Sunday, July 27, 2008

First Bike Move

I finally participated in a bike move - the general idea is to get as many people, bikes and trailers together as possible to help someone, usually a stranger, move to a new residence. Sometimes one mile, sometimes ten miles. Usually this person is car-free or car-light, and/or otherwise involved in the local cycling community.

This was the first known bike move in Vancouver. Brenda was moving about twenty blocks, from downtown Vancouver, north to the Uptown neighborhood. Fortunately, she had a small apartment, so the ten or so cyclists that showed up were able to move almost everything in two trips. It is amazing how many large items can be moved by bike, given the correct equipment. I was impressed with how much I was able to haul with my little Burley Nomad trailer, but it was nothing compared to the expansive homemade flatbed trailers.

The actual transport was a very slow process, up some minor hills and through several busy intersections. The loading was even slower - it takes some time and skill to get a large load balanced on a relatively small trailer. We were successful, despite several tipsy and otherwise dicey moments, and after the hard work were rewarded with delicious pizza and drinks at the new apartment.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Stupid People

A new feature I am attempting. The Stupid Person of Today (SPOT) thread! Hopefully recurring - but not too often. I can only handle so much stupid...

Occasionally, there are people so stupid, the entertainment value merits documentation. Well, today was no exception. Today, we actually have multiple SPOT's. Gosh, get out the sponge and let's scrub.

First, on the way into work, southbound on Broadway, stopped at a red light at Burnside. Several other cyclists are waiting, as well as many cars. But not Me First - also on a bike. Me First decides there is no stopping - hell, never mind the multiple people already waiting at the light, and never mind the lack of visibility of cross traffic.

But, we get to see Me First again. Me First is slooowwww. Like, fat old lady slow. Within a block of the light turning green, several other cyclists are now bunched up in the bike lane, while Me First plods along at a walking pace. Lovely. Nothing wrong with slow, but maybe consider your pace before flying around other people through a traffic signal. As well as blatantly contributing to the perceived bike vs. car ruckus. What a SPOT.

Later, on the way home from work, in Vancouver eastbound on Evergreen at Grand. Stopped in the bike lane at a red light. A trashy Honda pulls up, looking as if it spent the last decade under a sand dune in the Australian Outback. Is that sand stuck on the windshield? Old woman with a huge cigarette hanging out of her mouth, at the wheel. Do they even make cigarettes that long? Huh, must be custom rolled...

Light turns green. We both go. Unfortunately, Tobacco Ho is turning right, across my lane. She bellows, "You FUCKER! Yo' lights red!" I stop, with her bumper resting on my calf, as she is halfway across the bike lane. I refuse to move. Not smart - I could become a SPOT, myself - so to speak.

Conveniently, her window is open. "Actually, I have the right of way, because you are crossing a lane, and there is somebody in it - ME." Tobacco Ho is getting furious. "No, I have a green light, you punk!". Several more phrases are exchanged, some of which I am unhappy about, given my goal of assertive but friendly interactions with other road users. Oh well.

We quickly part ways, swear words still flying out of Tobacco Ho's wrinkly mouth. It takes me a moment to realize she actually thought the crosswalk signal, which was red, applied to me on the road surface, in the bike lane. WOW, no clue. Another SPOT! Imagine that.

Be safe out there - lots of SPOT's to watch for. And no worries - I will be the first to admit that I will often be a SPOT myself. Look for that soon...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Strange Lights and Attack Pigeons

A lively bike commute this morning. I don't always ride, but when I do, it is a trek from central Vancouver to the Fox Tower in downtown Portland. Usually via Interstate Avenue or Vancouver Avenue, but occasionally I mix it up with other routes.

Passing Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver, a young man with an extremely loaded down bike and backpack waves me down. He looks like he has been on the road, ahhh... his entire life.

"Dude, how do you get into this park? It's all gated, like prison."

"Oh, there was a concert last night - just go around to the back side."

"Dude, you have STRANGE lights. I can even see them in the morning!"

"Yup, these are bright ones. Morning, evening, afternoon - pretty much anytime. Ummm... see ya later."

Several moments later I am jettisoning myself across the narrow bike way on the I-5 bridge across the Columbia River, and hear a buzzing whirly sound. I glance up, being careful to avoid weaving into the metal structure flying by about 18 inches on either side of me. Silver wings everywhere! Pigeons are launching off the bridge, flying within inches of my head, and then sweeping out over the water. I had no idea these chunky winged rats could fly so quickly and aggressively.

Fortunately, no permanent damage. Maybe a few nightmares...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Crossing to Anywhere?

