3/27/14

The Coveted Tales From The Sharrows Endorsements

*This is not about bicycling, though elements related to bicycling, as local political conditions might influence them, might be mentioned in passing or in some depth.

I was going to write this yesterday, but I'm glad I held off on account of my now having become famous thanks to the good folks at the Washington Post Express, the free metro paper you might know from reading on the Metro or seeing abandoned, strewn on the floor of a bus. If you'd like to read my whole post about how winter needs to go, it's here. I promise to only use my fame for good and not evil, unless of course evil gets me free stuff, such as jet skis. If the good folks at Sea-Doo are reading, I am available for endorsement and/or to star in rocking commercials in which I bad-assedly perform epic jet ski maneuvers then turn to the camera with a toothy grin and say something like "Sea-Doo: it's not just another word for whale poop" or whatever your catch phrase is these days. I also look forward to using my fame to influence the upcoming primary, my endorsements being roughly the equivalent of $668,000 of shadowy illegal cash goodness. I look forward to not being indicted, at least not for this blog post.

Now, the endorsements.

First off, I endorse this sandwich:




It's the reuben from Deli City on Bladensburg Road. Really good sandwich. Secondly, I endorse, Deli City getting some proper bike parking:


I get the feeling that they don't get a lot of customers arriving by bike. But isn't that the best reason to put some up? Bicyclists love bicycling, but they also love sandwiches, so there's a missed opportunity right there. In spite of having to lock up against that sign across the street (there were some chain link fences closer, but I don't think you're supposed to lock up on those- too easy to cut), I still endorse riding your bike to Deli City and eating one of their sandwiches.

Now onto the political endorsements.

Ward 6: Charles Allen

Charles Allen is the Ward 6 candidate who has dedicated the past 10 years to making this place better. He knows the details of the ward inside and out and is intimately acquainted with the interior workings of the Council, the vicissitudes and complications of the Ward's major issues, the challenges faced by all of its residents, the opportunities for positive change, and will be a solid, ethical, progressive voice on a Council that needs more solid, ethical, progressive voices.

His opponent is also a Ward 6 candidate.

It's funny because there's been some scuttlebutt on one of the neighborhood listservs about Charles' role as Tommy Wells' Chief of Staff. When it's mentioned that he's spent all of the time working on behalf of the Ward, the rejoinder was "yeah, but isn't that his job? He's just doing his job." I mean, on one hand, ok, yeah he's doing his job. Why wouldn't you want someone who has successfully worked full-time on behalf of local issues to now take on a bigger and more public role doing the same thing? Seems kinda like a good idea. Secondly, yes, it's his job. He chose it and he stayed in it. He actively chose many years ago to work in DC politics. Working for the residents of Ward 6 isn't some dalliance or stepping stone to a higher office. It's not a step out of line with the trajectory of the rest of his career. He's not running for 'City Council' for any other reason thanto continue the work that he's been engaged with for the past decade and to make this place, the place I happen to live, even better. That's not just experience: it's a statement of values and I think those are values that Ward 6 voters should embrace.

Charles in also endorsed by Washington City Paper, Washington Post, Greater Greater Washington, The Hill is Home and probably would enjoy that reuben, but I don't know for sure his position on that sandwich or any sandwiches really, so I'll have to ask him.

Disclosure: I put together all of these yards signs for Charles last night. This is the only local campaign for which I have volunteered or actually feel very much of a strong preference. It was like 400 signs and took a couple of hours of menial labor. Maybe get one for your yard?

knife goes in, guts come out 
Ward 1: Brianne Nadeau

I don't live in Ward 1, but it seems pretty obvious to me that it's time for a change. As much as I enjoy sometimes talking to Jim Graham from the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack, me on my bike, him in his VW, I'd be equally happy talking to someone else. Happier even. The qualms about Graham are many and the qualms about Nadeau seem to primarily be made-up and flailing and self-implicating. Here are her positions on transportation and they seem fine. I like what she says about pedestrian safety and market-driven parking options. Anyway, this one seems like a no brainer.

At-Large: Anita Bonds

BIKERS SHOULD HAVE LICENSE PLATES AND ROADS THAT ARE TOO NARROW SHOULDN'T HAVE BIKE LANES AND THERE NEEDS TO BE A PLAN TO STOP THOSE HORRIBLE BIKERS FROM TAKING AWAY ALL OF OUR PRECIOUS PARKING AND ALSO THIS ONE TIME THIS BIKER CAME FROM OUT OF NOWHERE AND HE ALMOST MADE ME HIT HIM WITH MY CAR BUT I SLAMMED ON THE BRAKES AND THEN I DIDN'T HIT HIM AND HE WASN'T EVEN GRATEFUL ABOUT THAT AND DIDN'T THANK ME PROFUSELY FOR NOT HITTING HIM AND THAT'S JUST WRONG BECAUSE HE'S SUPPOSED TO SHARE THE ROAD AND HE DOESN'T EVEN HAVE INSURANCE AND MY TAXES GO TO FORT MYER CONSTRUCTION PAVING THE ROAD AND HE DOESN'T EVEN PAY HIS FAIR SHARE AND I'M SO UPSET AND CONFUSED AND ANGRY AND TRY TO PANDER TO AN AUDIENCE THAT THINKS THE BIGGEST PROBLEM IN DC IS THAT SOMETIMES PEOPLE BICYCLE AND WHEN THEY DO SOMETIMES IT FORCES YOU TO HAVE TO SLOW DOWN YOUR CAR FOR A WHOLE 3 SECONDS AND THAT SOMEHOW ALSO TRANSLATES INTO THEM BEING RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL OF THE TRAFFIC IN ALL OF DC EVEN THOUGH ALSO BARELY ANYONE BIKES BUT ALSO THEY'RE EVERYWHERE, AT LEAST EVERYWHERE ON THE SIDEWALK WHEN I'M ON THE SIDEWALK BECAUSE THIS ONE TIME THIS ONE BIKER PASSED ME ON THE SIDEWALK AND I GOT STARTLED- STARTLED!!!- AND THAT'S WHY WE SHOULD HAVE A MORATORIUM ON BIKE LANES EVEN THOUGH THAT WOULD CAUSE MORE PEOPLE TO BIKE ON THE SIDEWALK OR BIKE FARTHER OVER ON THE ROAD, IN WHICH CASE THE SAME PEOPLE WHO COMPLAIN ABOUT BIKES SLOWING DOWN THEIR DRIVING OR STARTLING- STARTLING!!!- THEM ON THE SIDEWALK WOULD ACTUALLY BE PROMOTING THE VERY SAME THINGS THAT THEY'RE CURRENTLY COMPLAINING ABOUT.

