Monday, February 27, 2012

Multi User Paths

I live next to the Minuteman Trial, which is a MUP built in place of an old commuter rail. This strip of asphalt starts in Somerville and ends in Concord and is usually full of bikers, pedestrians, dog walkers, etc. especially on weekends.

And that's where the problem is. Minuteman is used by "Sunday bikers" and families with kids and dogs. This means, it is difficult to predict its users' behavior. Kids like to run all over the place, dogs feel free to run across the path and many parents and dog owners simply don't pay attention to this or just don't care. This makes places like Minuteman Trial a path for only a very relaxed riding. My Schwinn works well here. I am afraid to ride too fast on Minuteman on weekends as I never know what those that I pass would do. Ironically, when I am on my Poprad, I feel safer riding on streets between cars than on the fully-loaded Minuteman Trial. Cars seem simply more predictable (I keep telling Elka this).

However, to my surprise, there is a large number of lycra-clad bikers on fast road bikes who treat this path like a racing strip. When me and Dr. J. take a stroll on Minuteman we are passed by legions of those bikers yelling only "On your left!", like they would want us to just dissapear or at least leave them more space on their racing strip.

Another, similar path is the Canal Service Road on both sides of the Cape Cod Canal (especially its northen bank). Same rules apply here. This MUP becomes really crowdied on summer weekends and riding too fast there may not be the smartest idea.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Red, green, yellow

Every day on my way back from work I stop at this one intersection with Middlesex Turnpike. And usually, I get stuck there for 2-3 changes of lights before my light turns green. This is because lights for the side road I take are controlled by an induction loop buried under the road. I am pretty sure that most motorists don't even think about it but for us, cyclists, such controlled lights are a big issue. Those induction loops are simply not sensitive enough to detect a small piece of metal such as bicycle, while being tuned for detecting cars. This way most of the time I end up waiting for some car to arrive and switch those lights for me. Unfortunately, there is no better way.

Meanwhile in Paris they introduced a pilot program allowing cyclists to cross certain intersections in the city on red. While I agree with what James wrote on his website that being courteous is more important than blindly obeying traffic laws, I don't know if I like this idea. Certainly this cannot be implemented everywhere leading to more confusion ("Am I allow to cross this intersection on red or not?"). Even though I have to wait longer for my green light, I wouldn't risk crossing that intersection on red. Middlesex Turnpike is a very busy road and I am not a daredevil.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A few thoughts

First of all, don't expect many updates this week. I got a terrible ear infection and in general, my energy level is down. Sigh...

Within the last two days I noticed two people riding their bikes on sidewalks. An elderly woman I saw this morning was struggling riding her bike uphill on Woburn St in Lexington. I assumed that she felt safer while riding illegally on the sidewalk, instead of choosing a perfectly suitable road shoulder, divided from the traffic lane by white line. Interestingly, the shoulder on Woburn St is much wider than the sidewalk, making riding a bike on that sidewalk even more uncomfortable. I guess though that the shoulder was not designed for bicycle use in the first place, but for extra car parking spaces.

If she was afraid of car traffic, this is because we built our suburbs that way - car-friendly, not people-friendly. Just as an example, assume you live at Seven Springs Ln in Burlington, MA and you want to get to the Burlington Mall that is conveniently located within walking distance. According to the Google Maps, it is only 0.9 of a mile and would take you 19 minutes to walk there. Why take a car, just walk! Easy? Not really...
Unfortunately, you have to cross a major highway and there are no sidewalks anywhere on this section of Middlesex Turnpike. Want to get to the Mall? Don't be eccentric, drive your car.

Being eccentric by choosing not to drive is what Velouria wrote about as well. It made me think that my school years looked quite different. I walked to my elementary school every day, I took a bus to my high school, and I biked to college. Even later, when I got my first car I used it only when I had to. Simply said, parking was scarce and hunting for a parking space killed all the fun of driving. The difference is - my behavior was not "eccentric" since I did not grow up in United States.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Drug race

I remember pretty well the time in my childhood when I used to spend hours in front of TV watching the Peace Race with my dad. The Peace Race was important to us at that time, since it was pretty much the only way to watch some top cyclists from our country competing on TV. 

You must remember that Poland was still ruled by a communist regime in 70's and 80's and it wasn't always possible for cyclists to travel West and take part in e.g. Tour de France. Plus, for some strange reason cyclists from the former Eastern Bloc were not allowed to be professional athletes therefore, the Peace Race was supposed to be a race of cycling amateurs. My dad's hero at that time was Ryszard Szurkowski, a teacher from Poland, who won the Peace Race 4 times between 1970 and 1975. Since I was born a bit later, I remember Uwe Ampler better, another 4-times winner.
The amateur aspect of the Peace Race was a pure joke. All those miners, teachers, and other "amateurs" hardly ever worked in their original professions. Instead, they were supported by large tech teams. Thus, they were not different than professional cyclists in the West. And like in the West, their sole existence was focused on winning at all cost. This involved using drugs as well.
Alberto Contador celebrating his victory in 2011 Giro d'Italia (Photo by Giovanni Auletta, AP)

We started this year with news of Alberto Contador suspension regarding his blood doping in 2010 and 2011. Contador lost his 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d'Italia titles. And then, 3 days, later we got the news that Jan Ullrich  was found guilty of doping and banned from competing as well. If you ever wondered how dirty professional road cycling could be, now you have the answer. Ullrich had a bad luck of being always second in Tour de France, as long as Lance Armstrong was racing. Could he be simply tired of looking at Armstrong's rear wheel? I am sure he wanted to win too. And how about Armstrong? Looking at what happened during the last few days it is hard to believe that Lance was always clean. It is possible that he was just smarter, luckier and had more money for better drugs than the rest of professional cyclists.
Amazingly, many pro cyclists believe that they are fair with their rivals, since if everybody is cheating chances of victory are equal for everyone. But what about us, viewers? Do we want to watch a bicycle race or a drug race? Is this still sport or some medical experiment?

