Thursday, January 30, 2014

A (wintery) mix of things

Recently, I decided to service my car and have the engine oil changed. I had a feeling I haven't done that in a long while. I found the receipt from the last oil change with the date and the odometer reading:
and compared that with the current one:

That was a bit of a shock: 5400mi in 2.5 years. That's how much I drove my car. I use it only if the weather is really bad (like a heavy downpour, etc.) and only to drive to/from work (~7mi one way). As you can tell, this doesn't happen too often, otherwise I wouldn't have driven only 2000 miles a year. Once a while, I keep questioning whether it even makes sense to keep it, but because it's a 12-year old car, fully paid and still runs well, I want to keep it for those emergency situations. I found out that it doesn't cost me that much annually (mostly extra insurance). It has new tires that I purchased a few years ago and is generally pretty well maintained.


There is a number of new constructions going on around my workplace in Burlington, MA. One of them is this:
3rd Ave, Burlington, MA (Source:

This place is still far from being done but it seems to raise quickly. Months ago, I wasn't sure what this place was going to be. At first, I thought it may be just another office building - like many others around, but then I thought about the mall. The developer will probably argue with calling it just a mall and likes to call it a "social place" but it really doesn't change its function as just another retail space. Whatever. What worries me though, is that those beautiful visualizations show that the whole place is clearly prepared for drivers, not just people. Huge parking lots, no bike paths, not even bike racks shown, not a single virtual cyclist in those renders, limited sidewalks. I guess this shouldn't surprise me - this area of Burlington is not people-friendly anyway. I am pretty sure that the developer of 3rd Ave didn't even consider changing the status quo and adding some bike-friendly facilities.


I wrote about this concept bike some time ago and now, apparently, the prototype bicycle is getting closer to some small-scale production. If you don't know what the Izzy Bike is, watch the video:

I am still not sure if that riding position is indeed superior in comfort to a regular city bike but as I didn't have a chance to ride the bike, I can only speculate.

"Berger's truths" are now online. You can read them here. Unfortunately, the comment system does not work for now so I can't leave a comment what I think about those "facts".


The days are finally getting longer. It's no longer pitch black when I leave my office at 5 p.m. although on the other hand by the time I get home it's completely dark. Just a few more weeks and I'll be done with riding in darkness will this winter season.


The last thing today - a true biking city - Groeningen. From the American standpoint, this kind of city center may look really odd as its very quiet, with slow moving traffic and few cars. But, ask yourself, wouldn't you like to live in a city like Groeningen?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

...and trucks! (A guide to vehicular profiling)

BikeSafeBoston published their "Guide to vehicular profiling", which is a funny summary of various types of drivers (and their cars) you may encounter on the road. And since "not all cars are created equal — certain vehicles on the road deserve extra scrutiny."
The guide is pretty much complete but omits one more types of vehicles that deserves a (very) special attention from all cyclists on the road - trucks. And I'm not taking about those Ford F-150s, but heavy, heavy trucks.
Don't ride next to trucks! (Source: Google Images)
The first problem with trucks (or either - with their drivers) is that they too often present an attitude  that can be described as "I am bigger than you so get off my way"! And this is not related to bicycles only but to cars as well. When I ride my bike to work I very often see drivers that give me plenty of space, even if this means entering temporarily the opposite traffic lane. But when there is a truck passing by, this very rarely happens. Almost like those drivers simply didn't care. They know they drive huge and heavy vehicles and no other car driver would try cutting them off and risk a collision, and they extend this behavior to cyclists on the road. This means that too often I am passed by a truck that drives by uncomfortably close.
The second problem with trucks is not really a problem with their drivers, but it's just related to the sheer size of those vehicles. They're wide, long and tall (All of which makes our bicycles to appear tiny in comparison). Because of this, an average heavy truck features multiple blind spots where the driver simply can't see (and it's not his fault) what is going on around his vehicle.
The best strategy - never assume the truck drivers can see you (Source:
This all means that we, cyclists, have to simply stay away, as far as possible, from these monsters and never assume their drivers can see us. In fact, one of the stupidest things you can do is to stop your bike right next to the truck attempting to right turn at an intersection. An example from London shows that collisions with heavy trucks are the most common reason of cyclist deaths in the city.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Arlington's Corridor Project and the livable future of our cities

Some local news (but even if you don't live in Arlington, MA... keep reading).