You know what, come to think of it, you should vote for either John Settles or Nate Bennett-Fleming. Like everyone else, I can't really decide between the two. I think I'm going to vote for John Settles, with whom I've done business. He tends to be more specific in his answers to questions and I think he's pretty smart on the issues. I like his plan for an urban village at the RFK site, which conforms with my general view that we should just "build more city." [UPDATE: I believe that both John and Nate said some pro-bike things at the Loose Lips debate. John is himself a bicyclist and Nate is arranging a pro-Nate bike ride this Sunday- see comments. Just figured I should mention the bike angle, which I forgot to do initially.] Unfortunately, it looks like Nate and John are going to split the vote in this one and I'll be sure to write you from the gulag when all bicyclists are sent there for re-education and hard labor. This is a good time to mention that I also endorse the The Rent is Too Darn High slate for the DC Democratic State Committee, the organization that sent CM Bonds to the Council in the first place. If for no other reason (though there are probably other reasons), the DCDSC needs a shake-up.

Council Chair: The Mendo
Ward 3: Mary Cheh
Ward 5: Kathy Henderson Harry Thomas, Jr. Kenyan McDuffie

All seem pretty obvious.

Delegate to the House of Representatives: Tim Krepp

Again, pretty obvious. You might know him as 'man who takes pictures of people peeing in his alley' or as the 'face of the polar vortex' or the author of books about ghosts on Capitol Hill and Georgetown, but I know him as a guy who lives down the street. I can promise you this: Tim Krepp will treat the position of Delegate with the respect and honor it deserves.

Mayor

I wrote about my ambivalence the other day, so I don't think I'm going to endorse anyone. I think I've firmed up my own decision to vote for Tommy Wells. Maybe it's quixotic, maybe it's not voting strategically, maybe it's ensuring that a candidate who I don't prefer wins. But when you prefer neither of the top two candidates, I don't really want to choose who I don't prefer less, you know? I think the thing that surprises me the most about this election is how Muriel Bowser hasn't won me over the way she's presumably won over so many voters disaffected by Gray. I mean, I've had pretty open mind for the entire primary season and have only just now decided that I'm pulling the lever (touching the screen?) for Wells and I've followed this election pretty closely and in all this time, I really haven't heard anything from Muriel Bowser that made me ever think "you know what, I like this thing that she just said and maybe I should vote for her." But maybe you have or maybe you've decided that she's the most viable non-Gray candidate and her not being Gray (the way Gray wasn't Fenty) is the most crucial factor right now and maybe you've been more persuaded than I am. Or maybe you're more convinced that Gray didn't do anything wrong or has done more things right, on balance, than things wrong and or maybe you're convinced that he's a better mayor than anyone else, allegations be damned, so why not reelect? But when all is said and done, Bowser hasn't convinced me on the positions and Gray hasn't convinced me on character, and the only candidate, even though he will not win, who has won me over on both who he is and what he values is Tommy Wells. I don't think I can endorse him because I feel like you probably shouldn't endorse based on the process of elimination, but he's who I'm going to choose.

The Democratic Primary is April 1.

3/25/14

Coda

Goodbye, winter bike commuting. I bid you farewell, much in the way you might to a guest who overstayed his welcome. I am now prompting you to leave. I've yawned a few times and mentioned how late it's gotten and how tomorrow comes early and how there are many things to do before I can wrap up and retire, but winter, to this point, is slow to take the hint. Winter tarries. We can do it again next year, winter. Not soon, but again. I promise.

Winter has not picked up on the subtle cues. Winter is not well-versed in the social arts. Winter is a laggard and unperceptive. The cold lingers. Malingerer. It sees you bundled and figures you wouldn't mind it waiting around a little longer. Winter has no place else to go. It took you so long to get dressed, to put on the boots and the gloves and the hat, and winter figures it would be rude to ask you to slough them again so soon. It's a sunk cost. Gloves fling off faster than they're pulled on. Begrudging tends to slow things down. Just like the cold. 

It's time to pack it up, winter, snow, and cold. Let's change the locks and change our number. Screen the calls and screen the windows. We could even move away. That would be dramatic. The season is late, winter, and I'm asking you to leave. Don't make me call the cops. I'll evict you. I'll file the papers. You're bigger than me but I have the law and a calendar on my side. Or do I? I thought I did. 

I'll miss your quiet. I'll miss your ponderousness and the way you wouldn't leave us alone. It was almost endearing. But it's over now. It's time to make way for spring showers and summer heat. It's time to shed layers. It's time to move along. 

3/24/14

Scratch

I have a mystery itch and it's trying to kill me.

Everyday as part of my ride home, I descend the hill on Massachusetts Avenue. It isn't super steep, but it's still a good hill and I go upwards of, I don't know, does 30 miles an hour seem reasonable? Let's say I go that fast. There's a couple of gentle curves in the hill and there are a bunch of bumps and manhole covers and a few places where drivers coming from the opposite direction might make a left turn across my path. There are some stoplights and some driveways and some cross-streets and, thanks to this brutal winter, some new potholes. I've been riding down this hill for the past couple of years, so I'm familiar with the kinds of liabilities it might toss my way. I've done it in the dark and in the rain and once or twice in the snow and I tend not to mess around, riding right in the middle of the right lane. After all, at that speed (did we decide 30 mph? Maybe less, maybe more) I'm more or less keeping up with the car traffic, so why give a misguided driver the chance to make a bad decision and think that the lane is wide enough for both of us to share? It isn't. I'm fairly clear about that and I'd prefer to take no chances in ensuring that my motorist friends don't try anything funny.

