12/21/14

Rides 12/19: Turn Right

I really need to write these up before Sunday. A few days elapse and whatever stood out from the commute no longer stands out and then I have to make up a bunch of mundane stuff, maybe even more mundane than than what actually happened, and substitute the false memories for the real ones. I think this might also be the plot of Inception 2: #inceptioneuring. What I can remember of Friday, as I tend to remember better with my taste buds than with my brain buds (note: I never took an anatomy class, am unsure if brain buds are an actual thing), were cupcakes. These cupcakes were brought in celebration of the fact that a bunch of us get together every Friday to drink coffee. Why exactly this needs celebrating, I'm unsure, but far be it from me to complain. In any case, thanks for the cupcake! It was a really great chaser to the donut that I hurriedly wolfed down, so as to free my hands to house a cupcake. Anyway, woo baked goods.

Two things I remember from the ride home and the first of those two things was a nasty pair of gashes in the road from some utility work at 15th and K. They were each maybe an inch and a half deep and at least 6 inches across and I was glad it was light enough still to avoid running into them. I wouldn't be too surprised if they took out a bicyclists or two later in the day, as that's what nasty gashes can do. I was on the Cross Check and not the Ogre, but happenstances like these confirm to me that people who cut holes in the street give very little care about bicyclists who later need to use those streets. SPOILER ALERT: this is pretty obvious. I don't know how utility work is undertaken in more bicyclist-friendly places, but I can only assume it's worth more care than 'eh, what's the worst a two inch cut in the pavement could do?' In this regard, it's a reminder that bicycle-friendliness (whatever that is) is more than paint and plastic sticks, or even concrete curbs and dedicated traffic signals, but a mindset that acknowledges that there are bicyclists, that there are always bicyclists (and they're pretty much everywhere), and that perhaps things should be done in such a way as to not cause them needless harm. You see this lack of mindset with utility cuts and you see it with blocked bike lanes and you see how it applies to pedestrians as well with closed sidewalks and the 'why don't you just wait here for 2 minutes for the light to change, cross the street, walk on the other side of the street for a block, wait another 2 minutes to cross back?' signs that accompany them. When afterthought becomes forethought, then we'll have actually gotten somewhere.

The other of the two things I remember is the addition of more parking stops on the 900 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. As of Friday afternoon, there were stops about 3/4 of the length of this block:



I think that maybe this could work. I worry, however, about the number of events that take place on Pennsylvania and whether these would need to be removed and re-installed throughout the summer. I don't know. Hopefully not. The perils of installing a center-running bike lane on America's Main Street, I guess.

So, that was Friday. But this is Sunday, and earlier in the day, I had the pleasure to take part in (but far from complete) the Hains Point 100. Hains Point, if you don't know, is a man-made island by the Jefferson Memorial that separates the Potomac from the Washington Channel and it's mostly a recreation site and has a pool and a golf course and it's a popular stretch for runners and, especially, cyclists, who ride loops around it. Each loop is maybe 3 miles, maybe a little less. Anyway, the idea is to ride a mentally mind-numbing century around HP for the very good cause of raising money for the WABA Women & Bicycles program.  As in previous years, I did just a few laps and went home because 100 miles is a really long way and 3 mile lap increments is a crazy way to get to 100 miles, but there were many people who did the whole thing and they're real heroes. So, if you're one of those people who did the whole thing, or one of those people who just showed up and did some of the thing, then you're a pretty great person and I'm glad that the DC bicycling community, whatever that is, has people like you in it.

12/18/14

Rides 12/18: Citron

oh, hey. it's me. i'm here. using all lowercase letters for some reason. maybe it's to epater les bourgeoisie. maybe it's because my shift key is broken. maybe it's because i just don't feel that capital. maybe it's because i'm feeling dimunutive. or maybe it was a conceit that got my to start typing and now i can't find a way out of it. anyway, i'm back now. I'm back now from being away (I rode on Friday, but I didn't write about it and I have scant memories of it now) and I rode to work today, Thursday, and it was nice to be back on the bicycle. Except for the gentle, but cold, breeze, which nearly felled me. I labored headlong into the wind. I gritted. Winter would be different without the wind. Sometimes I imagine a version of myself that lives in Chicago, but my imagination far outstrips my actual fortitude. I'm not Carl Sanburg. I'm not even Ryne Sandberg. "Here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;" Bold slugger for a second baseman at least. A second city second baseman. Like a rhino, I lumbered slowly into the gale. Pachyderm. Thick-skinned. You'd have to be if you never win a World Series. Or to ride a bicycle in the winter wind. Or to write a biography of Abraham Lincoln. Stormy, husking, brawling. Anyway. 