I found a comment on Twitter about the recent proposal to rebuild Mass Ave with pedestrian safety in focus:
A question to Mrs. Miles - do you want to please drivers in your town or all people? If drivers - why don't we simply convert Mass Ave into a highway?
Anyway, my Elka subscribed to Arlington Advocate - our local newspaper since she wanted to know what's going on in the town. That's good, especially that there is a big buzz about the Massachusetts Ave Corridor Project. I wrote about it earlier. The project plans on adding bike lanes to Mass Ave - our main street in Arlington, but its scope is much broader. It is an effort to convert the main street in the town into a place that is more livable: people- and cyclists-friendly and less car-dependent. To achieve this, town planned on removing one of 4 lanes on Mass Ave and use this space for bike lanes, median dividers and wider sidewalks. Not everyone around here is happy with this decision. Some "concerned citizens" objected this proposal and stalled it in the last public vote.
One of those people is Eric Berger, resident of Arlington, who wrote a commentary in today's paper (unfortunately, you can't view it online yet). Mr. Berger presents 7 "myths" about the project claiming that truth is elsewhere and rebuilding of Mass Ave means only more congestion, longer travel times, stuck emergency vehicles, more killed pedestrians, etc. To quote the article:
The truth is that the environment will become less green because traffic congestion and air quality will worsen. (...)
The truth is that traffic congestion will increase along with traffic back ups and therefore side street cut-through traffic will rise dramatically. (...)
The truth is that bike lanes (...) will provide an unsafe environment for these bicyclists, far less safe than the nearby Minuteman Bikeway. (...) 
The truth is the absence of any such crossing signals (...) undermines the safety of pedestrians crossing the corridor. (...)
The truth is that travel to and from the corridor will become more congested and less efficient, and the increased hassle will undermine corridor businesses. 
The main problem with Berger's"truths" is that he gives absolutely no proof in the article that his "truths" are true indeed. Essentially, he just pulls those statements out of his rear end not citing any sources whatsoever. Duh, anyone can do that!

How does he know that Arlington will become more polluted? Or that bicyclists will become unsafe on Mass Ave? Or that pedestrians will be in danger? Or the businesses will suffer?

Perhaps his "truths" should be put to test first, before we start rebuilding the town center.
Block those lanes that will be removed with cones, place temporary markings and see how the new layout could work without rebuilding most of the downtown. But maybe this is not easily doable. Maybe instead of reinventing the wheel we should just look for examples.

The main question remains - do we want to live in a place that is built for cars, or built for people? Mr. Berger seems to like to former and would probably like to see a multilane highway running through the town and would like to have several city blocks leveled and converted into huge parking lots. That has been tried already in many American cities but it all belongs to past. Our cities are changing and they do not follow Berger's advice, fortunately. New York is a good example:

Let's comment on some of the Berger's "truths" then:

"Bike lanes will be unsafe. Why build bike lanes if there is the Minuteman Bikeway nearby?"
Bike lanes on our main street will be unsafe if drivers decide to ignore them. But they are needed there. Berger's argues that we don't need the lanes because Minuteman Bikeway is nearby. But the Bikeway is not running in the same direction as Mass Ave! If I told Mr. Berger that he doesn't have to drive on Mass Ave since Route 2 is nearby, he wouldn't like it, for sure.
Another reason why MB is not the right choice for the commuters is that it's full of dog-walkers, children, baby strollers, joggers, etc. It's a multi-user path and as such, it's not designed to handle a heavy bike traffic. Not to mention the stop signs every few hundred feet. Would you want to drive to work every day on a road full of slower vehicles and stop signs at every intersection? I guess not.