Anyway, riding downhill for such a long stretch at such a relatively fast clip has always made me feel a bit queasy. If I had to stop, could I? If something unexpected happened, would I be able to not crash into that unexpected something? There's a high curb on the side of the road, so bailing to the sidewalk, even if I were capable of doing a bunny hop, isn't really an option. Basically, the long and short of it is that this long stretch of downhill is where I feel, rightly or wrongly, the most exposed and the most vulnerable. But, when you work on top of a hill, you have little choice but to ride down at the end of the day. It's just part of the deal. I mean, I guess I could sleep at work, but that's seems like an overreaction.

Everyday I ride down this hill, I get an itch. An overwhelming itch. An overwhelming, wandering itch. Sometimes its on the back of my leg. Or maybe on the back of my arm. My left cheek. Why do I want to scratch the third knuckle on my right hand? Is that it on my foot? Why is it on my foot? This itch, an itch that manifests itself on another unreachable part of my body every single day, is my nemesis. It wants me to take my hands off the bars. It wants me to just for one second, for one second on the most harrowing part of my relatively mundane trip, to move my hands from the brakes, move my hands away the narrow bar that keeps the bike steady, to reach, to reach for the phantom itch, the phantom itch that haunts me in a new place each day, to reach to provide the gentle soothing of a scratched itch.

Is this itch a manifestation about my anxiety riding down the hill? Maybe. But that's seriously unhelpful! I know that I'm at my most vulnerable riding down this hill- why does my body want me to be even more so? Why does the mystery itch want to add a degree of difficulty during the already most difficult part of my trip? What does that even mean? Certainly I'm aware of the dire consequences of falling. Why would me anxiety about that seem to want to hasten it? Maybe it's not anxiety. Maybe it's wool. Maybe I have fleas. No. It's not those.

Sometimes I scratch. Sometimes I take my hands away from the bar and touch my face or rub my arm or adjust my other glove in the hopes of making it go away. I haven't fallen. Most of the times of the sometimes I reach, I don't realize I'm doing it until I've done, until my hand reaches back for the bar as the front fender rattles from the temporary and minor lapse in stability (and judgment?). But most of the other times, the vast majority of times, I don't reach. I feel the itch and I feel the urge to scratch and I don't. I think that it's not too long to the next red light or the stop at the bottom of the hill or that stop after than next stop and then I'll scratch it, though by then it's normally long gone. Such is the way with mystery itches, mysterious itches that are out to get you, out to get you for unclear reasons, unclear, nonsensical, irrational, unreasonable reasons. Don't get a mystery itch. Don't get a mystery itch you can't scratch.

April Fools Day

*This post is not about bicycling. I apologize.

Much like St. Augustine and Usher, I too have a confession: I am an undecided voter in the upcoming democratic primary for mayor for the District of Columbia. I've probably spent more time reading about and following this race than any other political race in my lifetime (with the exception of the 2008 presidential election. Maybe you think that's sad since who cares about local politics, but as a nationally disenfranchised resident of the District of Columbia, I'd tell you that local politics is all we've got. Washington, after all, has no voice in Washington) and that I've spent as many hours engaged in this contest as I have and still find myself unable to reach any definitive conclusion about which candidate most deserves my vote maybe tells you something about me or something about the candidates or something about the process or something about all three of these variables.

The cast of characters include a number of candidates who most assuredly will not be getting my vote. There is Carlos, who has a bus and a rap album, but little else to recommend him. There is Reta, who has fleeting moments of clarity, but seems less acquainted with local issues than she is with the Clintons. There is Andy, the leftist's leftist, who has left me cold, like an order of sweet potato fries that waited too long for a waiter. There is Vinnie Citrus and his stately pleasure dome, a home for athletes and movie stars and parking lots and parking lots and parking lots and golf course and photo ops with athletes and movie stars.

Then there are the four "real" contenders, whose contention is real, as evidenced by increasingly snippy campaigning. Of the four, I can most confidently say that I won't be voting for Jack. Of the four, I can most confidently say I have no idea why he is running. This was a very low stakes contest for Mr. Evans. He didn't have to give up his seat to run, a seat that, thanks to his time on the Council (347 years, I think) has been well worn to his contours. Would Jack be a competent mayor? Maybe. Would Jack be an awful mayor? Maybe. What does a Jack Evans DC look like? You can see it from the box seats.

I don't dislike Muriel Bowser. I don't know Muriel Bowser. I know that many people like her (some quite a lot, some because she's the best of the bunch) and in all likelihood, she will be the nominee. But, for whatever reason, she just doesn't do it for me. [I kindly request that you do not use the comments to yell at me about why she is the best.] I can't get excited about Muriel Bowser. My main concern about CM Bowser isn't her supposed lack of experience. You can't have experience as mayor until you're mayor and experience is no predictor of future success. I just have no clear indication that a Bower-run DC is a DC that is running towards anything in particular. I think it's a DC with the parking brake on and while that means we won't roll downhill, we're not gaining forward momentum either. Maybe I'm wrong and maybe the coordinates of where Muriel plans to take us are already plugged into the GPS and the tank is full and she's ready to go, but as someone standing on the curb looking for some indication that she knows the way, I'm just not ready to get in that car.