Pennsylvania, 15th to M. They're not quite done with the interim temporary covered walkway sidewalk on M Street that will maybe keep pedestrians out of the M Street cycletrack while the construction goes on and on and on at the building at the corner on M and 20th. They're painting it white. 

'let's paint it white!' 'screw you, Huck Finn!'
When this opens (tomorrow? Monday?), it will be an improvement for cyclists and pedestrians and for hucksters trying to lure easily duped tourists to the famous covered bridge that George Washington himself built with all that extra cherry tree wood lying around. "I cannot tell a lie. I painted it white to hide that it was cherry wood!" might say a historical reenactor in full colonial costume before he demands $10 for a picture with him. "Also, this sidewalk used to be a canal. That's why I built this bridge," he might stammer if anyone started asking too many questions. "No refunds," he would also say, proving himself first in war, first in peace and last to acknowledge that he's ripping you off. 

A driver missed me by about 6 inches, cutting across my path in order to turn into a paint store parking lot. It was more dumb luck that any skill on her part. I doubt she (or I) could be that lucky again. Of the many things drivers do that confound, the super-close pass is the one that's just the worst. I have to think it's because they don't know how close they're actually driving. And that they don't know is even more terrifying. I drive sometimes (though almost never to work) and I've driven a lot longer than I've habitually biked and even with all that I wonder sometimes 'how assured can I be that I'm not 6 inches wrong?' 6 inches wrong isn't a lot wrong, until it's too much wrong. 

The zebras on Pennsylvania Avenue 

"screw you, Huck Finn!" "that doesn't make any sense" "But it's a call back" "Whatever"
will soon be removed and replaced with parking stops, like they have on First Street NE. But until then, the zebras remain. However, parking stops have been added a few blocks to the east and I saw them today. They look like this:




It's still a work in progress (they go for about half a block) and I don't know if there's supposed to be something between each stop, but for now, the gap is pretty big.
"Mind the gap" "Screw you Huck Finn!"

Prone bike for scale

With the usual caveats that I am 1) not a bike planner, 2) not a traffic engineer and 3) not as tall as I'd like to be, some thoughts:

1. It's not done yet. 
2. I don't get why the gap needs to be so big. But maybe something is going in the gap, because see 1.
3. If the gap is to remain this big, there will be lots of room for drivers (if they are so inclined) to pull u-turns through the parking stops. 
4. Even if the gap were smaller, it would be pretty easy for a committed driver to pull over one. Because cars are big. And committed drivers can do pretty much what they want. So, I think, and again, see all caveats and earlier points, the idea is primarily to dissuade drivers from thinking about u-turns and thereby prevent them without actually "stopping them" if that makes any sense. I mean, any extra delineation that further clarifies that the cycletrack is actually a cycletrack is really good, but, if you look past all the caveats and the numbered points to the picture of the zebras, you can pretty much see that this 'if we put some things here, no matter how they're spaced, it'll definitely stop drivers from making u-turns' theory doesn't seem to hold true in all cases. Anyway, I'll keep you posted on how this develops. Because that's my jam. 

12/11/14

Rides 12/11: Helicopter Droppings

Some victories from today's commute brought to you by social media and responsive local government:

First this:
And tonight, this:

Now, granted, I'm not just some average bike commuter. I'm a bike commuter with the 37th most popular local bike blog, so I've got huge pull. Basically, I tweet and the government is like 'whoa, that guy? Well, check the work orders and make sure that bike commute bloggers one through thirty six haven't asked us to do anything and then, like if you have time after lunch, maybe just, you know, indulge him? Clearly he has issues if he's interrupting his bike ride to tweet pictures of leaves." Anyway, once again, much thanks to the DC Department of Public Works. Thank you.

