Tuesday, March 27, 2012

War of the worlds - can bikers and drivers coexist peacefully?

Since I don't live in Holland nor Denmark and I can't enjoy riding on bike lanes on my way to work, I have to share the road with many town residents every day. Yes, some of them get a bit too close to my bike but in general, I never had any problems with vehicular cycling. Maybe this is because I don't ride on our main street - Massachusetts Ave. Apparently, this is the place of most bicycle-related crashes in Arlington. This is how it looks like:
12 hotsposts for bike crashes in Arlington (Source: Jim Haddadin @ WickedLocalArlington)

There are several reasons for these crashes but most of them can be narrowed down to either the cyclists or drivers not obeying the law. I don't want to get into the whole discussion on who's wrong and who's right, but there should be a way to satisfy both sides of the equation at the same time. Ideally, we would want these two groups coexist peacefully and do their thing without interrupting each other. This could be done one way - by designating some space on Mass Ave for bike lanes. These lanes would keep both types of vehicles separated and would increase safety. Unfortunately, it looks like most of Arlington residents don't like this idea:
Add bike lanes on Mass Ave? Not a popular idea... (Source: WickedLocal.com)

I am not surprised by these results since in order to make space for bike lanes, the Mass Ave Corridor Project plans to reduce the number of traffic lanes from 4 to 2-3. And this is a big no-no for most of the residents of this town. I thought about it recently and figured out that if a single traffic lane is about 11' wide and a parking space is about 7' wide, we should be able to fit 4 traffic lanes, parking spaces on both sides, and two 3'-wide bike lanes with 2'-wide door zones on both sides of the street. Sure, this will make the parking space a bit tight, and bike lanes are not going to be like those luxurious Dutch bike highways, but if we never compromise on something, we will get nowhere.

Most drivers will still disagree. I realize that they will prefer the status quo when they "share" the road with cyclists. Unfortunately, that "sharing" often means getting too close to passed bicycles and forcing them off the road. Bike lanes would make it safer for everyone. Safer for cyclists to ride on Mass Ave and easier for drivers to drive as they will not be slowed down anymore by bicycles in front of them. And there is a chance that more people will realize that riding a bike is safe and will leave their cars at home. This will further the reduce road congestion making driving to work faster and less stressful.

Can we coexist peacefully?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Old news, good news

This news is a bit old (March 12th) but since it is directly related to what I was writing about several weeks ago, it is worth mentioning.

We can read on Wicked Local Arlington:
Improvements will be made to an intersection in the center of town that has been called congested and unsafe. Funded by the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT), the town will install bike lanes on both sides of Mass. Ave.; remove parking in front of Cambridge Savings Bank to allow room for bike lanes and add parking on Mystic Street to make up for it; extend the bike path along Uncle Sam Park; elongate the left turn lane on Mystic Street onto Mass. Ave; extend curbs to shorten crossing distance for pedestrians and adjust traffic signal timing to give them more time.
Option 5 (Source: Arlington Center Safe Travel Project)

Excellent. This means that the Option 5 was chosen, which was the one I sort of hoped for. I wrote "sort of" since my preference was more toward option 3B. This is only because it opens a new possibility of building bike lanes on both sides of Mass Ave.
Option 3B (Source: Arlington Center Safe Travel Project)

Even though the more "conservative" option won, I am still pleased that the Town of Arlington decided to finally tie both loose ends of the Minuteman Bikeway together. Hopefully this will make the main intersection in town safer for all of us.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Units, units

Jeremy Z left a comment on my post "Locking strategy":
Why are you still citing temperature in C and snowfall in cm? The news didn't give it that way, so you're apparently translating it for your own benefit. It's kind of sad to me when people come here from other countries for the benefits of living in the US, but then refuse to integrate.
Jeremy is absolutely right. I should use the imperial system more and I should do it for benefit of my readers (as most of you come from US). But it is not that easy for me as you may think.
I have never used imperial units before I came to US and learning it is more difficult than learning the metric system. Sure, I know how many inches are in a foot and how many feet are in a yard. But I still can't remember how many feet or yards are in a mile. Still, length units are relatively easy to understand. Plus, I use them at work (engineering). The temperature scale in degrees of Fahrenheit is much, much more complex. It confuses me to the point that I don't watch news to check the forecast. Instead, I use Forecastfox, a free Firefox add-on. I have it configured in degrees C and this way I don't have to convert anything. The only two temperature values that I can convert easily from F into C is 32 deg F (water freezes, equals 0 deg C) and 212 deg F (water boils, equals 100 deg C). I am familiar with the latter one only because I have an electric kettle that shows "212F" when water for my tea is ready. The rest of the scale is a big mystery. When I hear that it is supposed to be 65F outside, I know that it's warm but I don't know how much. When my son's body temperature reaches 99F I scratch my head and wonder whether to call his doctor immediately or if he is still fine. In fact, the first thing I did in the first car I bought here in US was to change the temperature units to degrees C and the clock to 24h format on my car's dashboard.