A timely and interesting discussion on a website opposed to a significant British Columbia transportation project. It reminds me of the current fiasco with the Columbia River Crossing - the proposed updated connection between Vancouver and Portland. For various reasons, including safety concerns and obsolescence of the current infrastructure, I support a new bridge. But, nothing like the 12-lane monstrosity currently proposed. Eight lanes (four each direction, including one auxiliary lane), plus high quality bike ways and light rail, is two more lanes than currently exist, and is enough to stabilize and improve the crossing, without needlessly increasing traffic and contributing to unsustainable suburban sprawl. This is a rendering of the 12-lane option:

An excerpt from Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff SpeckNorth Point Press, 2000, pp. 88-94.

The simple truth is that building more highways and widening existing roads, almost always motivated by concern over traffic, does nothing to reduce traffic. In the long run, in fact, it increases traffic. This revelation is so counterintuitive that it bears repeating: adding lanes makes traffic worse. This paradox was suspected as early as 1942 by Robert Moses, who noticed that the highways he had built around New York City in 1939 were somehow generating greater traffic problems than had existed previously. Since then, the phenomenon has been well documented, most notably in 1989, when the Southern California Association of Governments concluded that traffic-assistance measures, be they adding lanes, or even double-decking the roadways, would have no more than a cosmetic effect on Los Angeles' traffic problems. The best it could offer was to tell people to work closer to home, which is precisely what highway building mitigates against.

Across the Atlantic, the British government reached a similar conclusion. Its studies showed that increased traffic capacity causes people to drive more--a lot more--such that half of any driving-time savings generated by new roadways are lost in the short run. In the long run, potentially all savings are expected to be lost. In the words of the Transport Minister, "The fact of the matter is that we cannot tackle our traffic problems by building more roads." While the British have responded to this discovery by drastically cutting their road-building budgets, no such thing can be said about Americans.

There is no shortage of hard data. A recent University of California at Berkeley study covering thirty California counties between 1973 and 1990 found that, for every 10 percent increase in roadway capacity, traffic increased 9 percent within four years' time.For anecdotal evidence, one need only look at commuting patterns in those cities with expensive new highway systems. USA Today published the following report on Atlanta: "For years, Atlanta tried to ward off traffic problems by building more miles of highways per capita than any other urban area except Kansas City…As a result of the area's sprawl, Atlantans now drive an average of 35 miles a day, more than residents of any other city." This phenomenon, which is now well known to those members of the transportation industry who wish to acknowledge it, has come to be called induced traffic.

The mechanism at work behind induced traffic is elegantly explained by an aphorism gaining popularity among traffic engineers: "Trying to cure traffic congestion by adding more capacity is like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt." Increased traffic capacity makes longer commutes less burdensome, and as a result, people are willing to live farther and farther from their workplace. As increasing numbers of people make similar decisions, the long-distance commute grows as crowded as the inner city, commuters clamor for additional lanes, and the cycle repeats itself. This problem is compounded by the hierarchical organization of the new roadways, which concentrate through traffic on as few streets as possible.

The phenomenon of induced traffic works in reverse as well. When New York's West Side Highway collapsed in 1973, an NYDOT study showed that 93 percent of the car trips lost did not reappear elsewhere; people simply stopped driving. A similar result accompanied the destruction of San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway in the 1989 earthquake. Citizens voted to remove the freeway entirely despite the apocalyptic warnings of traffic engineers. Surprisingly, a recent British study found that downtown road removals tend to boost local economies, while new roads lead to higher urban unemployment. So much for road-building as a way to spur the economy.

If traffic is to be discussed responsibly, it must first be made clear that the level of traffic which drivers experience daily, and which they bemoan so vehemently, is only as high as they are willing to countenance. If it were not, they would adjust their behavior and move, carpool, take transit, or just stay at home, as some choose to do. How crowded a roadway is at any given moment represents a condition of equilibrium between people's desire to drive and their reluctance to fight traffic. Because people are willing to suffer inordinately in traffic before seeking alternatives--other than clamoring for more highways--the state of equilibrium of all busy roads is to have stop-and-go traffic. The question is not how many lanes must be built to ease congestion but how many lanes of congestion would you want? Do you favor four lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic at rush hour, or sixteen?

This condition is best explained by what specialists call latent demand. Since the real constraint on driving is traffic, not cost, people are always ready to make more trips when the traffic goes away. The number of latent trips is huge--perhaps 30 percent of existing traffic. Because of latent demand, adding lanes is futile, since drivers are already poised to use them up.

While the befuddling fact of induced traffic is well understood by sophisticated traffic engineers, it might as well be a secret, so poorly has it been disseminated. The computer models that transportation consultants use do not even consider it, and most local public works directors have never heard of it at all. As a result, from Maine to Hawaii, city, county, and even state engineering departments continue to build more roadways in anticipation of increased traffic, and, in doing, create that traffic. The most irksome aspect of this situation is that these road-builders are never proved wrong; in fact, they are always proved 'right': "You see," they say, "I told you that traffic was coming."