Tommy Wells ran for mayor. He said he was going to run for mayor and he ran for mayor and he ran for mayor ethically (have you heard he didn't take any corporate cash?) and he's the candidate for which I'm most likely going to eventually cast my vote, but with 8 days to go, I can't say I'm really fired up about this. [Likewise, I kindly request you do not yell at me in the comments about my lack of enthusiasm]. A vote's a vote, I guess, and they count the unenthusiastic ones just same as the ardent ones. I'm reasonably convinved he knows about the issues and he cares about what he knows about. He is the 'urbanist' candidate and his vision of the future of DC most tracks with the one that I find the most palatable. But can he deliver it? I don't know. I don't think he's convinced enough people [including his colleagues on the dais] that he can and I don't see him being able to change that in a week.

Mayor Gray is the incumbent and until a few weeks ago, I was probably going to vote for him. I shook Mayor Gray's hand once. It was at the opening of the L Street Cycletrack. He reminded me of a star high school athlete, but a man whose charisma extends no farther than his outstretched arm. One step father back and you barely feel it all. Like the warmth of a baked potato recently removed from a microwave. Has Vince Gray done a good job as mayor? Has he done a middling job? Has he done an adequate job? Would another four years under Vince Gray be less worse than under another one of the others? I tentatively reached the conclusion that yes, it probably would be. But a few things happened between then and now which have swung me back into the undecided camp, the largest of which is my belief that there won't be another four years for Vince Gray and that he will be indicted (rightly or wrongly- I'm not a lawyer) and even if he's not indicted, that he knew about the "shadow campaign." He knew. When I could delude myself into thinking that he didn't know, that these things were all swirling on around him and he was somehow protected from this knowledge by cronies who were able to keep him in the dark, it was much easier to say, sure, let's give this guy another four years. But it's harder to pretend that he didn't know now. Maybe there's not a mountain of evidence and maybe the USAO has less than what they'd need, but my vote isn't subject to a standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. But I don't even think that this is my primary reason for no longer going with Gray. It's that I'm not convinced that four more years of Gray are four years of embracing and guiding vital change. There were many things put into place by the previous administrations that have come to fruition (or are slowly, slowly, slowly coming) in the past four. But those chickens, for the most part, are roosted. What comes in the next four years will grow from the seeds planted more recently (first chickens, now seeds. I am clearly not a farmer) and while I like a lot of the initiatives undertaken by the Gray Administration (MoveDC and the alleged streetcar expansion, SustainableDC, the ZRR to a certain extent,), the pace of adoption of these initiatives has been slow and I don't feel like the stewards put in place to guide these changes really have the energy or commitment to see them through.

So, that leaves me undecided. In many ways, I question whether electing any of these candidates will do much to alter the underlying dynamics at play in DC right now. It is increasingly expensive to live here and little headway has been made to address systemic inequalities and long-term unemployment and poverty in parts of the city while other parts continue to boom. I think that's a problem. But new buildings go up and will continue to go up and restaurants will open and close and things will change and people are going to continue to move here because it's a nice place to live. I don't see any of the candidates, when presented with golden scissors and ribbons to be cut, saying no. Who wants to be the mayor whose name isn't on things? But I do think that we're also on the cusp of Thermidor and this makes me worry. You can't make a city go backwards. Nostalgia should not be your polestar. Whoever wins (and whoever wins again in November) has opportunity and responsibility and I hope that he or she can elaborate a vision and enact a policy that makes DC a better DC, whatever that means.

3/20/14

Ride In 3/20: One of these things

The long, cold, pointless winter has temporarily come to a close and I rode today without gloves for the first time since the last time I forgot my gloves. I had recently replaced my bicycle chain and have been joined on my last couple of commutes by the clickety clacks that a new chain makes when paired with an old cassette. Apparently, they wear down together [like any good couple really] and the partnership between the new and old was clanky and jerky [I believe Clanky and Jerky were also an old vaudeville clown partnership from the 1890s]. It was unsurprising, though I hoped that maybe I could avoid it, and I decided that I would ride gingerly (i.e. wearing a red wig) to a bicycle shoppe (I only shoppe at shoppes because I am as committed to leading an 1890s lifestyle as possible) to purchase a new cassette (the grouping of rear cogs, not an old Milli Vanilli album- I have those on vinyl. You think I lie? Well.) so that it would better accompany my new chain and quiet the horrific noises and lead to an overall better bicycle riding experience.

My legs and feet looked like this:

Got these shoes from the Clanky and Jerky fan shoppe
I don't know what inspired this picture, but I took it and I figure I should publicly confess to it rather than allow it the live on within my phone until months from now until, in one of my period mass deletions of pictures, I come across it and mistake it for one that perhaps had some significance that I had since forgotten.

It was fine going on East Capitol, where I was passed at different red lights along the way by riders of various stripes and styles, including a gentleman on a xtracycle and a woman on some variation of a Jamis Commuter who cut me off making a rolling right turn at a stop sign rather than stopping and allowing me to pass by unfettered. Something something birds of a fetter something something. I really try to not let myself be fettered or pestered by the unthinking rudenesses that sometimes happen around me, especially those undertaken by my fellow cyclists, but the "roll through a stop sign to turn and cut me off me in the process" manoeuvre (spelled this way for our British reader(s) for some reason) I find to be particularly irksome. I was irked and fettered (this sounds like it should be illegal), but I didn't say anything because 1) saying anything ever is almost never effectual and 2) what is there to say? "Excuse me madame. I find myself irked and fettered by your manoeurve and I do not mean to be quarrelsome, but I demand satisfaction!) I mean, obviously you wouldn't say that. You could pretty much say anything other than that and it would be much better, but I still contend you shouldn't say anything and just get over it because if you can't find a way to muster some patience in your daily doings, you shouldn't ride a bicycle- primarily because it's slow, but secondarily because I'd like to think that the act of bicycling has the capacity to bring out our better selves and not our worse ones. But this is just a theory, or more properly, an aspiration.