"Crossing signals must be installed everywhere, especially the pedestrian-activated ones"
This is a car-oriented approach that says "Let pedestrians wait and not interfere with our driving. We will let them cross when there is a chance. Maybe in a few minutes." If the system is not programmed right (And it rarely is.), pedestrians will try to cross on red since no one wants to wait several minutes for green. Programming it right means that green light on crosswalks should come up within seconds, not minutes. Too often it works this way: pedestrian pushes the button, computer gets the request but has to wait the entire phase of light changes before can fit that request into the program.

Anyway, the problem with crosswalks and crosswalk lights is much larger. It's a way of fitting pedestrians into a car-infested city. Cities became car places where people can't walk freely anymore.

"Local businesses will suffer"
New York City example shows something exactly opposite. Of course, Arlington is not NYC - not even close. But the same rules will apply. If I visit a business place, I can often get there faster walking or by bike, locking it at the front door, instead of spending time hunting for a parking spot and then worry that my parking meter will expire soon. Do you really have to park your car right in front of the store?

"Let's keep it the way it is. We need the space for cars"
This has been tried before many times. You start with a congestion. You want to alleviate it by building new roads. You end up with more cars and more congestion. It doesn't work and the reason for it is that more roads must be build in place of the walking space, city parks and bike lanes (Where else would you find space in the city?). This encourages people to walk and bike less and drive more.
The recent trend worldwide is to do exactly the opposite - eliminate cars from city centers (see the video above), focus on public transport for long range travel and bicycles for short-range trips. Arlington, and many other cities in US, can do it better. Give priorities to buses, streetcars, bicycles. Design the system the way where people would benefit from mass transportation and simply not want to drive into the downtown.
My ideal Mass Ave would have only 2 car lanes, one in each direction but would also have bike lanes on both sides and a "T" tracks (Boston's streetcar) in the middle on the street.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Winter updates

Not much going on recently. It's the usual winter time in New England despite the picture presented to us by media. We are supposed to be hit this winter by a mysterious polar vortex. And while it did brought some really chilly air to Great Lakes and Midwest, I don't see anything unusual here in Boston. This winter is just like any other here. First, it starts slowly and December is still pretty mild. Then we get some snow, which is usually about a foot deep. Then comes January and we get a week or two of -15C (5F) weather.
That's the temperature we had last Tuesday when on my way to work my fingers froze slightly just like everything else around. Despite that, it wasn't a bad ride but not a completely uneventful one either. Someone decided that it was a good idea to cover up a large patch of ice just in front of the parking lot on my office building with a layer of sand. What's good for cars is not necessary great for bicycles. Thinking it's just a sandy road I rode through it a bit too fast, my front wheel skidded and I landed on ice. No damage taken, but it reminded me to watch out more for those icy streets.
The next day I had some other errands to run and it was easier to just drive instead. Perhaps the though of the previous day fall had something to do with it as well. But choosing to drive was good for one reason - it made me realize an interesting pattern. Whenever I drive my car to work in winter, nearly every time around 3 p.m. I feel sleepy, tired, lethargic and all I think about is to take a nap. But on the days I ride my bike instead, this feeling never comes. I am energetic the entire day. Riding my bike to work in winter must have something to do with it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

2014 is here. And while I have some cycling-related plans for the new year that I will keep secret for now, I am not going to make any New Year's resolutions at this point. I figured that it's better to keep my options open and not commit to something I may have a difficulty to find enough time for.

Of course, I am not going to give up cycling, both for transport and recreation but I am not planning anything wild this year. However, if you plan some crazy adventures on your bike as a part of your 2014 resolutions, it may hard to beat this:
 Maria Leijerstam on the way to the South Pole (Source: Icetrikes).

Maria Leijerstam completed a 400 mile long expedition to the South Pole from the edge of the Antarctic continent on a bike. It took her 9 days as she raced against two male competitors. However, unlike both men, she rode a fat-tire recumbent bike, which proved to be superior to more conventional bicycles. Not only the recumbent was extremely stable in strong winds and more aerodynamic, but could also be fitted with a very low gearing allowing Maria to climb some steep mountains and take a more direct route to the South Pole. Amazing!
Maria on her bike (Source: Icetrikes).