The ramifications are quite unsettling. Almost all of the billions of dollars spent on road-building over the past decades have accomplished only one thing, which is to increase the amount of time that we must spend in our cars each day. Americans now drive twice as many miles per year as they did just twenty years ago. Since 1969, the number of miles cars travel has grown at four times the population rate.· And we're just getting started: federal highway officials predict that over the next twenty years congestion will quadruple. Still, every congressman, it seems, wants a new highway to his credit.

Thankfully, alternatives to road-building are being offered, but they are equally misguided. If, as is now clear beyond any reasonable doubt, people maintain an equilibrium of just-bearable traffic, then the traffic engineers are wasting their time--and our money--on a whole new set of stopgap measures that produce temporary results as best. These measures, which include HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes, congestion pricing, timed traffic lights, and "smart streets," serve only to increase highway capacity, which causes more people to drive until the equilibrium condition of crowding returns. While certainly less wasteful than new construction, these measures also do nothing to address the real cause of traffic congestion, which is that people choose to put up with it.

We must admit that, in an ideal world, we would be able to build our way out of traffic congestion. The new construction of 50 percent of more highways nationwide would most likely overcome all of the latent demand. However, to provide more than temporary relief, this huge investment would have to be undertaken hand in hand with a moratorium on suburban growth. Otherwise, the new subdivisions, shopping malls, and office parks made possible by the new roadways would eventually choke them as well. In the real world, such moratoriums are rarely possible, which is why road-building is typically a folly.

But the real question is why so many drivers choose to sit for hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic without seeking alternatives. Is it a manifestation of some deep-seated self-loathing, or are people just stupid? The answer is that people are actually quite smart, and their decision to submit themselves to the misery of suburban commuting is a sophisticated response to a set of circumstances that are as troubling as their result. Automobile use is the intelligent choice for most Americans because it is what economists refer to as a "free good": the consumer pays only a fraction of its true cost. The authors Stanley Hart and Alvin Spivak have explained that: We learn in first-year economics what happens when products or services become "free" goods. The market functions chaotically; demand goes through the roof.

See original article link for references

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bike Fun. REALLY Bike Fun.

My classic Portland “bike fun” evening culminated with the The Night Ride on Saturday, July 12 – a fifteen mile loop performed in the toasty nighttime air, in a thick sea of flashing strobes and glittering LED’s with thousands of other happy cyclists.

Obviously, this is a ride to, shall we say, prepare for.

I arrive downtown late afternoon. My goal is to hit as many never-been-to-before food, coffee and beer destinations as possible, all before the 9 pm event. Nothing like mixing depressants and stimulates with bike fun, and all on a hot afternoon in the mid 90’s. I plan on meeting a friend for the official ride at 9 pm, but I am on my own for the rest of the merriment.

4 pm - Fox Tower to Hawthorne Bridge. Then 7th to Belmont to 32nd. Not much of a hill, but my goal is to ride slow and not get too soaked. Glaring sun, but the breeze feels good. Ah yes, here we are, the Pied Cow Coffeehouse. A new haunt for me, and I like it. The inside of the Victorian house is relaxing and quaint, but today calls for a beer on the thickly shaded and expansive garden patio. Okay, maybe two beers - it is early...

5 pm – Back down Belmont, down 26th and finally Powell. And then back up the hill several blocks to Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB). I have been aspiring to visit this bike & organic themed pub ever since it opened in March. The beer is fantastic – I am pacing myself so I only have the IPA, and the happy hour German sausage. Tasty. Especially the beer. HUB is large and pretty, but unfortunately also sterile and rather chain-like. Where am I, Red Robin with a dash of cannabis? The poor service probably further taints the atmosphere for me. The waitress totally blanks on my food order, and I have to remind her I still have no food, after my beer is long gone. Fake apologies abound. On the way out I leave a tip, and I have yet to figure out why.

6 pm – Back up 26th to Harrison, Ladd, Hawthorne and downtown. Then up Jefferson to 14th, and eventually 21st. Time for stimulants to balance out the beer and tasty sausage. Coffee Time, to be specific. One of the best coffeehouses in the city. Clearly, today will be iced coffee, given the temperature. Let’s add a shot of espresso as well - hell, I’m feeling silly. The coffeehouse has great music playing in the background, but I forget to ask about the artist before leaving.

7 pm – Need to stop back at the Fox Tower to get my helmet in the car. Required for the official event later this evening. Hmmm, where to now? Back down 14th to Bridgeport. I like the remodel completed a year or so ago, although it is more stark and modern, with much less of the cozy brick. But the beer is delicious, as always. What was it? I think a Ropewalk Amber. Actually I am fairly sober. I have been spacing out the beers, and consuming food and plenty of water. Sat at the bar next to a young lady in the midst of a thick book, who turns her shoulder away from me as I sit down, just to clarify she is not interested in any cheesy bar come-ons, as if there was any doubt. Ah, that’s okay – I have a date with a bike.

