7/29/14

Rides 7/29: Youth Lobby

Yesterday's post was about phones and today's post is about phones and I'm typing it on a phone and I think about phones all the time and especially while bike commuting because I see just so many drivers on their phones. Sometimes they're phoning and other times they're just looking at them, intently and distractedly simultaneously, and other times it's tap-tap-tap typing a message or text or maybe a ransom note of sorts (Repeal the hands-free law or this guy on a bike gets it!). Anyway, phones seem to be an ever-present appendage to far too many drivers and that disappointments me (and probably imperils me) and I'm sure we can try to keep educating or enforcing our way out of this problem, but that seems a little too boring and lacks ambition in its approach to solving such a big problem. So what about this instead: no more gas or brake pedals. Replace them with buttons on the steering wheel. For all cars, everywhere and from this point going forward and maybe even retrofittingly. Some reasons why this is a great idea: 

1. With hands occupied in button pressing, and thus being more vitally involved in the going and stopping of the car, no more phone fiddling! Or eating while driving. Or applying makeup. Just driving while driving, which is boring, but I'm ok with that! 

2. Ever get a cramp in your leg on a long drive? Well, this'd help with that, probably. Cramps are the worst! 

3. Feet are kinda gross and using them to make your car go or stop seems kinda weird. What is this, the Flintstones? Yabba dabba don't. And really, are feet known to be such precision instruments? If you went in for surgery and the doctor was like "yeah, I'm gonna remove your appendix with my feet," you'd peace out faster than Fred at the end of his shift at the Slate Rock and Gravel Company. 

4. You know how sometimes after drivers crash into buildings (which is like way too common a thing), they're all like "CONFUSION made me do it." Don't you think a green button and a red button would be a lot clearer than pedals you aren't even looking at? I certainly do. 

5. Maybe re-engineering cars to no longer have pedals would be massively expensive and bankrupt (even more) the car companies. Would that really be the worst thing ever? #waroncars and whatnot. 

Robot cars are coming. But until we have robot cars, we can't sit idly by and allow the scourge of distracted driving to continue to plague our communities. Buttons, not pedals. Let's make this happen. Somehow. 

People can't put their phones down while they're driving because they crave connectivity. They can't stand to be disconnected. And human connectivity is great! I was lucky enough to connect with MG, of the Chasing Mailboxes blog and also of Friday Coffee Club, and we rode together on roads and trails and roads and a bridge and on roads and a trail again and we talked and decompressed and bandied around the idea of a podcast in which we ride and talk and comment of the random things and people we see along the way, like the 3 (!) people on drum kits drumming al fresco. [Is this a thing?] And maybe people in cars would listen to this podcast in lieu of fiddling with their phones and wouldn't that make for a tidy way to connect the first part of this blog post to this part. 

It's great to ride with a buddy, even if you're not recording a podcast. It adds a social element to a normally solitary task and while I tend to like the quiet time to myself to "think," getting to think aloud isn't so bad either. Thanks, MG! 

7/28/14

Rides 7/28: Edwardian Zorro

We live in a magnificent age of wondrous technology. We also live in an age in which the transportation modes of the end of the 19th century (bicycles, streetcars, jumping off roofs with canvas wings) appear to be once more in ascendency. So, in the interest pretending these two proximate sentences are perchance related, allow me to suggest some apps that would better bike commutes: 

Inflatr: this app would be useful because it would tell me when to inflate my tires. It would replace the act of squeezing the tires with my fingers because using your fingers to do stuff is soooooo last century. Except using them to activate the app that would tell you when to inflate your tires. How zeitgeisty. 

Brickr: this app would explode the phones of drivers using them while driving anywhere near me. It would shock me to see how prevalent phone use remains in spite of various LAWS against it if I didn't see so much of it every damn day. I guess I just have this crazy irrational fear that someone looking down and fiddling with his mobile device isn't paying attention to what's going on around him and this secondary crazy irrational fear that that this inattentiveness might potentially cause me harm. Crazy! Irrational! 

Strava'r: like Strava, but it would lie and tell me I'm about 10 minutes faster than I actually am and also that I'm KOM on all sorts of sections. [side note: someone invent this and make all of the money] 

Fulminatr: would send angry tweets to the public agency of your choosing when that agency fails to take appropriate steps to keep bike lanes unblocked by parked cars, trucks, taxis, dumpsters, construction equipment, pedestrians, gravel, fences, and whatever else so might impede it. Fulminatr would save you thousands of angry tweets a day. Unfortunately, its counterpart, Ignorerer, just responds with pro-bike lip service while not taking any action to address your actual concerns. Stasis! 

Puppr: this app would just show pictures of cute puppies. I'd look at it at red lights. 

