to cross a six-lane street
Streets within the neighborhood are quiet
So, we have hundreds? thousands? of people who have discovered a healthy, low-cost way to get around. In some parts of Atlanta, more than 30% of households don't even own a car. But the transportation system does not serve them well. Instead, it presents them with unneccessary detours and unneccessary risks. Additional resources - such as training or places to buy lights, locks, and tubes - are hard to find.

The bottom line is, we won't have equal opportunities, and justice for all, and all of the other things that make our country great, if the price of admission is car ownership and operation. In fact, that will cost us a lot in terms of productivity, urban vitality, environmental quality, and much more. Transportation programming in the Atlanta region must ensure that travel is safe and comfortable for everyone - including bicyclists of all ages and needs.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Commuter Corridors

I've been seeing more and more cyclists on the West Peachtree/Spring Street one-way pair. These are not the most relaxing streets for riding. West Peachtree Street does have a bicycle lane for about 10 blocks, but it is barely 4 feet wide and located entirely in the "door zone" of the on-street parking.
Nonetheless, it is becoming a popular route for northbound cyclists, especially during rush hour. 
Spring Street, running southbound a block away, does not have a bicycle lane. It also has  four lanes of traffic and, at one point, a freeway interchange. I used to see people cycling southbound on West Peachtree Street, riding against traffic on the sidewalk. More recently, I am spotting regular bicycle traffic using Spring Street.
It would probably function better for everyone if these were converted to two-way operation. Motorists wouldn't have to drive around in circles to reach their destinations (there are a number of one-way cross streets too). Pedestrians would feel safer, vehicle speeds would probably be more appropriate, and cyclists wouldn't have to merge across 3 or 4 lanes of traffic to turn left.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Critical Mass of One

I like to joke that I "am a critical mass of one". It means that I don't need to ride in a group in order to reclaim the street for bicycling.

Recently, the joke has grown. Last Thursday (heck, most days), I was a "Heels on Wheels" ride of one. On Friday, I was a "Tweed Ride" of one.

Speaking of Tweed Rides... I think they're adorable. But are they right for Atlanta? We don't have a particularly tweedy heritage. What type of theme rides would be more appropriate here? Here are my suggestions:
  • Summer Seersucker Ride (bowties optional)
  • Bling Ride. Show off your best street style, complete with rhinestones and chains
  • Southern Belles Ring Bicycle Bells
  • Club Circuit (Disco)
What else?