I parted ways with the Xtracycle guy somewhere near the Capitol and rode to Penn to 15th. There were a handful of other cyclists, but like maybe the hand of smallish person with proportionally sized hands. What I'm trying to say is that there were "some" but not "many" bicyclists thereabouts. There were stacks of cyclists 8 deep on 15th at a few intersections and that's where you could tell the allegedly warmer weather was luring the riders, much like itsy bitsy spiders. I wonder if the guy who wrote that song was a bike commuter. Perhaps it's all a metaphor. Anyway, I heard they're putting in spidertracks thanks to the newly adopted Complete Spouts policy.

I visited the Bicycle Rack, a shoppe which opens early, and they replaced my cassette right quick. They also told me that I installed my chain wrong, so whoops. I guess I missed running it through some gap nearish and betwixt the hanger and now I'm wondering if, had I installed it correctly, I needed to replace the cassette at all. Let's say yes. Let's all just agree that I needed to replace it. Anyway, commuter benefits sawed the cost of the operation down to a trifle and, while it took me a bit to layer all the custard and fruit and sponge cake, I was happy to do it and leave with a vastly better operating bicycle and the belief that I won't need a new chain or new cassettes for thousands and thousands of more miles.

R Street to Massachusetts Avenue to the hill on Massachusetts Avenue which I haven't really climbed all winter. I don't know if it was the new bike parts or the incipient spring weather or the fact that I've been riding up the more technically challenging (steeper?) hills on Wisconsin and New Mexico Avenues all winter or that I've been off the bike all week, but I felt really good going up that hill and I'm pretty happy that I felt good. I also plan to feel good about riding down that hill a little later. It's a good day for bicycling.

3/19/14

Blocks

I haven't been feeling well for the past few days, so I've been taking the Metro to and from work. In order to avoid having to change lines (transfers daunt me), I ride Bikeshare to Union Station. It's 1.5 miles and it takes about 10 minutes. And for the most part, it's pretty straightforward. There are bike lanes on East Capitol and then bike lanes past Lincoln Park and then bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue until Stanton Park. Stanton Park is between 6th NE and 4th NE. The entrance to where the Bikeshare station is at Union Station is First NE. That's 5 blocks. 3 blocks on Mass from the western edge of the park. 

And for those 3 blocks on Massachusetts there is no bike accommodation. The road becomes two lanes wide (during non-rush hour times, the right lane is reserved for car parking) and it stays two lanes until after 2nd NE when there's parking and a bus stop (so it sorta gets to be 1.5 lanes wide. The 'half lane' is a DC driver specialty) and then it becomes two lanes again right before there's a rump of a bike lane for 20 feet before the slip lane entrance to the train station. The bike lanes continue along Columbus Circle almost the whole way to the  entrance to the someday extended Metropolitan Branch Trail via the someday completed First Street NE cycletrack, but they otherwise disappear and that's not really important to this story because I'm only talking about taking Bikeshare, which is on the east side of the train station and not the other side, the side of the Bikestation and the outdoor bike parking. 

Three blocks in 1.5 miles. How much of a difference can it actually make? 

A lot. 

It sucks. 

It's a mess. There's a bus stop at 3rd NE that sometimes backs up traffic in the right lane and there's a left turn on the diagonal to D street which seems to be very popular with drivers and both of these contribute to a lot of attempted lane changes and driver angst. Many drivers having come from Maryland Avenue NE Speedway (traffic calming improvement coming: soon? eventually? this spring?) are still in the mood to speed and weave, so that's an exciting challenge as well. There's a gas station entrance and also a slip lane from 2nd NE, one that looks woefully misplaced in an urban environment. 

I'm a pretty confident rider and I have no problem riding in the middle of a lane, so as to prevent close passes by impatient drives, and honks wash off me like water from a ducks back. I don't mind riding with traffic and I'm pretty comfortable right alongside cars. It's part of the deal, I guess. At least as the deal is currently constituted. I put up with it because it's three blocks in a 1.5 mile ride. But I don't care for it and I'm tired of being asked to do it. 

I want a bike network that doesn't ask (or demand) that I 'take the lane' [I've come to really dislike that phrase. "take" seems so possessive, like I'm maliciously absconding with something that shouldn't be mine] even for 3 blocks. Little gaps make a big difference. If a "hardened, hardcore urban cyclist" (or whatever) like me notices how crummy the road becomes for cycling, what of the person who rides it for the first time? Is there a second time? (For what it's worth, you can ride down 6th Street NE to F and go to Union Station that way. It's a signed bike route, I think. But that doesn't really get you to the First Street NE cycletrack, even though that isn't really where I was trying to go in this story. Plus, why put bike lanes at Columbus Circle and then east of Stanton Park if you were then going to suggest they take some circuitous route between these two places than the route directly between them?)

The thing about fixing little problems (and I don't mean to single out Massachusetts Avenue- it's just the one little gap that I happened to ride the past couple of days. There are plenty of other examples) is that's they're easily dismissible. It's just 3 blocks in 1.5 miles! But it's when the 3 blocks becomes the excuse for not riding the 1.5 miles, when little deals become big deals. It doesn't take a lot to encourage cycling places, but it doesn't take a lot to discourage it either. Fill the gaps. 

3/17/14

Space

From this:
Driven in part by riders’ demands for a greater sense of comfort and safety on the road, new apps and gadgets are promising to do for the bicycle what air bags and satellite navigation did for the family car. What used to be a simple, healthful mode of transport is fast becoming a tech festival on wheels.
Among the gadgets listed are a really loud horn, laser that "makes" bike lanes, and inflatable helmet and a lock that unlocks by smartphone. Neat.