As you may noticed, I started using double units in recent posts and I will continue to do so to benefit everyone. Temperature will be listed then in "non-standard" (sorry, couldn't resist) degrees of Fahrenheit.

At least I am glad that the entire bicycle industry adopted metric system universally. Although I realize that this must drive you nuts here. I am happy I don't have to look for a 7/32" wrench when a 5mm one is perfectly appropriate.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Arlington Advocacy

I have just received the newest issue of our local newspaper - The Arlington Advocate and on its front page I see this:
Clearly, the bicycle traffic along Massachusetts Ave seems to be an issue. Let's see why.

The first problem presented in the article refers to the situation when two bikers nearly ran over a lady standing on the sidewalk in front of her home in East Arlington:
"A pair of cyclists barreling down the sidewalk was using vocal cords in lieu of a horn to alert her to their presence. Fortunately, she froze, spandex-clad cyclists flying past her in a blur."
First of all, what the hell were those bikers doing on the sidewalk? And if they were "spandex-clad" indeed, they were probably on their road bikes. Why wouldn't they ride their bikes on the road and share it with cars? Were they so afraid of the car traffic? Honestly fellow bikers, sidewalks are not for your wheels and such actions should be penalized.

The Advocate suggests that perhaps Arlington should follow Cambridge's example and put its police force on bikes to better enforce the law. Apparently, the City of Cambridge is also considering a dramatic increase in fines for cyclists who run red lights. Yes, that may help, although it's how well the law can be enforced what really matters, not how high the fine is. Also, according to the Advocate,
"the matter is complicated by the fact bicyclists are unregistered, unlicensed and uninsured commuters".
Oops, here we go again with an idea to require cyclists to have insurance and license plates on their bikes. Just please remember that drivers are insured, registered and licensed, yet it doesn't stop them from breaking the law.

But going back the situation presented above - If bikers are riding on sidewalk just because the "want to", there is not much we can do about it except educating and ticketing them. But we could also show them an alternative and put bike lanes along Massachusetts Ave. As I mentioned earlier, it is wide enough to be shared with bicycles. Arlington's Selectmen supported Mass Ave Corridor Project, which would add those long-awaited bike lines, but many residents oppose this idea claiming that it would not solve the problem. Eric Berger, Arlington's resident and movement's leader, is quoted in the article:
"When they (cyclists) engage in illegal activity like running red lights, blasting through crosswalks, riding the wrong way on one-way streets, failing to signal when turning or stopping (...), they can cause accidents and injuries and possibly deaths."
Mr Berger is right, cyclists can do all this. But I don't think this is the reason we should not let them to ride on Mass Ave. Many drivers break law the same way every day and we don't ban them from our streets. In fact, I have a hard time finding drivers in Massachusetts who really use their turn signals. Apparently, signaling turns is a sign of weakness here. To my understanding, Mr Berger's group is simply trying to say: "Mass Ave is for cars and we don't want any bikers there. Go ride your bike elsewhere!"

Fortunately, our Selectmen see it differently and they would like to add bike lanes on East Arlington's Mass Ave since it would "slow down the traffic" and stop Mass Ave being a "raceway" (Agree!). There are many residents who would support this project and they proposed a ballot vote later this year to decide the fate of those bike lanes. Immediately, about 3,000 Arlington residents signed a petition to oppose this idea, which makes me think that they must be afraid of losing the vote. I like to be optimistic and hope that people of Arlington will understand that regulating and enforcing bicycle traffic would improve everyone's safety.

You can read more about cycling in Arlington (and many other issues) on newspaper's website.

UPDATE: The article is available now online as well.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chain can happen to you

I rode 1100km already (over 680 mi) on my Schwinn Coffee and recently the inevitable happened - the chain dropped on my way back from work. I managed to fix it without tools, although after that repair my fingers were darker than a North Korean night. Yes, a belt drive would be better. I wouldn't have to grease it that much.

