Wednesday, April 29, 2015

AAA "takes care" of cyclists too!

I get AAA Horizons magazine once a while (my wife is a member) and as I noticed the last year, AAA now caters to cyclists as well. If you're a AAA member you are eligible to two free service calls for your bicycle a year, should something happen to it when you're on your ride, away from home. I've never needed it myself but it actually could be useful in some rare circumstances.
April is almost over and apparently the next month is the Bike Safety Month, which means that we can continue doing what we love doing the most - blaming cyclists. To keep the tradition going, AAA President Mark A. Shaw wrote this editorial:
So what do we have here?
There is another type of road sharing that is now in full swing, and one that is most welcome. Whether it’s for work, family fun, or just enjoying the outdoors, bicycles remain a growing part of the daily transportation landscape.
So AAA is recognizing bicycles as transportation vehicles, not just recreational toys. Awesome!
Bicycles are a legitimate form of transportation and bicyclists are legal drivers of vehicles who must conform to laws and regulations established for their use. Many cyclists feel they are not respected by motorists and must fight for their place on the road. Both motorists and cyclists need space to safely operate in traffic – this requires mutual respect.
How commendable of Mr. Shaw to mention that again: bicycles are legitimate transportation vehicles. He also noticed that many people on bikes feel they are not respected by motorists "and must fight for their place on road". These are very nice words to say that most cyclists on roads are just obstacles and living targets to many drivers.
But then we get this:
Cyclists must remember that they need to obey all traffic controls, signs and signals. They are not allowed to ride against the flow of traffic, must signal all turns, wear bright colors during the day and reflective colors at night, and always wear a helmet. 
Oh, for Christ's sake Mark. You were doing so well and now you blew it! There is no law to require wearing helmets (by adults) and no law to require bright-colored clothing. At least not in Massachusetts. So the next time you come up with a (literally) brilliant idea to require cyclists to wear bright-colored clothing, I'm going to ask you to paint your car neon-bright, glowing pink. For your safety, of course!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Racktime ShoulderIt handlebar bag review

Two years ago I bought my Racktime WorkIt Classic pannier as my main office bag. It has worked very well so far - it's roomy enough to hold all my usual office junk and it's easy to attach to and detach from the bike. However, as with nearly everything, after some time I discovered one serious issue with WorkIt Classic - the back of the bag gets very messy very easily in inclement weather (And we get lots of it in wintertime in Boston). Now I realize that ideally WorkIt should be used on a bike that has full side skirts on the rear wheel. This way less sand, mud, snow and rain would get onto the unprotected backside where the quick release system is attached.
This is how my WorkIt Classic looks after two years (and nearly 3 winters). Messy.
On top of that, I hardly ever carry my laptop to/from work so such a large pannier isn't really necessary on my daily commute. Not to mention that WorkIt works only with bikes that have rear racks.
All of these things made me look for another solution recently. That's why I decided to give Racktime another chance - with their ShoulderIt handlebar bag instead.
ShoulderIt is a handlebar bag, which means it sits high above the ground and far away from the elements. It should translate into less dirt and mud gathering on the underside of the bag. I will know for sure after the first winter season. It also means that ShoulderIt is smaller and 2x lighter than WorkIt - 15" x 11" x 4" (HxWxD) and 656g vs. 13" x 16.5" x 8" and 1300g. Plus, it will work on a bike without the rear rack. However, you would need to install the included quick release bracket on handlebars first.
WorkIt Classic and ShoulderIt side by side.
The decreased size and weight comes with a price, of course. ShoulderIt simply doesn't have as many features as its bigger brother. The bag doesn't expand and there is only one compartment, but similarly to WorkIt, it hides several smaller pockets inside (one of them with a zipper). There is also a small front pocket with a zipper - good place for your keys, badge, etc.
Unlike its bigger brother, ShoulderIt's shoulder strap is not detachable, but because it's permanently attached, ShoulderIt comes with a smart solution to securing the strap when the bag is mounted on handlebars. The large rear flap that usually covers quick release bracket on the backside can be simply flipped over and is then held by two hidden magnets. That takes care of keeping the shoulder strap secured during the ride.
As for the remaining features, there are a few reflective stripes sewn into the bag, double zipper on the top and one handlebar bracket by Ortlieb, with a lock. To be honest, I'm not sure why I should be bothered with locking the bag on my bike. The lock locks the bag but not its content, after all.
Overall, I'm very pleased with this purchase so far. The decreased size and weight means much more convenience when carrying this bag around, off the bike. There is a remaining question whether its lack of waterproofness is going to be a show stopper, but I can always try to use the rain cover that came with WorkIt with this bag too. And with the price of about $60, ShoulderIt is 2x cheaper than the bigger WorkIt.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Boston in the news

Lots of news about Boston recently. First, it turns out that our Beantown is one of the most walkable large cities in the U.S. That shouldn't be surprising - many Midwestern U.S. cities were pretty much built for cars, while Boston, being one of the oldest cities in America, still maintains its XVIII-XIX century layout.
Walk score for 10 the most walkable U.S. large cities (Source:
Next, apparently there is a chance that Boston could become America's first car-free city. To be honest, I have difficulty believing that this could happen by 2034, as the article predicts. But I would welcome kicking out cars from Newbury St in Back Bay and Hanover St in North End as soon as possible. These streets see a heavy foot traffic on daily basis and really there is little reason not to give them back to people.
Becoming car-free would obviously have to be a gradual process. Could it start now? In some places in Boston citizens already realized that not catering to cars in the middle of the city makes everyone's like easier. The temporary one way streets that were created this (very) snowy winter may stay here for good. Not only they improved traffic flow, reduced congestion, but also now there seem to be more space left for on-street parking and bike lanes.
Parking in Boston is, in general, a major problem. That's because it's... too cheap. At least according to Donald Shoup, who spent his life studying parking problems in large urban areas in America. He states it firmly - we have problems finding parking spaces in Boston because we pay too little: $1.25 per hour.
Cost of parking in Boston compared to other large U.S. cities
But the cost of metered on-street spaced is only one part of the problem. The other one is number of residential parking permits. Not only they are free in Boston (compared to $110/year or just $0.30/day in San Francisco) but the city issues too many of them. More than the parking spaces available!
To solve this problem Boston could introduce tiered residential parking permits (you pay e.g. $150/year for the first car but $500 for the second one and third one is not even allowed). But according to Shoup the best way to solve the general parking problem in the city is surge pricing. Thanks to intelligent meters price for on-street parking could be adjusted on hourly basis - it would go up when demand is high, motivating drivers to park for a shorter time and go down when demand drops. As a result, parking spaces are more efficiently utilized and drivers spend less time hunting for a free spot. It should also help eliminating some cars from the city - those that are rarely used but camp out in free spaces today.
This all means that if Boston really wants to become a car-free city some day, it should start with its parking spaces.
Meanwhile, just outside of Boston in my town of Arlington, police announced that this spring they will roll out "Operation Safe Streets". It's supposed to be an initiative to "focus on speeding, drivers who disregard traffic signals and stop signs, drivers who endanger pedestrians, distracted motorists, and those with an affinity for texting behind the wheel". That's nice, but isn't it what they are supposed to do anyway?