And another good thing from this morning:

What is this even a picture of? I'll tell you if you keep reading
This is a picture of a temporary walkway under construction along M Street just west of 20th Street. For the past few months (since summer at least, but probably even before then), the sidewalk has been closed and pedestrians have been instructed to cross the street rather than walk in the adjacent cycletrack. Pedestrians, being normal people who aren't total morons, rightly reject these instructions and walk in the cycletrack because that's much more expedient and a more obvious solution that crossing the street to only have to walk back half a block later. But, hopefully, with the construction of this covered walkway, the sidewalk will be reopened and the cycletrack will once again be free of pedestrians, allowing it to return to its natural state, blocked by idling delivery vans.

And a weird thing:

Baby on a gator
I'm not sure I'd want to advertise that I let my precious gator get climbed on by some dangerous baby, but I'm not a parent, so I don't know how these things work.

It is illegal to ride on a sidewalk in the downtown DC business district, wherever that is. There are places in the downtown DC business district where the sidewalk is 30 feet wide. Popular mixed-use trails in the DC area, shared by bicyclists and pedestrians by the thousands without (much) incident are not 30 feet wide. I present these statements with no intention of drawing any conclusions.

L Street to 15th and then down to Pennsylvania. I think there was a big event at the White House, but otherwise not that much traffic on 15th or Pennsylvania. There were no marchers today. I don't think I saw anyone protesting outside of any buildings either. Maybe later. Maybe not.

I try not to think too much about how I ride past the Capitol twice everyday and there's maybe only a handful of people inside who think I'm worth treating like nearly all other American citizens and solely because of my zipcode. I don't think the Founding Fathers even imagined a society with postal codes, much less postal-code based discrimination. When they wanted to send letters, they were probably just like 'hey, guy on horse. Take this to Tim. He lives like, I don't know, in some town in Maryland. Just ask along the way. No, there's no five digit numerical code associated with this 18th century market town. Why would there be? And how would that even help? Just go, ok."

As a rule, I won't pass a bicyclist in front of me if he or she is waiting for a red light. I'll just wait behind him or her and then I'll go when they go. It's a pretty simple maxim- 'defer to the judgment of the person in front of you because they got there first.' However, there is more room on the scroll and there's an important codicil that says that this rule can be completed ignored if the person in front of you has a phone out.

It's Friday tomorrow. One more day until weekend. And then weekend stuff, like _______. I just love underlining stuff on weekends.

12/10/14

Rides 12/10: Nowhere to run

Took off for work later than usual this morning and had a meeting before coming in and found myself riding across town on the I Street SE/SW bike lane towards Maine Avenue and the construction project at the wharf that is the construction of The Wharf, which I believe is a wharf of some sort. And by wharf, I think I mean some buildings and maybe also an actual wharf. But I think its wharfiness will be a secondary concern and the buildings will be the primary concern. Anyway, the result of the construction is that the driveway/road/bike route to the fish market is totally blocked and in order to get over that way you need to ride on Maine Avenue, but there's no good place to cross and something of a grassy median in the middle and so I popped my bike up onto the grassy median and crossed the street again. I'm not sure there's a better way to do this and since, generally speaking, I'm not the biggest fan of getting off my bike and lifting it onto grassy medians to cross the street, I think I can pretty much cross off from my list riding anywhere near the The Wharf, the Fish Market, or the interim Anacostia Riverwalk Trail for the next few years. Neat.

The wind was a jerk. I'm pretty used to going pretty slowly, but along Ohio Drive I think I established a new slowness record through a combination of a nasty headwind, the lumbering Ogre, cycling street clothes and (I think) a dragging brake pad. I "fixed" my brakes this morning (the ones that wouldn't stop) and perhaps I over-corrected so instead of failing to grip, the pad rested against the rotor and that's not really an ideal situation. I think I 'fixed' it again at work and the ride home did seem smoother. There's a learning curve when you adopt any new kind of bike technology and my curve with disc brakes has been pretty steep. For the non-experts out there, disc brakes are when you throw your old CDs between the spokes of your tires and your slowed down by shattered reflective plastic and liner notes. The stopping power is pretty good (way better than MP3 brakes), but I'm not as used to adjusting them as with caliper brakes and my minor failures and inability to stop fidgeting with things results in the sometimes hilarity of trying to power through extra drag. Oh well. It was slow going.