But why inevitable? Well, all chains stretch over time and 1100km is quite a distance for a low quality chain on my Schwinn. And since my bike has a 3-speed internal gearing hub, there is no chain tensioning mechanism such as a rear derailleur. This means that frequent adjustments of the rear wheel position should be done in order to tension the chain and prevent dropping. I must admit, I forgot about it and haven't done it for the last few months. I blame it on my relative unfamiliarity with single-speed bikes (or IG hubs). The last time I had a bike like that was about 20 years ago. All my recent bicycles had rear derailleurs, until I bought that Schwinn.

I will keep an eye on it and will likely replace the chain after riding another ~700-800 miles. By then it will be completely worn, especially since I ride on hills everyday, pushing harder on pedals, which may stretch the chain more than if my commute was completely flat.

Monday, March 12, 2012

It runs in the family

Baltic Sea in Poland

Too bad I don't have any pictures, but it still is quite a story to tell. What I have in mind is the way my grandfather used to spend his summer vacation. Usually, he would send his family to the sea side in northern Poland for a few weeks. That included my mom, my grandmother, and me. My grandfather had to stay home and would join us later. That's simply because he couldn't just take that much time off. But I think that the most fun he had during his vacation was not by lying on the beach but by getting there. He and a few of his friends would ride their bikes up north to the shores of Baltic Sea. They usually covered ~350km (220 mi) over the course of 4-6 days. As you can tell from these numbers, their pace was pretty slow. Obviously, I was too young (about 2 years old) to remember anything of it but I am sure that they had fun. That's because being on the road was the goal, not getting to their destination. The low speed can be also explained by the fact that my grandfather was about 65 at that time and definitely didn't feel like racing. And since northern part of Poland can be quite hilly, he was always taking a little helper with him - a small, 2-stroke combustion engine. It was mounted on the front rack above the front wheel and was powering it by a rubber belt. I regret I did not inherit that bike but he sold it a long time ago when he got too old for such a long rides.

I was thinking about it all recently and I realized that cycling must run in the family. If your parents or siblings don't ride a bike and never did it with you, you will likely never try and never love it. This statement may sound false to us who are 30+ years old, since we are the generation who used to spend most of their childhood time outside. But if you look at today's children, many of them get stuck in front of TV or a computer screen and may not have a bike at all.

Me and my brother used to bike everywhere. Now, we still ride our bikes to work. My father does that too and my mother, since she is retired, likes to take weekend rides once a while as well. And even though we never really rode together as long distance as my grandfather did, bikes were always around in my family.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Headwind (Source: Kickstand Comics)

It seems that winter is going away. The beginning of this week was a little rough. I admit that my feet and my face froze a bit on the way to work. Mostly because of the severe wind chill, which made my morning commute on Monday and Tuesday uncomfortable.

Today, we've got a nice surprise: 18 deg C (65F)! The day was so pleasant that it would be a sin to leave your bike at home. But that strong wind is still there. I was struggling a little on my ride back home with strong headwind and steep hills. Despite that, my jacket traveled strapped to the rear rack. Spring is coming finally.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Real cyclists don't complain

I read an article recently (I am not giving you the link since it wasn't in English anyway) about a battle that cyclists fight with local city council. The city built new bike lanes, which was a long-time request from cyclists but failed to recognize that a man on a bike is not the same as a pedestrian and requires a little bit different facilities. Most paths throughout the city were built with regular raised curbs in places where they intersect with traffic lanes. This obviously creates major obstacles for bikers as, especially those less-skilled ones, have to dismount in order to push their bikes up the curb. Such designed bike lane is not a "lane" anymore since there is no real flow of vehicles. It is just an interrupted movement. The battle continues. Local cyclists want now these curbs to be lowered.
Obstacle course (Source: Rowerowy Raciborz)

However, the most interesting of all were comments to that article. The minority commented that this situation is ridiculous since it could be essentially compared with a highway were cars have to drastically slow down in order to drive over giant speed bumps laid across the road. It is a bike lane not an obstacle course after all.
The majority however, claimed that "real cyclists don't complain" and bikers should be simply happy that they even got any bike lanes at all. Raised curbs should not be a problem for a "real cyclist", uneven bike path surface just adds some fun and in general, cyclists are too demanding and they don't deserve the facilities they get.

Do we really complain too much or do we just fight for our basic needs?

One thing for sure - the eternal war of bikers and drivers will never end.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Muddy mess of March

 Ok, I admit it - I didn't ride my bike to work today. The muddy mess season is opened now and streets are covered in melting snow. Combined with today's rain, this is not a weather I would enjoy when riding my bike. And since I was running a bit late this morning, driving was a much better option anyway. The good news is that it looks like spring is around the corner and we can expect much more sun and a warmer weather next week.