Remember the Space Race? Maybe you read a book about it or saw a Tom Hanks movie about it once. Maybe you were there, racing the Russians to space or maybe you just played Lunar Lander on an old Apple II. Anyway, Those guys had to figure out a way to get a rocket to the moon, a way to keep astronauts alive on the lunar surface, and a way to launch them back to earth safely. To to this NASA had to solve a million problems and also invent TANG because solving extraordinarily complicated space travel problems leaves you parched and you need a refreshing orange powdered drink after a long day of hypothesizing, testing, developing, building, re-testing, and honing all in the name of solving a previously unreconciled cascading set of immensely complicated problems on the cutting edge of the available technology with the end goal of achieving something that had never been done before.

Bike safety isn't like that. It's kinda already been figured out and already implemented. Like in those places where people do a lot of biking already and they do it safely and it's not a big deal. And they manage to crack the problem of bike safety without lasers and smartphones. So, maybe we should just do that too. It's not a question of Space, it's a question of space. People have already solved the problem. Let's not reinvent the wheel. Let's just embrace another Cold War tradition and steal it.

3/11/14

Sports

I sometimes feel like the reaction to fair weather bike commuters is akin that of season ticket holders when the team makes the playoffs. "Where were you in April?," they ask, except in this case April is January. "That cap looks awfully new. Bet is still has the tag on it," they say except maybe it's a cycling jersey instead of a baseball cap or maybe I should've said "team jersey" as the example would have been better because of exact parallelism. "Ugh, you don't even know the players' names. You're just here for the excitement," they say as if being somewhere for the excitement is the worst thing ever. "It's not your thing. It's my thing. It's my thing because I've been here longer. I committed to this before I knew it would turn out great. I committed to this when the outcome was unsure. I staked a claim to this thing and I did it every day and I'm going to continue to do this every day because this is my thing and this is how I define myself and this is the defining thing I define myself by because I committed to it," they imply because everyone knows that there is a limited quantity of fandom molecules that exist in the world and each new bandwagoneer laps up those that should RIGHTFULLY belong to someone who purports (or purports to purport) to care much more than others, except not the others he accepts as caring as much as he does and who have sufficiently demonstrated their commitment to caring by maybe passing some kind of look-up-and-down or maybe because he knows them and he's seen them there or maybe because they say so and say so decisively.

Bike commuting modeshare in DC is 4%. There's plenty of room to grow. The stadium is not at capacity; it's barely been built. And you don't build a stadium for just the season ticket holders. Also, I don't know where luxury boxes fit into this analogy or how maybe referencing massive cable tv deals might help or hinder this metaphor. Professional sports are complicated. 

Happy spring. 

3/10/14

A Totally True Story Not In Any Way About Bike Commuting

I was walking to the Metro this morning because I'm a daily Metro commuter and there was this guy in front of me also walking to the station. We neared the escalator and he did a quick zig, cutting across my path to grab a copy of the Express from the ledge and then zagged back in front of me and while I had to stutter-step a little to avoid walking into him, it's not that much of a big deal because clearly he just was late in his decision to grab a paper and that's fairly forgivable. He stepped on the top step of the escalator and I followed him and we both took a few steps down the left side and then he came to a full stop and this time I bumped into him.  Maybe there was someone in front of him. There was  no one in front of him, but he just decided to stop anyway. I said "excuse me" and I moved to the right and shuffled around him and it's not that big of a deal. I guess he just doesn't get the whole 'walk on the left, stand on the right' thing. I got to the bottom of the escalator, removed my wallet and metro card and walked to the fare gates and then from behind me I heard the heavy thuds of the footsteps of someone running and as I went to turn my head to see what was happening, the same guy from the escalator ran past me and cut in front of me at the gate I was about to use. He didn't have his metro card out and isn't in any way prepared to do the task for which, for some reason, he decided to run towards at full speed. I waited for him as he fumbled in his pocket and eventually got through the gate. I followed and then decided to quicken my pace a bit to get around this guy who, now on the other side of the gate, dawdled slowly towards the next escalator. Weird guy, I think. I stepped on the next escalator, this time waiting on the right side, figuring I might as well just stand as no train was coming for another six minutes, when behind me I heard a heavy sigh and felt a tap on the shoulder. It's that same guy! And he's trying to walk down the escalator on the right side, even though there's no one standing on the left. Part of me wants to say nothing and refuse to move over, but I'm like 'fine, whatever' and step to the left. The guy then proceeded to run down the escalator and continues, running down the entire length of the platform.

There's no train for six minutes and the platform began to fill. The weird guy (as I've begun calling him) briskly jogged from one end of the platform to the other. "Gotta keep my heart rate up," he said to an old lady. "Good exercise," he said to no one in particular. I figured I should just try to ignore this dude, but it was difficult to stay clear of him entirely as there's only so much space on the platform and since he was jogging back and forth, it's not like I could necessarily know where to stand where to avoid him. Eventually, the lights on the platform flashed and the train pulled up and now, even though, I shouldn't have been surprised by this, the guy heretofore jogging broke out into a full sprint, seemingly racing us other passengers to one of the train doors. He stood directly in front of the closed door and as soon as it opened, he dove (I can't think of a better word to describe it) for a gap between some of the standing passengers, failing to let others exit the train before he entered. They grumbled and shuffled out and those of us waiting to board the train also grumbled a little about the guy who ran in front of us to get on the train first even though there seemed to be plenty of time to board. The old lady from earlier made her way onto the train and headed for the open seating reserved for the elderly and disabled and just as she was about to transfer her weight from her cane to sit down, the weird guy espied the empty seats, lumbered across the car and slid himself into one, placing his backpack on the other. He proceeded to turn up the music on his headphones and popped open a bag of Funyuns, crumbs of which cascaded from the sides of his mouth to the floor with each chomp. Someone else stood to allow the old lady to sit and the train passengers, myself included, scowled. Someone under her breath said "asshole." The guy remained oblivious to the notion that we were all scowling at him.