The District of Columbia, like other places, has had a rash of protests lately and primarily, these protests manifest themselves with bands of people marching in the middle of the street, normally accompanied by a few police officers. They chant and they walk and sometimes the protesters block intersections. There's probably a lot you can say about this, especially in the 'what do these protests mean in the context of public space? what do these protests say about urbanism? what do these protests say about power and streets and car culture?' variety, but as far as bike commuting is concerned, I would say that in my experience, protests and rolling street closures and blocking lanes and all that, has really affected bike commuting at all. Bike commuters are kinda like cockroaches and they're kinda like a leak in your roof- water's gonna get through one way or another. Maybe it won't be the most direct path and maybe you won't notice it at first, but eventually there'll be a puddle on the floor. Better get a bucket.

THE GEAR PRUDENCE HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE IS HERE and is not very useful.

Rides 12/9: Bury Your Gold

Cold. Rain. (Moose. Indian.) Those these aren't my last words on the matter and I could be more thorough and not so walled in. Not much to do about in the cold rain other than to decide whether or not you want to ride in it and once you decide you do, you just got to get to getting. So, I got to getting. East Capitol and then up Pensylvania Avenue and through downtown on the M Street cycletrack separated bike lane protected bike lane mostly separated and irregularly protected bikeway (technical term) and there were puddles and I rode through them, but not especially mirthfully. Just with the regular amount of mirth. Adequate mirth. Mirth enough.

Rode up Wisco and had to vacate the right lane, which is normally empty since it's a variable parking lane and for the most part drivers remain clear of it regardless, because someone left his or her Maserati idling and with the flashers on. A few thoughts:

1. Is driving a Maserati to work on slow city streets like bike commuting on a high end Pinarello?

2. There is no way that someone who drives a Maserati thinks that he and I have 'equal rights' to the road. THIS IS WHY YOU BUY A MASERATI. TO SHOW THAT YOU THINK YOU'RE BETTER THAN EVERYONE ELSE.

3. If I were a different, more evil person, I could imagine a scenario in which I popped into the illegally idling Maserati and moved it somewhere. I would probably also need to be the kind of evil person who can drive a stick shift.

4. Bike commuters get a ton of shit for slowing down traffic and taking up road space. That's fine. Most of that is bull plop and such accusations are not much to get worked up about. And yet at the same time, you'd be shocked (or not) by the number of drivers who take up entire lanes of traffic by idling, standing, or illegally parking just for a 'quick trip' to grab a cup of coffee or duck into an ATM or do other some mundane task for which properly parking a car would just be too onerous. And FOR SOME CRAZY REASON, it's vanishingly rare that I ever read screed-laced invective-filled bilious 'old man yells at cloud' letters to the editor detracting a practice that seems far more disruptive to the sacred 'traffic flow' that a bicyclist zipping down the road, taking up 3 feet of space that no one was really using anyway. I guess we see what we want to see.

On the way home, I noticed that my rear brake wasn't working so well. I think I beschmutzed my rotor in the course of some maintenance in the morning and while the brake pads were biting, they didn't actually catch the rotor and stop the bike. No matter. The front brake worked and I wanted to get home faster anyway.

21st, L, 15th. I've more or less given up on taking L all the way down to 11th, though I'm not sure why. Apparently, there is holiday decor to marvel at City Center, so maybe I should head that way in the spirit of gawking at giant luminous reindeer. 'Tis the season. I think I don't go down that way more often because riding 11th can be fraught (comparatively much more fraught, since there's basically a protected bike lane on 15th from L to Pennsylvania, whereas 11th just has the white stripe-y kind of bike lane, so behavior change noted, bike lane engineers) and because the transition from L to 11th is much more clunky that the one at 15th. I mean, in actuality, maybe not 'much more,' but at least a little more. Ok, barely more. But enough more to make me not want to do it and it's my ride anyway and you can't tell me what to do. YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME [runs into room, slams door, tries to crank up stereo, but stereo is set to NPR, so just ends up cranking All Things Considered, loses desired effect of petulance]

Pennsylvania, up then Jenkins Hill, then down East Jenkins Street through the Jenkins Hill neighborhood, all the while muttering to myself about our colonial overlords. I stopped at the grocery store and I didn't mutter there. I just bought some potatoes and sugar and then rode home.