8 pm – Time to think about heading to the start, under the Broadway Bridge adjacent to the train station. Let’s see - four beers, several coffee’s worth of coffee, and a large spicy sausage, over the course of four hours. Perfect. Everybody should be so lucky.

The start of the ride is sprawling chaos, and I never find my friend. Our respective phones ring several times, but we miss each other and don’t hear the rings over the noise of the crowd and the beating drums. That’s okay – the evening is cooling off and I am looking forward to a good ride. And donuts.

It takes some time to get going, given the tapered wave start (we don’t have a closed course), but by dusk I am off. I’ve never seen so many twinkling red and white lights. Everyone is having fun and bantering back and forth. Hmmm, one more beer sounds really tasty. Just for giggles. A quick stop at the Mississippi Pub at the top of the first and only real hill on the course. A relaxing fifteen minutes out on the warm patio, and I am back on my bike. Most cyclists are riding politely, and most drivers are being careful. I am probably in the middle of the long, extended pack.

After Albina, Ainsworth and Willamette, we come to St. Johns. Filmed by Bike movies are showing amidst crowds and popcorn, but I keep moving. I dawdle a little more at the disco party on the north end of Vancouver Avenue. Nice - pretty girls dancing... Even better, yummy chocolate bars and sour candy. Okay, let’s go. The friendliness and chattiness on the road continues.

11:30 pm - Back over the Broadway Bridge, and I have finally stopped at the finish for my free donut (a chewy maple bar), lots more water, a little rest, and I am ready to head home. I am only slightly tired from the seven-hour splurge. I hope I am in town to do it again next year.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Woe is Mika...

After months of psychotic and incessent licking, the sores on Mika's leg must be dealt with. An expensive round of antibiotics and steriods helped, but without a halt to the actual licking, the sores will never go away on their own. Enter - the Doggie Cone!

Obviously, she is thrilled. She has perfected the droopy posture that says, "somebody please HELP me". Actually, despite working vigorously to wring out every possible drop of sympathy, she now deals with the persecution with the maturity of, well... a mouse.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Steamy Spin

The Mt. Adams Bicycle Tour on Saturday, June 28 was strenuous, but very fun. I arrived at the little hamlet of Trout Lake as registration opened at 7:00, since it would be getting mucho caliente by midday. Waking up at 4:30 on a Saturday was rough. I immediately discovered the upper loop of the two-loop course was not to be - still closed by snow from our crazy winter. Instead, the course included an out-and-back on what was previously the upper loop, then the lower valley loop, and then I decided to tack on an extra 20 miles, so I could still achieve my 100-mile first-time goal. Not the 105 miles as planned and advertised, but good enough.

The top of the out-and-back on FSR 23 approached the western flank of Mt. Adams, and climbed consistently from Trout Lake for about 15 miles. However, it was never very steep, and the smooth pavement and thick, silent forest made it feel like a magic carpet ride. It was fantastic. The temperature was only in the 60's at this point, with some odd pockets of much colder or hotter air due to the soft swirly breeze and uneven heating. Needless to say, the ride back down this eternal hill was a blast. Only once did a situation necessitate leaving behind some rubber on the pavement - to avoid an ambling deer!

Back in town, the bottom of the out-and-back connected with the valley loop, which dropped along the White Salmon Rive down to BZ Corner, and then up over a nasty climb, over to Glenwood. At first there were endless farms to sidetrack me, including delightful goats and fluffy llamas. After the steep ridge climb from BZ Corner - actually tougher than the longer upper climb - we dropped back down into a large marshy valley and wildlife refuge, with sprawling Mt. Adams always in the background. Very beautiful. By this time it was getting hot, and the high angle of the sun made shade a rarity.

I finally made it back up over another ridge and down a steep grade back into Trout Lake, where I moseyed around for the last 20 miles. By the time I finished it was 92 degrees, and I had been out there well over six hours, including 45 minutes of stoppage time. I was trashed, but recovered quickly. The last five miles were excruciating, especially given I had been back in town for what seemed like forever, and was plowing on in the heat, attempting to obtain an arbitrary distance goal.

The scenery was definitely the best part of the ride, but the friendly volunteers were a close second. I would not have made it without multiple food and water stations, even though I was packing supplies myself. And just stopping in general, on a long ride like this, is a huge relief. Racing 100 or 200 miles without taking breaks would be super difficult. I had plenty of aches and pains on this ride, and although I was pushing the pace on a personal level, I also stopped five times, which made a world of difference.