Anyway, good ride in and good ride home. It was the first day of the Silver Line, but I elected not to ride 30 miles out of my way to take it back to town to take another metro line to work. I did the usual biking thing instead. While the diversion would've been welcome, it seemed a tad unnecessary. Maybe tomorrow. (Nope.) Nevertheless, I think it's nice that it's there. Will it be good for bicycling in Northern Virginia? Beats me. Maybe, maybe not. But "good for bicycling" is hardly the only rubric by which to judge something. (Funyuns: good for bicycling?) But if we were to judge it based on that criteria, I might suggest that anything that leads to denser development is good for bicycling. It's unreasonable to suggest that people commute by bike for 30 miles, though some people do. But bike 3 miles? That seems much more attainable. Maybe people could bike 3 miles. Maybe they'd want to? If things were just closer together? Maybe? 

7/26/14

Rides 7/25: Pisco

On the way home, I was riding in the right lane downhill on Massachusetts Avenue and somewhere between Ward Circle and the intersection with Idaho Ave, a driver passed me in the next lane over at what I would have estimated to be about 60 miles per hour. I can't say for sure- it's just a guess and my handlebar mounted radar gun/net launcher (never ride your bike without a net launcher! What if another red panda escapes the zoo? Do you not want to be the hero whose handlebar net launcher returns the escaped animal to its proper and natural place, caged human captivity?)- but it seemed that he was driving very, very fast and far faster than the 'normal' 35 to 40 miles per hour that the speeding drivers go. He didn't pass me especially closely and I think there was at least three feet between us, but it was jarring and unpleasant nevertheless. I didn't say anything or even look over when I rode past him in my lane when he was stopped at the red light a few hundred feet up the road. What's there to say?

Really. Do I have any grounds to complain? Didn't I sign up for this? I mean, I'm the one who chose to ride his bike to work and I'm the one who should be well aware enough of how some people drive their cars. Shouldn't I just get over it because he gave me three feet and didn't crash into me and nothing really even happened?

I don't know. The thing about the current state of bike commuting, I guess, is that bicyclists who choose to ride to work are being asked to sign off on a social contract that desperately needs changing. There's a lot of "well, what did you expect?" to bicyclists who have the temerity to suggest that current conditions are less than ideal. Especially to those of us who are bicycling more by choice and not from a lack of other viable transportation options. You signed up for this. No one made you do it. Don't whine. If you can't handle it, don't do it. [This attitude doesn't just come from drivers. It's sadly the viewpoint of plenty of cyclists as well.]

Bicycling in DC is mostly fine and mostly boring and most of the conditions are safe enough and accommodating, even if not always deliberately so. It's get safer every year as more of us do it and as we slowly lurch to more bicycle friendly infrastructure. But a lot of the time, you're asked to ride three feet away from some drivers willing to go 60 and much like caged red panda, it doesn't feel natural and it certainly doesn't seem like it's in your best interest. I know that you can't always control for the actions of self-absorbed maniacs, but am I really supposed to be ok with road conditions that say, in effect, 'yup, you're gonna have to get over it"? You chose this. Did I?

Anyway.

East Capitol to Pennsylvania Avenue and wrong way through the parking lot that is the hyper-securitized Ellipse. Thereafter it was 17th to G. After coffee, I rode with friend of blog Jacques down G up then Water Street to Thomas Jefferson to M to Wisconsin and up the hill and eventually to work. The ride home was Massachusetts to 21st to L to 15th and then Pennsylvania and up another hill, through the Capitol grounds and down East Capitol. Tide goes in, tide goes out.

Have a great weekend everyone. I'm going to try to ride my bike, perhaps to tacos. Delicious, delicious tacos. Or what might pass for delicious tacos on the East Coast, a land of admittedly subpar tacos. Or maybe this is taco snobbery or maybe it's unwarranted taco humility. When did this become a taco blog? When was it not a taco blog?

7/24/14

Rides 7/24: The party wants a win

A brief and welcome respite from the summer heat and summer sun. The weather was March-y, but if March weather were put in the microwave for 45 seconds. You can have too much summer and it's nice to have a brief break before August strikes.

Anyone who has bicycled in DC for any amount of time knows to be true that David Plotz put into writing about a year ago: BMW drivers are not the best around bicyclists. As I rode down the hill, my head swiveled to see four BMWs menacingly (?) arranged at the base of the Capitol. And there was a man taking pictures, talking to the cars, beseeching them to look good in the crummy cloudy day.


Either this is a Bavarian motoring enthusiast's idea of "das beste" family vacation ever or this was some kind of weird advertorial photo shoot. As I circled around, I noticed that the license plates said something like "proud to be made in South Carolina." You can tell that a bicyclist didn't write the license plates because then they probably would've said something like "BMWs: Compared to the Civil War, not that bad!"