It looks like for now, in order to enjoy cycling in its purest form we should dig out those archive tapes from the beginning of XX century.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Copenhagenize Index

I keep noticing some improvements in bicycle infrastructure around Boston. There are more bike lanes showing up, like the newly constructed lane along Concord Ave in Belmont and also more bike racks, so we are finally not limited to locking our bikes to lamp posts and fences nearby.
But how Boston Metro Area compares to other cities out there? To answer this question, I decided to take a closer look at the Copenhagenize Index. The Index awards points in 13 different categories. A maximum of 4 points can be awarderd in each category:

Advocacy: I give Boston 2 points for some organized advocacy like Annual Tweed Ride, although I wonder if it is a bit too generous.

Bicycle Culture: Another 2 points. Many Bostonians still see bicycle as a purely recreational vehicle, but there is a growing number of commuters as well.

Bicycle Facilities: I think 3 points here is appropriate. Boston and surrounding towns seem to have quite many various facilities: bike lanes, paths, parking racks, and buses equipped with bike racks.

Bicycle Infrastructure: Another 2 points here. I think that we have not enough bike paths throughout the city. Most of existing ones are only bike lanes and there are not that many of them around.

Bike Sharing Programme: There is the Hubway: 61 stations, 600 bikes, first 30min. is free. Not bad, but: stations are ONLY in Boston (i.e. no trips to Cambridge, Somerville, etc.) and you have to agree to wear a helmet. Weird! Program has just started so for now 2 points only.

Gender Split: Doesn't look that great. The city of Boston reports that 72% of cyclists are men and 28% women. On the other hand, we do have a beautiful representation of female cyclists through many cycling blogs. Let's say 2 points is probably a good guess.

Modal Share for Bicycles: The City of Boston reports a pathetic 2.11% as of 2009: 1 point.

Modal Share Increase Since 2006: According to The City of Boston there's been a 122% increase in ridership from 2007 to 2009. I give it 2 points.

Perception of Safety: Judging from how many helmet-wearing bikers I see daily I can't be more generous beyond just a single point. Boston crash rate is 1 crash per 1030 miles (1657km) and 37% of those crashes involved a car. Also, "both men and women cyclists perceive cycling on off-road paths as significantly more safe than biking on Boston streets."

Politics: Again, difficult to say, which means that no media is loud enough about new facilities for bikers. This means that there is not much going on or City is just quiet about it. The situation is improving: new bike sharing program, new lanes. Let's say 2 points would be fair.

Social Acceptance: Hmm, I have a strong feeling that many drivers are still hostile towards city bikers, although on the other hand, most of them are at least neutral. Let's say 3 points would be fair.

Urban Planning: In the very downtown the situation is better, but a short bike trip to suburbs shows that sidewalks and bike paths/lanes are as rare as pink elephants - 1 point.

Traffic Calming: None on main roads (i.e. most roads). Better in strictly residential areas. Still, no limited car traffic areas anywhere. Even the Newbury St and Harvard Sq are car-oriented places. Weird. I don't think Boston deserves any points here.

Total: 22
I don't know if I was too strict but 22 points is a really poor result. The best U.S. city, Portland, got 36 points. Even the New York City received 29. Not to mention Amsterdam and Copenhagen with 54 and 52 points, respectively. Let's hope the bicycle culture in Boston will grow and more and more people will use their bikes everyday, not only on the Minuteman Bikeway.

Friday, February 3, 2012

I open the fridge and I see... Patriots

I am trying to figure out my plans for this Sunday. I think I will take Dr. J for a walk. It is supposed to be cool but sunny. Maybe we can visit the Friends Robbins Farm Park. It is placed on the top of the highest hill in Arlington with a fabulous view of Boston. One thing for sure - it is not a hill that I would love to visit on a bike. This incline would be a killer for my knees.
The park has also the longest slide in the area installed on the slope of the hill. Lots of fun for kids.
Friends Robbins Farm Park (Source: Google Maps)

I am thinking about all this since I don't want to stay home and listen to my neighbors watching Superbowl. For the last few weeks I have been seeing Patriots everywhere. People wear Pats merchandise, talk about Patriots, and there is obviously more Patriots on TV than ever. In fact, this is really annoying, since now I am unable to watch news normally. More than a half of the news time is dedicated to Patriots. I see Patriots everywhere. I am afraid to open my fridge...

Well, I would like to share the excitement but for an average European like me, who can't understand why a game with an egg-shaped ball carried by hand is called football, all this is just plain annoying. I actually hardly ever watch TV, I get news from the internet instead. But when I turn the TV on, I wish I had the BBC channel, since New England news channels are impossible to watch right now.

So this weekend I go out and I am taking Dr. J to the playground. It will be empty. Everyone will be watching the game. Great!