It was my stop soon and I moved towards the door to await the train pulling into the station and I thought about how strange a commute this had been and I was happy to be nearing the end of it. The door opened and I stepped onto the platform. I began my walk to the escalator when once again, that guy, having shoved his way through the closing doors of the train, proceeds to run past me, looks over his shoulder back at me, ensuring that he was, indeed, running faster than I was walking, and bounded onto the escalator. He raised his hands over his head like Rocky, extraordinarily satisfied with himself and the speed with which he ran from the train to the escalator. I think I heard him say "King of the Metro!" but maybe I misheard. I did hear him clearly when he took out his phone, dialed and then said, "Hi, Mom. I am awesome at Metro!" That was weird.

Clearly he didn't understand. Clearly he didn't realize that no one on the Metro was racing him from platform to escalator. Clearly he was unfamiliar with the established practice of walking on the left and standing on the right and letting the train empty before boarding and offering seats to the elderly and disabled. He didn't do anything "illegal" per se, but his behavior was odd and incongruous and seemed to do nothing to do anything but annoy his fellow travelers. He wasn't really following any of the established norms of commuting by subway and didn't seem to be in any way aware of this.

It's weird that there are Metro commuters who are like this. Oddly out of touch with their surroundings, unable to glean that perhaps their behavior isn't in keeping with that of those around them, seemingly unaware that no one is competing with them to see how quickly they can board or exit a train, placing their own quest for "awesomeness" ahead of anything else. Very weird. And it's weird that they fail to notice that this isn't the prevailing behavior of everyone else, people who are just trying to get to work and are aware that others are just trying to do the same. Maybe if that guy just realized that what he was doing was alienating and out of touch and made him seem like kind of ... an asshole, maybe then, he'd change his ways and it would make it better for everyone. Maybe then. But how to explain to someone that they're acting this way? How can I convey to these kind of train passengers that they should pay attention to the behavior of those around them and maybe think about not cutting people off and waiting their turn and giving sufficient space and showing proper deference to more vulnerable passengers and not trying to "race" people who clearly have no interest in doing that? I just don't know.

3/6/14

Opportunities

Below, a hodgepodge:



  • Do you have a Bikeshare key and also hold the opinion that there simply aren't enough hand-crafted leather goods in your life? Well, aren't you lucky that you can now buy one of these great leather Bikeshare fob holders. You should email Matt at mlsteenhoek@gmail.com if you're interested. Combine your commitment to bikesharing with your commitment to leather goods with your commitment to supporting local producers with your commitment to buying (for now) few-of-kind accessories with your commitment to preserving this somewhat easily breakable plastic stick. I'm on fob #5, having broken the 4 others (including a prized black key) and prior to buying this, was keeping my key in my wallet and it was interfering with all of the no money that's in there. This thing is super cool. I bought mine for $35, which is half the cost of a yearly Bikeshare membership, but also the cost of the one and half weeks of Metro commutes, so you can make up your own mind if that's a good deal or not.

  • Do you like biking and also hold the opinion that giving some cash, some time or some positive word of mouth to a new nonprofit community used bicycle program is a worthwhile use of your cash, time and/or mouth? Well, aren't you lucky that you're now reading about Gearin' Up, a new nonprofit community used bicycle program based in NE DC. Here's their funding page. I think it's a neat project and one that really helps close the gap between the bike services that we need and the bike services we currently have.

  • Do you like WABA and also hold opinions about dance parties, biking to work on a day, and trail ranger-er-ing? Well, aren't you lucky that you clicked through on some or all of those links. Now, here's the thing about the summer trail ranger program that a lot of people don't know. You get Trail Ranger immunity, which is like diplomatic immunity but better. Not only are you immune to criminal prosecution, but you also develop physical invulnerability to poison ivy, mosquito bites and sunburn. Or at least I hope that those things are true because those powers would be super useful for a job like that. But even if such a thing as Trail Ranger immunity does not technically exist, it's still an amazing opportunity to help the #bikeDC community (which really, really, really relies on the rangers) and also to get paid for riding your bike around DC in the summer.

3/2/14

Some unsolicited advice on grocery shopping by bicycle

I am a bike commuter and I am also a daily grocery shopper, which is a habit I picked up a number of years ago and haven't ever really been able to shake. It's not that I don't like to plan ahead- foresight is twice as good as two-sight!- it's just like I like to buy what I need only a meal or two ahead (aside from pantry staples) and this is especially important when you enjoy fresh produce and seemed to be cursed by a series of refrigerators that barely work and/or have been placed under some kind of evil curse to spoil food as quickly as possible. Or maybe I shop daily because I bike commute and not the other way around, but I do have access to a car and could theoretically just go once a week, pack the trunk to the brim with Funyuns and be done with it, but I don't do that, so the predilection for daily shopping must be deeper than just a habit forced upon me by my mode choice. Anyway. Maybe you don't like grocery shopping as much as I do (I think I have Stockholm Syndrome about it and that also explains why I'm always buying Swedish Fish) and maybe you like grocery shopping and prefer to do it by car and both of those things are ok with me, but if you're inclined to want to try to do your grocery shopping by bike or already do your grocery shopping by bike and want to compare methods (because you're a weirdly competitive person or something?), then I offer you the below.

Some thoughts about grocery shopping (and not Deng Xiaoping) by bike:

1. Have you ever driven a car in a grocery store parking lot? I've seen demolition derbies that are less barbarous. It's absurd. Everything you've ever wanted to learn about the malignancy of car culture can be learned in a Whole Foods parking lot on the day before a snow storm. It would make Thomas Hobbes blush (if he weren't so pale from being so dead). Rolling up to the store on your bicycle, for the most part, spares you from this malarkey. Bike parking, while not always great and not always sufficient, rarely requires the same selfish maneuvering or hastens the same kind of deep personal suffering as does circling in a crowded parking lot, trying to find a place for your car. And bike parking tends to be closer to the door, though if you're the kind of person who it put off by the idea of walking from the other end of the parking lot, you're probably not the kind of person who is going to bike there. In any case, choosing to bike to the store spares you a lot of the crazy car parking nonsense that so many people find to be so frustrating, so, as far as I'm concerned, you're already ahead. So would walking or taking the buses, but this is a bike blog, so woo bikes. Also, your bike can prove useful for carrying groceries, though a mule would also do that and you don't see me advocating shopping by mule. Yet.