Not an awful on Pennsylvania and 15th and M, but not a great one either. I saw a bicyclist and a taxi driver and a few police officers and their police car and taxi cab and bicycle gathered by the side of the road by the National Gallery, but I didn't see an ambulance and I didn't stop to inquire as to what that all might've been about. We're someday soon going to get additional barriers along Pennsylvania and if the result of this is fewer u-turns and fewer conversations between bicyclists, drivers and police officers, we'll be the better off for it. Sometimes I wonder if the center-running cycletrack is really worth it and if maybe we'd be better off pushing it off to one side of the other. It might just swap out the u-turns for right- or left-hooks and maybe it'd create fewer conflicts with pedestrians, but there is something really special about riding down the center of a grand avenue with a great view (at least at one end). But would I trade the view for a more functional piece of bike infrastructure? Maybe.

Three feet to pass is a minimum. Just saying.

Ride home was a quiet one with only a few points of interest and inconvenience. One was in the L Street Cycletrack, blocked by a BID pickup, parked by an employee set about the empty trash cans. Honestly, it's kind of hard to get too upset about someone parking close to the trash cans they're about to empty. But, it's equally not great to be allegedly given one lane on one street for comparatively safe travel by bicycle and then forced to vacate it because someone couldn't just park around the corner.


"Setting the gold standard." I'm glad FDR abandoned it. The only thing worse than hard money is running into the back of a hard pickup truck. The Golden Triangle BID is pretty good about bike stuff and this is the first time I've ever had this happen, so it's definitely more an aberration than the (Golden?) rule.

They didn't drop of copies of the newspaper near my office, so I rode an extra block looking to pick up a hard copy of the newspaper that foolishly decided to print what I wrote. I plan to sign a number of copies and hide them around the city. And then I'll tweet clues to their location and people can look for them and then when they find them, they can try to sell these limited edition, autographed copies on eBay or use them to line the bottom of parakeet cages or stuff them in their shoes after a rainstorm. Either way, really. I'm just happy to be providing a useful public service.

14th to I to 15th to Pennsylvania and back home the way I came, almost exactly. On East Capitol, I passed some people on CaBis and the first one yelled back to the next two: "Stay on the inside of the lines!" There was a sense of immediacy, but it's not like the lines are electrocuted or anything. They're just painted white lines. Maybe that's why there was such urgency. They're just white lines.

7/23/14

Gear Prudence

Read any good bike advice columns in any local alt weeklies lately? Me neither. But I did read the one that I happen to be writing for Washington City Paper under the title "Gear Prudence." Read it! Tell your friends to read it! Tell your acquaintances to read it! Shout "read Dear Prudence!" to every passing cyclist! There's nothing cyclists love me than being yelled at by strangers. And more importantly, write in questions. Please. I could make up fake questions, but who wants to read about how bicyclists can  peacefully coexist with pogo commuters every single week? I certainly wouldn't. Many thanks to the many of you who have thus far said kind things about this and even more thanks to the some of you who have already written in some great questions. To respond to the ones I've received so far, the answers are yes, no, yes, spaghetti (but not where you expect), Thursday and Dr. Octopus.

Having just read the above paragraph, you're probably wondering how I landed this column anyway. That's a great question! Maybe it has something to do with being the 37th most popular local bike blogger (polls don't lie) and you can believe that if you'd like. But maybe the story is a little grander. Maybe, after high school, I was a listless townie, resisting the urge to go to college, but also not drawn to a life working in the quarries. Maybe I became overly interested in Italian cycling culture and I, along with a ragtag group of compatriots, decided to enter the local big bicycle race against all of the fancy educated boys of the local newspapers. And maybe my training and my love of bicycles and some brief assistance by Dennis Quaid allowed me to best these snooty Washington City Paper riders in this bicycle race and maybe the bike advice column was my prize. Or maybe that's just a bastardized version of the plot of Breaking Away. Bellissima. In reality, the origin of the story in much more mundane. Each of the 12 Districts submitted two tributes... wait, that's not it either. In any case, I'm thrilled and honored and will do my best to continue to try not to do a terrible job.

But I have to admit, those first two responses did not come easily. In fact, I had to comb through dozens of totally real questions to get two that I could answer. So, in the interest of complete transparency, here are some of the questions and answers that didn't make it.

Q. Gear Prudence: I love pogo sticks!
A. Go to hell.

Q. Gear Prudence: I love bicycling in the city, but I'd like to find a way to get to work without sweating through all of my clothes. Does the all powerful Bike Lobby have a weather machine?
A. Nope. Just the ability to surreptitiously replace American flags atop New York bridges. Or not.

Q. Gear Prudence: Do you have any expertise on bicycles whatsoever? Aren't you kind of a fraud?
A. [sobs gently]

Q. Gear Prudence: You didn't answer my question about your qualifications. What if someone actually asks something sort of technical? You just going to make something up?
A. [deletes email, pretends not to have gotten it]

So, yeah. Once again, thank you all in advance for submitting some great questions
(email gearprudence@washingtoncitypaper.com) and thank you to the nine of you who read this blog and who will hopefully also read Gear Prudence. You're the best. Regular bike commute blogging will resume tomorrow.