Monday, February 23, 2015

Parking problems

This isn't funny anymore. This white stuff is everywhere and while roads and even (surprisingly) some bike paths are plowed quite well, the amount of snow this winter created a new kind of problem for me - with a place to park. To park a bicycle, that is. Not a car.

Bike advocates (myself included) like to point out the obvious fact that there is simply not enough space in the city to accommodate everyone's personal car (i.e. one per person). This makes other solutions such as public transportation or bicycles much more suitable in congested residential or commercial zones. Well, this winter I realized that there are exceptions to this rule but these seem to exists only because of our car-centric city planning.

What gets plowed first in winter? City streets. What gets low priority for snow removal? Sidewalks and bike paths (They become snow storage in winter months). And everyone follows this pattern, at least in my area. Everyone is expected to drive, roads are cleared of snow and parking lots too. Sidewalks - not so much (or not at all), so if you need to go to the store two blocks away you better drive there. Weird.

I know that I'm a bit of a weirdo, since in my building with hundreds of employees I'm the only person riding a bicycle to work, year round. This obviously means that clearing out the snow from the bike rack at the front door gets lowest possible priority from our maintenance crew. It simply never happens. The rack got buried in the snow a month ago, after the first blizzard and hasn't been cleaned up ever since. Facing this problem, I had to find another place to park my bike. The railing at the unused back door worked fine for the next few weeks but after the last weekend's snow storm, it got buried in the snow as well. I'm slowly running out of options. Since the beginning of the last week I've had to lock my bike to another railing at the loading dock.
This how NOT to lock your bike but believe me, I had no choice.

Meanwhile, everyone else who drives can enjoy a snow-free parking lot. You may say that my example is isolated because in downtown Boston the situation is probably quite the opposite. Huge snow banks resulted in reduced parking spaces on street and while you can chain your bike to any lamp post, you can't do the same with your car.
This is how you park your bike in Boston this winter.

However, this would be largely avoidable if you didn't have to drive into the city at all. The problem is, most public transportation systems in United States are slower and less efficient than driving your own car and most Americans who could bike to work, won't, because they picture cycling as sport, exclusively.

Fortunately, as of yesterday the white stuff seems to be melting slowly. By the end of this week I might start seeing the top of the bike rack at my workplace again.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Thinking outside the box - how to keep cyclists safe?

Reading some recent news, I keep thinking that people in Denmark or Holland are clearly delayed when it comes to all this bicycle tech and innovation happening around the world right now. I mean, they are still riding their wooden bakfiets and other old-school bicycles like it was 1920 or something. With so many cyclists in Amsterdam or Copenhagen safety must be a primary concern. And because it's not 1920 anymore, we need to start thinking outside of the bakfiets box. So let's see what the rest of the world can offer to Danes and Dutch.

The main problem with keeping cyclists safe in cities is that they have to share roads with cars and other heavy vehicles. While urban planners in Denmark or Holland tried to solve this issue by closing some streets to cars and building dedicated bike paths, a much better solution has just been developed in England - The London Underline.
This brilliant idea puts cyclists underground where they stay safe, away from the real traffic. Speaking about the traffic, the article noticed that The Underline would solve London's current traffic problems:
"This could be the energy-efficient solution London has been looking for to solve its traffic problems."
Right - because London's traffic problems are caused by too many bicycles on the streets, so if we move them underground, we will make more space for cars and traffic will flow nicely again. How convenient!
Meanwhile, South Dakota state representatives want mandatory reflective or fluorescent clothing for all cyclists. That's to make them more visible, of course. I don't have data on how many bike collisions happen each year in South Dakota but I'm pretty sure that number is much lower than all car collisions in that state. So why not just paint all cars fluorescent yellow or bright neon pink to keep South Dakota safe? They don't say. Perhaps the Governor of South Dakota doesn't like pink.
Now when we know that in order to keep cyclists safe the best we can do is to put them underground and give them all neon pink vests, is there anything else? Helmets, you may say. Australians, being the most advanced cycling nation in the world are already doing this - 90% of all cyclists in Australia wear helmets (Hmm, I wonder why?). What an example! But what about the countries where cyclists still refuse to wear styrofoam hats? Let's make them wear airbags!
This solution not only offers more protection than an ordinary helmet but looks simple and stylish too, which means that even those conservative Dutch or Danes should like it. And Australians. On a hot summer day.
But I think we should try to see even further. There must be a better way to protect cyclists. I quickly realized that the ultimate solution was developed by the British. For James Bond. I'm talking about that inflatable jacket he used in "The World Is Not Enough."
So there you go - the safest cyclists should ride underground on a bright yellow bike, wearing a neon pink inflatable armor and a helmet. And this is the ultimate solution for Vision Zero.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Thursday - the day my bike froze still

I mentioned recently that the last snow storm dumped 2 feet of snow over everything in my area, which made my usual work commute a bit more difficult. Not because of the inaccessible bike paths (they were plowed the next day) but because the bike rack in front of my office building got buried in a massive snow pile. This left me with no good spot to park my bike. This is how the bike rack looked last week:
And this is how it looks now:
It's somewhere there. You will have to believe me. Yes, we've got more snow (clearly we had not enough), with even more coming every other day. Such as this morning. It started snowing heavily when I left my house and because this white stuff was blowing into my face, my today's commute was not particularly enjoyable. Well, at least it was warm (around 32F or 0C).
The bigger problem emerged later - something I didn't expect, even though I should've probably anticipated it coming. The air temperature dropped a lot during the day and when I was leaving my office at 5 p.m. it was only about 14F (-10C). But because my bike was left outside, wet and covered with morning snow, it froze - pretty much completely. It turned out that the rear brake was frozen solid but fortunately I managed to get the front one working after short struggle. The shifter cable was stuck as well but thankfully it started operating properly after the first few hundred feet. Cranks and chain were super stiff and I had to spin them for some time to get them going again. Overall, that was all a new experience. I've never had a chance to ride a frozen bicycle. I managed to get home safely and slowly even though the rear brake was still stuck tight once I arrived at Arlington.

I noticed that despite the last generous snowfall, DPWs of Lexington and Bedford keep up a very good work at plowing the Minuteman Bikeway. Sometimes I feel like I'm rolling on a winter cycling superhighway.
Minuteman Bikeway in Bedford, MA

However, I can't say the same about the section in my home town. Once you cross the Lexington-Arlington border you quickly notice that the Minuteman becomes much narrower and is covered with piles of snow. It clearly hasn't been plowed in a while. It is still accessible and usable but it's much more difficult to ride bikes there. Is Arlington's DPW sleeping or did they completely give up on plowing the bike paths assuming everyone should get a fat bike anyway?

More snow to come next week. I don't have a fat bike so I can't say I can't wait for the white stuff to blow into my face again.