2. I like to use my pannier as my grocery bag.  For one, I'm already carrying it with me, so it's not an extra thing to remember. I walk around the store and put my groceries in there with my other stuff and when it gets full, I'm done. I've yet to have to make a Sophie's Choice, shoving my day's worn clothes behind the Entenmann's endcap in order to make more room for the the steeply discounted day-old muffins, but I suppose that's always an option. Maybe you're better than I am in judging spatial relationships, but I've definitely screwed up in estimating how much my bag could hold in relationship to how much I've already put in my basket (I don't use carts- they are cumbersome and unwieldy and should be left for people who are buying 11 dozen take-and-bake pizzas for some reason) and it's never a good thing when you're cramming stuff into your pannier that maybe you could've held off on buying. So...

3. Keep a spare bag (or two) on your bike or in your bike bag. The kind of bag that I really like to use in case of emergencies is a drawstring bag that you can wear as a backpack. I got mine from the AAA MidAtlantic table at last year's Bike to Work Day. [Previous sentence not intended to make your head explode]. What I like about it is that it folds (read: crumples) up very small for storage and can be worn. That way I don't have to sling it over my handlebars, which is a very "ugh" way to have to ride your bike. It can be done, but not by me, because I have very little balance and the bag ends up banging against the spokes of my front wheel and that makes both a terrible sound and perhaps puts me in a state of jeopardy vis-a-vis breaking my bike and falling down.

4. Don't wear your helmet in the store. Please don't do this. Please. I promise you that the risk of canned corn falling on your noggin' from the upper shelves is marginal at best. This is more an aesthetic appeal than a pragmatic one. I just think you look like a dork when you wear a bicycle helmet inside a grocery store.

5. Shop for what you need and be pretty rigorous about it. Going by bike probably ins't the best time to browse. Yes, you can probably (if you really work at it) figure out a way to bring home the 24 pack of toilet paper or the 36 pack of variety Utz snacks or a billion diapers, but if this is a daily shopping trip and you haven't already accounted for how you're going to easily do this, it might be better to wait for a different trip or maybe one in which you're not going by bike. Again, I'm not gonna tell you how to live your life. You do you. It might just be easier.

6. This isn't bike specific, but I really don't like using and then throwing out all of those plastic bags for produce, so I bought some reusable mesh bags. I guess I could've just kept reusing the same plastic bags and spared myself the additional expense, but I didn't do that and now I have these instead. I keep a few of them in my bike bag and try not to forget to put them back in my bike bag when they're empty again.

7. There are various bungee apparatuses that might prove useful to you, such as bungee cords and bungee nets and I have both of these things, but generally, I just try to fit everything I can into my bag and don't really avail myself of these things. But I have in the past, especially when I rode a bike with a front basket. I've used the bungee cords to secure growlers of beer and also pizza boxes, so their utility is unquestionable.

8. Remember to lock your bike. It would really suck to have it ridden away while you're inside.

9. You can definitely bike home eggs. Just put them near the top of your bag. Generally, the stratigraphy of my pannier looks like this: work lunch container (which is typically glass), work clothes, heavy or solid groceries (canned goods, milk, dried pasta, anything boxed, anything frozen, beer), then eggs, then produce. Try to construct even layers. I tend to buy a lot of kale, not because I even like kale, but because it serves as excellent padding for more delicate groceries. I also stuff kale in my shoes to keep my feet warm and as noise-dampening insulation in various home renovation projects. Never actually eaten the stuff, but gosh, it sure it useful. Bread is very tricky, because sandwich bread is squishy. Mostly I cope with this by not getting upset if my bread gets squished because, seriously, there are more important things in life. But I guess one way you could mitigate this by leaving the top of your bag open and leaving the bread near the top. Just not on rainy days.

10. About backpacks or messenger bags: you can definitely shop by bike with these, though they might not carry as much (though that's ok), especially if they're already full of your work clothes and/or laptop or whatever. That also means your groceries are resting up against your back and that might prove uncomfortable. There's maybe a decent amount of stuff you could cram in there, but then you also lose the ability to use a backup backpack, unless (and I've done this), you're willing to wear two backpacks to bike things home.

Everyone's grocery shopping needs are different, though for the most part, a bicycle is more than sufficient for your shopping and with just a tiny bit of preparation (especially if you're going to the store alone. You can, I bet, shop by bike with kids, and countless people do, but I've never done this so I can't speak to any additional steps you might want to take into consideration) and the simple recognition of the reality of your carrying capacity you can avoid the headaches of shopping by car and further find utility in the very useful tool that is your bike. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

I've doubtlessly forgot a ton of things. Leave your insights in the comments.

UPDATE: A thing I forgot: be very careful riding around grocery store parking lots. People, as I alluded to earlier, aren't always the best and more conscientious drivers in parking lots, so continue to be mindful of that and, you know, remain cognizant of the world around you, no matter how distracted you might be by your impending purchase of on-sale frozen burritos.

One other thing about grocery shopping by bike: maybe your preferred grocery store isn't very bike accessible and that's why you don't shop there by bike. I get that. I've written the above from the perspective of a very spoiled urban bike commuter who has access to ample grocery stores on his commute route and fully acknowledge that these conditions aren't universally shared. I wouldn't suggest that anyone taken upon themselves the decision to shop by bike in conditions where simply riding a bike are hostile, though I would, as always, suggest advocating your local policymakers and politicians for a change in those conditions, that you, if it is your inclination, can subsequently shop for your groceries by bicycle.

UPDATE 2: Do you live or shop in Arlington, VA? I once wrote this authoritative guide on bike parking at Arlington grocery stores and maybe it's still accurate!